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101 Nights to Remember

Thirteen Years a Reviewer , Theatre of Wales , May 16, 2020
101 Nights to Remember by Thirteen Years a Reviewer Theatre, if it is anything, must be an ecology. The past is important, but so too is modernity. Britain's wars of the 21st century were reflected in a flourish of drama. “The Sanger” was Wales' contribution.

Ecological vitality expresses itself in diversity, content, style, companies. Volcano is as it was and remains. With this production they not only went to Edinburgh but had to create their own venue in Leith to accommodate it.

Living Pictures went out on the road with Mamet. Waking Exploits came, lit up the sky, returned twice, and then were no more.

From “The Sanger”, Chapter Cardiff, 2011

“For its taut hour the script puts on stage a hot, enclosed watching-post in Helmand uncompromisingly, unreservedly. All credit to Sherman Cymru for grabbing this script and fast-tracking it to performance. The last nine months have not been great for new writing. “The Sanger”, crafted, ambitious, accomplished, is the real thing...A squad of four joke, muse, cuff one another, gaze at pin-ups, wave a sex toy around. Death, sex, money are prevalent. A stint in Helmand earns two hundred a month more than working in a pizzeria at home, but the army throws in food for free. What is the difference, they wonder, between a hermaphrodite and a Thai lady-boy? A machine gun is fired warningly at an old man and his son who walk carelessly in no man’s land. Noses are picked. Gareth Pierce’s stretched Danny drops his pants and trousers to waft a little air around his privates. Treats of rare food are cherished to offset the mix of stress and tedium. Saleem, an Afghan who has done time in the Marriott in Dubai, visits for banter and radio eavesdropping.

“Under Amy Hodge’s direction the jargon-packed dialogue comes full and fast. It is not all understandable but it has the smack of an expletive-rich authenticity. The soldiers know that however many Taliban are killed their replacements are without limit. There is grudging acknowledgement almost that they are little different from the foreigners in their land. But Tom Cullen’s estuary-accented Laze is given some lines of loathing for those who burn down schools for girls. He is recipient of the Queen’s shilling and is in no doubt the Queen too would find loathsome these haters of women.”

From “Seagulls”, Volcano, Swansea, 2015

“The characters of Chekhov may yearn for the city they rarely reach. But marooned in the country they certainly like to speak about it. Every character in “the Seagull” talks of the lake that abuts the action of Chekhov’s 1895 play. It is that attention in the source material for Volcano’s wild and thrilling version that designer Camilla Clarke has focussed on. The theatrical impact of her concept is achieved in two ways. Not only is the design audacious and excitingly original but director Paul Davies has arranged the action in such a way that its full realisation only becomes clear to the audience in a stunning visual coup.

“Mairi Phillips wields a sizeable axe to chop wood but her Arkadina is less a grandee of conventional presentation than a storming, physically provocative figure. The play-within-a-play is earthy, declamatory and ecstatic. “Indulgent, avant-garde shit” is her verdict in a vibrant Scots accent. Joanna Simpkins’ Nina is a rapturous, animated, free spirit. Trigorin, Konstantin and Dorn are the balletic Gethin Alderman, Christopher Elson and Neal McWillliams. Catherine Bennett is movement director for the action that ascends to points of wildness. An all-cast dance to the Clash and “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” is a highlight. But the rhythm is leavened by a sequence of some embarrassed comedy. It features the use of five suitcases and, Volcano-style, very little else.”

From “Serious Money”, Waking Exploits, Aberystwyth, 2011
“There’s ugly greedy and sexy greedy, you dope” says Bethan Morgan’s PR supremo to Robert Harper’s corporate raider “At the moment, you’re ugly which is no hope.” Arbitrageur Marylou Baines- startlingly re-imagined by director Mathilde Lopez as an asthmatic, arthritic, drawling powerhouse- is “second only to Boesky.” Who Boesky? It does not matter. Caryl Churchill’s play is lifted out of its 1987 setting by its mix of moral passion, vaulting language and unstinting theatricality. Neil Davies’ design of a circle of grass, twenty foot in diameter, has puzzled early reviewers. It is a metaphor, and an imaginative one at that. City operatives have always spilled out of their towers at weekends. The play’s third scene is a hunt in which the cast of eight become headstrong, snorting horses. There is not a Georgian rectory within three hundred miles of London that is not now the domain of the moneymen.

"Mathilde Lopez and her cast capture the sheer energy and eros of how it feels to be winners. From the outside it may not look much of a game to be in in the first place but it sure feels great on the inside. When tin-magnate-cum-cocaine-baroness Jacinta Condor appears, Catriona James slithers on stage with the sensuousness of a jaguar from the Peruvian jungle...Presciently Jacinta and Zac- a rangy, febrile Tom Mumford- choose Shanghai for their honeymoon. “Good business to be done there”...“Serious Money” leaps out of the straitjacket of its time by its moral fervour, its high propulsion narrative, its lack of condescension or favours to anyone. Sule Rimi’s Nigel Ajibala, ostensibly a cocoa man, is portrayed as out and out rascal. A decade or so on and he would be masterminding those 419 email scams. There cannot be a more scabrous line on the submission of self to corporation than Zac’s “I don’t mind bending over and greasing my ass- but I sure ain’t using my own vaseline.” Phil Williams is choreographer. Michael Salmon is associate producer. Iain Goosey is producer.”

From “Sexual Perversity in Chicago”, Living Pictures/ Cegin Productions, Aberystwyth, 2013

“Sexual Perversity in Chicago” is the young urban Mamet with his ear tuned to the high-speed rhythms of the singles jungle of Chicago’s Rush Street area. Director Robert Bowman delivers an enclosed, scabrous, scintillating revisit to the Chicago and Lake Michigan Shore of 1976. It is a play of its time but which bounds into today. 1976 is a time when office work comprises files and paper- computers then were powerful and omnipresent but they lived behind sealed double doors in temperature-stabilised, dust-filtered environments. An invitation out to dinner may tentatively be made after bed, but cohabitation is still a relative novelty. But a woman can now see off a male by declaring she is gay. Pornography runs openly twenty-four hours in downtown cinemas; the US differs from the shadowy cellars in Soho of that era.

“The two men in the play, Danny and Bernie, go to such a cinema. The last scene is set on the shore and is similarly voyeuristic. With their binoculars scrutinising the sunbathing women the men pivot between lustful ogling and misogynistic resentment. Robert Bowman’s Bernie is a monster of simmering rage... Beneath the rat-a-tat ricochet of the dialogue there is much craft to Mamet’s play. It gradually reveals itself as the arc of a love affair. Ioannis Sholto’s Danny first appears as the gentler counterpart to Bernie. The topic that brings his encounter with Lizzie Rogan’s Deborah is drawing. He attempts to bring a small measure of moral response to Bernie’s rampaging narratives... The fourth character is Clair Cage's Joan. Joan is the woman dismayed in love, who has taken refuge in a posture of generalised but false cleverness.”

Picture: It can only be Volcano.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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