Theatre in Wales

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Things That Begin with H

101 Nights to Remember

Thirteen Years a Reviewer , Theatre of Wales , April 28, 2020
101 Nights to Remember by Thirteen Years a Reviewer Two are seated and two are peripatetic. The actors range from seasoned to students. The scripts range from classic to devised. The venues go from pub to college to a former supermarket to multi-stage theatre complex. The productions' origins are in the New York, Berlin, London,

These four demonstrate the elasticity of style, theme and presentation that theatre embraces.

From “Hamlet”, Theatr Clwyd, Mold, 2014

“Lee Haven-Jones takes a break from a successful shift to director to return to the sizeable Anthony Hopkins stage. The first impression is the clarity, without apparent effort, of the speaking. The voice of this Hamlet appears to be hardly raised yet reaches every corner of the packed-out house...This Hamlet is doubtfully mad, more a cool calculative intelligence who soon knows his purpose. As for his heartless repudiation of Ophelia it can be pre-seen in the twist of pronunciation he gives to the last word of “Frailty, thy name is woman.” Carol Royle’s Gertrude is here made a provocatively presented trophy wife for the King, with bared shoulder, dėcolletė and glittering with diamonds.

“It is a “Hamlet” from a director whose advice to a writer fresh to performance was simple. On the top of every page of the first draft write “it’s the audience.” True to this precept this “Hamlet” has a driving pace to it and a freshness from the opening. The battlements of Elsinore are bitter cold, reminder that the Oresund is gateway to a Baltic that freezes over at its other extremity...The court beneath the murky, haunted battlement is a place of uniforms and ceremonial dress in whites and creams. This courtly opulence makes all the more contrast with the design. Mark Bailey’s set, black floor and stage rear, throws up dual reflections of the characters. This is a palace thin in privacy or comfort, a place of edge and unease. It is reminder that Shakespeare wrote in full knowledge of the spy state that Walsingham had constructed. The characters hardly rest or sit. The gripping last scene- Owain Gwynn’s regal Fortinbras is also fight captain- is played against type without furniture other than the flame from three braziers. The court earlier briefly gets to sit on gaudy chairs of gilt for the play-within-a-play. Tellingly Hamlet only truly sits when he is beside an open grave trading banter with Simon Holland Roberts’ exuberant gravedigger.”


From “Hamletmachine”, Volcano Theatre, Swansea, 2019

“Director Paul Davies says that “Hamletmachine” has been a kind of Sisyphean rock for him for years...Davies was in Jena, a town rich in literary association: Schiller, Hoelderlin, also Johannes R Becher. It was Becher who was given first overlordship of the arts by the regime in 1949 and established its conservatism...Formally, the two hours of the peripatetic production comprises three exits on to the High Street, a walk up the side passage and three entries via the rear, the former supermarket loading bay. The loading bay is lit in red, the carpets red, and the four actors are in red tracksuits, tops and scarves. Gloves and trainers are in pristine white. A table holds four hundred red cola cans.

“The script's place in history is established. The opening lines remember Dunkirk, the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. Mention of that alone would have been incendiary in the arts of the DDR. Metatheatre is quickly established. The actors touch their spectators, look into their eyes in close proximity. There is disorientation, audience members being asked questions in German. Three of the company sit down in separate corners. We expect action from actors, says the fourth. “They're not doing anything” she says. “The bastards. Do something!”...The credits for “Hamletmachine” are many. Cecilia Crossland, Christopher Elson, Mairi Phillips and Manon Wilkinson are the actors. Catherine Bennet is movement director. Design is by Guðný Hrund Sigurðardóttir, also design deputy and wallpaper designer Bourdon Brindille, technical manager Rich Andrew, costume Amy Barrett, carpentry Eifion Porter, production assistant Jenny Alderton.”

From “Heart of Darkness”, Give it a Name, Ten Feet Tall, Cardiff, 2010

“Give it a Name, in their third production, avoid these pitfalls. Their “Heart of Darkness” is not a dramatisation of a disputed classic but a series of variations on the original text, a riposte to Conrad that cuts elliptically across decades and continents. The action, approximately in six sequences moves between two dark pub spaces, a narrow staircase and a graffiti-covered basement space open to the freezing February weather. It is “approximately” in six sequences because the audience, unknown to itself, is divided in two. The company achieves this by only permitting each new arrival to climb the stairs from the pavement singly. At the close the two audiences are reunited. For the first hour the performance I saw was one of two variations whose content was wholly different. Within the long last sequence there are two voices in synchrony so the audience has to choose whom to attend to. In its form this “Heart of Darkness” embodies its theme. Knowledge is incomplete, fragmentary, part-formed by which voice each individual opts to listen to.

“The method of the writing is expressionistic, cumulatively allusive. A semi-demented colonial child runs up and down the stairs. A laconic rookie barman mixes a cocktail. A small piece of Africa ends up in a picture perfect English village in the form of an elephant foot umbrella stand. A middleman, probably an export salesman, rampages and curses. A sleek new player in 2010 sits at his Apple in a pristine cream suit. Aid is tradable for the votes of African nations at international conferences. The Chinese are the new entrants in the grab for raw materials. It ends with a return to Conrad, Kurtz and his garden lined with heads on sticks....“Heart of Darkness” is high on ambition, as high as it comes. Director James Williams has elicited high energy performances from Dean Rehman, Sule Rimi and John Norton. Two curators, with Edwardian formality, move their audiences from space to space. Somatik’s music, a cross-cultural melange, is hypnotic.”

From “Hello Again”, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, 2010

“Sublime as it is an Ophuls film is primarily an exercise in style and decoration. Where Ophuls buries Schnitzler's cynicism Michael John LaChiusa's 1994 musical variation is fiercely loyal to the spirit of the original. It is a sour, rancid view of human relations, and not to the liking of all in the Cardiff audience. After five years of marriage a couple knows nothing of one another. A flicker of affection dies when the man craves not much more than a post-coital beer. Sex is portrayed less as a gateway to intimacy than as a tool for its evasion. The carapace of love is tradable, a means to professional advantage, an escape from tedium or just plain physical relief. “Love” sings a character, rather inelegantly “is a terribly confusing ideal.” In the slipperiness of engagement another character sings “I'll be anything for you.”

“The form of LaChiusa's musical is ideally suited as a RWCMD third year showpiece. Its ten scenes have no star parts but good roles for over half the college's third year cohort. I liked the Judy Holloway-ish echoes in Katie Elin-Salt’s voice and the light whoops at the end of her singing lines. The score avoids melodies so that catching the soprano high notes is technically demanding. In no order of merit the singing from Bethan-Mary James, Alice Tucker, Anya Murphy and Rosie Wyatt was a joy to hear. The woman characters are variously sassy, sexy, seductive and self-seeking. It was inflammatory stuff in its day and the play was interpreted as an allegory of the spread of syphilis. The male parts are less flamboyant, with less undress, more brute action and less seduction. Director Caroline Leslie obviously took some relish in creating the seventies ' “Saturday Night Fever” parody with its hot pants and leg warmers. Scott Arthur both looked and sounded great in his outsized collar and loons.”

Picture: “Hamletmachine”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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