Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

Panto Time in Wales!

Swithin Fry reviews productions in wales at the end of 1997

It's panto time in Wales which is a very good reason, unless you happen to want to indulge the children, to look around and see what else might he on offer.

If you're in Cardiff, you're lucky enough to have Charlotte's Web at the Sherman Theatre. Performed by the theatre's resident company, this is a wonderful adaptation of E B White's book of farmyard hardship and friendship. The animal costumes are like soft toy kits and without full face masks or overly elaborate make-up it is the actors' skill, considerable here, which transforms them. Runt pig Wilbur, gruntingly and convincingly played by Keiron Self, leads the story when the farmer's daughter saves him from a fate worse than apple sauce. It is a lovely work all round, guaranteed to delight.

Compass Theatre Company dropped into Taliesin Arts Centre in Swansea just before Christmas as part of its three-month winter tour with Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I mention it in passing because although I missed seeing it, I've seen other Compass productions and its work is always quality. Another early Christmas treat was No Fit State Circus's spectacular in Cardiff The show, called Prophecy, was held in an industrial estate warehouse and involved the audience finding it sway into the main arena through a labyrinth not unlike a fairground 'house of fun'. This was community theatre at its most thorough. No Fit State is people circus, not animal circus, and many of the performers, 250 of them all together to be exact, had struggled through a series of circus skill workshops to rehearse the show.

Cardiff yet again, with the rest of Wales basking in "behind you's", where Everyman Theatre took The Adventures of Pinnochio to the places in the city that other theatre doesn't reach, concentrating on community and youth centres in deprived areas. This was great family theatre courtesy of Lottery funding: quite right too! Moving on to Milford Haven, still south, director Mike James is on his fourth year at Torch Theatre, this time with Hansel and Gretel. James is known for his high quality work and Hansel is no exception.

Enough of this frivolity! Revamped classics have been the flavour of the season for the more serious minded. Red Shift toured its alternative small- scale Les Miserables into Cardiff, to a mixed reception (some found it a trifle forced), as did Mind's Eye Theatre Company's production of Ibsen's A Dolls House. This resited the action from 19th century Norway to 20th century 5O's English suburbia. I'd stick with Norway any time. This played at Chepstow's Drill Hall to a Welsh border audience. I did wonder whether a Milton Keynes audience might have enjoyed it more.

There was no mixed reception however for Gate Theatre's Restoration revamp The Country Wife which brought the roof down at the New Theatre Cardiff Director Laurence Boswell's gaudy era-shuffle of past, present and future is outrageous, fun theatre, bolstered by the equally outrageous music of Jerry Dammers.

A thoroughly successful Welsh language theatre festival was held at the end of the year in Cardiff's Chapter Arts Centre. Called Cymru Heb Ffiniau, that's Wales Without Borders, it was stage one of a project to raise awareness and break down linguistic barriers through drama. The Cardiff-based Dalier Sylw which co- ordinated the festival performed Electra. This Greek classic was directed by Croatian director Brank Brezovec, designed by a Slovenian and __involved the projected text of an American play, the translation of an Estonian Mass on monitor screens, and ended with a reference to Bosnia - and was in Welsh...phew!

New Year News... Swansea's Volcano Theatre is planning to celebrate its 10th anniversary in '98 with a special tour of After The Orgy This is described as "a pleastire ride through the clouds of post-modernism on a Wagnerian love boat". But don't be put off by this blurb-speak. Volcano is an aptly named company - hot stuff indeed. The company is recently returned from Munich, Serbia and Slovakia where it played The Town That Went Mad, a bizarre Dylan Thomas homage, to enthusiastic audiences. It also took L.O.V.E. on a month long tour of South America. Clwyd Theatr Cymru from north-ish Wales is planning a major rep. tour of South Wales this spring with a residency in four theatres, as well as a new mobile theatre programme covering, well, virtually everywhere this side of the border. Excellent theatre from an excellent initiative.

author:Swithin Fry

original source: Plays International January 1998
31 January 1998


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