Reviews

Reviews for Shelter (Natasha)

Natasha is a libretto written in fifteen stand-alone sections exploring aspects of slavery, the sex trade and trafficking.

Shelter is the first section of Natasha to have a commissioned score for performance and was funded by the Arts Council of Wales.
Shelter explores Stockholm Syndrome, forced marriage where a young girl is married to an old husband, the impact of memory over time and the (im)possibility of freedom. Shelter has been developed in collaboration with composer Ashley John Long; three professional vocal performers from The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama: Lara-Clare Bourdeaux, Laura Curry, and Tom Smith: Ashley on double-bass, Jimmy Ottley on violoncello, and electronic elements.

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Ashley John Long Composer for Shelter (Natasha)

Peter Reynolds, Composer (1958-2016)

Shelter (Natasha) is a chamber opera lasting around forty-five minutes, dealing with the issues surrounding the abuse of a young underage girl. The libretto is by Jane Fox and the music by Ashley John Long; it was heard in a concert performance at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on September 11th 2015.

The issues involved are harrowing and disturbing, but the work’s power often emanates from the quiet understatement and dignity with which its issues are presented in Jane Fox’s libretto. This is supported by Ashley John Long’s music which provides a strong ritualistic sense of dramatic shape for the horrific events that unfold.

The work is particularly impressive for the way in which opera is transformed into a new and intimate medium using three singers and a handful of instrumentalists including cello and the composer himself playing the double bass.

The music is not structured around the traditional devices of aria, recitative and ensemble but unfolds in large blocks of sound, including meditative passages based on Renaissance music. The result is akin to an intimate confessional in which events, emotions and conversations are recalled, sometimes with great violence, but also allowing the music to meditate and reflect on what has been heard. The result is impressive and very moving.

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Tom Smith, Lara-Clare Bourdeaux and Laura Curry

Jana Holesworth MA Vocal Performance, The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

Shelter (Natasha) is a wonderful composition that merits being seen and heard. It broaches a very important, albeit difficult topic with sensitivity and intelligence.

It is a piece unlike any I’ve seen in recent years and is truly something special, which deserves further development.

True to the nature of human thought processes, the story doesn’t progress in typical linear fashion but rather jumps about, as thoughts and memories do. Furthermore, rather than adhering to the standards of operatic performance, Natasha is performed with little staging. The combination of these unique approaches to composition and directing allow the audience to feel rather than observe the challenges faced by the primary character.

I felt overwhelmingly moved watching Shelter and I hope that this stunning and significant piece of work is given the support necessary to expand and grow.

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The part-graphic score for Shelter

Ian (Alexander) Grant  Actor and Producer, London

The Arts Council’s goals for the use of taxpayers’ money are excellence, innovation, diversity and reach. Shelter clearly fulfils the first two of these goals, and the support of The Welsh Arts Council for the research and development of this serious and compelling piece of work is amply justified. The material, which conveys the sensations of anxiety, oppression and fearful hope of a young woman and an older man locked in an abusive polygamous marriage, is both timeless and very current. The work would benefit from further development and production funding to support its delivery to diverse and numerous audiences.

The quality of the innovative creative work of Jane Fox (librettist) and Ashley John Long (composer) is outstanding – honest, fierce, sensitive and finely crafted. The piece combines two sopranos and a tenor voice weaving abstract musical sounds and tones with spoken voice and melodic musical line. The warp to the weft of the voices comes from cello, double bass and pre-recorded music and spoken words. The score is complex, intricate, at times densely textured and percussive with passages of purity of sound echoing Bach.

The audience attending the first performance was completely attentive, silent, absorbing the physical sensations and emotions of fear, terror, yearning, tragic incomprehension, childhood betrayed. The performers had clearly worked intensively in rehearsal to arrive at a relaxed, intuitive understanding of each other’s contribution in the piece so that listening, exchange, combination and opposition created a pulse, a rhythm, climaxes, recovery and ultimately a shapely resolution of the work. They are highly skilled young professional musicians.

Shelter is an exceptional piece of work, complete in itself and also promising a much greater exploration of important, uncomfortable material with social and political value and purpose.

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Tom Smith
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Tom, Lara-Clare and Laura

Sally Varrall Senior Lecturer and Programme Director for the BA (Hons) Dance degree, Cardiff Metropolitan University

I feel honoured to have been invited to the Research and Development performance at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. I witnessed a new experience and one that was compelling and absorbing. Thank you.

Feeling privileged to be invited to attend a sharing of an R&D performance in disciplines that are not in my more familiar experience of dance, I became more and more immersed in what became quite a sensory experience. The performance invited you in with its gradual introduction of unfamiliar vocal expressions that were repeated and built rhythmically, and built towards musical statements that shared and developed differing stories.

As an audience member who usually views as a primary way of taking in the experience, this is how I initially received what I was watching; following where the sounds were coming from, shifting my gaze from three vocalists to the two instrumentalists/musicians. The landscape of sound continuously absorbed my attention, although I did wonder, if I had not read the programme notes whether I would have interpreted the score for its intended meaning. This however became far more explicit when a narrative was introduced (spoken and sung). The interplay of sounds and spoken word with the layering of quite exquisite playing of the musical composition was very effective indeed. The filtering of sound and vocalisations at times intensified to an almost chaotic state (achieved particularly by an incredible solo on the double bass) and of itself became an exquisite and detailed physical performance utilising every fibre of the body.

The individual physicality and connection between all performers was another highlight of the performance. All of the ensemble seemed to create their own distinct persona in the telling of their story (vocally and physically). The dynamic interplay and communication between the composer/musician and the vocalists also contributed to generate a connection that was all the more visible because of the intimacy between performers and audience. This intimacy and use of space is something that I hope continues to be considered. I do think the use of space (distance and proximity) between the performers can be further explored, to consider whether an additional layer of narrative can tell another tale through spatial connections/disconnections. Space, silence, emptiness can also speak volumes.

An incredibly absorbing and quite intense experience!

This is very clearly a high quality collaboration working with experienced artists who share a desire to experiment and challenge. This has to be applauded and supported.
Please keep me informed of future developments and performances.

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Jimmy on cello and Ashley on double bass

John Atkinson Actor, Cardiff

Shelter was an entirely new experience of opera for me; indeed, an education in what could be achieved by a mere violoncello, double bass and three voices working at different times in juxtaposition, opposition, and harmony as the work unfolded. This was story-telling and intense emotion delivered in an extremely pared-down way which avoided distraction from traditional ‘performance’, drawing the audience into one with the artists.

As an enthusiastic but fairly conservative supporter of theatre and opera, I was astounded by the versatility of the instruments, with the double bass in particular being handled like a heavy metal guitar to produce sounds from raw percussion and screech to unexpectedly high and soft notes. Alongside, the three vocalists moaned, grunted, squealed, soared and fluttered to the heights as the messages of subjugation, hope, relationships between victim and abuser threaded through the piece.

The performance was absolutely captivating; merging adventurous music and singing with a subtle yet important message to create a fully engaging whole. Surely worthy of development into a full-scale work.

Lara-Clare, Laura and Tom
Lara-Clare, Laura and Tom

Ps. The The audition was fun, though I did not get the impression that the level of singing required would be so testing and formally trained as I witnessed in performance. The themes of the project were well explained and certainly seduced me into taking the opportunity of seeing how it was developing.

Reviews for Butcher

December 9th – 11th 2011 at Chapter, Cardiff, UK

Alexandra Vinson Medical Social Scientist, USA and Wales

Butcher offers the audience an opportunity to see breast cancer through a kaleidoscope: different women’s perspectives on the meaning of cancer, cancer treatment and the bodily changes that cancer treatment entails. Butcher, however, does not end there. After situating the action in the life of one woman, the play zooms out to examine breast cancer as only one of the myriad ways in which Medicine takes hold of women’s bodies. Butcher uses the experience of breast cancer to comment on the complex of actors and motivations that coalesce around women’s bodies and draws on the popular metaphor of cancer treatment as war to link to larger issues of militarization in Medicine/ against bodies. By far the most compelling aspect of the play is the Butchers themselves; these two characters are conglomerations of all of the actors in breast cancer treatment: the surgeons (portrayed as the car mechanics of the body), the pharmaceutical companies, the government and policymakers.

Butcher is a strong effort and the performance of the play seemed to meet a lot of the authors’ goals.

If this play is taken forward and re-worked for a second production, I would recommend that the authors’ time be spent strengthening the transition moments from the individual stories of the women that begin the play to the large-scale social critique at the end of the play. Audience members with experience in the critical social sciences and social theory will make the leap, but perhaps it is most important that the audience members unfamiliar with such a perspective are carefully guided to the critique.

Unlike many plays I have seen, Butcher offers the opportunity for a social critique that portrays what it describes: the multi-national political and economic forces that embed themselves in women’s bodies through the hands of Medicine, and the varying ways women themselves recognise (or not) these forces.

CAROLINE MILITARY

 Muirelle Wilson TV Producer

I thought the concept of the production was a very brave and well-informed idea, which has certainly had an impact on the way I think and accept cancer charities and treatments.

The performance was lively and very emotional at times. I think the intimacy we had with the performers and other audience members was very powerful as viewers could see reactions on lots of different levels.

I have always believed that life change (diet and exercise etc) can aid healing and prevent illness which is discussed in Butcher but I kind of just accepted that preventative surgery was the norm and had never really thought about the propaganda that surrounds these issues; it makes complete sense especially with regards to monetary gain for pharmaceutical manufacturers.

I do think some individuals would find this very difficult to accept, as we all like to believe that the Caring Profession has our well being at the forefront.

The use of the orchestra in the space was great; it all felt very inclusive and alive.

I loved the headpieces; they really did help the cast interact with the audience and also physically elevate their position in relation to the patient.

There was obviously a great deal of blood sweat and tears that’s gone into this production, it is good to see performances that focus on women and empowering women with knowledge and honesty.

I look forward to the next project!

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Megan Broadmeadow Sculptor and Performance Artist, The Slade School of Fine Art, UCL  and Goldsmiths, London

I found ‘Butcher’ to be a unique experience in terms of its aesthetic presence and the bravery of the work which tackled a difficult and uncomfortable subject with no holds barred.

At the performance’s core was a grotesque playfulness which was echoed in the text, songs and costumes. As a performance about doctors, hospitals and operations, the dark and painful topics were brought to life through creation of a surreal world where adults played in a regressed childlike state not unlike an elaborate game of doctor’s and nurses.

This production was tackling many taboos: death, cancer, mutilation, and also taboos of global dominance of health care by monopolizing pharmaceutical companies.

The use of foul language was at first overwhelming and seemed gratuitous or limiting to the work, but in thinking about it the use of foul language was integral to the work for its stance in fighting taboos. For me the swearing was a device to trick the taboo’s, by using antisocial language associated with the subject it somehow devalues the taboo in question and in this performance made it vulnerable and less threatening. By ridiculing the fear it allowed the audience to question why the taboo is held in such high esteem in the first place and let them feel ok about challenging the way things are done. The songs and acoustic live musical score were also surprisingly on track to meet with the tough language and really brought the work to life as a macabre carnival.

The costumes and props were a great strength in the production and really brought in an interesting dynamic it terms of sculpture being re-interpreted into a theatrical context. The use of the sculptural object was also, for me, particularly relevant given the subject matter and the objectification of women’s bodies in the script.

The all female cast gave it a feminist slant, which I wonder was of benefit to the work. I think the inclusion of male actors into the work could have added extra dynamics and power relations into the work which could have provided solutions of real menace and darkness.

Amanda

There were also times when the message felt a little repeated, and I feel as the company develops with future work they will find ways to become more concise with editing the work. I’d also have liked to see more physicality in the work, and cleaner ways for the actors to change from one costume to another, as I think working with the forms of the body could work very well with the sculptural nature of the costumes and sets.

As first production I can only admire the effort, determination and detail that went into the work, I was excited and challenged by it and it still stays in my memory as something imaginative and unique, and I can’t wait to see what the next work will be!

The production made me realise the exciting possibilities that theatre itself has as vehicle for questioning what society see as normal practice in the medical sector.

I think this was an innovative project in its use of theatre as space for challenging legislation and a belief system, and it’s visceral nature felt like a far more effective way of raising debate than say the conventional forms of a TV documentary, or news article.

ELLEN

Chris Bird-Jones Artist and Lecturer, Swansea Metropolitan University

Still almost a taboo subject, the uncomfortable notion of mastectomy, other bodily severances and addition of appendages made this a thought provoking, visually exciting production.

The close proximity of the actresses and musicians, the stage-set, sculptural props and lighting all combined to create a ‘moving’ installation.

The music cemented the dialogue and played on the ‘nausea of music hall’. Moments of humor gave welcome relief.

Following this debut I wonder what Asking4It Productions will do next?

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Albeniz Clayton Artist and Poet, Oxford

A performance with a strong text/ subject medical-social that attempts to elucidate aspects and issues that anticipates cancer prognostics in health and to sell medical operations (commercial operations?) to women.

Butcher explores the extirpation of organs from the female body as a popular belief that a cure exists before the malady.

The business hidden within all the medical procedures and diagnostics as money machine and maintain the female body as main victim and source of profits in the medical market.

Despite sometimes being slightly pamphleteered it is compensated by the funny ambiance, like a dark comedy.

With the actors playing as performers carrying on drama and visual theatre, the nonsense is intensely juxtaposed with the reality of surgery department in most of the hospitals in our time.

Shame that the musicians were not interactive most of the time with the actors and with the whole process. Watching them waiting to play was a bit disappointing.

I think Jane Fox and Susan Jickells were extremely brave and also the troupe showing a sad, confusing and surreal reality where women are victim but also any human being that trusts any kind of uncertain ideology.

The show reveals through a “musical happening” that medical ideology transforms human beings into merchandise or pure flesh. A pure flesh for cannibals

Dominic Rai Theatre Producer and Director

I want to congratulate you on your first show for theatre.
It’s a big undertaking to write, direct, produce, design (and make) props.
I enjoyed your staging, the live music and the dark humour which came through in the songs.

The musicians did justice to the piece but were perhaps under-used.

There were moments when the audience were not sure if they should laugh. This is always a good sign.

I look forward to your next show. Well done!


 

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