Theatre in Wales

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Things That Begin with T

101 Nights to Remember

Thirteen Years a Reviewer , Theatre of Wales , May 22, 2020
101 Nights to Remember by Thirteen Years a Reviewer Four productions that could not be so different.

Terry Hands gives a familiar Shakespeare a bracing jolt to make it unfamiliar. Yvonne Murphy makes theatre by, for and about women, that is truthful about women.

Theatre of meditative quiet from Jill Greenhalgh and big-stage, big-scale popular theatre from Daf James.

From “the Taming of the Shrew”, Clwyd Theatr Cymru. Mold, 2011

“Terry Hands has re-envisioned the play for the twenty-first century. Pictorially, he and designer Mark Bailey have hauled it North of the Alps from Padua and re-cast it in Brueghelesque terms. The set’s front walls have patches of broken daub exposing the wattle beneath. Dead rabbits and ducks hang from the back wall. Tankards, until goblets of gold are revealed for the wedding feast, are of pot and pewter. Servants and retainers are in cloth caps and drab colours. When reduced-to-rags Katherina at last arrives to meet Petruccio's retinue of servants they are less Brueghel than an abhorrent cluster plucked from a canvas by Bosch...Hedydd Dylan's playing of Katherina...can pucker every muscle from cheek to jaw to indicate disdain and impatience. Her lips can arch downward in contempt. She can speak through bared teeth. But she has a vulnerability as well. See the way in which her fingers tense and clench. Shrew she may be but this Katherina is grounded in character. The last scene, reinforced by a clever use of costume design, really does look like love between wife and husband. The publicity for the production just says it straight. This “Taming of the Shrew” is a play about how marriages are made.” That is how it looks.

“Steven Meo arrives on stage unkempt and reeling, swilling spit and ale over servant Grumio. A tankard is rarely far from his hand. His breeches are made of sacking. At his marriage one of his boots is split and dangles around his ankle. A preposterous hat, the shape and diameter of a dinner plate, has a habit of falling off. To freshen himself up to go a-wooing he dunks his head in a pail of water. But it is a performance with more than a surface roisterousness. When he confides to potential father-in-law that he has what is needed to take on his tempestuous daughter a single eyebrow flicks up knowingly. Amy Morgan's Bianca is a coquette in cream with silver earrings and bouncing blonde ringlets. But more than just sweet contrast to noisesome Kate there is a touch of the same steel to her. They really do feel like sisters...Robert Blythe as Baptista does a jump in the air at the prospect of his troublesome daughter's betrothal. Sion Pritchard is an endlessly effervescent Tranio. Simon Holland Roberts is a leering, bent double Grumio in a pair of outsize corduroy pantaloons and weighed down by a giant satchel. Brendan Charleson's Christopher Sly has the alcohol-engorged nose of a toper of an Olympic scarletness.”

From “Things Beginning with M”, Omidaze Productions, Aberystwyth, 2012

“Sisters, daughters, mothers, friends, these are women's life roles and Emily Steel's script takes the three women performers from early experience- “I was terrified of turning into my mother”- to maturity. There is truth in Lyn Hunter’s last part. The happiest decade, according to surveys, is that of the seventy-year olds. Their contentedness is all to do, as depicted here, with the pleasure in the things around you, the acceptance of who you are. The flier for producer-director Yvonne Murphy's “Things Beginning with M” lists two-dozen words that indeed begin with “m”. The list covers almost everything of significance in life’s cycle. An early sequence involves a map, its origin and the word’s derivation. From the audience strides MC-Comedian Taylor Glenn with “I’m no Angela Lansbury but I smell a metaphor.” Taylor Glenn’s inclusion is a clever piece of theatre-making. She not only gives the other performers a breathing space but she brings in pace, variety and structure. She is funny and knowing. The scene that enacts the passage from girlhood to womanhood has the men in the audience shuddering. Taylor Glenn reassures them- they are already a ten percent minority in Aberystwyth’s exposed studio space- that they may relax. The show is not going to include audience participation.

“Things Beginning with M” does not do metaphor. It does sharp observation...Catriona James beautifully expresses the hammer blow that is the implosion of a marriage with too little to sustain itself- movement director is Sarah Hall. Jessica Hayles, new from RWCMD, performs some comedic gymnastics when faced with puberty’s challenge. Lynn Hunter recounts the dispiriting experience of fertility treatment, as well as the joy in a last resolution. One teenager discovers that the humdrum bathroom shower has an unexpected versatility to it. The dating period includes spiked drinks and males of some viciousness. Taylor Glenn flees the US to escape “Awkward Music Man.” She encounters the same type in London with his ghastly serenades from the Elton John catalogue. When it comes to pregnancy the “Hello-OK” version is all rosy complexion and that first fuzzy ultrasound image. The corrective Omidaze version also includes trapped wind and haemorrhoids the size of Brazil nuts. The first act closes with a moving narration of young promise laid waste by anorexia and narcotics. “M” also stands for mental health and the ocean of tranquillisers and serotonin-uplifters that is our twenty-first century lot. “Things Beginning with M” is graphic and frank, funny and sad. The source may be the tales of women but they are tales for all humanity.”

“The Threat of Silence”, Jill Greenhalgh, Cardigan, 2010

“Jill Greenhalgh has created a tripartite stage for “the Threat of Silence.” She begins as she continues. Nicola Thomas enters, moves to stage right, sits unhurriedly and with a studied exactness puts on her glasses. Her 1801 cello begins its first notes on a journey through Bach, Tavener, Bartok and music of her and Tony Hinnigan’s composition. Stage left Eddie Ladd’s head moves near imperceptibly to the first music. In between the two performers is video artist Zoe Christiansen’s double screen. The triple structure melds sound, image and movement. But over its sixty-five minute length these three elements change. Eddie Ladd sings, hauntingly, verses in part from Rilke’s “Duino Elegies.” (Although “O engyl drylliedig y ddaear” looks more a variation on Rilke than the poet himself.)

“Towards the close Meg Brookes joins for a duet on cello and Eddie Ladd sits motionless and attentive. Music itself can only exist as the result of motion. The video images are still, although a silvery image of light on water never ceases to shimmer. All attention is on the two cello bows and the hands creating the notes. Sara Penrhyn-Jones’ camera frequently closes in on the faces of the two women on screen, sixty years apart in age. Sheila Thomas is fixed with the kind of piercing eye that David Hockney gave to his mother in old age. Meg Brookes might have been a subject for Raphael. Jill Greenhalgh and her collaborators thread the work throughout with contrasting motifs of evanescence and permanence. A hand may gently hold a rose or a tiny sculpted foot. A coal fire burns. Stained glass picks up a reflection. Meg Brookes moves slowly within the ancient woodland of Tycanol, with its unique hundreds of species of lichen, photographed in sunlight. The theme of Margaret Cameron’s writing, she says, is quietude as an aesthetic principle. Some of the writing strikes home directly. The silence from those died young has rightly a powerful metaphorical eloquence. Some of the text is elusive. It is left unsaid as to whether silence might exist as a quality in itself or whether it needs an ear to attest to its presence.”

From “Tiger Bay”, Wales Millennium Centre with Cape Town Opera, 2017

“Tiger Bay”, says Graeme Farrow, WMC's artistic leader, “is how musicals used to be.” By that he means it is neither borrowed from a film script nor a catalogue of old hits. It is an original book by Michael Williams set to the music of Daf James. In fact its resemblance to any specific piece in the musical theatre canon is slight. It is closer dramatically to the theatre of a writer like Helen Edmundson. Like her “Coram Boy” its plot involves adults and children in an intensely realised panorama of historical setting. The plot is gradual in its starting. Instead Williams' structure unveils a series of tableaus from the richness of the Cardiff of 1900. On the quay-front the muscles of men tauten as they push their laden wagons of coal. The cluster of raggedy street orphans, the Water Boys, assist with their greasing of the wagon wheels. Anna Fleischle's set is of stressed steel with Joshua Carr's lighting the shade of anthracite. In uptown Cardiff Vikki Bebb's heroine Rowena is in Morgan's pristine department store with fellow saleswomen Zoe George, Lucy Elson and Elin Llwyd. Back in Butetown Suzanne Packer's Marisha presides over the unique multi-ethnic mix that shifted the black stuff which fuelled the Empire. The black-suited merchants in the Exchange strike their trades while union strife is fulminating. Suffragettes stride the stage demanding enfranchisement. These scenes have a scale and a vivacity to them to thrill. Melody Squire and Lungelo Ngamlana are joint choreographers. Director Melly Still and co-director Max Barton know exactly what they are doing; cut just at the point when the audience is at its height of enthrallment.

“The Wales Millennium Centre is a big assertion of a building and “Tiger Bay” has been conceived” on a scale to match. At curtain call forty actors are on stage and at times the sheer size and impact of the collective singing takes it closer to opera than musical theatre....Remote from the seething city John Owen- Jones is an agonised Third Marquess of Bute in the Zodiac Room of Cardiff Castle. His grief over his lost family is inconsolable, his recourse the lure of spiritualism represented by Liz May Brice's medium Leonora Piper. Her fakery is assisted by Harbourmaster Seamus O'Rourke. Michael Williams knows a good script is powered by a villain of dimension and Noel Sullivan's O'Rourke is the real thing. He has a secret behind him- given the period is that of the Boer War it is easily guessable. His nemesis is newly arrived worker from South Africa, Dom Hartley-Harris' Themba... As for Daf James he has over the years been proven as the most protean talent of his generation. In a exceptionally well-produced programme he describes his music for “Tiger Bay”, African folk style A Capella, the Djembe drum, the four-point harmony of chapels."

Picture: Taming of the Shrew

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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