Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Owen Sheers: War & Poetry in "Unicorns Almost"

Radio Arts Feature

Radio Wales/ World of Books , Swan Hotel Hay , June 5, 2018
Radio Arts Feature by Radio Wales/ World of Books Hay-on-Wye for the May half-term is a wonder. For nine days nowhere on earth offers its equivalent in concentration of word and thought. That concentration celebrates every hue and nuance of the written word. The array of faces astonishes: a children's laureate, a former education minister, Dr Strange are all to be seen on the same day.

Google's Sustainability Director- formerly Chief Sustainability Officer for President Obama- departed San Francisco on June 1st. Her first stop on landing in Europe was an hour's grilling on the Good Energy Stage at Hay. She was impressive. Hay is impressive. The Good Energy Stage is an appropriate name. I admire Hay's focus, its drive, its international ambition, its presence in the Americas. I like the 273,000 tickets it sold, a nice 7% growth rate over 2017.

But word and thought are not the stuff of theatre. Word and thought transcend time and space, which are theatre's domain. Theatre draws on word and thought but is their antithesis, being made of sound and action. Nonetheless, Hay comprises such a variegation of activity that it can embrace an element of theatre. On 28th May Owen Sheers was in conversation with Eric Ngalle Charles. Charles, a Creative Wales Fellow, is author of a play “the Last Ritual”, based on his experience in the village of Small Soppo in Buea, Cameroon.

Four days later Sheers was on a platform to talk about his own work in theatre. Radio Wales, to its credit, was present to report on Hay. Radio Wales is stirring to take an interest in arts activities. This year it hosted four programmes- in 2019 may there be nine. For the fourth programme Sheers was in interview with Dylan Jones to discuss his play “Unicorns, Almost.”

The play's subject is the poet Keith Douglas. Owen Sheers recalls being introduced to Douglas via Andrew Motion. Douglas was killed three days after the D-Day landings. Sheers encapsulates his reading of the man in the verse: “Under that pressure of conflict you get the sense of someone finding a new way to speak, finding a new voice, to meet that experience that they're in.” His piece for theatre fuses the poems and the memoir that Douglas wrote. “It's about the accelerated education of a young poet, a young man”, he explains, “who's both trying to find out who he is and is desperately trying to get his poems in print before his sand in the glass runs out.”

Sheers has had the good fortune of a new producer in Clyro. Emma Balch has started an organisation the Story of Books. The ballroom of the Swan Hotel has become a desert tent. The creative team from “Pink Mist” has been drawn on. John Retallack is director, Lucy Hall designer and the and immersive soundscapes are by Jon Nicholls.
Sheers ends with a comment on the audiences he has drawn. There are enthusiastic audiences all over. But the author of “the Handmaid's Tale” was in one night and that happens only in Hay.

The play continues until June 7th.

The discussion in full can be heard at:

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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