Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

"Enthralling Intensity": Cardiff's New Writing Venue In Peak Form

Seanmhair

The Other Room , Bedlam Theatre , August-09-17
Seanmhair by The Other Room It is just as well that Hywel John, like Matthew Trevannion, can act because the theatre of Wales is not exactly showering them in royalties for their drama writing abilities. But then this whole post-drama binge is a funny old thing anyway. The Senedd has a committee out enquiring about non-public-sector cash. Philanthropy?- there are already a stack of trusts doing good work from Colwinston and Hamlyn onwards. Investment- I do not know what it means. There has been capital investment in fine new venues like Ffwrnes and Pontio. Equity? The investment in the companies in Edinburgh is on show, hours of low pay or unremunerated effort.

“Earned income” is four syllables for “sales”. The Athenians queued for Euripides and Aristophanes in exactly the same way I have queued for day tickets in the last year for Nina Raine and Lucy Kirkwood. There's not a spare seat to be had for “Consent” or “Mosquitoes.” If Cardiff Bay wants to up sales- sorry, earned income- make 'em laugh, make 'em cry. And that is tough and needs writers who have earned their dues.

Hywel John is a rarity in that his play “Pieces” played off-Broadway. There are not many that have done that: “Playing Burton”, “Ghost City”, maybe “A Regular Little Houdini”. Story-teller performer Peter Stevenson is a regular in New York City. It has been six years since Hywel John's “Rose” played the Fringe. In 2017 Edinburgh is liking what it is seeing.

From the Wee Review ****

“In a claustrophobic brick alley in Edinburgh, three versions of Jenny at different ages talk about her husband Tommy McLeish, contrasting the dark-eyed unruly ten year old she first met with the dead-eyed vegan invalid with whom she shares her old age. Seanmhair (“grandmother” in the Gaelic), by Cardiff theatre company The Other Room, is named for Jenny’s grandmother who comes to her aid when her fascination with Tommy results in trouble. It was written by Hywel John, whose previous plays include Pieces and Rose, and directed by Kate Wasserberg.

The narrative is non-linear, with the story of Jenny and Tommy meeting at age ten woven together with Jenny’s laments about her husband’s current helpless state, and eventually with Seanmhair’s own story as the play reaches its climax. It does require some focus to keep the different strands straight as they become more messily intertwined, especially as they are drawn together through mystical means that draw on somewhat stereotypical associations between Scotland and the supernatural.

...Jo Freer, Sian Howard, and Molly Vevers all play Jenny, as well as the other characters appearing in the story – Jenny’s parents, nanny and uncle, Seanmhair, Tommy and his mother. As a cast they work well together, hitting the simultaneous lines and divided sentences with a polished precision. Jo Freer brings an aggressive physical presence to her portrayal of the younger Tommy.

It is the language that makes Seanmhair the potent piece of storytelling that it is. The pacing is swift and rhythmic, with the actors chanting repeating words and phrases in unison, enhancing the poetic quality of the lines. Sound and lighting effects add to the enthralling intensity of the piece, punctuating shifts in the narrative, and giving the scene an unearthly menacing quality when the play calls for it.

Seanmhair is a hauntingly lyrical tale about love, fate, violence, and growing up, told by a captivating, energetic, and capable cast.”

From the List ****

“As Jenny bemoans her ageing husband's physical and mental decline, she remembers when she met him on the streets of Edinburgh at age ten; a rebellious youth with a wicked glint his eye.

Three actors of differing ages portray the central protagonist Jenny in this play from Welsh writer Hywel John, along with other characters in the story, deftly embodying multiple personalities in the same scene using just subtle physical signifiers. They juggle lines back-and-forth in an impressively rhythmic fashion that gives the play a momentum which helps tie together its non-linear narrative. The stage is a striking 3D visualisation of Edinburgh's cobbled streets with a boldly lit triangle as the focal point.

It is only in the final stretch that the script becomes confusing, as the action cross-cuts from the younger to older Jenny, mixing Gaelic mysticism in a slightly muddled fashion that clashes with the realist story up to that point. However, for the majority of its duration, this is an engaging show with three fantastic central performances in an enjoyably Edinburgh-based story.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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