Theatre in Wales

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Critical Summary from Edinburgh(1)

Wales at Edinburgh Fringe

Torch, Living Pictures & Scriptography , Edinburgh Fringe Festival , August 28, 2015
Wales at Edinburgh Fringe by Torch, Living Pictures & Scriptography “Grav” packed out venues on its tour of Wales in the first part of 2015.

Edinburgh Festivals Magazine (22nd August): "There aren’t many plays about rugby. If, like Oscar Wilde, you believe that ‘rugby is a good occasion for keeping thirty bullies far from the centre of the city” then you’ll be delighted. However, Raymond Gravelle was no ordinary player: he was a wit, his quote, ‘You’ve got to get your first tackle in early, even if its late,’ is surely one of the best rugby quotes of all time.

The audience at the Assembly Hall is crammed tighter than a Scarlets’ scrum as Gareth Bale brings “Grav” back to life. With him, in a lyrical script by Owen Thomas, we experience the famous 9-3 Llanelli win over the All Blacks in 1972, and through him, we relive the moment the boy became man, as he discovers his father’s corpse on a bleak snowy mountainside. You don’t need to be a rugger bugger – or Welsh – to enjoy this powerful, passionate play.

Peter Doran directs Gareth Bale in a performance filled with strength and vulnerability, playing through the lyrical tendencies of Owen Thomas’ script. Grav gives us a man who is simultaneously confident and self-effacing. In the game, he knows his strength: he knows the brawn of the muscle in his back, the curve of the ball in his hands, and the spirit of the heritage in his heart. Off the field, he is a quieter man. There is perhaps too little in this play to really engage with, particularly for those who aren't fans of Gravel already, but for the true believers, this is a work of great depth and celebration”.

Robert Bowman repeats his award-winning performance in Living Pictures “Diary of a Madman.”

Edinburgh Spotlight (22nd August): “ The production design is simple but beautiful. The packing crates, and scant piles of books and newspapers establish the reluctant, slovenly poverty of the character and situation well, while the strong, stark lighting states, and the tortured strings and electronic distortion of the score map the degenerating tone well.

At the heart of the show is a brilliant performance by Robert Bowman. Balancing between extremely well-pitched humour and genuine pathos, from a state—despite the character’s affected snobbery and delusions of ‘nobility’—of initial slovenly charm (with only hints or insinuations of his insipient madness), through feverishly angry and genuinely unsettling intensity, to a final moving and pitiable end-state, Bowman deftly executes Poprishchin’s slide into semi-self-conscious madness.

Smart, darkly funny and, at times, genuinely unnerving, ‘Diary of a Madman’ is brilliantly performed satire.”

Broadway Baby (14th August): “Nikolai Gogol’s short story, formed of a series of diary entries, charts the descent into madness of an ordinary civil servant, whose observations on the power-holders within his experience appear to be the catalyst for his fall. In this new adaptation by Living Pictures Productions, Robert Bowman delivers a riveting performance as Poprishchin which rarely pauses for breath. Though the character complains that theatre critics only look to tear things to pieces, Bowman himself should have nothing to fear.

Bowman’s development of his character is sensitively portrayed and makes his ultimate confusion deeply affecting. Establishing his character by means of some hilariously contorted expressions, and pauses which are slightly too long for comfort, the actor soon warms to his well-oiled delivery. He is so absorbed in recounting his tales that for a moment it is dubious whether we, being addressed directly, are actually truly present or whether Poprishchin is already speaking to an alternative version of himself. Key moments of Gogol’s text are underlined by the sensitive direction of Sinéad Rushe by means of intermittent musical cues and physical marks on the stage, which eventually work their way onto Bowman’s body and are each symbolic of a particular moment or memory.

The piece may well be read as a criticism of people in higher authority and of the detrimental impact the trickle-down of their decisions have on the people beneath. Poprischin ruminates bitterly that they will sweep away any potential crumbs of happiness that find their way to the lower classes. Our disposition towards sharing the character’s views is greatly improved through our continual delight in his endearing mannerisms and Bowman’s delightfully executed comic timing. Accordingly, we will on our protagonist to achieve his overly ambitious love designs, which maintain a sense of impossibility no matter how much we want them to be true. In this respect, Gogol’s satire is made to appear all too regrettably accurate.

The staging itself limits Poprishchin to a relatively confined space within which to operate, but it doubles as a visual manifestation of his state of mind as pieces of decking are upturned and removed, before the structure in its entirety is ripped apart and reconfigured in accordance with the climax of the character’s despair. Having taken such care with his audience throughout, Bowman’s development of his character is sensitively portrayed and makes his ultimate confusion deeply affecting.

Some of the captivating power of Gogol’s monologue is perhaps reduced in a section where Poprishchin joins the audience. However, these appeals to an audience on the same level suggests that, in some way, we might share a common ground with him, or be at risk of the whims and excesses of the higher authorities – even if to do so might eventually drive us to madness. A deeply thought-provoking show.”

Total Theatre (22nd August) on Scriptography’s “To Kill a Machine.”: “The denouement is gut-wrenching and inevitable; Turing has been unable to follow the ‘rules’ laid out by society, first due to his sexuality and secondly by refusing to lie about it. ‘Only a machine follows the rules it has been given’ he cries in an extremely powerful closing monologue, asserting that to be successful a machine must also learn to lie, something that he himself has not been capable of. Gwydion Rhys’ portrayal of Turing stands out as being gripping and fully committed; at the bow he seems wrung dry by the performance. 

Writer Catrin Fflur Hughes’ script captures the speech of the era exceptionally well, and complex mathematical ideas and themes are introduced in an inventive, engaging manner. Along with the strong visual aesthetic Lee’s direction brings, the writing mixes the abstract with the naturalistic with skill, creating a poignant piece that by exploring the nature of machines, raises many questions about what it is to be human.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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