Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Scottish Critics at Welsh National Theatres

At National Theatre

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru/ Sherman & National Theatre of Wales , Edinburgh , August-30-11
At National Theatre by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru/ Sherman & National Theatre of Wales “Llwyth” and “the Dark Philosophers” could not be more different, nor more complementary. One is a slice of contemporaneity; the other digs into layers of history and story-telling. One is realist, the other, with its masked protagonist, a blend of physical theatre, off-beat humour and unique design. “Completely insane if “the Dark Philosophers” doesn't have a future life” ran the Guardian’s “What to See” round-up 19th November last year. Both productions scored in Edinburgh.

Scotland has one theatre critic of note and Joyce McMillan got to see both shows. “It’s messy, it's wordy, it's over the top and sometimes all over the place” was how she saw Dafydd James’ play. “But still, there's no resisting the indiscreet charm of this latest show from Sherman Cymru of Wales, which creates a mighty car crash between traditional Welsh culture - the Eisteddfods, the song, the language - and the world of a bunch of gay men, aged between 15 and 50, on a night out in Cardiff.

Written in a fabulous mixture of English, Welsh, and the kind of 21st century "Wenglish" - Welsh structure, English vocabulary - that must give the language purists heart attacks…has more climaxes than the average porn movie, plunges wildly into emotional excess as Aneurin tries to face up to the death of his mother, and ends, unbelievably, with a fifteen-strong choir arriving on stage to sing a sentimental closing anthem, loosely based on I Am What I Am.

Despite its excesses, Llwyth is a play pulsing with energy, the kind of stereotype-busting cultural event which reclaims huge tracts of traditional Welsh male culture - including, after a fashion, the language itself - for those who might once have had to leave Wales entirely, in order to express the sexuality they were born with.”

Elsewhere The Edinburgh Reporter: “Llwyth is a brilliant, powerful, enigmatic production that takes the audience through a whole range of emotions from laughter, anger, grief to happiness…”. Festmag “it subtly mixes in themes of national, linguistic and sexual identity.”

“The Dark Philosophers” leaves in its wake a string of superlatives from the broadsheets. The News International Site is subscriber-only; Maxie Szalwinska in the Sunday Times writes of - “poignancy and heaps of off-kilter humour…Characters and stories tumble pell-mell out of a higgle-piggledly arrangement of cupboards.”

Back in Scotland Joyce McMillan: “this 2010 show based on the life and stories of the Welsh writer and thinker Gwyn Thomas marks a hugely theatrical and deeply enjoyable Scottish stage debut for the new English-language National Theatre Wales. Founded on a similar without-walls model to the National Theatre Of Scotland, it now takes the first steps in what could be a powerful creative relationship.

In a sense, in The Dark Philosophers - co-produced with the London-based physical theatre group Told By An Idiot - the NTW is carrying out one of the most traditional tasks of a national theatre, exploring and restoring the reputation of a neglected writer, whose short stories expressed a sharp, surreal vision of life in the Rhondda in the middle of the 20th century.

They do it, though, in a style that defies dusty convention. Angela Davies's superb set conjures up the teeming miners' terraces of a small valley town, crawling up the side of a looming mountain, with a great heap of old wooden wardrobes and tallboys, reflecting both the intense respectability and the heavy Victorian morality of domestic life in the valleys…a great chorus of song, orchestrated by (Scottish) composer and musical director Iain Johnstone.”
Full reviews can be read at joycemcmillan.wordpress.com.

Elsewhere Total Theatre Review: “Every element of the production is beautifully realised: the characterisations (flirty barmaids, tired miners, and a shy lad ‘so thin he’s liable to fall through the cracks in the pavement’); the feisty physical action (a rip-roaring Commedia-style fight scene, a kitchen-table murder, a dodgy cabaret singer’s worst moment, seen through the eyes of her audience of male admirers); the sound (great booming crashes from the pits, gently tinkling pianos, and the odd tune on a ukelele); the design, which conjures up a sepia-tinged, earthy world – the nutty wood brown ‘architecture’ lit with street-lamp ambers. The text, crafted by Carl Grose, is both poetic and cheerily colloquial.”

Slainte!

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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