Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Critical Acclaim Continues

Wales at Edinburgh Fringe

The Dark Philosophers- National Theatre Wales & Told By an Idiot , Traverse Theatre , August 18, 2011
Wales at Edinburgh Fringe by The Dark Philosophers- National Theatre Wales & Told By an Idiot “This is an impressive piece that deserves a longer run.” So ran the last line of the Guardian's review when the Told by an Idiot and National Theatre Wales co-production premiered at the Riverfront last winter.

So it has, appearing at the Fringe's most prestigious venue. The Traverse guarantees coverage. So the Scotsman, Edinburgh Guide, Fringe Review, British Theatre Guide, What's On Stage, Broadway Baby all saw and liked “the Dark Philosophers.”

From the List

“Death is no impairment to being on stage (as being a goat is no impairment to being a stagehand) in this darkly comic delight from National Theatre Wales and Told by an Idiot. Weaving together two novellas from Welsh English-language writer Gwyn Thomas and episodes from his biography, this is a sprawling Frankenstein production encompassing music, physical comedy, puppetry and Michael Parkinson.
Thomas narrates from beyond the grave, excellently animated by Glyn Pritchard in a half mask, in the irreverent spirit Thomas was known for. ‘Simeon’ and ‘Oscar’ are the two stories recreated, both about monstrous men, the latter conjured with some effective puppetry.

“The labyrinthine set is put to full use evoking all aspects of the Welsh Valleys that were Thomas’ home and inspiration and there’s so much going on that the constant onslaught begins to fatigue at times.

“An interlude for a recreation of Thomas’ 1970s interview with Parky brings us closer to the present and Thomas current deceased state, marrying the source material with NTW’s playful additions to mine a seam of captivating, absurdly comic grotesque, which shines a light on a Welsh diamond.”

Critic of Wales

“This play beautifully captures both the joy and despair of living in rural Wales in the 1930/40s. Director Paul Hunter, however, ensures this is not a period piece by cleverly relating to the current audience with a reference to appearing at the Fringe.
The play seamlessly intersperses Thomas’s life and death with two of his stories. This is one of those rare theatrical entertainments creating both huge laughs and then tears.

“The sequence re-creating his appearance on the Michael Parkinson show is one of this week’s great events while the despair of some of his characters is truly heart-breaking.

“The acting throughout is nothing less than outstanding with strong performances from Daniel Hawksford, Ryan Hacker and in particular David Charles who moved instantaneously into a variety of different characters. Credit must also go to Glyn Pritchard conveying the layers of the writer despite wearing a Greek chorus mask throughout.”

From the Telegraph

“I wish I could write as beautifully as Gwyn Thomas (1913-1981) did. And I wish I could talk as captivatingly as he did, too. His writing had all the charm, warmth and inventive wit of a born raconteur. Likewise, when he was in full recounting mode, brow furrowed, it was almost as if he was mentally composing his next novel.

“An archetypal product of the Valleys – “Every Welshman,” he once declared, “is a kind of mobile theatre” – he was a rarity, too, a phrasemaker on an elevated par with his namesake, Dylan. If he had bequeathed the world something along the lines of “Under Milk Wood”, then perhaps his name would resonate more widely today.

“Is that what Carl Grose and Told by An Idiot – working with National Theatre Wales – are after here? Their ensemble-based adaptation of the short-story collection “The Dark Philosophers” (1946) is a fluid, dreamlike, communal experience – so idiosyncratic it doesn’t even feature the eponymous tale, opting instead to draw on two contrasting stories of abuse and murder – “Oscar” and “Simeon”.

“Around this perturbing pairing, other fragments have been woven: bursts of choral song, jokey interludes and aspects of Thomas’s life – including a re-enacted interview with Michael Parkinson.

“At its best, the evening conjures the madcap energies and competing melancholies of a rain-sodden, downtrodden, hard-bitten folk. Often shadowed by a masked evocation of the author, the company scamper like mountain-goats about Angela Davies’s absurdist slag-heap of a set – dominated by a terraced huddle of wardrobes. Lumps of coal pour down from on high. Scenes are punctuated by mine explosions. At one point a couple of miners haul themselves, horizontally, across the stage with picks.”

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Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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