Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Amazing Grace

Wales Theatre Company , Swansea Grand Theatre , March-29-05
This review was first published in the South Wales Evening Post

Hot on the heels of a Grand Slam victory and a home-grown revival of Doctor Who comes this all-new stage musical from the Wales Theatre Company chronicling the Welsh Revival of 1904, spearheaded by a young miner from Loughor called Evan Roberts.

Rarely has a new production at the Grand been so eagerly anticipated by such a wide cross-section of theatregoers, and it is fair to say that the wait has been worthwhile.

For composer/lyricist Mal Pope this is clearly a labour of love and his passion for the subject shines through every minute of what, in lesser hands, could so easily have been yet another glum and introspective piece of Welsh navel-gazing.

To his credit, however, Pope - together with writer Frank Vickery and the company's visionary Artistic Director Michael Bogdanov - has well and truly come up with the goods and has placed the story within a framework which is engaging, persuasive and hugely entertaining.

Roberts is portrayed by Robert Barton, a Ioan Gruffydd-lookalike with a suitably charismatic stage presence, while Shân Cothi shines as his sister Mary. There are also splendid contributions from Phillip Arran, Rhian Morgan, Lee Gilbert, Ieuan Rhys and Jon Cecil as W.T. Stead, the journalist who serves as narrator.

Mirain Haf, Beth Robert, Felicity Rhys and Llinos Daniel also fare well as Roberts' "Singers of the Dawn".

The biggest performance, however - in every sense of the word - comes from musical theatre stalwart Peter Karrie, whose portrayal of the fire-and-brimstone preacher Peter Price is sensational. Given the chance to perform a showstopper with real emotional depth, he seizes it with both hands and emerges triumphant.

While many of the songs are determinedly contemporary – with the odd sly wink to other stage musicals here and there, such as the sequence in which Roberts is manipulated like a puppet (shades of Roxie Hart in Chicago) - they are juxtaposed with hymn tunes which lend a timeless air to the production.

Not only does the piece have much to say about the events of 1904 but it also touches upon the ongoing obsession with celebrity, fame and the power of the media - and there is also a cheeky reference to the Evening Post, in spite of the fact that the title did not exist until 1932.

My only minor niggle surrounds the cameo appearance by Huw Edwards, who appears on video to tell us what became of the characters at the end of the story. This smacks of gimmickry and is perhaps a little incongruous, but it could have been worse: it could have been Anne Robinson.

Reviewed by: Graham Williams

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