Theatre in Wales

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At Wales Theatre Company

Wales Theatre Company- Amazing Grace , Sherman Theatre Carrddiff , April 6, 2005
If passion, enthusiasm, commitment and a flair for melody are the components for a successful piece of musical theatre, then Mal Pope, composer and lyricist of Amazing Grace has them exuding from every pore. And he brings it off, here in partnership with writer Frank Vickery and the company’s artistic director Michael Bogdanov the building blocks of the first great Welsh Musical are set down.

He combines the music of traditional Welsh hymn singing, through Cole Porter via Sondheim with a touch of Andrew Lloyd Webber and a tea-spoon from his mate Elton John to produce what may become the new Welsh Sound. In the hands of seasoned performers like Peter Karrie, voted the greatest Phantom ever, it becomes electric. His performance as fire and brimstone preacher Rev Peter Price has in it a fine touch of humour and his song You Never Threw a Party For Me is a breathtaking show stopper. This is the quality and excitement we need to bring to the stage in Wales.

Robert Barton looks superb as Evan Roberts as he twists in his bed, becomes possessed by the Holy Spirit and calls out plaintively in his opening prayer Why Me and then goes on to establish the ‘The Great Welsh Religious Revival’. There is resistance from his family with firm no-nonsense Welsh performances from Phillip Arran and Rhian Morgan as his father and mother but loving support from his sister, Mary, sensitively and beautifully sung and acted by Shân Cothi.

The atmosphere of early twentieth century Wales is well drawn with scenes of home, chapel and working life flashing before us. Some of his fellow miners, who in 1904 were working their way to the great confrontation with the coal owners, feel his devotion to prayer is undermining their rebellion. Lee Gilbert gives a good strong performance as Miner’s Leader Will Hay with great singing support from his fellow miners played by Rhys Ap William, Evan’s brother, Adam Kelly and Ieuan Rhys who also turn up in various other roles as the story progresses.

We see Evan at work passionately savings souls in Moriah Chapel. The London Press has sent their representative to find his way to Lougher and report back. This allows Jon Cecil as newsman W T Stead to act as narrator and he does a fine job, moving things along and updating us on events as they happen.

The revival builds and Evan Roberts is wanted in chapels all over Wales and beyond. Wherever he goes he is supported by a close band of young women, ‘The Singers of Dawn’, prettily voiced, Beth Robert, Felicity Rhys and Llinos Daniel, led by Mirain Haf, a sincere and delicate performance as Annie, who falls seriously in love with Roberts. Roberts’ close association with these young women is also used to threaten him. At one point they do show an erotic leg, buts that’s just a bit of satire. By the time he goes to preach in Liverpool something has undermined him and he fails to produce his usual souls saving routine. A vulnerable Roberts withdraws from the scene and we are left wondering was this man really sincere in his commitment to God or was he suffering from a deluded misunderstanding of his own ‘unimportance’.

One outstanding unique aspect of this serious exploration of man’s passion and beliefs was that it never took itself too seriously and it contains many moments of tongue-in-cheek humour. There were also moments when things slipped a little but Bogdanov is a fine seaman and quickly brings the ship back on course and steers what may well be, with a few bits of fine tuning, the first Great New Welsh Musical triumphantly into port. Indicating that it’s now time for The Wales Theatre Company ship to ‘sail full steam ahead’.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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