Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Things That Begin with L and M

101 Nights to Remember

Thirteen Years a Reviewer , Theatre of Wales , May 4, 2020
101 Nights to Remember by Thirteen Years a Reviewer One of the dampeners for audiences is an exaggerated piety. It has a cause, audience made subsidiary to other interests.

The first three of these have a link. Energy and exuberance pulsed through them all.

The fourth has a particular place in this retrospective. It was the penultimate performance for Theatr Powys. The last was to take place the day following, Saturday, in its home. On the Friday night the weather was appalling, rain falling in sheets. Inside the Morlan Centre the atmosphere was convivial. Many old friends and allies had gathered.

By coincidence, on the same night, just metres away another group was having a lousy time. They had been bussed in from Cardiff. London critics were being soaked in order to trudge the streets. An electronic device was in their hands, the talk came in via headphones. They, the audience, were a token entity

From “Llwyth”, Theatr Genedlaethol & Sherman Cymru, Cardigan, 2011

“Llwyth” feels like a landmark. It is not just the truth and humanity in Dafydd James’ depiction of the long night that his five characters undergo. Nor that “Llwyth” wowed audiences in Scotland and that its two tours have taken in almost every corner of Wales. What sets it apart is that its characters treat a whole range of cultural shibboleths in a spirit of unabashed irreverence. The audience in Cardigan adores every piece of lampooning and cultural jokery... The characters in “Llwyth” are faced with fears that are universal. For Paul Morgans’ Rhys, turning thirty, it is the threat of inconstancy from Michael Humphreys’ Gareth. For Danny Grehan’s Dada it is the threat of an aging loneliness. A character may say “my dad was a right knob end” but the need for love and reconciliation from dad and mum is deep and true. Arwel Gruffydd directs the high-velocity dialogue at the speed it asks for. The surface conversation has the smack of authenticity to it. The focus on the physical is never far away. It is the “smell of sweat, deliciously wet.”

“Aneurin is nagged endlessly to tell just what happened at an orgy he has recently been at. He provides the answer, eventually, with a clarity of description and a joke that, regrettably, cannot be reproduced on an open-to-all-eyes website. A character tells of a comic encounter with a partner who dons a Superman outfit. The references span the ages, not just Kylie but Iolo Morganwg too. The jokery at the expense of the Eisteddfod is a cause for audience delight, not least by those who are attenders every year. Mistar Urdd comes in for a kicking. In Aneurin’s planned fiction the warriors of Gododdin have come to resemble the Spartans of “300”. Huw Chiswell, Derek Brockway, Margaret Williams, Dafydd Iwan, Hywel Gwynfryn all get their mention, not as decoration but as texture in these characters’ experience. Simon Watts is electric... The character oscillates wildly in emotion, from a ravaged existentialism to a cry of “Tonight we are Gods” to the backing of a fierce disco beat. Joshua Price astonishes, his Gavin a mix of seductive allure and sexual precocity... It is carried by an utter confidence in its culture. Characters may say “as losers we stand as one”. But that, rather than a stolid earnestness, is strength. A culture capable of self-irony, that can laugh at itself is one that has come of age.”

From “Lovecraft (Not the Sex Shop in Cardiff)”, Carys Eleri & Wales Millennium Centre, Aberystwyth, 2019

“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. “Lovecraft” joins a select few from theatre of Wales who have flown the flag in the Southern hemisphere... 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.

“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?”

From “Macbeth”, Opra Cymru, Aberaeron, 2012

“The first to arrive is Opra Cymru on a fifteen-venue tour of “Macbeth.” It kicks the season off on an exhilarating high... Sioned Young's translation navigates a skilful path between nineteenth century Italian and Shakespearean English. The enunciation of the language is crystal clear from all the eleven-strong cast. That some are not even speakers of Welsh comes as a surprise; the “ll”'s sound the real thing. As a language for opera it comes across as having an advantage over English similar to Italian’s superiority over German... As in “Don Paskwale” in 2011 the company tours with its own stage, a low six hundred square feet. The cast sit on one side, the audience on the other three. Director Patrick Young's term for the style is a democratisation of opera. Whether it is democratic or not, he has made a powerfully physical experience. The first notes are sung six feet away from the audience. To hear an unleashed tenor at this distance is to experience an instrument of nature of some force. The acting, too, this close-up is a physical presence, of real muscle, teeth, saliva even.

“Macbeth” opens with a confident swagger and never falters. The witches are young singers in micro-kilts and black boots. The production is in martial monochrome, greys and blacks, combat trousers tucked into military boots. Design and props are minimal. A few fold-up chairs and a table are brought on for the banquet scene. Death is dealt out with the tiniest of daggers. There is a chillingly effective use of some cardboard masks. Otherwise, it is the unadorned force of human voice and movement. Phil Gault is a tormented Macbeth, Huw Euron a Banquo who makes an imaginative spectral return. Eldrydd Cynan Jones is an imposing Lady Macbeth whose highlights include a dramatic coloratura at the banquet and a final haunted, hand-washing scene. The emotional peak is the lament by Elgan Thomas as Macduff over the deaths of his family. The ensemble is completed by Lucy Gravelle, Nel Gwynn, Angharad Watkeys, Hedd Griffiths, Robin Hughes and Rhodri Jones. The sound that the full company achieves together is thrilling.”

From “The Man Who Walked Through Walls”, Theatr Powys, Morlan, Aberystwyth, 2011

“The guiding metaphor in Ian Yeoman’s direction of Charles Way’s “The Man Who The Man Who Walked Through Walls” is the frame. Chris Batten’s artist Gen Paul hangs the 1939 Montmartre café setting with his picture frames. A window frame and a door frame, both portable, are deployed signify enclosure , whether it be a prison cell or a life of uneventful routine. “Be somebody else” sings Ralph Bolland’s Monsieur Dutilleul as he makes his transformation from pin-striped, slave-to-habit clerk to jaunty Bohemian. In a great inbreathing of the savour of life he not only finds passion but more importantly “It’s as if I’m smelling Spring for the first time”

“Charles Way’s script, embued with a quiet surrealism, plays for over two hours. Ian Yeoman mounts a scene as a pastiche of a film of the pre-sound era. Two guards prowl around a giant diamond; they hold cocked rifles which are absolutely real but wholly mimed. The scene and the production are beautifully choreographed. Dan Lawrence’s musical director includes a plangent accordion and hints of hints of a Grappelli violin. Guitarist Andy Raven is on stage throughout , a handsome gypsy presence in waistcoat and cravate, hat tipped back on his forehead. Jill Rolfe’s design has that quality of all accomplishment, that it has passed though complicatedness to simplicity. A stage-wide stencil represents the great buildings of Paris. Nick Johnson Walker’s lighting renders the back screen in blues and pinks.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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