Category Archives: Reviews

Downtown Paradise Reviews

C5D_2129-cropped-1THE REVIEWS ARE IN

Wow! The reviews for Downtown Paradise are in and we are delighted with the response. Last chance to catch this amazing production is tomorrow – Thursday October 2nd at Neuadd Dwyfor, Pwllheli.

It all starts at  7.30pm and tickets  are just £8.50 or £7.00 concessions – telephone (01758 704088) to reserve yours.

REVIEWS

Review by Jackie Davis on the Theatre in Wales Website

“The studio at the Riverfront lent itself well to this powerful drama penned by Mark Jenkins and tightly directed by Michael Kelligan.

Based on true events, Catriona James and Habib Nasib Nader took on two complex and demanding roles of controversial Jewish lawyer, Rachel Bloom and jailed Black Panther leader, James Wilson.

Intimate and almost suffocating at times, a sparse set credibly intimated the 1970s prison cell in which Wilson had initially been incarcerated for a year, but was subsequently on trial for life. With professionalism firmly on the back boiler, Bloom called on her unhappy Jewish childhood to align her beliefs to those of the dangerously militant black rights leader, and in obsessively committing herself to securing his freedom, she also became personally involved with him.

In two mesmerising performances, hopefulness gradually turned to darkness and eventually despair as we witnessed the unravelling of two different sets of ideals.

With palpable chemistry, the two characters breathtakingly demonstrated the themes of privilege versus inequality, and gradually the hopelessness of the situation became as clear as it was tragic.

Timeless, thought provoking and relevant.”

Review by Martin Shipton on the Theatre in Wales Website

“Downtown Paradise is a tautly-written, compelling piece of theatre based on the true story of a white American human rights lawyer who fell in love with her jailed Black Panther client at the end of the 1960s. But this is no sentimental romance. It is a tragedy born of intense emotion and political naivety that is destined to have no happy ending.

Director Michael Kelligan production does full justice to a script that contains no spare words. From the moment wheelchair-bound Rachel Bloom (Catriona James) starts to speak, we are involved in a captivating experience that is sustained for the duration of the play.

The action is stripped down with no superfluous scenes, and the fact that just two actors deliver the performance without an interval forces us to concentrate on their doomed relationship and nothing else. It is only afterwards – when we have had time to think – that we reflect on the wider significance of what we have witnessed.

James provides a powerful portrayal of the principled lawyer whose emotional involvement with her client leads her to make a fatal mistake.
Habib Nasib Nader as James Wilson makes a credible Black Panther leader whose charisma proves his undoing.

Staged by the Welsh Fargo Stage Company, Mark Jenkins’ script delivers a genuinely highly charged play that in less skilful hands could have descended into melodrama.

Not to be missed.”

Review by Jenny Walford on the Theatre in Wales Website

Timely in its depiction of deeply held beliefs which almost imperceptibly tumble over into extremism, Downtown Paradise takes two characters seemingly fighting for the same cause, ultimately discovering their worlds are irreconcilable.

Set in the 1960s, Catriona James is visionary lawyer Rachel Bloom, blinded to reality by her mission to assist and free her potentially bankable new client, but failing to see how her wider, self-serving agenda will impact on him. Habib Nasib Nader is the imprisoned Black Panther freedom fighter James Wilson who manipulated into sharing his manifesto when it suits Rachel’s cause. But he is furious at finding its more radical messages have been diluted for public consumption, when he finally believed he could express his real feelings.

Both performers are excellent, from their initial verbal sparring as she seeks to win his trust, to more tender confidences as they start an ill-starred affair, before the full force of their stated convictions finally shows up the tremendous gulf that neither has previously acknowledged.

A sparse set of designer prison bars frames their conflict, focusing attention on the pair as their applauded fight for justice descends into destruction.

Directed by Michael Kelligan, this is a Welsh Fargo Stage company production well worth seeing.

Review by Bob Rodgers in The Western Mail

“Wherever there is injustice there will be those who rise up to meet it, among them will be some whose rage is so towering that reason and rationale are blown away in the storm.

Hearts rule heads in Downtown Paradise when radical lawyer, Rachel Bloom finds her professional barriers swept aside as she becomes emotionally entwined with her client, jailed Black Panther leader, James Wilson.

Bloom feels her Jewish heritage gives her some insight into Wilson’s cause and her enthusiasm for the challenge of liberating him causes her to turn a blind eye to the more extreme shades of his ideology. She finds herself becoming more and more involved with her client on a personal level, finally abandoning all pretence of aloofness and giving in to her passions.

Wilson, for his part, never abandons his aims and approaches this strange and artificial relationship with his eyes wide open; initially swept up in Bloom’s enthusiasm but inevitably increasingly frustrated by her stage-managing of his persona and ambitions.

For just two people to maintain this tension and pace in a full-length play is a challenge, but one made easier by some superb writing from Mark Jenkins and outstanding performances from Habib Nasib Nader as James Wilson and Catriona James as Rachel Bloom.

Jenkins’ gift for dialogue and his obvious enthusiasm for his subject has produced a tremendously powerful play in which he has successfully interpreted the fury of the Black Panther movement and the inevitable consequences of attempting to attack the might of United States power head on.

Bloom’s character by contrast displays the unintentional arrogance of privilege in claiming to share even a square foot of common ground with the man she has chosen to represent.

A sparse set where most of the action takes place in Wilson’s prison cell helps to create some insight into his claustrophobic existence, where he can do little but sit and wait as his lawyer flits in and out keeping him posted on what the world beyond the walls is thinking.”

 

 

 

Dandelion by Patrick Jones – Young Critic Review : Sam Pryce

welshfargo-dandelion(The play was first presented as a Script-held performance On The Edge in September 2009. Then the cast was Rachel – Sharon Morgan, Ernest – Michael Kelligan,  Mary – Christine Pritchard,   Mrs. Hartson – Olwen Rees,   Directed by Allan Cook)

Much of the work of Blackwood based poet, playwright and lyric writer, Patrick Jones, has been strong and challenging. In this new play he is in a much gentler mood. The play is a sensitive tribute to the human spirit. This beautifully written story revolves around the lives of four people, three women and one man living in a hospice. Not much of a place for laughter you might think, but the irascible and determined way Ernest continually strives for his rights and fights against authority brings us many hilarious moments in contrast to the gently beauty that permeates much of the action.

★★★★★

Review by Sam Pryce

This was the first play to make me cry. Not because it was so awful, of course; but because its story, characters and premise would bring tears to even the most cynical of eyes. In fact, the work of Patrick Jones has always been intensely emotional. His poetry is especially controversial and visceral, tackling subjects as taboo as male sufferers of domestic violence. Even the most fearless of playwrights, Harold Pinter, called his work “very strong stuff.” In November 2008, bookselling giant Waterstones cancelled an appearance from Jones at one of their stores after a pious religious group protested outside due to alleged blasphemy.

However, in Dandelion, Jones considers a gentler yet equally anguished subject – old age. Four characters – three women and one man – recount their lives through a crescendo of remember-whens slumped in armchairs awaiting imminent death. Written from actual encounters when Jones served as writer-in-residence at a hospice, this makes the stories in Dandelion all the more distressing. Death has now become a comfort to these dwindling flames; something to look forward to as the days drag on. They are the dandelions withering away in a garden already blossoming new life. It’s a truly heartbreaking premise, made even more so by the intermittent poetic monologues, showcasing Patrick Jones’ scintillating talent for poignant lyricism. Alongside the grief are some outright hilarious scenes played with as much adroitness and dexterity as the more sombre moments.

The acting is simply exceptional. Anthony Leader plays Ernest with the vitality and energy of a young boy, determined to show that his age isn’t getting him down. Sharon Morgan’s deeply moving portrayal of Rachel puts on a brave face despite the inner turmoil brought on by her tragic past. Olwen Rees wrenches the heart strings as Mary, playing her with wide-eyed innocence, and Lynn Hunter gets the audience cackling with her sour, acerbic comments.

The writing, the lighting, the acting, the set – it’s, quite frankly, flawless. It is rare that a play produces as many tears from laughter as it does from grief. As hackneyed a phrase as this may be: this play will make you live a better life. It’s a drama of universal empathy that beats any amount of dreary soap operas. Get off your settee and bag yourself a ticket before you end up like them.

 

Dandelion by Patrick Jones – Review : Sion Lidster

Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

★★★★

Review by Sion Lidster

A packed house sits in silence and watches the four empty chairs sat before them. The stage is slowly filled by four actors over the age of 60, one of whom rests herself straight in front of a television set. Three elderly women and one elderly man, living and dying together in a cancer hospice, set the scene for Patrick Jones‘ latest play, Dandelion.

This subdued subject matter might not be what you have come to expect from the man who wrote Revelation or The War is Dead Long Live the War. You may think that it lacks the crucial urgency, or the vitriolic commentary, that is burrowed deep in much of his work. This perception will all change of the next 90 minutes, as we are taken on a journey of hopes, dreams, regrets, and redemption, as these four character prepare to transcend this mortal coil.

The obvious weight of the theme is gladly lightened by a melancholic comic air that weaves itself throughout the play. Much of this laughter is provided by the youthful hearted Ernest, played by Anthony Leader, as he continues his mission to present the others with some excitement in the lives. Mrs. Hartson, played by Lynn Hunter, is equally hilarious in her sardonic retorts spoken from her television hub. Olwen Rees‘ portrayal of the innocent yet fragile Mary is a harrowing reminder of the plight of age, whilst Sharon Morgan’s monologues as Rachel brought me to the verge of tears on more than one occasion.

The soul of the play is the attention to each individual’s truth. All too often in our society, the elderly are cast to the sidelines, they are the dandelions; the weeds ready to be plucked from the garden. Here, Patrick Jones uses the time he spent in a hospice to provide a voice to the voiceless, and to highlight the fact that there is a wealth of emotion deep in every human being, whether you are willing to see it or not.

The acting is superb, the writing is magnetic (particularly the poetic streams of consciousness), and Michael Kelligan’s direction artfully segues between collective conversations and inner monologues with rhythmic ease.

The play is filled with hope and despair. On one hand there is the everlasting optimism of Ernest, and his call to arms through the words of Jack London. On the other, there is the dementia of Mary, a blatant reminder of the finality of life. Overall, there is a sense of the present – that we are here now to live our lives to the utmost, to build bridges and to enjoy every second we have left.

There will have been many people leaving the theatre making that phone call to the one they love whilst they still can. Such is the power of a humanist work of art, such is the power of Dandelion.