Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Lacking understanding and fails to engage

At National Theatre

A Good Night Out in the Valleys- National Theatre Wales , Coliseum Aberdare , March 27, 2010
At National Theatre by A Good Night Out in the Valleys- National Theatre Wales It most certainly was a good night out in the top town of the Aberdare valley. The pre-war intimate Coliseum Theatre was packed to the rafters and I’m sure it will be again tonight. The audience relished Boyd Clack’s chicken-skinned rough banter on the stage as they recognised many of their own foibles and expressions in the characters surrounding him in this mirror of valley’s life held at a somewhat skewed angle.

For me, a boy who had spent his early years just a few miles away from the Coliseum, it was a thrill to welcome the first production of the long desired National Theatre of Wales, if not quite on to my mother’s door step then to a place just up the road. Sadly my excitement was soon diminished as the play unfolded. Alan Harris, now firmly established as a playwright both here in Wales and across the boarder, in this work, like his play Orange and his recent Cardboard Dad, he leaves the ‘I’s un-dotted and the ‘T’s uncrossed. Nevertheless he has created some well sketched, if not completely rounded characters and some lively dialogue.

In his first production, National Theatre Artistic Director John E McGrath seems to have chosen to give a jangly edge to his characters that, coupled with the short-comings in the writing, is the main weakness of the production in that the characters and the narrative fail to engage with the audience and we are unable to warm to or care about any of them or about any thing that happens to them.

Larger than life, Boyd Clack, around whom the play is centred gives us a wonderful lesson in the art of course acting and this style of acting seems to have rubbed off on the rest of the cast although Huw Rhys, particularly as Kyle the returning protagonist, does impose a welcome degree of sensitivity onto his character that gives him a strong presence on the stage. Not that he’s the only strong one there; Sharon Morgan is a hoot as she struggles to control her wayward dog, a stuffed one on wheels that we are never quite sure if she is convinced it’s real or not. Sharon Morgan is one of the most sensitive and engaging actors working in Wales today but her natural abilities seem to have been suppressed by the production.

Oliver Wood who has emerged as a fine young committed actor delivers these lines with very little feeling and seems to be holding back on his characterisation. Siwan Morris has a good shot at Dirty Karen but doesn’t quite bring to the role the conviction it requires. Local girl Amy Starling does bring a welcome degree of verisimilitude to her playing but in a short scene towards the end of the play, where she plays a nurse in a hospital where the father of one of Oliver Wood’s characters is dying, she makes a remark in a high pitched stereotypical ‘valleys’ voice that totally undermines the poignancy of the humour of that moment.

Is it a lack of care, a lack of understanding or maybe a lack of theatrical wisdom that has undermined what could have been a really good night out in the valleys and a great start to the life of the National Theatre Wales?

Many of the grandmothers of second world-war baby-boomers carried in them a grain of bitterness as a result of surviving the rigours of the industrial revolution. The humour was left to their mainly miner husbands who spent most of their time underground or in the pub. The work ethic, the family ethic, the caring ethic and the sense of humour has played a major part in giving us the heritage we have in South Wales today. Little of this was acknowledged in this production.

If the National Theatre Wales is to fulfil its promise to produce “world class work across Wales” it will need to raise its game. John E McGrath has put together a very exciting and dynamic programme, a demanding play a month across the whole of Wales. He will need to find that excellence that has eluded him this time.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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