Theatre in Wales

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Theatre in Wales: Comment

Ten Years Reviewing Theatre , Wales All Over , December 25, 2017
Theatre in Wales: Comment by Ten Years Reviewing Theatre Actors of Wales have to work hard. In London “One Man Two Guvnors” had musicians among the large company. On tour in Wales the actors had to be the musicians as well. The parts of Charlie the Duck and Alfie, the octogenarian waiter on his first day of work, were rolled into one and played by one actor. If Phylip Harries was to be seen leaning against the Aberystwyth Arts Centre bar at 10:00 PM on October 13th it was because he had earned his refreshment.

“Don't do this if you want to make friends”. That was Aleks Sierz to the members of the New Critics' Programme that was part of the phosphorescent first year of performance of National Theatre of Wales. In a couple of cases I have met with theatre professionals more than once in a way that feels as if it has nudged towards friendship. That has rendered me ineligible to write about what they do on stage. My encounters with the people of theatre rarely exceed a minute or two. I had met Phylip Harries fleetingly before. He was in Aberystwyth in the company of Geinor Styles at the time of “the Bankrupt Bride”. That was Kath Chandler's debut script; dramatists become dramatists by getting their work onto stages.

I bumped into him on another occasion in the Swansea Grand. He was with a friend, preparing for a night as a Damon Runyon low-lifer. The show was “Guys and Dolls.” The critic Elisabeth Mahoney had given it five stars. I had called it “a big, mood-raising, cuts-defying recession-buster of a show.” So on the night of October 13th we shared a few words on Richard Tunley's show then moved to another production of Goldoni's comedy, not the Richard Bean big-earner. It too had played in Aberystwyth's Theatr y Gwerin. Harries remembered it and I remembered it. I remembered it for a particular reason because I had taken a couple of ten year olds. Children and theatre are always a risk and they had loved what Michael Bogdanov had done with Goldoni.

Bogdanov took his “Servant of Two Masters” out on the road in 2007. Ieuan Rhys and Russell Gomer had been among the cast and the treatment had been essential Bogdanov. It was both cheeky but utterly in the spirit of Goldoni. Michael Pennington's farewell summary “an extraordinary mixture of scholarship and mischief” could not have been better phrased. Phylip Harries was not in that production but in the same year, in the spring, he had been on the Aberystwyth stage playing the role of Don Gambaccini in “Contender”. Bogdanov and Mal Pope had had a big hit already with “Amazing Grace”- the audience figures were 45,000- and “Contender” was a good follow-up.

The review on this site of May 27th started “Mal Pope’s launches his “Contender” into the dramatic ring with a delicious high trumpet motif- veteran musician Andrew Griffiths can play twenty instruments. The band swings into action alongside him and “Contender” never looks back.” Those words were the first that I wrote about a theatre production of Wales. As an activity it had come about entirely by serendipity. The future being ever unguessable I could never have guessed a first bout of nine paragraphs would become a weekly habit for a decade.

As a starting-time 2007 was a year that had some particular significances to it. A play “Acqua Nero” played at the Sherman-its title then was plain Sherman. “Sgript Cymru's final production before the company's merger with the Sherman Theatre” wrote Elisabeth Mahoney “is fittingly about a name change - taken for survival - and the far-reaching consequences of that action. How the company will fare in its new incarnation remains to be seen. For now though, it leaves us with an immensely powerful, ambitious family drama packed full of lies, self-deceit and secrets bubbling away toxically just beneath the surface.” Not a bad send-off.

To turn the telescope backward ten years is to realise how much of the present the past contains. At one level so much has changed. A string of new companies who get the nominations at the Wales Theatre Awards did not even exist ten years back. August 012, Dirty Protest, Gwyn Emberton Dance, National Theatre Wales, Opra Cymru were all to come. Matthew Bulgo was interviewed for Get the Chance on 2nd September. “The fringe scene in Wales is particularly exciting” he said “From companies like Gagglebabble to The Other Room to Motherlode to Fio. Such an eclectic range of companies with really distinctive voices and aesthetics.” These have been acclaimed on this site but Bulgo moved onto a new cluster picking out Run Amok, Graphic, Red Oak and Powder House.

Beneath the surface the seeds of today were evident in 2007. Tom Cullen was an RWCMD student. The first time I wrote his name in a review was 20th February 2009. But that summer the National Youth Theatre of Wales did its three-venue tour of Aberystwyth, Mold and Cardiff. “Café Cariad” was described as “epic in construction, swinging between scenes of light and promise in pre-war Dowlais and threat and menace in Fascist Italy.” In its cast were Remy Beasley, Catrin Mai (now Catrin-Mai Huw) Gwawr Loader, Elin Phillips and Gwenllian Higginson. Writer-director Greg Cullen had a co-author credit for his epic script. It was a new name to write for three of Wales' main stages. The playwright was Tim Price.

The National Youth theatre was not the only company in 2007 to field a new cohort of actors who hold centre stage in 2017. The summer of 2007 saw an incendiary production of “West Side Story.” Alan Hewson was at his peak as producer, Bogdanov again was director and Anthony Williams choreographer. The company included a Penweddig pupil who went straight from GCSEs into rehearsals. That was Gwyneth Keyworth.

In November Harry Durnall directed a production of “Little Shop of Horrors” for Aberystwyth's youth theatre. One of the four Skid Row chorettes stood out. The stand-out performer again was Gwyneth Keyworth. Seymour was played by another Aberystwyth school pupil, “geeky to his fingertips” in my review of 27th November. The review also noted a fine sense of timing. A year or so later the Cambrian News ran a story that he had won a place at RADA. His professional debut was also reviewed here, in 2012, in a play called “the Last of the Haussmans.” Many an actor of Wales needs a name change for Equity purpose. The actor who played Seymour Krelbourn that year had a name that was distinctive enough not to require a change. Taron Egerton he was then and Taron Egerton he is now.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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