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. 

Blink

Unconventional love stories are not uncommon nowadays, and Blink consists of just that bringing a welcome change of pace and source of happiness to Cardiff’s pub theatre. Brought to The Other Room as part of its Autumn/winter season by Critical Ambition and Volcano, this is a cleverly told, endearing tale of loneliness and love in one of the world’s busiest cities. 

With the original script from Phil Porter, Blink features two young singletons living in London. Sophie, who ‘lacks visibility’ and who has a hidden love for violent video games, and Jonah, who moves in to the flat downstairs and who’s obsessive compulsive disorder gives a humorous insight into the world as he sees it. The two each talk directly to the audience for the most part, both too awkward or self concious to talk to each other, as their story begins and their paths run in parallel until they cross.

The audience is taken between silence and bursts of laughter with ease, and Tom Myles, as Jonah, especially is brilliantly expressive with impeccable comic timing, and their rightful intentions keep us on side despite their questionable actions. With a cleverly adaptable set, taking us from a hospital bed to the top of the London Eye with the spin of a bunk bed, the soundscape adds massively to the simple but sincere production.

A serious but silly, upside down but straight up love story: brilliantly performed in an endearing fashion, Blink is a wonderful escape from the outside world.

Blink plays at The Other Room until November 19th. Follow @TORtheatre for more updates and tickets.

Blackbird

Cardiff’s The Other Room is becoming renown for punch in the gut theatre and uncomfortable viewing sessions, and their latest production in their Autumn/Winter season is definitely no different. Blackbird, written by David Harrower, has been brought to Porter’s pub theatre by The Two Imposters and will leave you reeling long after you emerge in to the crowded bar.

A difficult two hander, performed by Sophie Melville and Christian Patterson, this play touches on the duo’s past of abduction and abuse when 40 year old Ray met his neighbours, 12 year old daughter Una. Una has tracked down the man who had a disastrous effect on her life, and they both have stories to tell that the other had no idea about, even 15 years on. 
In any other situation, you could pretty much call it as to who is the victim but David Harrower’s writing is expertly performed leaving the audience questioning their own moral compass and the laws of the country, even the day after the 75 minutes of compelling theatre.

The jittery energy emitting from Melville is contagious and has the compact audience on edge from the opening of the overly littered staff room door. The contrasting hunched, static stature of Patterson creates an unbalanced vibe across the room, as the adult of the tale is flown back to years he had made every effort to erase.

An unnerving, harrowing, brilliantly cast production which leaves the audience stuck in the emotionally charged performance. 

Blackbird plays at The Other Room until November 4th.

Bird

Sherman Cymru are back again with another haunting and brave take on the lives of those who are swept under the carpet of society on a daily basis. Written by Kath Chandler, Bird has been brought to life under Rachel O’Riordan’s direction and has taken over the studio at the Sherman in a fast paced, punch in the gut fashion.

Ava is a prime example of someone who has been chewed up and spat out by the care system, but now she’s nearly 16, a decision needs to be made about her future. In a series of quick fire, disengaged conversations, Ava’s tale comes to life as she discovers the vodka filled, nights in the park, dancing other world outside of the care home.  Played by Georgia Henshaw, Ava has an eratic energy and a sincerely, watchable quality from her first words and it is soon clear that her wish of returning to the family home may not be as straight forward as she thinks. 

As she veers off course and tries to spread her wings with her moral compass of best friend Tash who loves the rush of the wind on her face as she strays too close to the edge, the audience join her in her plight to belong. Whether it’s her interactions with Dan (who was just passing, y’know) or her attempts to reform her relationship with her stand off-ish Mother after being separated for three years – Ava’s tale is a brave and touching one which covers love, loss and grief, and leads the audience hopeful. Some of the more beautiful moments were the pauses in the backchat, allowing the audience to connect as the studio stayed silent with the characters and the story began to evolve.

In a similar fashion to the hugely successful Iphigenia in Splott, Bird is brilliantly staged. The deep bass of the sound design links back to reality and the stark but beautiful lighting (especially as the light bulbs rustle and the birds take flight) really brings alive the script. Although there may have been a slight overdose of the repeated bird references, the writing and direction is wonderfully haunting leaving plenty to think about.

A brave, fast-paced rollercoaster performance from a stellar cast, with especially brilliant casting of Georgia Henshaw as Ava: Bird is a brave, spirited production with a lot of heart against an uncaring system. 

Bird continues at the Sherman Theatre until the 28th May, when it will transfer to the Royal Exchange in Manchester. Follow @shermancymru for more updates. 

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.