Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Wales and England: Reviewers in Synthesis

The Great Gatsby

Theatr Clwyd & Guild of Misrule , The Dolphin Inn, High Street, Mold , March-06-18
The Great Gatsby by Theatr Clwyd & Guild of Misrule In the time of quiet in January, before the tours began, I wrote two pieces on the subject of reviewing. In the first Fio and the Other Room were noted as lonely voices who publish every reviewer response. The second (January 8th) looked at the contrasts between reviewers in London and here. Its conclusion was: “The views from within [Wales] are written from knowledge. Theatre that plays only to Welsh writers lacks rigour. Theatre that plays only to Fleet Street lacks roots.”

The first week of March in the west should have been one of snowdrops and gambolling lambs. Instead the Siberian beast covered the snowdrops in real snow and the lambs were hunched over their feeding troughs. The week was also supposed to be peak theatre, with four productions of merit over five days. The result, with Powys inaccessible, was calamity with cancellations and postponements. But, as happened, two items on the symbiotic relationship between the writers of Wales and England appeared.

On St David's Day, a day of ice and blizzard, a solitary piece of theatre advertising appeared. The timing was good as the rarity would most likely enhance the readership. As advertising copy it was written by someone who does not know the business. All communication contains meta-communication. Professional advertising controls the meta-message. In this case Gwent's finest critic, who has earned his dues over many years, was naively written out of the critical record. The meta-message, that London writers by default trump any from Wales, shouts.

In the north audiences are having a good time this month. Two very different reviewers have been there to record the event. Alfred Hickling is a good writer who was once present for everything in Mold and now, in the nature of things, is not. His view and mine tended to vary over productions from Wales, the national theatre in Wepre Park in 2012 one such example. But the point of reviewers is to be different.

Hickling was at this “Great Gatsby” in late 2017. His review at 310 words is constrained by the space allowed by print newspapers. It is a taut piece of writing, as expected, taking in Beacon Towers on Long Island and Baz Luhrman. He captures the experience in: “Guild of Misrule’s immersive Gatsby experience has developed into a cult jazz-age fancy-dress party in which it is difficult to be sure if you’re mingling with the cast or another member of the audience. In any case, non-participation is not an option: within minutes you’re required to put down your cocktail and learn how to charleston.”

Karis Clarke at the Dolphin in Mold has twice the word-count for Get the Chance. Hers has not the compression of Hickling; for a start he has three or more decades of writing experience behind him. But in its personal quality, verve and descriptive impressionism it is complementary. The atmosphere is established by the experience of her companion. “I knew I would enjoy this type of performance but I wanted to get the perspective of someone who wouldn’t. So, I took my polar opposite friend. Her instructions to me were – “Don’t leave me on my own, don’t make me speak, sing or dance!” ...before the interval she was willingly charlestoning, singing and chatting to the cast and loved every second!”

It is a big move for the place on the hill, a great place, to be in the High Street. “From the second you walk up to the Dolphin you are submerged into the 1920’s prohibition era.” The production takes the immersive to its limit to become the personal. The cast “stayed in character for the full two hours and somehow spoke to every audience member, making them feel like they were at an elaborate house party. They even mingled in the interval. For my performance I was engaged with the three female characters, Myrtle played beautifully by Bethan Rose Young, Daisy, a wistful Amie Burns Walker, party girl Jordan, the engaging Zoe Hakin and George,the talented Matthew Churcher. I could not pick a standout performance as all of the cast were outstanding.”

This gets to the essence: “every audience member was having a unique experience. The improvisation, the random interactions all added something individual for each audience member – no one will watch the same version of this play, ever.” In fact it looks as though writer and director Alexander Wright has deployed his cast cleverly in the way that Give It a Name did with “Heart of Darkness” some years back.

The sign off is “without doubt a 5 star production and a must see.”

Gratifyingly for Clywd it is sold out.

Karis Clarke's coverage in full is on

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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