Cardiff Boy: Review – Thursday 1st November 2018, by Red Oak Theatre, The Other Room @ Porter’s Cardiff

Funny, boisterous and tender in equal measures, Cardiff Boy celebrates our evolving city and those who have grown up in it.

★★★★☆

It’s 1995; Llanedeyrn, Cardiff. From the 60’s housing developments to the Maelfa shopping centre, the youth of Cardiff are growing up on a heady mix of Brit-pop, dance music and branded sportswear. Growing up meant spending weekends at the Philharmonic club (only recently reopened) before ending up eating chips on Caroline Street (thankfully always open), all while studying for your A-levels and trying to ‘get lucky’. Into this mix steps the eponymous Cardiff Boy, played by Jack Hammett. Far from being the leader of his group of friends or it’s joker, Hammett’s character is shy and reserved, instead happy to take the mantle of the ‘thoughtful one’ of his group of friends – the one you talk to about your problems and confide in. Yet while he is happy to take on this role, Jack’s character also suffers from social anxiety, feeling intensely insecure about himself and his position in the social hierarchy of his peer group.

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.

Kevin Jones’ script is heavy on geographic and era specific references – If you lived in Cardiff during the 90’s then this will be right up your street, if however you were introduced to Wales’ capital a while after this, then many references may go over your head. Nevertheless, this coming of age story line of a young man finding himself; the friendships and camaraderie, the violence and the bravado is very universal. As a monologue Cardiff Boy uses it’s one actor to re-create it’s other characters – the friends and family of it’s main character. Perhaps because of this, when tragedy strikes, it is difficult to feel a huge amount of empathy for a character who we never meet or actually see on stage. Hammett’s performance is excellent; his accent is spot on and his ability to switch pace and tone in an instant is fascinating to watch. Produced by Red Oak Theatre, this production shows that experimenting with space can create a more immersive theatrical experience. Funny, boisterous and tender in equal measures, Cardiff Boy celebrates our evolving city and those who have grown up in it.

 

Cardiff Boy  is running at The Other Room Theatre until 11th November 2018. For more information and tickets click here

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