Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A Nice One to Start 2017

My Body Welsh

Pontio, Invertigo Theatre Company & The Conker Group , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , January 26, 2017
My Body Welsh by Pontio, Invertigo Theatre Company & The Conker Group “My Body Welsh” is a recursive tale that circles around a well, an object of perpetual rancour and dispute between Mr Jones and Mr Davies. The solo show by Steffan Donnelly, co-authored with Tara Robinson, is intimate. The performer greets each audience member in person with the offer of a couple of sweets. The show is buoyed along by a quality not to be undervalued, charm. But charm and a character's vulnerability need not belie toughness. The narrative vaults around the centuries; if it is intimate it is also epic.

The narrative's spur is a skeleton discovered at the base of the well and the elusive question as to its identity. Water is the motif to the soundscape that envelops the actor. It is a motif that is carried over into the physical stage. Donnelly performs within a circle of thirty objects. He hops around, stands on, utilises a bucket, jars, a candle- stick, a tin bath.

The script goes back to Macsen, Caractacus and Gelert. Geoffrey of Monmouth is given a drubbing for history via impressions. Wales has less need of “historical chronicles by hysterical orators.” Half of the national story is unreliable and half is fabrication. A supernatural woodland creature makes a sound that is mid-way between whisper and wail. A shopkeeper devises “Llanfairpwllgwyn...” and all the rest.

It is the national story explored by theatre-makers who are insiders. That means a spirit of irreverence can pervade. Anglesey is likened to a posterior that protrudes slightly through the sea's surface. An Eisteddfod does have a tendency to draw those in “floaty clothing and big wooden necklaces.” BBC Wales Cymru gets a sly knocking for those dreadful programmes on “celebrities who lived here until they were aged three.” The culture has had a drubbing this week in a spikey essay by Gary Raymond for a theatre that the timid too often conceive as an extension of the tourism industry.

Official theatre is a studiedly politics-free zone. Everything in Wales in 2017 is still Thatcher's fault. “My Body Welsh” visits June 23rd, the likely first time on a stage in Wales. “You don't know what you want. So you vote for what you know you don't want. And what you get is something you never wanted in the first place.” In paraphrase, that seems to get it fairly right.

“My Body Welsh” is a tripartite production. Tara Robinson is of the Conker Group. Lighting design is by Ace McCarron. The soundscaping is by Jordan Mallory-Skinner who is on stage and deservedly joins Steffan Donnelly in taking a co-bow. It is a nice start to the theatre year of 2017.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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