Theatre in Wales

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Spring Awakening Indeed for Theatr Genedlaethol

At National Theatre

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru- Deffro'r Gwanwyn , Sir Geraint Evans Leisure Centre Aberaeron , March-26-11
At National Theatre by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru- Deffro'r Gwanwyn Let’s face it. A night out with Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru had become a bit like a Sunday visit to the grandparents. There was a lot of affection all round, no doubt about it. They did their best to keep up to date but you felt they did not quite make it. A visit was always worthwhile but it was not likely to set the blood racing.

Times past. A third of the audience that sold out the first performance in Aberaeron’s leisure centre was aged under twenty. Nine out of the cast of thirteen are aged twenty-five and below. The show received a standing ovation. If there was ever a season in which Mold and Carmarthen between them produced a pair of absolute gold-plated theatrical winners, well, it was long before my time.

“Deffro’r Gwanwyn” is not “Guys and Dolls” but that is because authors Sater and Sheik are not Frank Loesser. But that is like criticising a Mark Ravenhill play because he’s not Shakespeare. The book is utterly faithful to Wedekind’s shocker of an original play. The scene in which Ellen Ceri Lloyd’s Wendla asks to be beaten by Aled Pedrick’s Melchior still shocks. So does the scene of group masturbation and reform school violence. The final departure of the dead children has a physical, emotional impact amplified by director Elen Bowman’s choice of a thrust stage.

As a musical the show has several stand-out company numbers. Elen Bowman stages the final “the Song of Purple Summer” with her cast all seated. This choice renders its elegiac tone all the more affecting. The best ballad must be “Don’t Do Sadness”, beautifully shared by Llynwen Haf Roberts’ Ilse and Iddon Jones’ Moritz.

For the two big belters choreographer Bridie Doyle has her performers strutting, stomping, twitching. In “the Bitch of Living” a couple of the men execute synchronised handstands. I had been wondering how Dafydd James might render “Totally F----ed”; not exactly a phrase that pops up in an Wlpan class. In fact he keeps it as it is, with the visceral force of the original words.

Alex Eales’ complex set represents a school with its wooden stools and wall bars with their intimations of a gaol cell. It is flexible enough to allow a grave and a pit from which Dyfed Thomas’ creepy abortionist can emerge. Ace McCarron’s lighting design at times picks out individual faces, at times highlights the whites of the shirts beneath the boys’ black waistcoats.

The out-of-view five strong band is led by Dyfan Jones. Rachel Davies’ violin gives the quieter songs their lyrical underlay. The more upbeat numbers get their rhythm from Myfyr Isaac’s driving guitar and Ryan Aston’s tremendous drumming.

“Deffro’r Gwanwyn” has the most vigorous masturbation, the most luscious gay kiss I’ve seen on a stage. But then maybe I’ve been at the wrong shows. There is any number of fine directorial touches. Just listen to Meilir Rhys Williams’ horrible little giggle after he has delivered a boot to the bollocks. When teacher grabs an ear and twists a pupil’s ear it is wince-making. In the composite number “Touch Me” the company is placed close together and the scene just seethes with frustration and the need for intimacy.

Far back in the archive of time Lyn T. Jones said “ I believe that extending a warm welcome to a new audience is absolutely essential.” The company needed this production. I checked out with a company member; the storm of a reception it got from Aberaeron’s audience was nothing new.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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