Review: Wallace & Gromit’s Musical Marvels

We have long been fans of Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit.  A new animation from them is an event not to be missed, particularly at Christmas. However, something new has hit the stage this summer.  Wallace & Gromit have gone on tour with a new show – Wallace & Gromit’s Musical Marvels – to celebrate 30 cracking years of fun, friendship and dealing with dastardly penguins.

In truth, we weren’t sure what to expect but the Carrot Productions show is a clever mix of live orchestral music, animation and video, all interwoven to create an interesting theatrical event which is unlike anything we’ve seen before as a family.

The first half of the show features classics like the overture from the Marriage of Figaro mixed with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and a medley of music from all the chase scenes in the Wallace & Gromit animations.

In between the musical numbers, there is plenty of input with Wallace and Gromit who are helping out backstage with the usual chaos put to rights by the inventor’s faithful pooch.  They appear via big screen to talk to the audience and direct the show.

The Wallace & Gromit theme tune was created by Julian Nott who was a fellow student with Nick Park at the National Film and Television School in the 1980s.  Did you know that A Grand Day Out was actually Nick Park’s graduation film?

Nick wanted something ‘brass band like’ for the theme, but there was no brass band available and Julian completed the famous theme the night before the music session with just a few orchestral brass players.

The master of ceremonies, Matthew Sharp, was funny, engaging and a great cello player.  In fact, he is an internationally recognised classical artist who has performed at major venues and festivals worldwide as solo cellist, baritone, actor and director.

We were treated to a lovely piece of music penned by Wallace himself – My Concerto In Ee Lad.  Or was it?  I won’t spoil it for you, suffice it to say that the concerto, for violin and cello was an uplifting piece of work by composer Daniel Whibley.

The Picture House Orchestra, which comprises some of the country’s top musician drawn from the Halle, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Concert and LSO, were excellent and entered fully into the spirit of the show.  Never before have I seen violinists disguised as pieces of cheese or sheep!

Conductor Steven Magee conducts and coaches many UK orchestras and ensembles and is himself a member of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in his role as Principal Contrabassoon.

The second half of the show was a screening of The Wrong Trousers with the orchestra playing the score making it a much more immersive experience than sitting at home on the sofa.

The show was just long enough to keep little ones’ attention and, as with all of Aardman’s work, there are plenty of in-jokes to amuse the adults too.

There is nothing like experiencing live orchestral music and Matthew made sure that the kids were introduced to the various instruments and their players.  Caitlin said (rather ominously I thought) that she now fancies playing the violin.

Well, there’s a strong musical tradition in our family. Dad is a piano teacher and cellist.  My sister Sara went to Dartington Music College to study piano and I play piano (a bit) by ear. Shows like this are a great way to introduce your children to the joys of live classical music to help them decide for themselves whether they enjoy it as much as their parents do.

We caught Wallace & Gromit’s Musical Marvels at Cardiff’s St. David’s Hall but you can see the show at various venues around the UK until 9th June.

Look out for The Snowman  Tour 2019 around the UK this Christmas too.

Highly recommended.

*We were gifted a family ticket for the purpose of this review.  All opinions are our own.

Theatre Review: The Hunting Of The Snark at The Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

Last night Caitlin, Ieuan and I attended the press night for the Sherman Theatre’s brilliant new production in association with Alice House and RGM Productions, “The Hunting of the Snark”.

Commissioned and directed by Gemma Colclough,  The Hunting of the Snark is a new adaptation of the Lewis Carroll poem which is a tale of adventure, bravery and, most importantly, family. 6 actors took to the intimate theatre space that the Sherman Theatre is renowned for and transported the audience to a world of incredibly odd creatures, songs, fun and outright silliness.

The Boy – Kate Spencer

In the tradition of all the best moral tales, the characters are known by their type or role – with the exception of  Steve, who produced the sound track to the show with the help of a guitar and drum.  There was The Bellman, The Butcher, The Baker, The Banker and his son,  The Boy.

The tale links them all together and they travel to Snark Island to hunt the mystical creature which has been recently spotted after a hundred years.  Do they capture it and take it back with them to sell?  Is the Snark all that it seems?

An enormous discovery is certainly made by one of the characters and it changes lives for ever – but that’s all I’m going to tell you.

The staging is simple but brilliantly effective.  At one point the moon appeared and Ieuan gasped.  The songs are witty and full of enough adult references to get the parents laughing and there is plenty of slapstick silliness for everyone.

The Butcher – Polly Smith

The show runs for approximately 75 minutes and this may be slightly too long for very little ones but it was just right for Caitlin (nearly 9) and Ieuan (7).

They loved it so much Caitlin asked to go and see the show again and Ieuan has not stopped talking about his favourite character, the hilarious Bandersnatch, ever since.

The Bandersnatch – Neal McWilliams

Given that The Hunting of the Snark was written by Carroll in 1874, the cast have done a fabulous job of bringing the poem bang up to date and creating a really memorable show.

Here’s what Caitlin and Ieuan had to say.

Caitlin

“The Hunting of the Snark was awesome.  I enjoyed it so much.  I really enjoyed it because it had an adventure and the characters were amazing.  When I danced in the Lord Mayor’s Show it was scary and I thought the actors were very brave.  I would really love to see the show again.”

Ieuan

“My favourite part of the story was when the Butcher tried to catch the Snark. The funniest part was when the Bandersnatch turned up and did funny poses.  He sang a song about himself and I also liked it when the Jub Jub bird stole the Banker’s trousers”.

The Hunting of the Snark runs until Saturday 30th July with tickets at £9. You can book online or telephone the box office on 0292064 6900. The Sherman Theatre is situated at Senghennydd Road, Cathays, Cardiff, CF24 4YE.

And, this Christmas The Sherman Theatre is bringing to life another classic in The Borrowers. Directed by Amy Leach (Associate Artist; Dukes Theatre, The Egg and Shakespeare Schools Festival). Their Christmas production for 3 – 6 year olds and their families sees the return of co-production partners, Theatr Iolo, in Hans Christian Anderson’s, The Emperor’s New Clothes / Dillad Newydd yr Ymerawdwr.

We can’t wait!

Review: Corina Pavlova at The Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

What better way of spending a cold and blustery Saturday afternoon than cocooned in The Sherman Theatre’s Arena whilst the kids are held spellbound by the puppetry and song of “Corina Pavlova And The Lion’s Roar” at Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre. All the more satisfying for The Husband is the fact that kick off for Wales -v- South Africa is not till 5 pm. We managed to find a car parking space in the nearby Dumfries Car Park and skate in with ten minutes to spare before the production starts.

“Corina Pavlova And The Lion’s Roar” (written by Elen Caldecott, translated by Branwen Davies and produced with both English and Welsh performances) is the delightful story of a young girl who feels displaced by the birth of her brother and seeks a pet to play with rather than accept her new playmate. The help of strange pet shop owner Mr McAlistair is enlisted to find Corina a pet. Unusually, in this pet shop, the pets are allowed to select their preferred owner.

The stage was simply set and the cast comprised three actors who sang, danced and played a variety of musical instruments – the clarinet, the flute, the recorder, the xylophone and the accordion. The pets were conjured up by means of costume and puppetry.

 

Aimed at 3-6 year olds,Caitlin and Ieuan really enjoyed this show which had enough mature references to keep the grown ups happy and just the right amount of audience participation from the kids. I liked that, as with the previous production reviewed, Boing, there was a distinct and universal message in the piece. Here it was the upset that a new sibling can cause in a tight knit family group and the process of adjustment.

I won’t spoil the ending but suffice it to say that the lion’s roar is an excellent metaphor for this upset and the audience help Corina to finally accept that her family unit now comprises four, and not three people. As we drove home two little voices came from the back seat – “what show are we going to see next mum?”.

Corina Pavlova runs from Monday 9 December 2013 until Saturday 4th January 2014, with performances in both English and Welsh. Tickets are £7 and there are no booking fees.

We are looking forward to a forthcoming production, “The Sleeping Beauties” The Sherman’s Christmas show which is an adaptation of the much-loved fairy tale with a twist. Aimed at the over 7s, the tale deals with the themes of friendship and, very topically, what it means to “be beautiful”.

“The Sleeping Beauties” runs from Tuesday 10th December 2013 until Saturday 4th January 2014. Tickets are £15-£25 for grown ups and half price for the Under 25s. Again, there are no booking fees.

Further information is available on the Sherman Theatre website. Alternatively, phone the box office on 02920546900.

Review: Boing! Family Fun At Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre

It’s been quite a while since I got to see what I’d term ‘proper theatre’. We’ve taken the kids to see CBeebies shows with all the lights, dazzle (and merchandising!) in the Motorpoint Arena. So it was a new experience for our two to sit quietly in a darkened auditorium at Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre to watch a piece of dance theatre lasting around 50 minutes in a fun show entitled “Boing”.


Boing – an enchanting mix of comedy, acrobatics and dazzling breakdance
The new front of the Sherman Theatre

 

The Sherman Theatre has had a massive overhaul without the original charm of the building being spoiled. The ticket office and cafe bar sit in a bright, welcoming entrance area and the staff were obviously prepared for an onslaught of excited children as they had thoughtfully provided colouring sheets, crayons and dressing up boxes. There was an easel with chalks to practise signing your autograph, a separate play area and a dressing up box with fun props.

Playing before the show starts

We arrived a good half-hour early for the show so I was wondering how the kids would behave but they really enjoyed the items laid out, especially the dressing up box, and The Husband and I were able to enjoy a very reasonably priced coffee.

We were duly ushered into Arena 2 which is the smaller of the Sherman’s two theatre spaces. The stage was simply set and lit with an enormous bed in the middle of the stage. The stage is at ‘ground level’ with the audience seated on rising tiers surrounding it. This gives the effect of actually being part of the perfomance.

Waiting for the show to start

Part of the Travelling Light Theatre Company, the inspiration behind “Boing” comes from director Sally Cookson (an associate artist of the Bristol Old Vic) who wanted to produce an early years piece about going to bed.

The piece tells the story of two young brothers, Wilkie and Joel, who are going to bed to await the arrival of Santa Claus. The theme of sibling rivalry is also woven into the tale as the two brothers fight sleep in their excitement and end up fighting each other.

The two performers, Wilkie Branson and Joel Daniel, who both choreographed the show, skillfully kept the audience entertained throughout the duration of the performance – no mean feat when the audience is primarily comprised of little ones. Boing is a mixture of comedy, acrobatics and breakdance as the boys’ bed become a giant trampoline and even a boat. Caitlin and Ieuan particularly enjoyed the pillow fight sequence and the bit about “Sheet Man”.

The piece captures well the excitement of Christmas Eve and grown-ups and children were all equally able to relate to the feelings of anticipation and the frustration at the length of the night. All the more impressive when you consider that there just two cast members and the only props were the bed, two teddies and two Christmas stockings!

We all had a thoroughly good time and I left with the renewed determination to make more of the Sherman Theatre, which is practically on our doorstep. There is nothing quite like the exhilaration of a live theatre performance.

Boing is on until Saturday 2nd November. Tickets are £7. Performances are at 11 am and 2:30 pm daily.

I’d heartily recommend both Boing and the Sherman Theatre for young families – and there are still a couple more days of half term here to fill. This is a great way to spend an hour.