Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Welsh Theatre in Scotland: from “Baby” to “Muscle” and “Ash”

Wales at Edinburgh Fringe

Seven Companies at the Fringe , Edinburgh , August-30-11
Wales at Edinburgh Fringe by Seven Companies at the Fringe Wales has been in Edinburgh many times before. “Frida and Diego” scored a Fringe First all of twenty-two years ago. The Sherman won acclaim for “Deep Cut” in 2008 and “Speechless” in 2010. Dafydd James and Ben Lewis went down a storm in 2009 with “A Boy Called Sue.” Louche Theatre made their first trip in 2010. Venue 13, the theatre run by students from the RWCMD’s stage management course, has been regular host to productions and performers from Wales. But 2011 has been exceptional.

Debt, recession, cutbacks may be the spectres in our real world but they are unknown at Edinburgh. At least that is the surface. Many a production is there on the back of stressed-out credit cards. But the numbers are astounding- two thousand, five hundred and forty-two productions spanning two hundred and fifty-eight venues. The Welsh presence in numerical terms is tiny but the array of shows in 2011 is without precedent. And collectively the artistic impact has been considerable.

The Fringe is as much a reviewing frenzy as a production frenzy. Many first-time reviewers try out their hand for a plethora of overnight publications and sites. Some are better than others. Those at Broadway Baby have a tendency to get not much further than plot description. ScotsGay has a good record of attracting sharp writers.

A computer scientist at the University of California, Sean Davis, writes a paragraph on between a hundred and fifty and two hundred shows every year. His is a voice I like; it is that of pure, unaffected enthusiasm. Of “Llwyth” he writes “Though...there were many British proper nouns unknown to me, I still found the events quite affecting. I cannot remember another show that portrayed gay men gently touching each other when it conveyed genuine friendship with no sexual undercurrents.”

Venue 13 is an under-known gem of a venue. Not only does it have a garden but it has decent sightlines and ventilation. However, its location suffers from being a six-minute walk from the main circuit of tramping feet. The Pleasance, not that far away, seethes with crowds enough to belie its name. Venue 13 is by contrast a little island of tranquillity.

Mercury Theatre’s “Nine Suitcases” won a late review from Three Weeks. “The two performers – actor David Prince and musician Bethan Morgan – carry the action superbly. Jumping between drama and tragedy, Prince’s physical performance encompasses Zsolt’s conflicted humanity and story, shifting voices and movement to portray the various caricatures encountered on his way. Morgan’s music impressively reinforces the tone and experiences, and the subtle staging consists of five pieces of furniture which demarcate each part of the journey, with the narrator moving between them. A compelling close up on the Holocaust, this play is equally quest and character study, with each side wonderfully produced.”

At the same venue Unknown Theatre’s “A Night’s Tale” has attracted an unusual amount of audience feedback: “Really enjoyable show. Great story, well performed.” “Great show, my three girls aged 7,8 and 9 all enjoyed it.” “This show was absolutely fantastic and I would thoroughly recommend it. The story was captivating, the songs were catchy and the whole performance was brilliantly acted by a talented and enthusiastic crew. Myself and my family of 4 children, age 9-15, all enjoyed it. Well done and thank you.” “An unexpected delight.”

Notional Theatre’s “Fragments of Ash”, also Venue 13, has a reputation sufficient to attract a reviewer from the Stage. “Using a complex mix of genres and time frames, writer and director Terry Victor succeeds in bringing a horrifyingly lucid message to the stage. It is a great ensemble performance that slips easily between those genres but succeeds in keeping the whole narrative clear.”

Festmag: “Part monologue, part seamless ensemble performance, much of the play's power lies in its bold manipulation of character and performance space. The central storyline is accompanied by tautly choreographed dance played out by actors constantly switching roles. Writer/director Terry Victor harnesses this ebb and flow of physical movement in order to orchestrate the play's pace and emotional tone while fully utilising the stage. This fluid directorial approach lends it a uniquely composite feel, subtly indicative of its central theme: the universality of human grief….Powerfully acted and brilliantly realised, it packs the emotional and intellectual weight of a much longer play into one emotionally exhausting hour of theatre.”

Memo to ACW: this one needs to be seen across Wales.

On the other side of Calton Hill, Louche Theatre’s “Be My Baby” at Greenside has Broadway Baby enthusiastic: “Standing out from the group is Queenie, played by Julie McNicholls. Cynical and worldly, she takes the other girls by the scruff of the neck with tough love wrapped up in Northern vowels. As each pregnant girl develops we see each story is run through with a thread of sadness and the poignancy of having to give up their children for adoption. As youthful exuberance flickers out from their gloomy predicament there are moments of both tears and laughter.”

The main C Venue in Chambers Street is a packed, unkempt place. Hardly anyone, employee or punter, seems older than twenty-two or three. But it is a centre of the action. Cwmni 3Ds “Richard Parker” at C SoCo is, according to Broadway Baby, “Filled with dark humour, fluid dialogues…this show is bound to thoroughly amuse, startle and entertain…The two actors, Gareth John Bale and Alistair Sill, give an impressive and convincing performance.”

Shurl Productions’ “An Audience with Shurl” at Spaces on the Mile is described as “storytelling at its very best. The pacing and sound quality of the production are simply stunning. Music and soft lighting create a captivating and strangely hypnotic ambiance, which is cemented by Schilperoort’s amazing vocal ability.”

Seventhly, and finally, Shock and Awe with “Muscle”, at Zoo Roxy, has had pre-Festival work-outs at Chapter. Greg Cullen talked to the Western Mail on 5th August about some of the show’s background. Sponsorship offers go awry. Actor numbers need to be reduced. Others leave on the brink of production. Re-writes are frantic. The working day goes on until dawn. “Muscle” gets to Scotland, on a wave of sheer will and debt, to win a “Herald Angel Award” from the Herald Newspaper.

The Stage: “a rather subtle and deftly-handled ensemble piece of verbatim theatre, with short segments of interpretive dance interspersed into the action…Each story is refreshingly cliché-free and all are exceptionally well performed by a multi-talented ensemble, who are equally adept at the more physical elements of the piece or delivering an emotive monologue. Together the separate stories are woven together to create a surprising, entertaining and authentic portrayal of what it is to be a man.”

Broadway Baby: “The monologues are seamlessly entwined with physical theatre that works to present these very different cases of masculinity with a sharpness and a raw manner. Muscle thrusts a lot of aggression and masculinity around the space and this beautifully contrasts with sections of delicacy that address the story of a boy with a muscle deterioration disease. The ensemble works well together, appearing as a family rather than a team, and the poignant choreography achieves a subtlety that emerges from this compelling piece.”

If “Muscle” is a classic of theatre-makers’ indomitability it is a tale too that has a happy ending. An ACW grant is sending it out on tour across Wales in the coming year.



Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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