Theatre in Wales

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Second Viewing Confirms Production’s Status

The Village Social

National Theatre of Wales , Llandinam Village Hall , November-11-11
The Village Social   by National Theatre of Wales   Llandinam Village Hall stands a hundred yards along the Severn from the statue of David Davies. No single family has had a greater impact on the physical, cultural and political map of Wales. Davies’ railway cutting west of Caersws was the deepest in the world until the digging of the Corinth Canal.

The majority of community halls, nearly all west of Powys, are of a later date than that of Llandinam. Most were built by public subscription in response to the Great War. Few had benefit of an architect. Llandinam Village Hall is the donation of a dynasty of wealth, rooted in a Calvinist sense of social obligation. Neo-Tudor in style it has semi-circle oriel windows, topped by the cone-shaped towers of French and Scottish castles. Its first floor houses the grandest of billiard rooms. Its ceramic basins date from 1912. The building smacks of the love and care of its community.

Located just out of view from the main route through Powys, the Hall makes a fine metaphor for the National Theatre of Wales. Performance that is opening up new space and not just for new audiences but for new participants.

It is good for a reviewer to have to think again. The London critics went in for a dose of purging self-flagellation in recanting their first takes on Sarah Kane. The first forty minutes of “the Village Social” work well. Seeing it a second time, the rightness of the structure comes over. The symmetry of the two halves, the denouement, the formal circularity are evidence of high writing craft.

Before the show opens the cast pace the aisle and bar area. Oliver Wood as Security Dave is agitated about the unruly double-parking outside. Rebecca Harries’ Lisa-Jen looks more frazzled at their special guest’s non-arrival. Sue Roderick’s Jean seems vaguer, Carys Eleri’s Yvonne even brassier and breezier.

The first section generously hands out a number of solo set pieces. They were good the first time. Second time round is the opportunity to relish just how good.
Darren Lawrence has a great gesture of raising his clipboard to obscure a conversation when all his arrangements are going awry. He sings of a little girl who dances. His lack of arm and body movement makes the trajectory from innocuous start to heartless outcome all the more delicious.

Oliver Wood has displayed gifted comic timing before for National Theatre of Wales. That gift is on display again in his tale of “Johnny Roman” versus “the hard bastards of Cae Bach.” Carys Eleri does a lovely swilling from a trough as she tells the tale of the monk with the reek that can be smelt “from Prestatyn to Llantwit Major.” Her voice too in her big number- and not many a musical contains a line like “let a whoopee out of your rear end”- vaults across the octaves.

Gwydion Rees as Dion merges the nervy, the nerdy and the anguished into a single character. A grin can flash across his face, his eyebrows make a nervous arch. Add in the truly astonishing voice that he sustains in his second role, and this is a great performance from a young actor.

The dramatic crux comes in the revelations that Madame Isis makes of the committee that has invited her to Cae Bach. She also makes funny accusations of her audience. The figure makes the creepiest of entries. She is deeply shrouded. As such the lines of denunciation do lose their punch. Sometimes an audience needs to just see it, to be told it straight.

The Woodcraft Folk come courtesy of Llanidloes’ secondary school, year ten pupils although “a couple of year nines snuck in.” The official verdict: “the kids have been terrific.” The entry that Sue Roderick makes is the entry of a career. It could well be one of the great theatre entries ever.

A programme for a production is part of the audience experience and the part that gets taken home. It is also a part of the marketing and branding mix. National Theatre of Wales, true to mission, has from the start opted for an innovative design. The format is newspaper design, no gloss, no advertisements. The quality of presentation is not good. Letters are dropped out, the plural “s” gone, misplaced capitals, question marks absent. Proof reading costs nothing. It just has to be done.

In “Midsummer” David Greig composed a bitter-sweet hymn of devotion to his native Edinburgh. The play is travelling the world. “Chronicles of Long Kesh”, which toured Wales this last winter, encapsulated the grit, flavour and politics of Ulster. They are distilled, representative pieces of theatre. In distinctiveness, character and pure theatricality “the Village Social” stands alongside these ambassadorial works from Scotland and Ireland. It is essentially of the now but evokes deeper themes and fears. It is bereft of the self-consciousness and introspection that may characterise indigenous theatre. It deserves to be seen by the world.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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