Theatre in Wales

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Masterly and beautifully poetic

At National Theatre Wales

National Theatre Wales- the Persians , Cilieni Village , August 16, 2010


Now at the half way point in his challenging, brave and eclectic first year programme Artistic Director John McGrath has come up with an extremely demanding production, just getting the audience to the ‘theatre’ was a very complex process and he has proven that all the multiple wheels of this fast emerging company are well oiled and turning well.

He has brought together some of the finest creative talents working in Wales today and has melded them together to produce this highly unique and exciting drama, probably the company’s most artistically fulfilling production to date.

The fun and excitement started with our journey by charabanc riding across the top of the Brecon Beacons, through the lush pasture country of Sennybridge. As we rose higher, being driven up towards the clouds the pasture turned to scrub-land, sheep skipped out of the way of the ongoing bus, a bird of prey flew past the window. We climbed out into a bleak atmosphere, a grey village, Cilieni. The half finished concrete buildings were part of Brecon Beacons military range where young men are trained for modern warfare.

As we were to learn from Kaite O’Reilly’s masterly and beautifully poetic version of Aeschylus’ tragic story, the brutal unkindness of warfare differs very little today from the way it did 500 years before Christ.

We were given khaki coloured plastic ponchos and told to put them on. We stood, a dull green mass waiting for things to commence. An elegant mid twentieth century car draws up beside us. Four grey suited men get out; one embraces the ground of his homeland. We are the Persian people awaiting news of our armies’ invasion of Greece. This chorus of State elders tell us there is no news but they remain optimistic. They talk and later move in an edgy manner reflecting the strong zeitgeist that director Mike Pearson has cleverly drawn across the production. Richard Lynch, Richard Huw Morgan, John Rowley and Gerald Tyler make an essential and compelling input into the sharply atmospheric world we are now all living in.

A cameraman constantly hovers on the side of the action, filming it all. Screens hang in each room across the cheerless house. News of the massive defeat of the Persian army comes via an on-screen messenger, a superb and very real recital of doom and horror from Richard Harrington
Darius’ widowed Queen mourns her nation’s loss and that of her son Xerxes. Aided by her enigmatic Lady in Waiting Rosa Casado, Sian Thomas gives a masterly performance.

This is a twenty first century classical presentation of an ancient classical drama. Mike Pearson has made it clear that he has not set out to draw any parallels with present day conflicts. I feel sure Aeschylus would be very impressed with this production. The queen shares her bleak thoughts with her dead husband and he responds from a large screen set high up in the eaves of the building. More striking and penetrating words from Paul Rhys as Darius. In the dusk that now surrounds us we see Xerxes running towards the house. He is exhausted but the elders turn on him and blame him for the great defeat. As the play draws to its shadowy close he agonises and tears himself apart, again another very strong performance from the youthful Rhys Rusbatch.

If there were moments of self concsiousness in this very challenging production, they were few and will iron themselves out as the play progresses on its unique journey ’til August 21st.

I was thinking of saying that as a result of feeling colder and colder as the play progressed that I would have been just as greatly moved, absorbed by just as great a catharsis if this had been a built set on a stage in a comfortable warm theatre but I’ve decided not to.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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