Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews


At National Theatre

National Theatre Wales , Hangar 858 RAF St Athan , December 20, 2012
At National Theatre by National Theatre Wales Both national theatres contributed to the World Shakespeare Festival which was part of the London 2012 Festival. The Olympics in fact had its first event in Cardiff. (I was there that day and the streets were a place of exuberance and joy.) Theatr Genedlaethol's Shakespeare production was reviewed, below 20th September, but not that of National Theatre Wales.

The reason was unavoidable. The production like its predecessor was held during school holidays. The reason, we are told, is so that university people are free and can travel to Wales. I was away with kids. The “us” in the title is an interesting one.

So to the views of others. A theatre director of Wales who knows his stuff reported it was amorphous with no central point and the audience left to wander about.

Planet 208 devoted pages 123-127 to covering the production. “Another landmark production by a company that has, so quickly, established itself at the heart of Welsh cultural life” declared its reviewer.

That is nice. It ends:

“Coriolan/ us” can be seen as further confirmation of National Theatre Wales' ability to use its very nature as a national company unencumbered by grand buildings and many of the other trappings of state institutions to produce work which that makes no compromises on quality, but which continually tests the boundaries of live experience.”

In the tradition of Welsh letters it is not deemed necessary by author or his editor to make any declaration that he sits on the company's board.

Remarkably for a theatre review he makes no mention of any actors, designers, lighting directors, sound contributors. The pages do make mention of audience members who gave up on following “tiny fragments of action.”

Michael Billington was there and wrote a theatre review. It was generous.

“Two summers ago, National Theatre Wales stunned us with a version of Aeschylus's The Persians set in a military training camp. Now the same directors, Mike Pearson and Mike Brookes, have taken over a vast aircraft hangar, once used by the RAF, for a spectacularly immersive show that conflates Shakespeare's Roman tragedy and Brecht's adaptation of it. We absorb the text through headsets while following the action either as it erupts around us, or by watching it on two large video screens. What we are left with is the sensation of being caught up in a city in a state of chaotic, revolutionary turmoil.
“It is the immediacy of the events that grabs you. As the senator Menenius tries to reason with the starving citizens, they start to rock the campervan on which he is precariously perched. The war hero Coriolanus stands blindfolded on a chair soliciting popular votes for the consulship, and his palpable contempt for the process leads to ugly street fights. Best of all, for me, was when Coriolanus joins forces with Rome's enemy, Aufidius: the two men sit stony-faced in the front seats of a Volvo while Menenius ignominiously creeps into the back to plead for Rome to be spared.

“This is a stark, unsentimental vision of the play that argues, as Brecht did, that no individual is indispensable: Coriolanus ends up shot full of lead and conspicuously unmourned. The play's topical urgency was no less vividly captured in the Ralph Fiennes movie, but this production has the merit of making us feel we are in the thick of events rather than detached bystanders. Richard Lynch as Coriolanus and Richard Harrington as Aufidius also seem bound together by the erotic intimacy of military combat, and Rhian Morgan is an impressively manipulative Volumnia; but it's a measure of the production's excitingly democratic approach that we are no less aware of John Rowley and Gerald Tyler as the citizens who ignite a popular uprising.”

The comparison with the writing in “Planet” is striking. The Wales report is a mediocre piece of criticism. Mainly because it is not criticism at all but insider boosterism. “Showmanship” is misspelt “show-manship.”

For the record the full company of actors comprised Brendan Charleson, Jonny Glynn, Nia Gwynne, Richard Harrington, Chris Jared, Richard Lynch, Rhian Moran, John Rowley, Matthew Thomas, Gerald Tyler and Bethan Witcomb.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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