Theatre in Wales

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Rap and Wrap: Wales at the Edinburgh Festival

Television Arts Feature

Small & Clever Productions for BBC Cymru Wales , BBC1 Wales & i-Player , August-28-18
Television Arts Feature by Small & Clever Productions for BBC Cymru Wales Just when it is all supposed to be over BBC Cymru Wales pops up with a 40 minute zestful celebration of the rainbow of talent gone to Scotland. That is good and how it should be. The broadcaster has been important for music since early days. But it has been critiqued here for the wobbly relationship with the arts in its own backyard. It is good that the Corporation is here. A sizeable proportion of the women and men who make performing arts vital in Wales are at the Fringe. The makers capture well the flavour of Edinburgh in August in all its brio and excess.

The camera captures the geography nicely also. It kicks off with a vaulting overhead shot that rises from the National Monument of Scotland. Presenter Kiri Pritchard-McLean is framed next to exploding fireworks. She takes a walk with Carys Eleri around the top of Calton Hill; the vistas stretch from the Pentland Hills to Falkland Hill in Fyfe.

Numbers matter. They do not mean everything, but they mean something. See ten stand-up comedians every day, says the script, and that is not even a third of the horde who are vying for attention. Wales fielded 33 events at the Fringe of 2018. That is the designation in the Fringe database. In fact categories are blurry and there is more. Half of Hot Gay Time Machine, Zak Ghazi-Torbati, it turns out, comes from Barry.

So 40 minutes are going to be selective. The gamut of theatre has been covered here and a string of comedians recorded August 25th. There are more to be added to that roster. Dance Horizon Events was at Greenside, Oliver James Anwyl a company member. In the visual arts “Rangoli: Art that Binds” from Winding Snake exhibited at the Nomad's Tent. In music Richard Michael paid homage on keyboard to Richard Rodgers at St Mark's Church. Porkpie Ska Band performed “Ska at the Fringe” at the Merchant's Hall. The spoken word category was represented by David Lee Morgan with “the River was a God” at Banshee Labyrinth. Hugh Hughes was at Pleasance Courtyard with “the Duke”.

Kiri Pritchard-McLean is presenter and a seven-times Fringe participant. The editing leans in her direction, giving space to her performance. That is fine on two counts. Her participation gives the programme an augmented authenticity. “For some of them it is going to be a nightmare”, she says sagely of her fellow performers, “for some it is going be a life-changing month.” The ebullience of her presence, off-stage and on, makes good TV. The selection gives the weight of time to comedy. Robin Morgan, Matt Rees, Ignacio Lopez get generous attention. Tudur Owen takes over the presenter role for five minutes and ends with a great visual joke.

Wales has an onscreen critical presence in the form of Wales Arts Review and Jafar Iqbal, on hand to wave a flag for theatre. Theatr Clwyd has a triple here- see August 10th/11th- but a mob from Cardiff is never going to rush to see gogs. It does not matter. The London broadsheets have all been to see their sparky trio. Jafar Iqbal has seen “Benny”, “the Flop”, “Tremor”. His commentary is intercut with film from the Summerhall Roundabout of “Sugar Baby” live. Iqbal: “very, very funny. Very about Cardiff, of Cardiff..the themes are universal. I would say it is the pick of the Fringe.”

Carys Eleri describes her show as a hybrid. “It's got grime-garage-80s power ballads, jazz, monologues.” Her rap takes in oxytocin and serotonin. Hijinx gets four and a half minutes of screen time, a lot and deserved. The sequence steps away from Edinburgh and includes a view of “the Flop” being devised at Chapter.

“Wales at the Edinburgh” visits one venue where no-one else has gone. Venue 13 has the subtitle of the Welsh venue. RWCMD's course in stage management has one serious competitor. At the Fringe the current crop of students get to experience the reality of their craft under the most exacting conditions. The transformation of the stage is required every 75 minutes for 12 shows that span drag to children's to puppetry to cabaret.

The producers' camera goes into eight performances. Audiences sing along, laugh erupt in delight. The script incorporates explication and interview but its core is the alchemy of performance. That is the real, the co-presence, the unmediated connection across a few feet of space between artists and watchers.

The credits include Phillip Moss producer, assistant producer Jack Browse, executive producer Christina Macaulay, production manager Tina Moss. The programme feels like a first for the Corporation. The title itself is awkward since the word “Edinburgh Festival” refers to the original, the big one. Small and Clever have done a good job. Those that run broadcasting in Wales should start rewriting the commission for 2019. Like now.
Carys Eleri sings onscreen her top song. Hannah McPake with accordion leads Hijinx in a chorus. Neither lyric is suitable for an open-to-all-eyes site. Likewise Kiri Pritchard-McLean asks an impromptu question on stage “what have I snapped now?” The answer is not going to be written here.

All can be seen at “Wales at the Edinburgh Festival” at

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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