Theatre in Wales

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Both Love and Craft in a Show Like No Other

Lovecraft (Not the Sex Shop in Cardiff)

Carys Eleri & Wales Millennium Centre , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , November-28-19
Lovecraft (Not the Sex Shop in Cardiff) by Carys Eleri & Wales Millennium Centre It is the fifty-first performance of “Lovecraft” and it is a production that comes with a difference or two. The first occurs before the audience has even entered the venue. Normal entry is via the two doors either side of Theatr y Werin; this time there is only one open door and for a reason. Carys Eleri, glitter on both cheekbones, is there to give each and all a welcome cwtch.

In fact the welcome cwtch has been trailed. A reviewer who was at the Howling Owl in Adelaide this last winter told it. “Eleri stands at the entrance and greets everyone with a hug. When the show’s over, she’s at the exit doing ditto.” The Australian reviewer added a crisp synopsis. “In between, she presents an entertaining, intellectually respectable, energetic hour of rueful storytelling, highly memorable biochem education, and a bunch of songs and raps.” That is as good and snappy a description as can be. The Eleri voice in song, it should be added, is a wonderful octave-spanning thrill.

“Lovecraft” joins a select few from theatre of Wales who have flown the flag in the Southern hemisphere. Daf James has been performed in Taiwan, D J Britton in Singapore. Kaite O'Reilly is a collaborator with artists in Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong. Daniel Llewelyn-Williams has been in Adelaide a couple of tiimes. Lucy Gough takes the chair for a post-show Q&A in Aberystwyth. Her contribution to the Year of Dylan was seen in the Sydney Opera House. As for “Lovecraft “ it earned a Best Cabaret award in Adelaide.

Carys Eleri is exuberant. Q&A's can be a bit pious. But show and persona are a continuum so that the addition feels like a coda, albeit slightly quieter, that embellishes her theme. There is nothing so serious as comedy and Wales' audiences do not get enough home-grown laughter. The theme is declared on screen in a report from the New Scientist. Loneliness has the ability, or is a predisposing factor, to kill. Its degree of hazard is as great as obesity or heavy tobacco dependence.

“Hugging is the answer” runs a line of the publicity. It is true but not entirely true. Affiliation, in the sense of being within a net of social linkage, is crucial for members of a species which depends on high group connection. But affiliation is not intimacy. Males, generally observed, tend not to enjoy the benefits of intimacy in their networks of affiliation. The arc of “Lovecraft” is a tale told in retrospect of the quest to manage the two.

On one level it is a personal loop back to teenagehood. Carmarthen and Glangwili Hospital feature. But the show, billing itself as a “science comedy-musical”, vaults inward to hormonal action, to neural inhibitors and accelerators. Noradrenaline takes on the role of villain. The costume is biologically themed. Patterns of double helixes run up the skirt. The letter O contains a brain. Via illustrations on a big screen a rat keels over, in cartoon form, on an excess of cocaine. Our own pleasure pathways are illustrated with chocolate which is distributed along the rows.

“Lovecraft” has come into being with the aid of many collaborators. They include playwright Matt Hartley, neuroscientist Dean Burnett, director Mared Swain. Graeme Farrow of WMC makes what is most likely his first appearance within a show of Wales.

In the Q and A the home of childhood in Tymbl is remembered. It was a place inflected with religion. With its decline, Carys Eleri asks, “how do you replace congregation?” It is the crucial question of our age. A smartphone and a front-row audience member play a part in the action. Eleri has entered the domain of digitally enabled connection. It is portrayed in the truth of its dual nature. It is gateway to possibility without limit but also deployed in ways that are harsh, instrumental and asocial.

Audience reactions in Edinburgh are summarised below.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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