Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Three from the First Quarter 2020

Quarterly Critical Round-up

Reviewers , Trusting Unicorns, Back to Berlin & Llyfr Glas Nebo , March 21, 2020
Quarterly Critical Round-up by Reviewers My first quarter of the year ought in normal times to have ended 30th March, a ticket bought for “Hail Cremation”.

Instead the quarter has closed precipitately and brutally. Many of the women and men who have appeared on this site face immediate financial hardship; some may end in personal insolvency.

If there is any lesson at all from this calamity it is that those on guaranteed salaries should reflect. The managerial group- Civil Servants to Chairs and Public Officers- are just that, the servants and not the masters, of those who create. When it is all over let there be humility, let there be candour and let there be reform.

My most recent performance sticks in my mind. On 13th March Lucy Gough brought together Sue Lloyd-Davies, Francois Pandolfo and Kieron Self for a reading of her play “Trusting Unicorns.”

The event in the Studio at Aberystwyth was emblematic of all that makes being an observer of the performance arts of Wales so rewarding.

As part of a round-up and guide there was lively theatre in the first quarter of the year.

“Back to Berlin”: The British Theatre Guide was at CB4's production at the Other Room.

“The show is the debut offering from CB4, one of several small local theatre companies which comprises graduates of the drama course at the University of South Wales: Luke Seidel-Haas, Emily Pearce, Alice Rush and Frankie-Rose Taylor. As we file in, they are already on stage, dancing to a soundtrack of Berlin-related songs (Nena's "99 Red Balloons", Bowie's "Heroes", Kraftwerk).

“When the show kicks off, the performers and co-devisers make it clear that theirs is a low-budget production: the set comprises dozens of cardboard boxes and the occasional suitcase. They explain that the story they are about to tell is based on the experience of Seidel-Haas's father, a Bavarian physiotherapist who studied in Berlin prior to moving to Britain.

“We are in 1989 (before any of the performers were born, as they remind us), with television and radio broadcasts focusing on the fact that the divided city which symbolises the Cold War is in the process of becoming undivided. The Berlin Wall is coming down, and Bernhard feels the need to experience the possible collapse of the Iron Curtain first-hand.

“...Taylor, Rush and Pearce play the various characters he encounters as he travels eastwards, including an idealistic student and a businessman who argue about the relative benefits of capitalism and communism and an East German housewife returning laden from a shopping trip to the West.

“...The tone of Back to Berlin is informal, if not improvisatory. There are no big performances—simply the sense of a story being told via rudimentary props and the occasional illustrated mini-lecture. Aside from the demolition of the wall itself (here, the boxes truly come into their own), no huge dramas occur; rather, there are reflective moments, which prompt grunts of recognition from Germans in the capacity audience (including, on the night I attended, Bernhard himself).

“...Despite, or perhaps because of, its apparently ramshackle nature, Back To Berlin succeeds admirably in its task of bringing to life one of the defining incidents of the 20th century. As hour-long history lessons go, it’s atypically charming.”

Cwmni’r Frân Wen sold out at Galeri and toured 10 venues, Pwllheli to the Sherman. The British Theatre Guide was there to see “Llyfr Glas Nebo”:

“It is disappointingly rare for well-regarded contemporary fiction written in the Welsh language to reach the non-Welsh-speaking audience. Thus, Frân Wen (in conjunction with fellow North Wales-based Galeri) are to be commended, not only for commissioning Manon Steffan Ros to adapt her novel for the stage, but also ensuring that a handful of performances on this extensive Welsh tour are surtitled in English.

“Aimed at the Young Adult audience, Llyfr Glas Nebo was the winner of the Prose Medal at the National Eisteddfod in 2018 and won in three Welsh-language categories at the Wales Book Awards in 2019. The novel is already on the school syllabus, and is a best-seller—hence the full house in the Sherman's main auditorium, and the "Sold Out" notices on the tour itinerary.

“The title refers to the blue ("glas") book ("llyfr") given to adolescent Siôn—played by Eben James—by his mother Rowenna—Tara Bethan—in order for him to make a written record as they negotiate a somewhat problematic life in the village of Nebo.

"For, as the wordless, poetically choreographed (by Matt Gough) opening scene makes clear, a globally catastrophic nuclear war has taken place. We are given no political context, but as far as we know, Rowenna, Siôn and the ailing baby Dwynwen (presumably named after the tragic Welsh patron saint of love) are, several years on, the only people left on Earth.

“Dwynwen takes the form of a puppet, cleverly manipulated by the other cast members, Llŷr Edwards, Leah Gaffey and Cêt Haf (puppet design by Olivia Racionzer who also gives us a rather alarming hare). In addition, they play a number of other roles in fantasy and flashback—the single-parent family's parodically middle-class English neighbours; Rowenna's friend and fellow village hairdresser; a schoolgirl on whom Siôn has become fixated.

“...Despite the gloominess of the premise, Ros manages to slip in nuggets of sly humour here and there; and, the general theme being love and resilience, one is grateful for the sliver of hope provided as we reach the dénouement.”

"Ultimately, what stays with us is the powerful and heartening depiction of the mother-son bond under trying circumstances. A bleakly beautiful production.”

Picture Credit with thanks: Cwmni’r Frân Wen

Edited with thanks. Full reviews at source:

https://www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/back-to-berlin-the-other-room-18854

https://www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/llyfr-glas-nebo-sherman-theatre-18747

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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