Theatre in Wales

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A Winner

At National Theatre

National Theatre of Wales- The Village Social , Aberaeron Memorial Hall , October-29-11
At National Theatre by National Theatre of Wales- The Village Social National Theatre of Wales came up for discussion in the spring on S4C’s “Pethe Hwyrach”. One of the talking heads made the point that the eclecticism of the first year programme was such that a house style was hard to identify. It is a valid point, but it does not matter. Predictability is a prerogative of middle age. Ben Lewis and Dafydd James’ “the Village Social” bubbles with youthful zest. It got itself a raucous audience in Neath, a cheering one in Aberaeron. The company has another winner on its hands.

The makers claim a debt to Euripides and “the Bacchae.” There is a touch of “the Wicker Man” to it, a hint of Durrenmatt’s “the Visit”. More recently, it feels as if Conor McPherson’s “the Weir”, with its studied naturalism, has been turned upside down and given a dose of flamboyant black comedy. The village of Cae Bach- (a knowing syllable away from Richard Burton’s home of Taibach?)- may be a façade of normality but it is built upon dark pagan spirits.

Darren Lawrence is Committee Chair Lawrence. With a forward tilt to his posture, and all three buttons on his herringbone jacket tightly fastened, he is the perpetual re-assurer that all is well. But, beneath the exterior of public confidence, lustful passions lurk, along with strangely-motifed underpants.

Rebecca Harries is Lisa-Jen, arrived in the village in 1998, now local historian, Community Engagement Officer, and unlikely yoga teacher. Oliver Wood is Security Dave with his grandiose radio call-in moniker of “Desert Rat to Stealth Fighter.” When he recounts a savage routing of the Romans by the native Silurians, it is Lisa-Jen who pops up with her more prosaic historical account.

Carys Eleri is Yvonne of the blonde hair and tottering gold high heels. Sue Roderick is vaguely wandering Jean, the committee member responsible for health and safety. It is a role that matters when the evening is to include a historic, eight-foot long spear, kept well secret from the attention of Cadw.

The art of the lyric is in the rhyme. Ben Lewis and Dafydd James serve up witty rhyming schemes like “improvements/ bowel movements”, “hang loose”/ “gastric juice” and “turpitude/ certitude”. Their script has a powerful sense of structure. By nature of its form, the first forty minutes of “the Village Social” has a slightly halting rhythm to it. The exposition and inter-character relationships could benefit from an extra sharpness. National Theatre of Wales is admirably lean in structure, high in innovation, but lacks a dramaturg. You can sense it here, and in the advertising copy of the promotional flier that under-serves the production.

But the first part is more than compensated for by the unfolding of Cae Bach’s nightmare evening. Cai Dyfan is designer of the hall stage with its gaudy strip foil and animal skull. Tessa Sillars-Powell, a recent RWCMD design graduate, has created a medieval monk unlike any that has gone before. Carys Eleri is a scrofulous ball of brown who hauls a worthy Aberaeron citizen to her feet to participate in her song of tribute to stink and the breaking of wind. Gwydion Rees is Facebook-denigrating Dion who prefers “the real world”, or his version of it. He leads seven geeky, gawky Woodcraft folk in song. Students from Coleg Ceredigion, they have joined the cast earlier in the day.

At one point Cae Bach’s power fails. There is a ripple of genuine fear as the committee reaches for torch and candle. Their late visitor is a creepy, bent-backed figure, shrouded in black.

Lucy Rivers’ violin is playing from the moment the house doors open. Her jigs induce a spirit of light-heartedness long before a line has been spoken. Not only do Dafydd James’ fingers skip across the keyboard, but he picks up a trombone from time to time.

The quality of the singing, attests Aberaeron’s foremost musical authority, is excellent. An occasional lyric is lost, but that is the price of singing behind a veil. “The Village Social” has form, vision, distinctiveness. There hasn’t been anything quite like it on a Welsh stage; certainly never in the venues that the tour is visiting.

The personal highlight has to be Oliver Wood, transformed from Dave in his yellow security jacket into skirt and blonde wig. His injunction to “Men, Let’s Dance” is indelible. Cardiff theatre-goers get an “Oliver” revival this season; happier to be in Bethesda, Llangwm, Abertridwr or any of the other thirteen venues to be visited by “the Village Social” this Autumn.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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