Theatre in Wales

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Things That Begin with H and I

101 Nights to Remember

Thirteen Years a Reviewer , Theatre of Wales , April 30, 2020
101 Nights to Remember by Thirteen Years a Reviewer “Hiraeth” had a significance beneath the exuberance of its surface that its reviewers failed to see.

The centre of Wales' experience of the last centuries has been the centrifugal pull of the south. The population drift has been going on for 150 years but the knowledge economy has accelerated it. The impact on culture and language is profound. That is what “Hiraeth” was about

Likewise, national theatre has been debated for over a century. If it looks like national theatre, links up with national theatre, jumps the Thames to a theatre in St Martin's Lane and wins an Olivier then it probably is national theatre. “Home, I'm Darling” was also the most trenchant piece of theatre whose subject was women and gender roles.

“How to Win Against History” delighted. Booked into Aberystwyth on tour, it had to be reprogrammed to run extra performances to meet audience demand.

Arad Goch, one of the great survivors, made their nice contribution to the Year of Dylan.

From “Hiraeth”, Buddug James Jones & Company, Big Belly, Edinburgh, 2014

“Hiraeth” scores a number of firsts. It must be a first in theatre for the Little Chef on the Pont Abraham roundabout to get a name check... Edinburgh in its time has been host to performance from every latitude and longitude but probably never before has an audience joined in common voice to sing the chorus to a song entitled “Cool Cymru.” Buddug James Jones' verses grow ever more extravagantly martial culminating in the invasion of Shropshire. “The subject of “Hiraeth” is Buddug James Jones herself, the life to her mid-twenties. It closes inimitably. She is in an inflatable dinghy, its oars banging on the floor, emitting a cry of desperation as to just what is she doing in a grim air raid shelter in Scotland... With “Hiraeth” the gaunt space is filled with joy and jubilation.

“The start in life is distinctively different. A patchwork of farms close by the Ceredigion-Carmarthenshire border has been home to parents, grandparents, great grandparents and beyond. The family gathers for a ritual day each year for the picking of potatoes... The social highlight is the Young Farmers gathering in Llandysul. This childhood of family enclosedness brings with it expectation; a farming role is to be filled. The intention to experience London brings a family reaction of horror. In this telling of her life news broadcasts are intercepted that show a city of unremitting violence and danger. The internet is searched to locate a suitable fiancee to stop the departure. “I'm not an actor but I'm going to give it a bloody good go” is her opening line. She does just that with lashings of enthusiasm, energy and sincerity... “Hiraeth” is boosted by fellow performer Max Mackintosh... He plays a dozen parts starting with boyfriend Ed, instigator of an unsavoury act involving a portaloo. The parts in Wales include father, grandmother, butcher, vicar, sheep, chicken and a ghost. The parts in London include Carlos the Portuguese who loses his Slipknot t-shirt with a dive into the canal at Camden Lock to rescue a kitten.”

From “Home, I'm Darling”, Theatr Clwyd & Royal National Theatre, London, 2018

“In the Dorfman all summer Richard Harrington will be skipping the two floors of designer Anna Fleischle's Welwyn home with a cherubic lightness. The mood in Laura Wade's play changes; his performance also alters with a fine calibration....2018 is set to be one of those marker year for theatre of Wales. In February the South scored the triple O (Owen + O'Riordan = Olivier Award)... Dominic Maxwell picked out Tamara Harvey's “sympathetic, propulsive direction.”

“It is a six actor play, the characters skillfully interwoven. There is a subsidiary theme for Judy, that adult life is an aspiration to make good the hurts of childhood. Sian Thomas gets to deliver a speech on the 1950s which earns a mid-scene applause on its own merits. And Sara Gregory is in the cast too. As an estate agency branch manager she gets to play a couple of scenes, albeit crucial to Laura Wade's design. Her Alex, beneath a sheet of black hair, hits the managerial role head on in both its briskness and brittleness. With memories of Blodeuwedd, from a formidable production, fresh in the mind she is evidence of the sheer versatility of the art...The credits are shared across Wales and England. The producing side in Mold comprises William James and Jim Davis. Debbie Knight is wardrobe manager for the lustrous costumes on show. The set is the work of the Clwyd team under workshop manager Steve Eccleson.

From “How to Win Against History”, Seiriol Davies &Aine Flanagan Productions, 2017

““How to Win Against History” has had a long run. At Edinburgh in 2016 Pontio was co-producer. In 2017 it returned to Edinburgh in a bigger venue to critical applause and audience sell-outs... On the autumn tour Aberystwyth had to put on an extra performance to meet audience demand. It ends the year with a month at a London venue whose high profile has ensured that every major print publication has been there. They too universally liked what they saw. With its insouciant merriment, its glitter and spangles it is well suited to the Christmas season slot... Seiriol Davies presents Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Anglesey with a winning sincerity and directness. The cross-dressing, akin to Grayson Perry, is simply how he is. Pathos is undercurrent to the display, a powerful quality to communicate to an audience. Certainly to be so out of kilter with background, class and expectation is hard. There is a song “boots” which looks to the duties of empire for men of “courage and footballness.” The title refers to the Paget dynasty's attempt to obscure his place in history by destroying his personal documents and other memorabilia. An obituary writes cruelly of a life that has been lived in vain.

“There is much art to “How to Win against History.” Paget is certainly not “normal/ the kind of man to take you to a rugby club formal.” A rhyme like “want to be like pistons/ Following the path of least resistance” is way above average lyric-writing. Matthew Blake plays his collaborator, actor Alexander Keith, and a range of other roles including wife, Lilian Chetwynd. Her new husband, on asking her to undress, covers her entirely in diamonds. The two lead players are complemented by the standing figure of Dylan Townley a few feet to the rear on keyboard. In visual contrast to the front-of-stage animation he is a doleful, long-faced presence in curious knickerbockers. Structurally “How to Win Against History” concludes satisfyingly with an ending that arcs back to its opening... The audience is invited to sing a chorus of “Ich bin hôflich aber verwirrt.” “I am polite but confused.”

From “Innocent as Strawberries”, Arad Goch, Aberystwyth, 2014

“Innocent as Strawberries” is about what matters for this year of commemoration, the poetry. But a company does not pass a twenty-five year milestone without knowing its audience. The production, devised by cast and director Angharad Lee, surges with physical action, music and the crafted rhythm of performance. It is a touring show heading, after its public unveiling next to the National Library’s own Dylan Thomas exhibition, for the schools of Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. It travels lightly with three wooden boxes and a couple of oil drums, put to various and inventive use.

“The format is a fictionalised variation on the life. Morgan Thomas, Chris Hoskins and Jack Quick are three schoolboys in the same place and time as Dylan Thomas. The adolescents have the crisply cut hair, the white shorts, grey shorts and sleeveless pullovers of the era. The design looks good; the jerseys look as if they come less from a factory in Dacca but, as they were, in hand-knitted form from the hand of mum or aunty...Their world is geographically restricted but imaginatively wide-ranging. They make a bone-rattling trip by lorry for a camping excursion at Rhossili- a teenage audience member on enquiry volunteered this as his most-enjoyed moment in the show. When one of the three is walloped he declares with pride to have “the best black eye in Europe.” Adolescence brings allure and awkwardness in equal measure. Peggy, Gwyneth and Jean are met with a gauche discomfort. At school danger hovers with two bullies ever-present.”

Picture credit: Kristina Banholzer “How to Win Against History”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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