Theatre in Wales

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Imaginative High for Cultural Olympiad Close

At National Theatre

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru- Y Storm , United Counties Showground Carmarthen , September-20-12
At National Theatre by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru- Y Storm “Y Storm” is not the first Welsh Shakespeare in these months of the World Shakespeare Festival. Back in July television’s “the Hollow Crown” saw Alex Clatworthy and Robert Pugh, surprisingly, speak in the language belonging to their characters. That film trilogy was shot in a distinctive palette of low tones and slate greys. For Theatr Genedlaethol’s elevated contribution to the festival, director Elen Bowman, designer Naomi Dawson and costume designer Iona Williams have created a colour schema that starts similarly muted and gradually explodes across the spectrum.

When Llion Williams’ Prospero makes his entry he is in dark trousers, white shirt and braces. He and Lisa Marged’s spirited Miranda might easily have walked into the performance tent from the Carmarthenshire of a couple of generations ago. The island atmosphere shifts with the arrival of Meilir Rhys Williams’ white-faced, balletic Ariel. He and his trio of spirits- Bridey Doyle-Roberts, Ceri Angharad Rimmer and Claire Crook- are in loose tops and red-striped socks. They unwind on ropes fifteen feet above the performance space. The inspired concept for this Shakespeare has been for Theatr Genedlaethol to join artistically with Citrus Arts.

The participation of Citrus reaches a high in the scene of celebration in honour of Ferdinand and Miranda. There are harps and masks of gold. A hat is covered in fruit. Sparklers ignite, a magical figure spins a hoop of fire. The scene is an ecstasy of movement, played out on ground and in the air, and then suddenly it is all gone. Elen Bowman knows the trick of good editing; finish at that point just before the audience becomes familiar.

“Y Storm” was created for the National Eisteddfod at Llandow. There is a sense of comic rootedness to the performances of Sion Pritchard and Hugh Thomas as Steffano and Trinculo. Tellingly, they start in tartan trousers and yellow sou’wester and end in gaudy frills. They are a contrast in a production that forcefully invokes all the elements. The circus space has a floor of sand. Kai Owen’s Caliban is caked in earth. A mid-space curtain has projections of a swirl of current around coastal rocks. It is not the tideless Mediterranean of the play’s location but the relentless beat of the Irish Sea.

Llion Williams has grown a beard and moustache but his lean figure is less aged patriarch than a severe, pacing ringmaster. He keeps a whip in his waistband. At the close he dons a greatcoat and paisley scarf and yields up the whip. Early on, we have seen how the ropes that hold the spirits on high can also become literally the ties that bind. Gwydion Rhys has had a remarkable twelve months by any standard. Sensitivity in silence is a part of his achievement here.

“Y Storm” is a large-scale production. James Doyle-Roberts is circus director, Liz Ranken movement director. Katharine Williams' lighting turns the island into zones of light and murk. When Caliban makes his first sepulchral entrance it is a part of the audience that finds itself in the spotlight. Sound and video contributors include Ethan Forde, Emily Dombroff and Daniel Trenchard. “The isle is full of noises” indeed. The haunting sounds and beats are the work of composers Lucy Rivers and Dan Lawrence. There is no programme credit but the fire-master who darts on is Howard Morley.

A “Tempest” has played this season that was reported as scrappy in detail. But it has a big-name Prospero and Bath is an easy-ish hop back to Paddington. It attracts the critics. But Llandow and St Athans are only a few miles apart, so a thumbs down to those Arts Editors in Farringdon and Canary Wharf for their neglect last month.

The Cultural Olympiad’s official ending date was 9th September but there are still a few chapters left to close. Lorraine Bewsey’s masterly portraits of Welsh Olympians are at Oriel Wrecsam until 29th September. “Y Storm” has its final outing at Faenol 2nd-6th October, a cause for pride for performers and makers alike.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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