Theatre in Wales

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2018- A Peak Year for the Theatre of Wales

Wales at the Oliviers

The Sherman , Olivier Awards, Albert Hall , April-08-18
Wales at the Oliviers by The Sherman The Western Mail ran a two page feature on theatre for its Saturday edition of April 7th. Was it at the Oliviers to celebrate both “Killology” and “the Revlon Girl” being nominated? Not a hope. The Cardiff Thing is not keen on the power of theatre. The readers got a slug of cut and paste advertising for a one-night pop up event at the Weston Studio. Once again, the half-alive media of Cardiff offers no opinion; once again, it would never be tolerated in London or Edinburgh.

Meanwhile the theatre-makers that actually go out after audiences have been in Adelaide, New York and now at the Albert Hall in 2018.

Awards events have two purposes; one is to praise, the second is to be argued over. To be fair, the two Welsh contenders are chalk and cheese. Both have the same powerful collaboration of writer, director and great company. If it is consolation to Neil Docking and Maxine Evans the historians of the future will look to how Wales recalled Aberfan. They will read “the Green Hollow” and “the Revlon Girl” to understand how it was. The reality is that audiences in Wales, Scotland and London were moved to tears.

As for the nominees, even by the standards of British theatre, it felt like a great year. Many of the awards were well deserved. I was at 14 productions- at “Girl from the North Country” twice, where award-winners Sheila Atim and Shirley Henderson were sensationally good. As with all awards some categories are more clear-cut than others. In the new play category “The Ferryman” versus “Oslo”? The latter is one of the four best plays ever written about politics but Jez Butterworth is simply grander.

With the actor awards Bertie Carvel was slimily wonderful but the character was a cartoon. James Mcardle radiated pain and guilt because there is simply more in the character. As for “Network” the company was of course great but as an experience it was dismal, one of the strands of theatre's decline. Bryan Cranston commanded a big stage, but no more so than Douglas Henshall. The award felt like a statement of “thank you for coming to Britain.” Andrew Garfield's was a bigger performance for a simple reason; Prior Walter is a richer, more multi-faceted persona than Howard Beale. But then awards are to be argued over.

Among the nominated productions “Killology” and “Network” were related, if at a distance, thematically. The difference was that one lacked ambition and was not an exercise in artistic collaboration. Ironically, theatre being as it is, I was not in the right place for “Killology”. But a Royal Court co-production ensured the critics were.

Maxie Szalwinska was there for the Sunday Times (June 4th 2017). “Put yourself in its path and this gruesome but grown-up play about the depiction of violence, the reality of suffering, and fathers and sons, will flatten you like a road roller...All three characters are contrasts in vulnerability and disturbing shadiness. Owen supplies likely and less likely outcomes, and leaves us tussling with who or what is sick here.”

Ben Lawrence in the Telegraph (1st June 2017): “Indeed, Owen’s greatest gift is to give a voice to the dispossessed, and he does so here in a blistering, deeply satisfying new work, Killology, produced by the Royal Court in association with Sherman Cymru. Davey (Sion Daniel Young) is a teenage boy simultaneously neglected and indulged by an often errant father, who relates his wretched life at the hands of a gang of local thugs who are inspired to mete out a severe punishment inspired by a computer game they’ve played.

“Each man relates his own tale with urgency, and Owen has a knack of relating an action-packed story within a seemingly rambling meditation. “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus,” says Paul, but Owen’s finely crafted text never makes you yearn for a big reveal – he’s brilliant on the incidentals. Like Paul’s game, Owen manipulates the reality of what we see. Sometimes Davey is dead and Alan is a grieving father. In an alternative world, Davey has picked himself up and found a sense of purpose as a hospital porter.”

Lyn Gardner was in Cardiff (29th March 2017): “These interconnected stories swirl around each other in the monologues in this heartbreaking, painful three-hander, written by Gary Owen (Iphigenia in Splott) and performed by Richard Mylan, Seán Gleeson and Sion Daniel Young. It’s played out on a desolate landscape in Rachel O’Riordan’s pitch-perfect, exquisitely performed production. Gary McCann’s design suggests the oil slicks and coiled slag heaps of the past, as well as the cables of new industry that deliver virtual realities into our homes. There’s unsettling, menacing sound, too, from Simon Slater.

“Owen’s jaggedly tender script plays with fantasy and reality, and like an online game it offers alternate possibilities as it explores what really happens alongside what could have happened. What if a young boy looking at the stars with his father doesn’t misinterpret the words “You can be anything you want” as an invitation to selfishness? What if a father does not leave but keeps bouncing his gurgling son on the bed? What if a son cares lovingly for his dying father?

“More than one kind of revenge is played out in this gripping evening, which never shirks the terror of love – particularly parental love – and which connects fatherhood and taking care of family with looking after each other in the wider community. It’s an open wound of a play – raw and sore – but full of compassion too.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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