Theatre in Wales

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A safe start with an unashamed crowd-pleaser.

At National Theatre

A Good Night Out in the Valleys- National Theatre Wales , Blackwood Miners Institute , March-14-10
At National Theatre by A Good Night Out in the Valleys- National Theatre Wales Despite the hype few probably expected National Theatre Wales first show to be an unqualified success. It took its Scottish counterparts several attempts before striking gold.

So writing the first ever review of National Theatre Wales it is quite a relief to be able to say that this will be deemed a success although largely as an unashamed crowd-pleaser but with strong production values and fine acting.

Having said that this was another of those lonely in a crowd scenarios. I sat next to National Theatre Wales boss and the show’s director John McGrath but I could not squeeze out a giggle let alone a guffaw at the slap stick comedy. Maybe I have seen too many hilarious yet poignant Frank Vickery Valley comedies.

This was all the worse as several sections of the audience, clearly the majority, laughed like drains even at a former miner coughing up his lungs. Overdone pathos maybe but hilarious, surely not.

Similarly, was it meant to be ironic that the play was set in a miners’ institute in a dead end village where every shop had two roles (the running gag of the piece) where the ‘Stute is the heart of the community staging dreadful entertainment. That contrasted with the reality of this ‘Stute surrounded by vast superstores and fast food outlets but offering quality work from the National Theatre Wales to National Dance Company Wales.

It all actually feels more like the years I worked as reporter in the Valleys from Maesteg to Ebbw Vale via Dowlais Top, then covering the miners’ strike for the Western Mail and the pit closure years, rather than 25 years later.

Think film Local Hero transposed from 1983 oil industry Scotland threatening a way of life to contemporary South Wales. Local boy comes home to get his revenge on the community that drove out his scab family. How? By carrying out a geological survey for mining that would require demolition of the ‘Stute, symbol of those who turned on his father. Then we have the conventional format of star crossed lovers, this time from scab and striker families – and a predictable happy ending.

The action mainly takes place inside a failing miners’ institute in a stagnant village. Designer Angela Davies has raked seating but in front are tables and chairs, a band, the stage and then behind that a few rows of audience facing us.

Our players hang around outside as we arrive; a burger van, Bevan’s Meats & Treats, across the road feeds (literally) into the running pun of every shop having two roles (butchers and massages).

We have characters such as Prior Bad Bang (think mining explosion), Dirty Sue and Stan Shandy whose lives intertwine with a variety of sub plots which may be based in reality but fail to come up to the standard of the acting.

The structure is standard for musical comedies but here without the singing and dancing: lots of laughs in the first half, big welcome back after interval, serious stuff, then happy ending.

Sharon Morgan (whack granny) , Boyd Clack (Con, the ‘Stute manager), Siwan Morris (boxing wannabe) are all excellent and given a run for their money in acting stakes by Huw Rhys (Kyle – the Romeo figure) and Amy Starling (Con’s daughter and Kyle’s Juliet) and Oliver Wood (misunderstood son) bring out the very best of Alan Harris’ script.

But with too many scene changes the use of video becomes essential to make sense of what was happening rather than being an added dimension.

I don’t know what the tablets were that the son gives to his dying father that finishes him off. But I think Boyd Clack must have passed on his happy pills as well as the reins of the ‘Stute to young Huw Rhys as he too starts seeing ballerinas in the dust.

And the best lines? These came from Amy Starling towards the end but then these were her singing - and singing extremely well - Catatonia’s Valerian.

A good if rather safe start.

Reviewed by: Mike Smith

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