Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Press At Wales' Performances in October

Passion/ Fel Anifail

Music Theatre Wales & National Dance Company/ Sherman , Anvil, Basingstoke & Sherman , October-28-18
Passion/ Fel Anifail by Music Theatre Wales & National Dance Company/ Sherman The Guardian is swift to publicise discord in the far-off place, that lies thirty miles beyond Bath's Theatre Royal, a venue whose every production is always ripe for review. It is less quick to acclaim the things that matter, the art itself.

Nonetheless, it had reviewers present this month to report on two productions of Wales and on the same day, October 15th.

Their reviewer was in Basingstoke for the first collaboration between two companies of lustre.

“The first of Pascal Dusapin’s operas to be performed in the UK, Passion was written 10 years ago to a commission from the Aix-en-Provence festival for a work that would take Monteverdi’s operas as its principal frame of reference. Dusapin’s starting point was the Orpheus legend, the subject not only of Monteverdi’s first extant opera but of major works by Gluck, Offenbach and Birtwistle. His treatment is both novel and iconoclastic.

“In this collaboration between Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales, the story’s mythic narrative is dismantled. Orpheus and Eurydice are renamed simply Him and Her, and the work refashions their final colloquy on the borderline between life and death as a meditation on the idea of passion itself as an expression both of desire and suffering. The score engages in a dialogue with baroque tradition. A harpsichord underpins Dusapin’s quietly dissonant textures, while an offstage group of vocalists comments, like a madrigal consort, on the emotions at the work’s centre.

“As in the opéras-ballets of Campra and Rameau, dance is as integral to the piece as song. It’s mesmerising, if overlong: the closing scenes, in which Him and Her finally separate, seem protracted after what has gone before.

“The staging, co-directed by Michael McCarthy and choreographer Caroline Finn, is remarkable for its seamless integration of movement and music. Emotional tension is released in slow, sometimes erotic gestures, and Him (Johnny Herford) and Her (Jennifer France) are as much members of the dance ensemble as individuals in their own right.

"Finn’s choreography hints at the religious connotations of passion as France is borne aloft, her body drooping Christ-like in an echo, perhaps, of Rubens’ Descent from the Cross. France and Herford sing superbly. Her voice soars rapturously upwards as she contemplates the sunlight she has left behind. Herford, sensing her slipping away from him, is all contained intensity and grief. Exaudi are the immaculate vocal consort, while the London Sinfonietta, conducted by Geoffrey Paterson, prise open Dusapin’s textures with fastidious care and control. It is beautiful, haunting and wonderfully well done.”

The Sherman mounted a tribute to Meic Povey in its revival of his “Fel Anifail” from 1995. Also on October 15th:

“Defi (Wyn Bowen Harries) and Mair (Morfudd Hughes) are haunted by a tragedy that occurred more than 30 years ago. Now in the winter of their days, both are marooned in a claustrophobic, purgatorial landscape. Jac Ifan Moore’s precise and lyrical staging is the first revival of a play by Meic Povey since his death in December 2017. (His posthumously staged final play, “Dwyn i Gof”, is currently touring Wales.)

"Povey was recognised as one of Wales’s foremost stage and screen writers and “Fel Anifail” reverberates with his preoccupations including the long-buried family secret and an ambivalence towards those who dared abandon their rural origins. The dialogue is richly poetic in its quotidian rhythms and imagery.

"While Defi is the showiest role, Hughes’s Mair mesmerises. It is a deftly measured, quietly fierce performance; I could have watched her scrape the meat off chicken bones for hours. Her final low guttural drone with hands outstretched – part-hymn, part-incantation – suggests that she keeps the Earth rotating by sheer force of will.

"This adroit and subtle feminist turn is the production’s most striking feature. Almost 25 years since its premiere, the play’s oppressive 1960s rural society that shadows Defi and Mair’s anguish is perhaps no longer the shared cultural memory of a contemporary Cardiff audience. There is a risk that it might appear dated. But this uncanny, creepily unnerving staging – with an evocative design by Rebecca Wood – makes as strong a case as any for the work’s continued significance."

Full reviews at

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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