Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Critical Summary: Acclaim from North & South for Company Debut

The Mountaintop

Fio , The Other Room & Touring Venues , October-26-17
The Mountaintop by Fio One of the documents submitted for the current Senedd Culture Committee consultation includes the paragraph: “There is no national community in the world of three million that offers a similar abundance of companies and quality...Even in a comparable culture of public subsidy for the arts the range and quantity of performance in Cardiff is, for instance, greater than that in Sydney, New South Wales, a metropolitan area ten times its size.”

The downside is that the calendar has a bunching pattern. Productions cluster around two periods of the year. This coming November has three days that offer five productions which I would like to see. So too has been the case with Fio. In October it was at Llandrindod Wells, Carmarthen, Narberth, Blackwood, Newport, Bangor while I was elsewhere.

The tour plays today and tomorrow at Ffwrnes.

The variegation of performance in Wales does not cover every element in theatre's spectrum. Fio aspires to fill a gap that needs filling. Happily a flowering of reviewers of theatre has meant that it leaves behind a fine critical track record.

Gareth Williams was at Pontio for the admirable Get the Chance. From his review:

..“The action takes place in a single room – Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel, outside which the civil rights activist gets shot on April 4th, 1968. The set is no bigger than this – literally the size of a hotel room – making it extremely close, both claustrophobic and intimate. It allows us, the audience, to become privy to Dr King’s final hours in such fine and emotional detail. We see the anguish, laughter, fear and tenacity etched on the face of Mensah Bediako (King) at every turn. Such is the verisimilitude of Katori Hall’s script that there is even time to hear the great man himself go to the toilet, much to the amusement of the school group that had come along to watch. This level of authenticity, played out in real time, allows the conversation between King and hotel maid Camae (Rebecca Carrie) to flow naturally and build organically, with impressive results. The two actors bounce off one another brilliantly. Their timing and pace are perfectly attuned. They appear so comfortable in their working relationship, and so at ease with their characters. It makes for some excellent exchanges, fizzing with sexual chemistry and fermenting emotional intensity.”

Othneil Smith was at the Other Room for the British Theatre Guide

“Black-themed work has historically struggled to find an audience in Wales. The combination of a multicultural city, a highly-regarded small venue and a perennially heroic real-life protagonist, however, means that The Mountaintop should be a safe bet in terms of bums on seats; it certainly deserves to be.

We are transported, courtesy of Stacey-Jo Atkinson’s detail-rich set, to a small motel-room in 1968. It is a stormy April night in Memphis, Tennessee and the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King has just checked in; he is hoping to prepare an inspirational speech, prior to settling down for a much-needed night’s sleep.

He is soon interrupted, however, by a charming young chambermaid, Camae, who brings him coffee. They gently flirt. Then they argue. And then things get Biblical.

Mensah Bediako is effortlessly authoritative, even though he plays Dr King as an ordinary man with ordinary weaknesses (cigarettes, whisky, women other than his wife), but painfully conscious of the extraordinary burden he bears as the man who is expected to lead his people to freedom. We see him checking the room for bugs, aware that his enemies are looking to use his personal failings to damage his reputation, and with it, his cause. We wince with him as Alexandra Riley’s Camae shines a merciless light on those failings, and forces him to confront his mortality.
Riley impresses hugely, inhabiting a character who has to transform from a ditsy girl-child into a Malcolm X-style firebrand, and then into something else again. She remains sympathetic throughout, making Camae’s earthy mysticism entirely believable.

Needless to say, Hall’s text is not some simplistic “racism is bad” tract. It is witty and wise, wearing its anger and intellectualism lightly, even if it inevitably tends towards the omnisciently poetic as the climax approaches.”

Copyright: the authors

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Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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