Review: National Theatre’s Jane Eyre.

Review: National Theatre’s Jane Eyre.

I am fascinated by productions that can say so much by doing so little. The talent, the mind power, that goes into creating something so effortlessly poignant without the aid of gimmicks. It’s a rare and brilliant feat and one that consistently takes hold of my attention long after the curtain has fallen.

National Theatre’s adaptation of Jane Eyre at The Mayflower Theatre was a glowing example of that. Set on a sparse stage with a series of wooden platforms and ladders with floating white drapery as a backdrop, Michael Vale’s design was simple and adaptable. It threw all focus directly on the performance whilst still capturing a sense of childhood innocence and the passing of time as the cast darted, twisted and ran between pillars and ledges. It didn’t want for any more.

NT Jane Eyre Tour 2017 ensemble. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg (15).JPG

This simplicity wove its magic throughout the rest of the play. Performed by an ensemble of 10 (three of which were musicians),  the cast seamlessly switched between characters with an ease that made each transition unnoticeable. It played homage to their skill: every single person on stage embodied their characters flawlessly. Costume changes were carried out softly (almost eerily) in plain light meaning that for every step of the way, we as the audience were a part of the story. This clever technique pulled you in and left you feeling like you were sat right there, embedded in the script, with them.

Tim Delap (Rochester) Nadia Clifford (Jane Eyre) NT Jane Eyre Tour 2017. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg (2).JPG

The story itself was a superb balance of contemporary interpretation and staying true to the classic. Under Sally Cookson’s direction, both Bronte lovers and newbies to the tale would connect with the production just the same. I found myself almost bursting with my inner geek during the classic monologues (“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” – goosebumps!) whilst totally enthralled by the modern twists. A stand out had to be the role of Bertha, played by the exquisite understudy Dami Olukoya. Dressed in a regal red gown (the only burst of colour in an otherwise subdued selection of costumes), she had an ongoing presence in the shadows of the set. Her haunting singing voice echoed around the theatre between key scenes, a chilling reminder of her constant hiding in the darkest corners of Thornfield. Dami’s rendition of “Crazy” in the closing scenes had the whole audience on the edge of their seats… you could have heard a pin drop.

Melanie Marshall (Bertha Mason) NT Jane Eyre Tour 2017. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg.JPG

(Melanie Marshall playing Bertha)

But Dami was by no means the only stand out performance. In fact, every single person on that stage was a stand out. From the oddly endearing and mysterious Tim Delap playing Rochester to understudy Francesca Tomlinson taking on the roles of Adele and Helen Burns (amongst others) with poise and sophistication, everyone turned the script into something alive and truly intoxicating.

NT Jane Eyre Tour 2017 ensemble. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg (7).JPG

Of course, Nadia Clifford was a complete dream as Jane. Her transformation from a confused, lost and yet head strong little girl to a brilliant and spirited woman taking the reins on her life had me thinking “dear lord I want to be like her!” She embodied a powerful, feminist lead and commanded the stage. A fierce talent and one to watch.

Nadia Clifford (Jane Eyre) NT Jane Eyre Tour 2017. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg (4).JPG

Music, humour and intelligent prop use were interspersed throughout, further strengthening the unique appeal of this gorgeous production. I was captivated, from start to finish.

Nadia Clifford (Jane Eyre) NT Jane Eyre Tour 2017. Photo by BrinkhoffMögenburg (14).JPG

You can’t really go wrong with National Theatre. Their quirky and charming approach to performance art never fails to bring something fresh to the table. Followers of literature and the theatre alike will fall in love with this extraordinary tale, told in a timeless and unique way.

Jane Eyre is showing at The Mayflower Theatre until Saturday 13 May. You can grab your tickets here.

Photos by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

Review: Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes.

Review: Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes.

In the wake of yesterday’s devastation in London, a night of pure escapism has never felt more necessary. Escapism for me comes in many forms; it could be an evening curled under the covers with a book, a walk out in nature, a few hours spent with pen and paper…

Or it could be a trip to the theatre.

I’ve missed it. My theatre fix. Since returning to the UK and, more notably, Southampton I’ve felt that side of me shift away into the expectations of 9 – 5 life. I haven’t made time for it, despite a beautiful theatre being right on my doorstep.

But when I heard Matthew Bourne was coming back to town, there really was no need to convince me.

The Red Shoes - Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page.jpg

Because Bourne is a master of his craft. Easily one of the best choreographers in the country, if not the world, his intelligent understanding of movement and the stage never fails to create something truly magical.

Unsurprisingly, The Red Shoes was no exception.

THE RED SHOES. Ashley Shaw 'Victoria Page'. Photo by Johan Persson.jpg

From the word go, the audience was captivated. You could hear a pin drop during the opening scene as Victoria Page, the girl with dreams of being the Prima Ballerina, takes to the stage with a lightness that seems to defy gravity. You simply could not take your eyes from her.

THE RED SHOES. Ashley Shaw 'Victoria Page' and Sam Archer 'Boris Lermontov'. Photo by Johan Persson.jpg

As the show developed, Bourne fans were once again reminded of precisely what it is that makes him such a pioneering figure in the dance world. He takes a classic story and turns it on its head… he makes it feel as if he wrote it in the first place. The way he drips contemporary influences, humour, darkness and sheer class to his productions turn them into a fresh tale in their own right.

His portrayal of The Red Shoes was intelligent and, despite being set in the Golden-Age, fiercely relevant. The time old fairytale of a girl’s quest to become the greatest dancer in the world before being driven to insanity from her own ambition had hints of Black Swan about it, whilst still remaining true to the story. It was bursting with possession, obsession and seduction… basically, all the sexy stuff.

THE RED SHOES. Sam Archer 'Boris Lermontov' and The Company. Photo by Johan Persson.jpg

And whilst Ashley Shaw, who played Victoria, was the one commanding your attention, the whole ensemble was flawless. But would you expect anything different from New Adventures? From her partner leads right through to the group performers, every single person was nothing short of perfection. The ease with which they floated across the stage, the precision of their movements and the effortlessness of their lifts… it was beautiful to witness and a joy to feel a part of.

THE RED SHOES. Liam Mower 'Ivan Boleslawsky'. Photo by Johan Persson.jpg

As the performance crossed from first to second half, the drastic twist in atmosphere continued to leave the audience gripped. With a dance piece, that isn’t easy. To hold the attention, to leave you begging for more, throughout that whole 2 hours requires a level of professionalism and experience we of course anticipate from powerhouses such as Bourne. Regardless, it made my love for the production even stronger.

The score was intoxicating, with new and familiar music alike bouncing throughout the theatre at the hands of a pitch perfect orchestra. That partnered up with a stunning set and clever lighting brought the whole performance full package. It was transformative, in every sense of the word.

THE RED SHOES. Ashley Shaw 'Victoria Page' and Dominic North 'Julian Craster'. Photo by Johan Persson.jpg

As The Red Shoes drew to an end, the audience erupted. Everyone from young children right through to 70 + were blown away: you could feel it. The awe, that feeling of inspiration… it was palpable.

Living away from the capital I think there’s a tendency to assume we don’t have access to world-class productions. We’re also finding ourselves in a society where staying home, particularly on a weekday, is so much easier than venturing out to try something new.

If my reunion with Southampton’s theatrical scene tonight has told me anything, it’s that we need to step away from that. We need to embrace what we have in our city with both hands and make the most of the sterling performances that grace the stage every day.

So if you’re looking for an evening of old school glamour laced with comedy, poise and the bittersweet… this is for you. But hurry. Tickets are nearly sold out and you’ve only got until Saturday. Grab your tickets here and find out more about the production on the New Adventures website.

THE RED SHOES. Ashley Shaw 'Victoria Page'. Photo by Johan Persson (3).jpg

All photo credits: Johan Persson

Review: Matthew Bourne’s Lord of the Flies at Wales Millennium Centre.

Review: Matthew Bourne’s Lord of the Flies at Wales Millennium Centre.

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been so excited for a show.  But then again, that’s what Matthew Bourne does to me.

Oh, and you get to go here #winning!
Oh, and you get to go here #winning!

He’s a master at what he does; an absolute genius.  He takes something classic and turns it completely on its head; the result always being spectacular.

He challenges, he experiments, he inspires.

Aside from my admiration for this man and his stunning work, I’ve felt a real connection to this production.  Some of you will remember I sat in on one of the earliest dress rehearsals for the local lads appearing in the show.  Those of you that don’t know anything about the show (have you been living under a rock?!), Bourne has 20 (approx) local boys from every area to which the show tours performing alongside the New Adventures cast.  The boys had to go through rigorous audition processes followed by weeks and weeks of hardcore rehearsals (fit in all around their school work – the youngest lad from the Cardiff cast was only 9!).  But if you think these roles are just backseat ones, no no no my friend, how mistaken you are.  Even before the show I knew they would be playing integral parts; but nothing could prepare for how intense and full on their performances really would be!

So yeah, it’s safe to say I was feeling pretty emotional about the whole thing.  I mean, these lads were absolutely adorable.  And so, so dedicated.  I couldn’t get over what an incredible opportunity this was going to be for them.  Humbled doesn’t quite cut it.

We made our way to our seats.  The buzz in the air was palpable.  We all knew it; you come to see a Bourne performance, you need to prepare yourself to be blown away.  As the auditorium shook with excited murmurs, your eyes were drawn to the already exposed set.  A stark, simple stage representing the inside of an abandoned theatre.  Clear but effective.

All at once the show started with an almighty bang (quite literally).  Immediately an expectant hush fell across the Donald Gordon.

What followed in the next two hours rendered me speechless.

Lord of the FliesAs always, Bourne managed to unfold the tale across the stage with such intelligence.  You could see and hear every single word of Golding’s classic novel without a single one being uttered.  From the initial confusion to the boyish excitement of living without adults to the assignment of leaders and eventually, the utter chaos and breakdown.  You saw it all, word for word.  You didn’t have to be a dance lover to understand that.

Of course, the New Adventures boys were incredible.  So much so I spent about every other minute thinking “I want you to marry me” sorry not sorry.  You can’t put talent like that into words.  Their characterisation of the older boys was on point; it took about one minute to be able to identify who was who.  They glided across the stage, their movements intoxicating to the point I had a constant stream of tears just dangling from my (ridiculously jealous) eyes.

But the local boys… what can I say.  Apart from age difference, you couldn’t tell them apart.  I mean, that choreography hasLord of the Flies hard.  Really, really hard.  Yet every single one handled it like a true professional.  They fit in seamlessly with the professionals, performing with natural talent and passion.  These boys have a future in dance.  Each and every one of them.  Incredible.

Whilst I adored every single moment, it was the second half that really engulfed me.  Here the chaos and tension was at breaking point.  We all know the story.  This is when s**t got real.

And this is the type of work I love.  That manic dance, the dance that makes your heart miss a beat.  The fury, the hunger, the energy.  The heavy music sweeping over you; the terror that ensues.  The boys all chanting manically on the stage, covered in war paint and blood.  The expectation.  The moment reality hits.

Lord of the FliesEven as I write this, I can feel all my hairs standing on end again.  It was easily one of the most overwhelmingly beautiful pieces of theatre I have ever seen; and anyone who knows me will know that’s a pretty big statement.

As the show culminated in a sudden and clever ending, I couldn’t help but feel a mixture of admiration and also disappointment.  I wasn’t ready for it to end!

Needless to say, the whole theatre was on its feet.  Snapping out of the hypnotic state I’d found myself in, no amount of clapping and cheering would ever be enough.  It was spellbinding.

Lord of the Flies is showing at Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 25 October. I’m already trying to work out if I can squeeze in another performance!  Dance fan or not, take a risk.  You will not be disappointed.

Big love,

BB x

Behind the scenes: Matthew Bourne’s Lord of the Flies

Behind the scenes: Matthew Bourne’s Lord of the Flies

Those of you that know me will probably know I am a huge fan of dance.  Out of all the art forms, it is without doubt my favourite.  Since a young age I competed regularly; from the most mortifying memories of freestyle (aka disco) dance to me performing in Sweeney Todd attire and then, eventually, the more (arguably) sane world of contemporary dance.  I studied it throughout school and college, taught it and generally just loved it.

And although I no longer find the time to dance myself, I love nothing more than taking to the theatre for a show.  Luckily Cardiff’s professional dance scene is rich; Northern Ballet regularly visit, Cedar Lake and Clod Ensemble have graced our stages and National Dance Company Wales continue to produce awe-inspiring work on a regular basis.

But, I’m afraid, none compare to the mesmerizing work of Matthew Bourne.  For as long as I can remember, he has always been the pinnacle of perfection for me.  Not only is his choreography mind-blowing, but he always manages to challenge perceptions and expectations through his intricately crafted work.

So it’s no surprise I was absolutely over the moon when I heard he would be returning to Cardiff with his latest production, Lord of the Flies.  The cherry on top of the already delicious cake?  I would be going behind the scenes to sit in on rehearsals with the production’s local cast.

The local cast is made up of 21 boys from South Wales (and the surrounding area); these boys have had no formal training… a lot have never even stepped foot in a theatre before.

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Credit: Magenta Photography
Credit: Magenta Photography
Credit: Magenta Photography

It’s part of an exciting initiative from New Adventures to introduce a new wave of males passionate about movement into the world of the arts, with the aim to transform perceptions towards dance.  This fresh talent will play an integral role in the production, seamlessly intertwined with the professional cast members.  It’s risky and it’s daring.  But most of all, it’s exciting.

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Credit: Magenta Photography

Sitting in on one of the first rehearsals run by Welsh Re:Bourne dance ambassadors Sian Rowlands and James Morgan, it soon became clear that just because these boys were amateur didn’t mean they were going to be let off lightly.  The training was intense.  Coming from a dance background, I can safely say it was not for the faint hearted.  After a few exercises to build tension and characterization in the room, the dancers were subjected to a grueling evening of non stop sequences.  Watching the dance picked apart bit by bit was a stark reminder that this was the real deal; these boys would soon be performing on the Donald Gordon stage to near on 2,000 people as part of arguably one of the most renowned dance companies in the world.  Heck, I was jealous!

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Credit: Magenta Photography

The boys now have just over two weeks until opening night.  On the 23rd October, Ralph, Piggy, Jack et al will be brought to life with the explosive energy that Bourne prides himself on.  Anarchy will be unleashed on the Wales Millennium Centre; and I for one can’t wait.

You can still grab tickets on the WMC website.  Lord of the Flies runs from October 22 – 25.

To find out more about the production, check out the Buzz TV promotional video below.

Big love,

BB x

*Please note: this is a sponsored article*