Escape the Scaffold

As the third and final addition to their Outliers season, The Other Room are back this week with Escape the Scaffold fresh from it’s run at co-producers, theatre 503 in London and yet again, this takes the audience on a brand new journey as soon as the doors close behind them. As we settle down for a rare two act production in the tucked away space at Porters, it’s safe to say we are soon locked down within the house the same as the characters we meet.

The plot jumps back and forth between time but revolves around three friends from university, both in their student days, pjs and tequila shots and all, and also their lives years later as they meet again under different circumstances.  As we step in to a basically furnished house, we see hints of relationships within the love triangle of Grace, Aaron and Marcus and while moments of their interaction show real glimmers of reality, there is a permanent state of unease and their political differences clash from the early on chicken dinner.  From a student lifestyle where the outside world is full of plans to move on and grow up, to what appears to be a police controlled state where the outside world is unsafe and full of fear, there are themes of love, delusion and danger throughout as the three have big choices to make. 

The set is instantly brought to life by a beautiful lighting arrangement by Katy Morrison, as the basement shines with lost hope through the floorboards and the wallpapered walls show hints of the past etched into them. However,  the transitions between scenes are sometimes disjointed and the constant switches in time are disorientating at best as the storyline proved too elusive to keep up with throughout. 

A bewildering, fast paced production which left too many questions unanswered for my liking, but theatre to make you think whilst leaving a sense of unease is no mean feat, and in Escape the Scaffold, the directors and actors collaborate to create a tense and relevant performance. 

Escape the Scaffold plays at The Other Room until the 6th May. For all TOR related updates, follow @TORtheatre on Twitter.

Seanmhair

Not pronounced as you’d expect, Seanmhair (Shen-a-var) is next up in The Other Room’s Outliers season and once again this production is nothing like you’ve ever seen before in the tucked away gem of a black box inside Porters bar. Written by Hywel John, Seanmhair takes us back to the dingy side streets of 1950s Edinburgh and the life of Jenny, at various points in time. 

With an immediately haunting setting and opening monologue, the enclosed audience are drawn into a dark, grim alleyway with dingy lighting and flashes of strip lights and introduced to three women, all barefoot, all playing variations of the same woman.  We’re introduced to an old woman trapped by a husband’s illness, lost of all vitality and tenacity, as he now only pecks at bird type food lost of all power, and then sent straight back in time to a young girl and her enchantment with the glimmer glimmer of the elusive Tommy on her way to school. 

As their lives entwine, their naivety has disturbing and damaging consequences, and it is down to Jenny’s Seanmhair (Scotts Gaelic for Grandmother) to step in as all three actors take on multiple roles, switching effortlessly between bullying school girls, Tommy’s Mother and other members of Jenny’s family.  Each actor is captivating in their performance, and their movement and synchronicity kept the audience entranced from the dimming of the lights. A certain level of concentration is required but it is very easy to slip into Hywel John’s world in this fast paced, tornado like script, and Kate Wasserberg’s direction keeps you both on your toes and glued to the window pane into this Edinburgh tale. 

A haunting and incredibly powerful production, the three actors work seamlessly together as the tight knit script come to life in a claustrophobic and full throttle manner. 

Seanmhair plays at The Other Room until 1st April and will also feature at the Edinburgh Festival this August. Follow @TORtheatre for updates. 

A Sunny Disposition 

Not just any piece of theatre can make you feel guilty for clutching a half empty pint glass when the house lights come up, but Nicola Reynold’s A Sunny Disposition did just that last night. The closing production to The Other Room’s Insomnia season and yet another performance sure to leave you on the edge of your seat. 

Aptly named Charlie, wants people to like him. Perched on the edge of a table in a pub with carpet and wallpaper of the exact same pattern, the audience are drawn in to his jittery energy as he launches in to his monologue and it is soon clear that all is not peachy behind closed doors. Addiction is so often pushed under the bed or shoved to the back of a kitchen cupboard, and Nicola Reynold’s writing debut brings up the subject carefully but skilfully. 

Charlie, played by Neal McWilliams, to look at is a long way away from your stereotypical user and alcoholic, you know the ones… Park bench, string for a belt and a brown paper bag? But proving that there is no fixed stereotype, the audience are thrown up and down through the motions of the highs of Charlie’s friendship with alcohol and cocaine and left feeling almost as spat out as Charlie as events take a turn for the worst, and Charlie’s . 

With a simple set design and a slightly haunting soundscape, this performance effectively worked with stripped back, minimal staging. Despite a slow and slightly uneasy start, The Other Room is brought to life by the tale of chaotic highs at Soda bar (back when it was good) versus the wails of despair when tragedy hits. 

A whirlwind thought provoking production and a promising writing debut from Nicola Reynolds.
Keep an eye on @TORtheatre for updates from Cardiff’s first pub theatre. 

A trip down Constellation Street

Like every city, Cardiff is full of characters, some loud, some maybe less charming than others and some you would never guess have such a story to tell. The next offering from The Other Room’s Insomnia season is Constellation Street written by Matthew Bulgo, and like many of the others, the ticket comes with a punch in the gut that leaves you wanting more.

After apprehensively waiting in a holding area clutching a travel card, the audience are then ushered in to The Other Room which has been transformed once again… Just when you think the space couldn’t be used any better, TOR strike again. The attention to detail is incredible and designer, Amy Jane Cook has done a brilliant job in bringing alive each element. Split into smaller spaces, each audience member takes a different path through Cardiff’s back streets and it is very easy to lose your bearings as you move between various locations, each one with a new story to tell.

Each monologue is skilfully written, lulling the audience in to the small and slightly claustrophobic spaces with many a ‘take a seat, love’ and reassuring smiles from the ushering team, before hurtling in to dark confessions and stories of deceit, heart ache and despair. The performances are all very strong and Gwenllian Higginson especially, gives a heartbreaking and solid interpretation of Alex, even contesting with a reversing bin lorry and the buzz of the nearby railway adding to life on Cardiff’s streets.

Whether you are being offered a good deed pint, or your eye contact has been locked for one of the deeper explanations, each performance seems personal and natural; allowing audience members to connect with the characters one by one.

It is the writing which really struck a chord, as each story slowly overlapped and each monologue could be seen in virtually whichever order.  Matthew Bulgo has delved deep in to the back story of each individual, and they all entwine perfectly as the puzzle becomes complete.  Each audience member see’s three out of the four, however, out of of pure curiosity, this is one production I will be returning to specifically for the play text.

This promenade piece is one not to miss as the brilliantly directed Constellation Street brings Matthew Bulgo’s writing to life perfectly.

Constellation Street plays at The Other Room until April 30th. Follow @TORtheatre for updates and news. 

Insomnia takes over

It wouldn’t be quite right to go two full months in to 2016 without a trip to my favourite pub theatre at Porter’s, Cardiff, and this visit was not one to disappoint. The minimalist yet brilliantly staged, Sand, has taken over the black box theatre tucked away in the corner of the bar as part of The Other Room’s Insomnia season and despite a last minute change to casting, the production is definitely one to make you think twice.

Sara Lloyd-Gregory stands centre stage, surrounded by an incredibly striking lighting design with a disturbing and haunting soundtrack in the background. The audience is invited to picture a little boy on the swing, swinging back and forth, and she begins her monologue. 

Switching between time zones and stories of war and nuclear bombings, she starts off very cool and collected until she accelerates straight through to first gear as panic and hysteria take over. The writing itself is incredibly disturbing and the reflection and stories are retold with a strong sense of realism and fear.
A compelling and thought provoking watch which left me confused, intrigued and a little petrified of the outside world.

Sand’s run at The Other Room is followed by St Nicholas as part of the Insomnia season. Follow @TORtheatre for more information and updates.

We’re all mad here

A trip to Wonderland was never going to be a normal night at the theatre, and as soon as The Other Room declared the house open, it was clear that sanity was not high on the agenda.  Ending the year with an alternative Christmas production, the team at TOR and Difficult Stage have created a hilarious slice of pub theatre in Alix in Wundergarten. 

Entering across the stage to get to our seats, the audience are instantly thrown in to a world where the weird and the wonderful are all part of the script! Alix is set in a cramped radio studio where a group of actors at various points in their careers have come together to record the classic, Alice in Wonderland.  It is soon very apparent that the director is not the only one with ideas of how the scene should play out and the initial calm of meet and greets, soon descends into chaos, reflecting the world Lewis Caroll created all those years ago down the rabbit hole. 

From 80s pop classics to Les Miserables references, and from a strange obsession with a Santa toy to name dropping and signing CDs for Grandma, this insight in to a radio recording session is truly bonkers. A curious and frantic production which still somehow manages to keep the audiences full attraction throughout the 100 minutes, with the cast doing a fabulous job of engaging the entire audience, as much as some may try to avoid the interaction!
The show made me cringe almost as much as I laughed and I spent the entire show dodging the eye line of the actors and trying to work out what was going on! Alix is a well directed and hilarious piece of theatre from the gang at Difficult Stage, which had the audience in stitches from their first step on a squeaky dog…!

Alix in Wundergarten plays at The Other Room until 19th December. For more info and tickets click here

A Good Clean Heart

Porters is fast becoming one of my favourite haunts in Cardiff, not least because the wine is good! But the edge above the other bars in town? The brilliantly tucked away pub theatre, The Other Room whose opening season has definitely not failed to amuse, shock and entertain thoroughly: each production bringing something brand new to the space.  The third in the aptly titled Life in Close Up season, Alun Saunders’ A Good Clean Heart is refreshingly touching and a brilliant tale of loyalty, family and the division between those geographically closest to us.

An entirely bilingual production, the narrative revolves around two brothers separated through the fostering system at a young age.  Older brother Jay ends up back with his biological mother in a council flat in London, recently released from a short stint in prison, whereas Kevin is scooped up by adopted parents when he’s too young to remember and has grown up in Wales under the name of Hefin. The two spontaneously meet again after the revelations on Hefin’s hangover induced 18th birthday, where his parents reveal that his older brother has been trying to contact him, and that he actually could be… English.

The events take place in one evening, beginning with an hilarious, awkward meeting at Victoria Coach station (25p for a Chomp?!) where it is clear that life’s dealer has issued each of the pair a very different set of cards, and ending in a much darker situation than the Welsh wannabe rugby player is used to. Alun Saunders’ script is touching, humorous and the intimate space allows audience members to fall in to the bilingual and bi-cultural world that the two young men have found themselves a part of.

The two actors bounce off each other brilliantly: their loyalty and love made even more prominent through thinking in different languages and the barriers between their lives.  Huge kudos has to go to the creative and tech team for injecting a refreshing modern design, taking us from the playground of the boys lost childhood, to Victoria Coach station to a drearily wallpapered flat, as well as keeping on top of the surtitles throughout.

As a wannabe Welshie, I left The Other Room with a huge sense of hiraeth and pride for the arts scene in Wales.  The combined brilliance of the direction, the script and the performances created a purely touching, thought provoking and honest production.