Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A Short Note on Management

Reviewers Love “Cardiff Boy”

Red Oak Theatre , The Other Room , November-08-18
Reviewers Love “Cardiff Boy” by Red Oak Theatre Management. Boring subject. Nonetheless it makes the difference. Good management gets to accomplish what it sets out to do. Not-good management comes in a rainbow of infinite shading; one variant never thrashes out what it wants to do, and thus to be. Companies are like individuals- when you know who you are for, then you know what you are for.

A stream of arts-related bloggery passes my eyes every day- it is the condition of modernity. One caught my attention. “I love finance”, it read, “I love budgets and balancing books and making projections and strategising. I love it. I love it because it makes sense to me, because it is factual and true and it is solid. The first thing I do when we come up with an idea for a new project or a new way of working is to build a financial model for it. Then I get it, I understand it, I know whether it will work or not.”

It is true. Paul Dirac, who won a Nobel Prize for atomic physics, spoke of the beauty he found in his equations. The balance sheet is an aesthetic object, its achievement a wonder of the Renaissance. Its inventor, Luca da Pacioli, was a close friend of Da Vinci. If the arts of Wales had two hundred kindred spirits to the author above it would be a creature of a different order.

Management is also leadership but not just leadership. There are only three domains that matter. One is that leadership be change-within-continuity or equally continuity-within-change. The critical record at Theatr Clwyd is clear. It was not a great company before the arrival of Terry Hands. It became the equal of theatre anywhere. In 2018 it is great but it is great in a different way- change-within-continuity.

All of which is a pre-amble to the Other Room. The critical record is clear. Strong governance has achieved the transition from an inspirational founder.

The reviewers have been out in force for “Cardiff Boy.” The reviews have the effect of all enthusiastic writing. I wish that I too had been there.

From Wales Arts Review:

“Cardiff Boy explores what it was like to grow up in working class East Cardiff in the 1990s. Untainted by social and digital media, life barely stretches our of the city limits for these teenagers. It’s a world of cassette tapes, Britpop and Harrington jackets, a world where going to university in another city is akin to moving halfway across the world. Hammett is our window into this world, the ‘artsy fartsy’ one of a group of boys becoming men.

"While his friends want to get drunk and go out partying for the rest of their lives he follows behind with camera in hand, capturing it in all its glory. It’s one of those nights that the audience follow him on, and what ensues is detailed in a superb hour of drama.

“...Jones, Holmquist and Hammett. This team of three have been there from the very beginning, and their connection to the piece – and to each other – is ever-present in the final product. It’s a prime example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Jones’ script is soaked in nostalgia, relying on references and experiences that everyone can relate to. Experiences as small as a hug from your mates, and as large as the realisation that those mates will not always be there. The play is very much of Cardiff but, like so many other coming-of-age stories, it could be a story set in any working-class area of the UK.

“...Holmquist, himself showing an aptitude for direction that belies his experience. April Dalton turns the constantly-evolving auditorium of The Other Room into the mock-up of a nineties pub, albeit with photos of Cardiff hanging off the walls. It seems very cluttered at first but, once Ryan Stafford’s lighting comes into full force, it all makes sense. As Hammett reminisces on times gone by, the lights flicker over the images, creating a beautiful and ethereal atmosphere.

"Josh Bowles continues to impress with his sound design, this time contributing to the play with a blend of original compositions and iconic songs from the era. The likes of Pulp, New Order and The Cure amp up the nostalgia, with the music a character in itself. Does Holmquist use these songs to deliberately pull at the heartstrings? Of course he does, but that’s exactly what the play sets out to do.

“There’s so much more to unpack in this outstanding piece of theatre and, ultimately, that is Cardiff Boy’s greatest strength. No two people will respond in the same way, the emotional resonance unique to each audience member. It’s a play both rooted in time, yet timeless; an experience to be shared, yet so achingly private too. And above all, its just an incredible hour of theatre, one not to be missed."

Jafar Iqbal in full at:

From whiplash/worpress:

“For Cardiff Boy, The Other Room is once again transformed – this time into the back room of a dingy pub. Vintage beer mats, mismatched carpet and authentic bar tables and stools create a very immersive atmosphere – you can almost smell the stale cigarette smoke hanging in the air. As audience members you are sat around the edge of the space, as well as at these tables, with the performance happening around you. April Dolton’s design is excellent, immersing you in the mood of the piece from the moment it starts, and director Matthew Holmquist uses the space to his advantage in his creation of a fluid and dynamic piece.

“Hammett darts around the space, joining audience members at tables to recreate the story and involve. This helps to blur boundaries, as you start to feel more active in the story and less like passive observers. On occasion, depending on where you are sat, this does cause issues with sightlines as you may have to turn around or crane your neck to see the action, but this is only a minor inconvenience for most.

“As the narrative continues, we learn more about Hammett’s struggles with anxiety, his fear of being left out or ostracised from his social group, as well as his experiences growing up. The tone of the piece shifts masterfully from tender moments to more frantic and upbeat pieces, and these are excellently underlined by the soundtrack. This borrows heavily from music of the era, such The Cure, Pulp and Oasis, and the script uses music as a way of showing Hammett’s character developing at key moments of his young adulthood.

"The idea that specific pieces of music can bring us back to certain stages of our lives is of course a very relateable one, and one which is used to great nostalgic effect here. Ryan Stafford’s lighting design is also excellent, with the use of colour, projection and silhouette creating visually stunning moments."

Review in full at:

British Theatre Guide:

“Jones's script is lively and funny, referencing many local landmarks and only occasionally veering towards the overly poetic. His Everyman hero and his friends and enemies are brought vividly to life in Holmquist's production, Hammett casually wandering around the space, relaxedly eyeballing audience-members.

“Josh Bowles's sound design, taking in several big tunes from the era (Josh Wink, Mark Morrison etc.), is seamlessly synchronised with the text (occasionally drowning out the dialogue, though); and Ryan Stafford's lighting design is equally effective when conjuring up a wild night in town, a rural weekend break, or the hero's reveries. Cardiff Boy takes us down some familiar roads, but does so with great skill, charm and poignancy."

Othneil Smith in full at:

Picture Credit: Kirsten McTernan

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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