Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

"An exciting time for new writing”- Big Media at Wales' Productions

First Quarter of 2019

BBC Wales, Times & Guardian , The Other Room, “Woof”, “Blue” & “Taming of the Shrew” , April-03-19
First Quarter of 2019 by BBC Wales, Times & Guardian The coverage of Wales' theatre is patchy in big media. The Other Room, a small place with a big punch, appeared on Radio Wales Arts Show on 29th March. Bizzy Day gave it the eloquence of account it deserved. At the late Wales Theatre Awards it scored regularly. Only Lyn Gardner, to her credit, among the broadsheets has visited. Mike Pearson looked back richly over the decades and Julia Martin introduced Wales' newest, unorthodox venue.

So a difference in 2019. Good names, led by Sam Marlowe, came three times to Cardiff and liked what they saw. The Guardian in January opened with a sentence to thrill any company. In edited form:

'“Woof” is a triumph for the Sherman theatre. In Elgan Rhys’s perfectly paced two-hander, Berwyn Pearce and Aled Pedrick give devastating performances as Daf and Jesse, a 30-something couple in Wales. Under Gethin Evans’ direction, every emotion – their lust, their pain and the jealousy that ultimately leads to their downfall – is tangible.

“Woof navigates the freedoms and pressures gay couples face when forming relationships that stray from the straight norm. Performed in Welsh with English surtitles, Rhys’s writing falls between poetry and prose, the natural dialogue flowing into staccato notes as the couple drink or fight. The first time Daf and Jesse have sex, it’s intoxicating; they hunt each other in Elin Steele’s neon hexagon as Sam Jones’s sound design gasps for them and Katy Morison’s exquisite lighting bathes them in rose-tinted warmth. Afterwards, they dress each other, gentle and dewy...Men from Grindr slip in and out of their lives, until jealousy becomes as potent as any of the other drugs they take.

“Inevitably, under a heavy strobe and heavier beats, the tension is cracked and with it, the future of their relationship. The crucial violent climax just misses the level of intensity it needs, but it’s the aftermath that guts you. In a theatrical climate oversaturated with stories of sexual assault, few shows manage such complexity as sensitively as Woof does. We feel their tangle of fury so strongly that, in the final scene, watching these two men watch each other is agony.”

The Guardian was also at Chapter to see Chippy Lane Productions. In edited form:

“If Amanda Wingfield and her children had lived on the coast of Carmarthen Bay instead of in St Louis, their lives might have turned out a little differently. Created by Rebecca Hammond and written by Rhys Warrington, Blue appears to be a riff on Tennessee Williams’s classic memory play The Glass Menagerie. Lisa Williams and her two grownup children, Elin and Huw, are haunted by an absent father. The mother yearns for her painfully shy son to find a romantic companion, while he prefers to live in a world of digital make-believe. And one night, Elin comes home from the pub with Thomas, her own gentleman caller who offers the possibility of transformation for this sad, delicate family.

“Warrington’s writing richly echoes the lyrical symbolism of its inspiration – the blue of the title is a recurring evocative pun (blue in Welsh is glas, pronounced as “glass”; sorrow and fragility in one lovely image). The setup is intricate, touching and funny. While the dense symbolism can occasionally feel incongruous in proximity to the contemporary realism of the setting, there is a persuasiveness in the playing – and in Chelsey Gillard’s direction – that prevents it ever becoming overwrought.

“...When the family’s absolution finally comes, the climax feels a little too neat considering the intricacy and horror of the buildup. But this is an ambitious second full production by Chippy Lane, further testament that it is an exciting time for new writing in Cardiff.”

Sam Marlowe was at “Taming of the Shrew” for the Times on 8th March. In an excellently written review she enjoyed “this fleet, freewheeling by the trans playwright Jo Clifford, directed by Michael Fentiman. It's an unruly yet enormously stimulating 80 minutes, mischievous, knotty and impassioned. Not only does it reframe the play for our times, it prods at our continuing cultural servitude to Shakespeare, it prods at our continuing servitude to Shakespeare, and our relationship to theatre as an art form; the characters seem set to mutiny against the drama itself. And while pointing up inequalities Clifford's adaptation highlights our common humanity, as well as what divides us.”

The Guardian was also at the Sherman:

“Notwithstanding its running gags at the expense of academics’ dry theories, Jo Clifford’s guileful reworking of The Taming of the Shrew is an exercise in semiotic playfulness. A stool can be something you sit on, or something you excrete; the sun is the moon; and Katherine and Bianca are two boys in a world where women are in charge.

“...Clifford’s production is rich in ideas, and smartly staged. Madeleine Girling’s design of coppers and gold, and Joseff Fletcher’s lighting, with soft revealing fades that illuminate the darkness, are particularly gorgeous. There are several arrestingly beautiful images. Performed by an archly game ensemble, in Clifford’s rendering these characters attain new hues and conflicts, with Scarlett Brookes’s shrewd Petruchio reaching complexities that feel new. The always remarkable Alexandria Riley as Tranio makes virtuosity look effortless. Hannah Jarrett-Scott is a swaggering, subtly sultry Lucentio with several musical interludes, underscoring many of the production’s most emotional moments.”

A commentator took against the language. Responding to “Expanding the binaries and dualities of the drama. No longer farcical comedy of interchangeable identity and mistruths, it gently pokes at the very conditionality of meaning, of signs, and of social and gender constructs” the reader wrote “Oh right, it's "expanding the binaries" in the play--whatever that means! And the rest of the sentence sounds like something from an over-baked, under-conceived, and badly-written O Level essay.”

Correct. If the Guardian wishes to report on Wales it should be to the same standard as its criticism in Scotland. A sub-editor should have pounced on that “binary”, the word being an adjective not a noun.

Sources:

“All The World's a Stage” Bizzy Day, Mike Pearson & Janet Martin in conversation with Nicola Heywood Thomas at:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0003tgz

Gareth Llŷr Evans at “Blue”

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2019/feb/08/blue-review-chapter-cardiff

Kate Wyvern at “Woof”

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2019/feb/06/woof-review-intoxicating-look-at-lust-pain-and-jealousy-sherman-theatre-cardiff

Times at the Sherman subscribers only.

Guardian at “Taming of the Shrew”

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2019/mar/06/the-taming-of-the-shrew-review-shakespeare-in-a-womans-world

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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