Theatre in Wales

Plays and dance productions in Wales since 1982...

Acqua Nero by Meredydd Barker
First presented in 2007 by Sgript Cymru
cast size:unkn
Acqua Nero is a dazzling and gripping play, it skilfully switches between the chaotic last days of World War Two to a more placid modern day Wales. In a POW camp, we follow Dario Murazzo, an Italian held by two Nazis desperate to escape prison as they watch Hitler’s regime collapsing around them. In present-day Wales, we witness the story of an elderly man named Dario Murazzo –whose world begins to collapse around him as his family start to unravel the disturbing truth about his past. This is a riveting play that questions identity and history, should we ever just believe what we are told?
The forthcoming production of Acqua Nero will be directed by Simon Harris, he tells us why the play holds such an appeal for him,

“ Meredydd is an exciting talent. Having trained as a sculptor, he has a real sense of the additional dimensions of space and time in his work. He does not write a play as if it’s part of a literary medium. Acqua Nero caught my eye some time ago and I’m delighted that it’s finally coming to the stage. With Buzz and The Rabbit, Meredydd demonstrated his promise. Acqua Nero will illustrate how far he has matured. In my view, it is an ambitious and penetrating piece of work that marks him out as one of Wales’s most intelligent and skilful dramatists.

   There are 5 reviews of Sgript Cymru's Acqua Nero in our database:
Intense and entirely rivetin
Acqua Nero by Meredydd Barker
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Chapter Arts Centre Cardiff
Sgript Cymru's final production before the company's merger with the Sherman Theatre is fittingly about a name change - taken for survival - and the far-reaching consequences of that action. How the company will fare in its new incarnation remains to be seen. For now though, it leaves us with an immensely powerful, ambitious family drama packed full of lies, self-deceit and secrets bubbling away toxically just beneath the surface.

Language and identity are writer Meredydd Barker's key themes in a poetic, symbolic script that tussles with hefty existential questions. A life taken and a name stolen during wartime comes back to haunt the Murazzo family decades later, causing them to question who they really are, and ponder whether the sins of a father inevitably come to rest on later generations.

[Full text on the Guardian's web site:,,2022230,00.html
The Guardian
More Sunday night TV drama than incisive comment on the human condition
Acqua Nero by Meredydd Barker
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Chapter Arts Centre Cardiff
Seven years is a long time for a company to survive in the constantly changing environment of the Welsh theatre scene. Although this isn’t the end for Sgript Cymru, as the company designated to promote new writing in Wales it will continue as part of the newly formed Sherman Theatre Company once the refurbishments have been completed.

Acqua Nero is thankfully a much stronger development in playwriting than their last production, Orange and gives us the opportunity to welcome artistic director Simon Harris back into the director’s chair. He has now completed his sojourn as the first Welsh Fellow on the Clore Leadership Programme, where under the guidance of Lord Kinnock of Islwyn he is now equipped to play an even more significant part in the development of Welsh theatre!

The play tells a fascinating story with its beginnings in wartime followed by a look at life in present day Italy. Whilst it is a very human story, it is described as a thriller and it is very difficult to comment on any part of the action without giving away details of the intriguing plot .

Although the writing does not fail, it still seems to be exploring what kind of play it is. There is some depth but I wonder does it go deep enough. Writer Meredydd Barker can tell a good story but veers more towards Sunday night TV drama than an incisive comment on the human condition. The central character, Old Dario Murazzo is given a very fine and well-rounded performance by Mike Hayward but I feel that despite his ‘wayward’ past, he is a man we ought to feel some sympathy for in order for the play to properly involve our spirits.

We are captivated by the performance of his granddaughter Isabel played by Eiry Hughes, who does ‘ordinariness’ and sensitivity so well as to almost become self-effacing. She is regarded more as a convenience by her grandfather and as a burden by her father. Philip Ralph engages us as much with his lack of sensitivity as his daughter does with her strong expression of it. It is the tussle and the revelations that emerge from within this family group that form the narrative of the present day part of the play.

Sean Crowley’s crisply executed set spreads itself along a wide central strip of the studio theatre, with the audience stretched out on either side. Wartime is at one end of the set and the present day at the other. The war end consists of trees and a river. We meet the young Dario Murrazzo here, two young German Officers and an unfortunate Russian Soldier. All credit to Dean Rehman for the way he gets his tongue convincingly around his few lines in the Russian language. Daniel Hawksford, Simon Nehan and Richard Elis bring these war-cynical young men clearly to life. This was a preview performance, their dialogue opened up the play and most certainly we could hear them very clearly. I feel sure that by now they and all the rest of the cast will have found the correct pitch, in this intimate space, that will give the play a gripping intensity that will draw the audience even more into the action.

The play as written has a stronger and more final ending than the one incorporated into this production. Neither ending allowed me to care and I just felt that I needed to care for somebody or about something for this play to fully succeed or was its success that it could engage us with characters with whom, on the whole we could feel no sympathy at all.
Michael Kelligan
Tantalising, impressive.. and puzzling
Acqua Nero by Meredydd Barker
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Chapter arts Centre Cardiff
Meredith Barker’s new play for Sgript Cymru, the company’s swansong as it is subsumed into Wales’s ambitious Traverse-style new company based at the Sherman, is tantalising, impressive.. and puzzling.

It is, of course, meant to be a mystery thriller and it does, to an extent, deliver on that promise while at the same time tease us with the uncertainty of narrative, identity and the slipperiness of truth. But there are a few puzzles more than necessary: why, for example, does an Italian have a strong Welsh accent, a Welshman an English accent, a German an Italian accent ? Why Aqua Nero rather than Acqua Nera ? How does the central character change from an obsequious corporal to a ruthless killer ? Why does a young woman live in a disused building with her unstable grandfather ?

Maybe these puzzles are irrelevant, maybe they’re red herrings, but they can detract from what is actually one of the company’s most successful productions.

And the play does have a bit of an unsteady start, not so much because we aren’t sure where we are (North Wales ? Italy ? Germany) but, at least on the first night, because of unsure performances: I enjoy uncertainty and ambiguity but I suspect we were supposed to cotton on quicker to the scene of a group of soldiers scrambling to escape as the Americans and Russians advance towards victory, for instance.

That all happens at one end of a long set raked to suggest a steep bank dropping down to an unseen river, while at the other end we have a table and chairs in a semi-derelict factory. We sit either side of the action – presciently, perhaps, in what is known in theatre as traverse staging (hence the Edinburgh theatre of that name) in Sean Crowley’s simple design.

And as each scene switches from one end to the other, we discover one of those soldiers nearly fifty years later in his new life in Wales (and whether it could be anywhere depends on whether we want to read into it allegorical significances about false histories and identity), now an old man suffering from a wound that is clearly more than physical, living with his caring, committed granddaughter.

Our confidence in the production grows when the old man’s son, her father, arrives, because Phil Ralph as Paul takes command of the action, putting in the sort of nervy, intense accomplished performance we recognise from his recent one-man show Hitting Funny for Volcano, and despite confident portrayals from the like of Mike Hayward, Eiry Hughes and Daniel Hawksford, he becomes the pivot of Simon Harris’s production. Paul is, like his father (it transpires) on the run with unpaid debts, secrets and a guilty conscience: can Isabel, who is almost too good to be true, redeem the family’s inherent status as the lost people ?

The questions of who these people are, what they’re doing here, who are the violent intruders, what are the noises off, how did the family get from that riverbank in a defeated Germany in 1945 via Italy to West Wales in 1992, are never fully resolved – and nor would we want them to be. Meredith Barker’s first play, Rabbit, despite an unsatisfactory production at Theatr Clwyd, revealed how he can create tensions and a sense of menace, and also how his plays can work on different levels.

In some ways that atmosphere is rather Pinterish but Barker is hardly economic with his dialogue, his speeches superrich with metaphor and replete with significance, his narrative more complex, his structure less tight, his references literary, scientific and linguistic.

Barker has lots on his mind and I suspect there is much to Aqua Nero that doesn’t emerge here and the presumably intentional ambiguities obscure questions like whether it is about retribution or fate, about identity, about second chances, about debts, about inheritance – all, of course, deep, dark, black waters.

David Adams
A riveting piece of theatre
Acqua Nero by Meredydd Barker
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Chapter Arts Centre Cariff
Acqua Nero is Sgript Cymru's final production prior to merging with the Sherman Theatre, and is directed by the company's Artistic Director Simon Harris. It is an artful and intriguing examination of how one man's lie plays out upon the subsequent generations of his family and it's a fascinating piece of theatre.

Meredydd Barker's story centres upon a war crime, committed in the closing moments of the Second World War, and he shifts its focus from two SS Officers and their Italian captive in 1945, to the home and family and failing mind of a Welsh-Italian grandfather living in Cardiff in the modern day. Switching between the two time frames, layer upon layer of complex deception begins to unravel.

That so complex a plot is here made the backbone for a riveting piece of theatre is yet another testament to Sgript Cymru's talent for nurturing their writers.

The design makes an impression from the start.
Designer Sean Crowley transforms the studio into a bright, lime-washed space, in which the audience are made to feel integral to the set, with the action unfolding around them. With strong lighting design by Elanor Higgins, the whole ensures that indoors and outdoors, past and present merge seamlessly, as much as they do in the mind of Old Dario Murazzo, authoritatively played by Mike Hayward. Hayward has all the command and strength of character needed to be compellingly dangerous when so called upon, and yet it is clear his Murazzo is complex, care-worn and troubled by years of living a lie.

The opening scenes could benefit from a tighter pace, but Simon Nehan as the ruthless Meer of the SS, with his "natural talent" for "unorthodox" and extreme assassinations, and Richard Ellis as young Dario Murazzo are every bit the captor and captive. However, as Meer's predicament develops, Nehan's characterisation gains substance so that by his final scene, he has an emotional depth and sensitivity that stands in stark contrast to his earlier brutality.
Dean Rehman brings an energy and life to his brief cameo as the Russian soldier, so that his violent demise is all the more affecting. Likewise Daniel Hawksford's Speigal: his is a cool, classy, and self-assured characterisation.

Eiry Hughes as Isabel gives the strongest performance of the night. Isabel has a fascinating, quiet strength beneath an apparently nervy, over-worked and insecure exterior. Her scenes with her father, Philip Ralph, are utterly compelling. The two struggle to work out their place in life, albeit in different ways, each one suspecting Murazzo, their father/grandfather, may not be who he says he is, and therefore both are left struggling with their own identities.

The complexities of the opening scenes may take a while to draw the audience in, but by the second Act the plot, the characters and the world they have created are entirely mesmeric, and early shortcomings are largely forgiven.

"Acqua Nero" runs at the Chapter Arts Stiwdio until March 17.
Alison Vale
Taut and intensely dramatic
Acqua Nero by Meredydd Barker
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Chapter Arts Centre
The difficulty reviewing this powerful new play by Meredydd Barker is that relating anything about the plot inevitably reveals what the audience should not know. Fair to say it concerns identity, betrayal, complex relationships and how disturbingly the past can affect the present. The past is the final chaotic days of the Third Reich - the present, an isolated Welsh farm 50 years later.

The Simon Harris staging is taut, intensely dramatic, violence contrasting with moments of genuine tenderness. However, the action takes too long supplying clues as to its significance, thus making it not easy to care about the characters and their undoubted problems.

Mike Hayward gives a memorable portrayal as the one-timer baker enmeshed in a web of lies, haunted by the past. His scenes with his grand-daughter (so sensitively played by Eiry Hughes) being particularly telling. A strong performance too from Philip Ralph as Paul, supported by Simon Nehan and Daniel Hawksford as members of the SS, Richard Elis as an Italian smuggler and Dean Rehman as a Russian soldier. The sparse setting by Sean Crowley has the audience seated on both sides of the long narrow split-level acting area, effectively lit by Elanor Higgins.

This is the final production in Sgript Cymru’s six years of presenting new works by Wales-based writers, a total of 20 productions in English and Welsh. Now the company is merging with the Sherman Theatre to tour new works on a national and international level.
Jon Holliday

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