Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

“A touch of Spanish sunshine in December”

“ The Agony And The Style”

Welsh College Of Music And Drama , Welsh College Of Music And Drama , December-01-17
“ The Agony And The Style”  by Welsh College Of Music And Drama With the Millenium Centre and the New Theatre in Cardiff generally playing safe in their repertoire it is always an exciting moment to open the latest Welsh College Of Music And Drama booklet and discover what hidden gems are offer at the end of term.The drawback with the college is that like elections & referendum their shows all come at once, so choices have to be made. So, discarding a little known Simon Stephens play and a play about a single black woman in early 20th century New York I selected to embark on a trip to 17th century Spain in an attempt to warm up this cold December night.

Lope De Vega is considered the second most famous Spanish writer, behind Cervantes, and I remembered really enjoying an excellent production of “Fuente Ovejuna” by the National Theatre back in the 1980s. But since this is the first production of “The Agony And The Style” it was no surprise that I had no idea of the plot, which frankly I rather prefer.

The first thing to strike me upon entering the Richard Burton theatre was the sumptuous set. With 3 musicians dotted either side of the stage separated by a variety of swinging open door frames and a large water basin in the middle we were transported to 17th century Spain. We immediately meet our heroine denouncing love, even though she has recently been smitten despite previously remaining aloof and unmoved by a succession of lovers, past and present.
And that is the crux of the play. A variety of characters ( and their sidekicks) fall in and out of love with a succession of ruses and convuluted plot twists that left me confused and bemused. Although I prefer not knowing the story in advance I struggled to follow what was happening especially as most of the performers spoke quite and a lot of vital dialogue was lost. (It didn’t help that a large section of the audience were there only to laugh raucously at everything their friends on stage did) .

Still, director Josh Roche kept everything moving and the piece never sagged and we headed towards the denouement and the tying up of loose ends. And this is where De Vega ( and translator David Johnston) totally surprised me by giving us a very cynical ( though, possibly realistic ending) where our rather dislikeable heroine publically humiliates her rival and gets the happy ending she wants. Most playwrights would have devised a way to discredit her and although the ending (and therefore the wedding dance that that followed) left me cold I was impressed the De Vega caught me totally by surprise.

If I am honest I didn’t really enjoy the play. This is not to discredit any of the actors who all performed well ( sadly, I can’t name check anyone as I didn’t get a cast list or a programme). I found there was so much going on it was hard to keep up sometimes, though tellingly the stand out moment occurred when our 2 protagonists faced each other wordlessly and suddenly time stopped around them. I felt the show could have been enhanced by more gentle moments throughout.

The night I went the show was signed by Julie Doyle. Although I had to keep my eye on the stage I felt myself being drawn to her as she mesmerically translated the words and facially re-created what was happening. While the perfomers came and went she remained on stage for the full ninety minutes, signing and acting her heart out. A true tour de force.

Bravo!

Reviewed by: Davd Cox

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