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Under Milk Wood: Live On Stage at the Tobacco Factory Brewery, Bristol (published on www.Guide2Bristol.com)

Adapted from Dylan Thomas’ 1954 radio drama, Splice Productions’ version of Under Milk Wood manages to keep all the wit and eloquence of Thomas’ original, whilst spicing it up with added humour and excitement.

The whole play is almost lyrically written, with Thomas’ words eloquently voiced by Bob Gwilym, known by many for his four years in BBC’s Casualty. It opens very gently, Gwilym’s sing-song accent rolling over the audience as he sets the scene of a village at night. He is then accompanied by Kerry Joy Stewart who joins him in a vivid interloping of the towns folks dreaming.

These two actors worked fabulously well together, their excellent chemistry clearly visible. Intended to be a play about a radio broadcast, the two acted their roles marvellously, both proving themselves as silver-tongued orators. Thomas uses some very tricky turn of phrases, which were handled effortlessly it seemed through various variations in pitch, tempo and character. The two front voices played myriad villagers, too many to count in one evening, but still managed to make each accent distinct so that the audience could tell which of the various characters was being soliloquised.

Gwilym and Stewart were unobtrusively supported by Natasha Pring as their sound engineer. Emerging onto stage before even the lights were on, clearly distraught, throwing down her things and taking a massive slug of gin. Though confusing to start with, soon you realise that director Kath Rogers and her team have adapted their production of Under Milk Wood to incorporate the behind the scenes drama of a 1960’s radio broadcast. You witness dissent within the ranks, as a slowly deteriorating Pring plays havoc with the sounds and script – to the obvious annoyance of the main protagonists. The first half ends in tears but the show does go on. Despite a power cut and other calamities there is eventually a final reconciliation.

Although they played each of their parts well I felt there was one flaw. Unfortunately the beautiful oration of Stewart and Gwilym was sometimes disrupted by the gradually worsening and mischievous antics of Pring’s character. Thomas has written a text that is as complex as it is rewarding, but to have a disruptive factor in the background sometimes took away from what was being said – as you’re eye is drawn to the considerable ways a drunken, sound engineer can cause havoc on a live production. And so vice versa, sometimes the sly, but gradually all the more blatant sips of gin weren’t noticed because of the siren like quality of the main voices.

With so much going on it was easy to imagine it being a real live radio broadcast, with all the troubles it entails. Crucially the superbly dramatised fall of Pring was left ambiguous, with only Polly Garter’s song for her dead lover giving the audience any suggestion to the emotional plight facing her character.

Although it was a thoroughly enjoyable affair, I felt the sing-song near the end was not in keeping with the production’s overall tone. All three of the actors performed admirably, so much that it was sometimes difficult to decide who to concentrate on at any given time. It was a bold move of Splice Productions and Kath Rogers to make any adjustments to a Dylan Thomas piece, and they have certainly gone to town on it.

All in all, Under Milk Wood: Live on Stage is a tremendous effort and an admirable cast.

The Cat Empire Review (originally published on Guide2Bristol.com)

The Cat Empire, one of Australia’s finest musical exports, came, saw and conquered Bristol last Friday.

With a fantastic array of hits, improvisation and energy, The Cat Empire wowed a packed crowd at the O2 Arena, in central Bristol.

Trumpeter, Harry James Angus, stole the show with his trumpet solo improvisations and his vocal range, which have made The Cat Empire famous throughout the globe. The music spanned genres without missing a beat, and managed to keep the tempo high enough for the audience to remain buoyant the whole evening long.

Whilst the new album is very indie, live The Cat Empire managed to pull together the full range of influences that they have dabbled in, ranging from salsa to reggae. Angus managed to produce a trumpet solo to almost every song, but the balance was restored with a solo performance from every band member, the highlight being a double trumpet and trombone medley between Angus and Empire Horns, that made the crowd go wild.

Although some might say the band were being fairly indulgent, the crowd loved the variety of music on display. At times the crowd would sit back and enjoy the music, a sign of a band having immense fun, but when Riebl or Angus took the microphone the tempo would increase dramatically. Hands were in the air, and the music was vibrant, the energy at the venue was truly electric.

The light and sound was in perfect harmony, and it was plainly visible that the band were enjoying playing to the crowd. The arena was packed, and the mood was excited, and the encore, culminating in Chariot had even the shyest audience members bouncing to the eclectic beats.

All in all, a performance to remember.

Rabbit Ears Review (originally published on Guide2Bristol.com)

The latest production by Theatre West showing at the Alma Theatre is a subtle and intriguing production, and not just for its suitably ambiguous title, Rabbit Ears.

Written by Bruce Fellows as part of the Theatre West season, many will not know what to expect from a local production performed by a cast of only three. After the first seemingly straightforward scene where Rosie’s boyfriend leaves her to go on active duty in Afghanistan the plot thickens and then twists in to quite the climax.

The venue is small and intimate, which benefits the small cast of Susie Riddell, Dan Winter and Ursula Entry. The audience is right up close and personal with the actors emotions, as is the intention, and throughout the performance you can tell that Fellows is trying to offer a glimpse of emotion that is usually too raw to be aired publicly.

The writing is subtle, and Fellows drops all sorts of hints that there may be a twist not to be expected. Rosie, performed with subtle dignity by Riddell, is not a character the audience is intended to empathise with. She talks to the clock on the wall, the only heirloom of her deceased father when alone, and hints at a dark and selfish side to her nature, whilst being openly generous and friendly with her companion in waiting Bren.

The two women are waiting at home on ‘passive service’ describes Fellows, while their respective partners are on duty. Thrust together, the show is stolen by Entry as Bren, whose nervous energy, open demeanour and subtle wit carry the audience through the long waits when all that can be heard is the clock ticking their frustration and heplessness in to near anxiety.

Winters is strong as the male figure, moving between his relationship with the two smoothly and not betraying much to the audience. His lengthy soliloquy about his time on duty is poignantly held together by the emotion he adds to the dialogue. Although we have all heard similar stories of wartime strife through cinema and theatre, being so close to the performance only added to tension, the beat of which was measured by Rosie’s clock.

The only music score is a famous Rosemary Clooney show tune, due to the fact that Rosie’s dad named her after the famous singer. The addition of Rosie singing it to Winter and forgetting the words simply adds to the realism of their situation, and ultimately wrenches on the heart strings.

Cleverly directed by Alison Comely, Artistic Director of Theatre West, it seems that in some cases she has added the light touch to the relationship between Rosie and Bren. The dialogue between the two over glossy magazines, and the sharing of a mug each of ‘rosie lee’ makes you feel like you could be sitting their with them. But Comely’s direction in the mundane only makes the dramatic scenes more compelling, with Rosie’s stubborn reticence to talk about pregnancy building the relationship of the two women to breaking point.

Not knowing what to expect from a small, independent production, I entered the Alma for the first time with an open mind, and can’t say I was disappointed. The first thing I did on leaving was pick up the listings for future showings at the Alma, knowing that a return visit will definitely be on the cards.

 

The Cat Empire (Original Article written for www.Guide2Bristol.com)

It is a time for music lovers in Bristol to get very excited. For The Cat Empire, Australia’s most successful musical export since Kylie Minogue, are playing The Bristol Academy on the 21st – 23rd October. Touring to promote their new album, Cinema, this is sure to be a must see on anyone’s musical calendar.

Founded through a love of jazz back in 1999, The Cat Empire are an alternative music group that move between genres effortlessly without breaking stride or losing the core of their style. Expect to hear music that fluctuates from jazz to salsa and full-circle to reggae, held together by the vocals of lead singer and percussionist Felix Riebl. Sometimes sounding like Jack Johnson, sometimes reminiscing of Maroon Five, Riebl’s voice is unique in it’s own right, holding the various styles and genres together, much like Fyfe Dangerfield for the Guillemots. This gives The Cat Empire a solid core of sound that allows the other musicians to craft their sound around him.

With the bands fifth album released back in August, the Cat Empire will be blowing audiences away with songs predominately from Cinema, which is no bad thing, although as always expect to hear the classics at some point. Cinema shows that The Cat Empire have finally found a voice of their own, no longer experimenting with different genres, but fitting them nicely together in to an album that is as clever as it is bold. The lyrics are beautifully crafted, and although sometimes relatively dark, the mix of jazz, salsa and rock hold the album together in to an ode to joy. Really The Cat Empire have stood up and shown they are a band to be reckoned with.

From the opening track, waiting, the album is a real pick-me-up, bursting with sunshine and summer, as one would expect from an Australian band. Although some might see The Cat Empire as a lounge band, they have made their name through live performances and will continue to do so for a long time to come if Cinema is any indication of things to come. The diversity of their music and variety of instruments will surprise and delight audiences, and Riebl’s voice is made for stage performances. Being a band stacked to the gills with talent, it is not inconceivable that they will free-style, ad-lib and elongate some of their most famous tunes on this tour. Their music really highlights a group of musicians that are having an enormous amount of fun and this comes out in the new album. It wouldn’t be too much trouble to predict that this enthusiasm will be flowing off stage as fast as the music.

Whether you like jazz or reggae, indie or rock, The Cat Empire are definitely worth a listen. With tickets only available now at The Bristol Academy on 21st of October fans will need to hurry in order to not be disappointed. Full listings can be found on the The Cat Empire website: http://www.thecatempire.com/tour-dates.