Theatre in Wales

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Things That Begin with P and R

101 Nights to Remember

Thirteen Years a Reviewer , Theatre of Wales , May 12, 2020
101 Nights to Remember by Thirteen Years a Reviewer Peter Gill has made three appearances on this site over the last thirteen years. He was part of the artistic team at Mold that created a superlative Chekhov in 2017. His 80th birthday was celebrated here with a tribute last year, September 12th. And National Theatre Wales gave its own tribute in its first years.

I would never rush to a Bernard Shaw play. But when Terry Hands turned to him he did so with a ferocious intelligence; Shaw unveiled as a dramatist of a key feminist text.

Flying Bridge holds a place of record. There are no numbers in the public domain of Wales; most likely “Houdini” has been seen in more places and by more people than any other piece of theatre.

From “A Provincial Life”, National Theatre Wales, Cardiff, 2012

“The choice of play is Peter Gill’s, a first full staging of a short story adaptation from 1966. “A Provincial Life”, extravagant in cast size, has an awesome precision in its direction...Peter Gill’s opening line is as simple as it comes. “I’ve brought you something to eat.” It is given to Cleopatra, played by Sara Lloyd-Gregory. It is spoken with perfect pitch and cadence, indicator of all that is to follow. In the first scenes Peter Gill has his players stand quite still on the large bare stage. He lets the words speak. The colour, black for men, cream or lilac for the women, helps in adding a statuesque quality to the visual imagery. The acting is honed down to fine detail. Hear the way in which Clive Merrison’s martinet father articulates the letter “k” in the word “work” or the slightest of elongations given to the three syllables of “id-i-ot.” William Thomas has to listen to some high falutin’ theory from Nicholas Shaw’s magnetic Misail. His response is contained in the raising of his eyebrows.

“The date of “A Provincial Life” is 1896. It comes after “the Wood Demon” and before “Uncle Vanya.” “Uncle Vanya” is a ghost that haunts the plot. There is the deep-seeing doctor, the attempt to find meaningful work in place of idleness, the glum melancholy of life in an ossified society. John-Paul McCleod’s comically balanced Ivan runs amok with a gun, albeit offstage. There is also a touch of Tolstoy overshadowing the story; the two writers first met the previous year in August 1895. Peter Gill opens his second act with a specific reference to “Anna Karenina”. A group of synchronised scythers moves across the stage...Alison Chitty’s design does away with those richly textured wooden verandas. Five large rectangles fifteen foot high stand around the stage’s edge. In summer Paul Pyant’s lighting gives them the tone of fresh pine. As the seasons turn they take on a gaunt winter light...In the huge cast Lee Haven-Jones brings to his role a pained helplessness. Alex Clatworthy radiates a luminous optimism where dismay is inevitable. Sara Lloyd-Gregory’s performance has all the vulnerability and hope of youth.”

From “Pygmalion”, Theatr Clwyd Cymru, Mold, 2009
“Terry Hands' production of “Pygmalion” is superlative, for at least three reasons. The first is the sheer concentrated intelligence that has been applied to Shaw’s 1916 text. It is all too easy to embalm Shaw in Edwardian nostalgia, all oak panels, tweeds and tiaras. Certainly the costume design does not stint; the opulence of the satins and velvets, tweeds and herringbones is startling. But designer Mark Bailey hangs a picture of Darwin on the wall of Professor Higgins' study. The room is less the customary tightly filled space but a spare and vaguely ascetic space, brightly lit. As usual Terry Hands is his own terrific lighting designer.
“The Darwinian undertone in this commemorative year is cunningly reinforced by a little three inch bust on the desk. It is a reminder of two things; the play is about human beings adapting under stress, and that the period of its writing was equally a time of scientific and artistic turmoil... Secondly, this is a consummate ensemble production...Mrs Eynsford-Hill hardly has more than a few good lines but Sian Howard makes everything of the line about the poorness of her family and Clara’s restrictive prospects...Philip Bretherton’s Higgins has none of the sense of boyish immaturity that Tim Piggott-Smith recently gave him. There are no baggy cardigans on show here. He and Robert Blythe’s Pickering are never to be seen without their tight waistcoats. When Betsan Llwyd’s Mrs Pearce announces the arrival of Eliza there is a tremor in his voice with the line “A woman.. As for Hedydd Dylan’s Eliza the words used by that piece of critical granite known as John Peter were “an actress glowing with promise.” When Eliza returns from the Ambassador’s Reception she is lit only from above. The effect is of a museum object... When Eliza says “I want a little kindness” and “I won’t be passed over” “Pygmalion” comes over as a key feminist text.”
“The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning”, National Theatre Wales, Haverfordwest, 2012

“The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning” is not political theatre in the sense that it is about the process of politics. It is not a dramatisation of a dialectic of conflicting stances. Bradley Manning may, as an early line says, be a Daniel Ellsberg for our times but that is not the play’s theme. It is political theatre in that sense that Michael Billington wrote after a session with David Hare on 27th March: “What it can do is inform, illuminate…raise awareness: sometimes, if we're lucky, all at once.” Tim Price’s dramatic territory is akin to that explored by Julian Mitchell in “Another Country” and Peter Cosminsky in “Britz”. His subject is not the what of the action that leads to the dreadful incarceration, but the why. Structurally, the play cuts back and forth in time. The action leaps from school- the one in which the audience is sitting- to gaols in Virginia and Baghdad, to boot camp, university campus and street protest. Out of this kaleidscope of compressed experience emerges an insightful, convincing picture.

“John McGrath’s production has a surge of modernity to it; that is crucially different from topicality. Chloe Lamford’s design wraps fifty monitors around four lighting poles. Mike Beer’s tremendous sound design takes in Lady Gaga and the radio cacophony of the urban battlefront. Tim Price includes a key scene that pitches the alienated young soldier amongst a group of Massachusetts computer science students... But theatre is not journalism. It works because it is action. John McGrath gives the production a driving narrative. The actors work with no more than a table, six chairs, a couple of guns and a few artful scarves and glasses. This drive is assisted by a clever piece of writing. Tim Price has made all six actors play his lead character, effected visually by a technique that is as simple as it is utterly clear. The cast of six have a youth to them that fits wholly with the subject. Matthew Aubrey, Harry Ferrier, Gwawr Loader, Kyle Rees, Sion Daniel Young and Anjana Vasan change at speed from school kids to students to soldiery.”

From “A Regular Little Houdini”, Daniel Llewelyn-Williams, Carmarthen, 2014

“Daniel Llewelyn-Williams’ solo show naturally comprises dramatic rise and fall. A first dramatic climax simply terrifies, aided by director Josh Richards’ subtle lowering of the lights. Within a performance without interval the author has also fashioned a two-act structure of elegance. He seeds the writing early on with runners so that elements occur late on that refer back. A script becomes a unity via counterpoint and inner echo. He also creates a climax that is both a visual coup and an emotional surprise. This is the point that those who fret over “text-based theatre” rarely get, that decent writing is text-unbased, the word being deployed in subservience to the making of visual image.

“To reveal too much of the narrative would be to reveal all. Llewelyn-Williams’ character is Alan Williams, born in 1895, animated by the first visit of Houdini to the city’s grandiose Lyceum Theatre. The actor plays the ten-year old boy and leaps across the family group of ten compressed into the tiny grandparents’ house in Pill. Sentiment is avoided with memory of the arrival of the destitute multitudes from famine-gripped Ireland. The Irish are used as free human ballast for the homeward voyage of the coal ships of Wales and the details are harrowing...“A Regular Little Houdini” is a chronicle of an imagined personage but it also functions as a hymn to a real place. The very plainness and silty grandeur of Newport seems to evoke a loyalty and a level of artistic response...The boy Alan is present at the opening of the Transporter Bridge. His ambition to emulate Houdini leads him to practise his own first attempts at escapology in a pipe buried in the Usk mud. The word at the time was “self-liberator.” The great tide is experienced unnervingly at first hand...A writer of craft also understands metaphor and its use, not in a blaring manner that draws attention to itself. The unique bond between performer and audience is made by allowing the viewers to work it out for themselves.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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