Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Wales at the Fringe 2018: the Wrap

Theatre in Wales: Comment

Companies of Wales , Edinburgh Fringe 2018 , August 27, 2018
Theatre in Wales: Comment by Companies of Wales Formally Bank Holiday Monday is the twenty-fifth, and last, day of the Fringe. Factually the number of companies who are still performing is a small fraction of the army who have descended on Edinburgh over the last three-plus-a-bit weeks. The weather, in Scottish terms, is dreich and smuid, the paths of Calton Hill and Salisbury Crags slippery with glaur. Ten thousand actors, musicians, directors, designers are ready for the comfort of their homes, to weigh over the weeks of intensity. Producers are awaiting their last bills. For the profit-sharers most will discover there is not a whit of profit to be shared. The Fringe is the world's shop window and high prominence is costly.

As for the reviewer this last day is no time for swithering, as the Scots put it. A part of the intensity for performers is that every night is potentially press night. Even in the final days the reviewers have been out. A review of “Tremor” appeared on the last Saturday: “heart-wrenching and intense in equal measure. Louise Collins plays Sophie with breath-taking emotion, a nervous energy and rising rage...together the pair are electrifying...Rattray’s monologue at the end, framed in a blue tinged light, is simply terrifying to watch.” As a farewell review for the Sherman that is a nice one.

Likewise, the Stage came late to Hijinx-Spymonkey to record “it's a winner.” The Times got round to publishing its review of “Sticks and Stones” on August 23- “the acting by Katherine Pearce, Jack Wilkinson and Charlotte O'Leary is first rate.” No disagreement there.

By way of a wrap the theatre of Wales has had itself a good Fringe 2018. That is by now nothing out of the usual. But it was less than ten years ago that enough companies were first on show to warrant a get-together. 2014, the year of Scotland's referendum, fielded “Hiraeth” and “Last Christmas”, both of which went on to play a lot of venues. 2017 was a good one with productions that went on to be seen and to win nominations and awards. “Not About Heroes”, “the Revlon Girl”, “Sugar Baby” and “How to Win Against History” were in the lead.

In 2017 Mr and Mrs Clark, National Dance Company, the Other Room and Volcano made a splash, the last literally. Three of the principal producing theatres are here in 2018 and Dirty Protest are back. Some of the shows from new companies- the Bathroom Heroine, SoftSod- read as if they deserve to be seen again. Others perhaps not so: the show that wows a tightly packed, extra-keen audience at 10:30 at night is a different creature at the Welfare or Pontardawe. On the other hand everything possible across the spectrum of performance has been seen in Aberystwyth's studio. A year back extra performances had to be programmed to meet demand for Seiriol Davies and company.

Some things at the Fringe have changed. Technology is a great enabler and the database has been augmented with an app. But its variables are limited. Within the great flood of information print still matters. In a thousand coffee bars at any time shows are being talked over. “Benny” passed the 1,000 viewer mark two-thirds of the way through the month. Word-of-mouth was a big driver for the steadily growing daily numbers.

The term Fringe itself is elastic and has stretched to allow the cream of subsidised theatre. The National Theatre of Scotland this year plays both Fringe and official Festival. Prior reputations like these will get an audience but critically they still go head to head with the best offerings from young talent. That aspect is unchanged over 71 years. For the young and the new to show themselves and to be seen is both opportunity and hazard. A company from Wales has earned a nice audience thumbs-up of “brill play brill performance. Good luck all look forward to the next one.” But the one reviewer who made it delivered the write-up from hell. Mercifully the digital footprint is scant and it is not going to get one here.

But then the first Fringe I ever attended had a piece of true leadenness. The director was called Jonathan Holloway and he went on to make Red Shift a force in theatre, directing Greg Cullen's biggest success. So much talent, dedication, aspiration. At the Fringe of twenty years ago, 1998, a student company revived a play “the Rat in the Skull”. Ron Hutchinson's two-hander was ferocious, one of the best from the 80s on the complexity of schism in Northern Ireland. The demands on its actors are considerable, the first production having earned Brian Cox an Olivier Best Actor award.

At the student revival a name in the cast was distinctive enough to lodge in the memory, akin to Peregrine Pickle or Humphrey Clinker. There at 22, just out of actor training, was the future Frankenstein, Sherlock, Doctor Strange. At Fringe 2018 Alice Sylvester, Jess Mabel Jones, Sarah Thomas, Eifion ap Cadno have marked themselves out as names to remember.

Awards and nominations will surely follow. The Total Theatre Awards are interested in theatre beyond drama. Their five categories comprise Physical & Visual Theatre, Dance, Emerging, Circus and Innovation, Experimentation & Playing with Form. 461 productions were assessed and their short-list was announced August 16th. “The Flop” made the last category alongside impressive pieces like “Pussy Riot: Riot Days” and “Underground Railroad Game.”

A wonder of the Fringe is that no one person can ever say what it definitely is or is not. David Greig is sure he saw Noam Chomsky in the audience that he was in for “Square Go”. It is not unlikely; just a couple of months back Owen Sheers was delighted to spy Margaret Atwood in one of his audiences.

A video snippet from Gareth John Bale on social media says he is aiming to see 50, or 1.6% of what is on offer. As William Blake once put it “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."

llustration: Paines Plough's Roundabout- constructed entirely with allen keys- the performance space for Theatr Clwyd, Dirty Protest and the Sherman

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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