Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

An epic and totally engaging play


National Youth Theatre of Wales- An Informer's Duty , The Riverfront Newport , September 12, 2006
At NYTW by National Youth Theatre of Wales- An Informer's Duty With this revival of his fascinating play Greg Cullen, The National Youth Theatre of Wales’ Artistic Director is again able to bring us a great sweep of wonderful theatre that could hardly ever be seen in the professional theatre world but is given a totally professional and compelling performance here. He has a very large cast of young people all of whom win our confidence that our future will lie well within their arms. Whilst it is clear they do have an inspirational director the commitment of every member of the cast, however small their part might be, is total and full of great enthusiasm.

Early in the second quarter of the twentieth century, on the death of Lenin, Stalin took control of the leadership of the USSR. He sought to ensure his position by eliminating all opposition. At the end of the war he was hailed ‘Generalissismo’, ‘ Hero of the Soviet Union’. His reign of terror is played out here, following his difficult and ultimately tragic relationship with the great Russian Composer Dimitri Shostakovitch. He dominates the scene, sitting high up, at a desk, dressed in a blood red military uniform, on a platform overlooking the whole of the stage. Shostakovitch sits way down below, “at the bottom of a stair well with a suitcase. He does so because he does not want to disturb his wife, baby and neighbours when the secret police come to arrest him.”

The stage design of Rachel Canning and Charlotte Neville is a strong sculptural work of sharp angles, bursting screens and bright colours. This is picked up by the multicoloured Harlequinesque costumes of the musicians that stroll enigmatically in and out of the action as the story progresses. All this is backed by great sweeps of Shostokovich’s symphonies giving, at times, theatre on an operatic scale, contrasting with the intimate scenes between the composer and his family and close friends.

Carwyn James gives us a delightful portrayal of a smiling self satisfied Josef Stalin, a performance of bonhomie that belies the monster beneath the surface. Leo Jofeh is quite a remarkable Shostakovitch, he even looks like him and produces an extremely sensitive and compelling performance, as Nina, Catrin Stewart perfectly conveys the torment a wife and mother has to endure through these enormously stressful times. Anna Akhmatova, one of Russia’s greatest twentieth century poets, who like Shostakovitch was eventually able to enjoy more settled times in the new Russia was given a delicate and commanding performance by Lowri Walton. As a narrator figure, her poetic and philosophic verses were delivered in Welsh with English translation on a screen above her. At other times the Welsh language springs out of some of the more conversational scenes. Whilst the bilingualism embraced by Cullen is to be welcomed, I did, as a failed wlpan student, find it a little confusing some of the time. And some of the tableau scenes may have been a tad too long.

In this cruel reminder of the worst aspects of our humanity we see Stalin’s geeks deal out torture and murder until as the play ends the other protagonists, the playwright Meyerhold and his wife the poet Mandelstam and his wife, Ivan Sollertinsky, as well as others who even though they had upheld the regime had to be eliminated, are lined up ready to be mowed down by rifle fire. A startling ending to an epic and totally engaging play that was a great joy to experience yet a sorry reminder of the difficult times we are still living in.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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