Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Performance Re-begins

Quarterly Critical Round-up

Theatr Clwyd, Sherman & National Theatre Wales , Theatre of Wales , August 5, 2021
Quarterly Critical Round-up by Theatr Clwyd, Sherman & National Theatre Wales The first indoor performance took place at Theatr Clwyd 10th June. The return of “How to Win Against History” was followed by a touring and an in-house production, below 6th July and June 28th.

Lisa Parry's breakthrough play “The Merthyr Stigmatist” was a casualty of the crisis. The Sherman staged it one weekend for a camera but no audience. It was a loss, unfortunate, for the writer. A dramatist needs to be with an audience to get the rhythm of what works.

But an audience made of watchers who are masked and spaced cannot give that; they do not have the collective composition of an audience.

Nonetheless, in its non-theatre form, the performance was well received. Wales Arts Review in excerpt:

“Lisa Parry’s gripping two-hander The Merthyr Stigmatist arrives on our digital screens as a filmed play. Delayed and deprived of its original live-performance format by the pandemic, the play has lost none of the urgency and topicality that saw it shortlisted for Theatre Uncut’s ‘Political Playwriting’ award. The title indicates a strong religious theme, but the target of Parry’s simmering anger is political rather than theological. Her play is less about the metaphysics of faith than it is pained by the social stigma of unemployment and poverty, which makes for a potent polemical drama that is disappointingly less complex than it might have been.

“...Bethan McLean, making an impressive professional debut, portrays Carys with an utterly convincing blend of stroppy provocation, vulnerable defensiveness, and a robust civic pride in her working-class community. As Sian, Bethan Mary-James vividly expresses a contempt for Catholicism that only a lapsed Catholic can feel. Viewing Carys’ video, she exclaims, “I saw a performance not divine intervention”, and yet her disavowal rings a little hollow, especially when we learn that she still grieves for a long-deceased father and carries a gnawing guilt about ‘escaping’ her humble roots in Merthyr.

“Lisa Parry succeeds powerfully in making the psychological wounds of Merthyr’s working poor and long-term unemployed visible, which alone makes The Merthyr Stigmatist worth seeing – although those who most need to hear its message will no doubt make their excuses and stay away. Her narrow focus on class, however, strips the play of a layer or two of complexity that might have lifted it to another level of drama entirely...Sherman Theatre Cymru and Theatre Uncut are to be commended for supporting this intriguing play and bringing it to audiences in the current challenging circumstances. This co-production exemplifies the need for articulate voices of protest to speak for those who are too often marginalised by government and the mainstream media. Lisa Parry does so with insight, compassion, and a refreshing lack of condescension.”

Andrew Ogun from the Arts Council of Wales featured on Radio Wales Arts Show on 18th June. His first weeks, he said, had taken him far from his Gwent locality. In the north, he observed, the perception was that the nation was run from the south and for the south.

The BBC Wales Cymru programme moved on to its programme, entirely of and about the south. Included was a matey feature on National Theatre Wales.

National Theatre Wales has a pedigree of performing outdoors in days when there was no need. In these days, with the outside yearning for theatre, they headed paradoxically for a venue. The company had a one-person show, again without an audience. Wales Arts Review watched it on a screen and took it to task on various counts.

The Bridge Theatre in the autumn of 2020 mounted a narrative of one person's experience of Covid-19. It was not well received. “Possible” is the same, just one person's notes. So the review saw: “tired reiterations of familiar lockdown tropes including, worryingly ill parents, financial panic, manic baking, insomnia and infrequently changed underwear. I can get that over a beer with mates on Zoom. NTW present the show with their typical technical wizardry and customary ability to state a platitude like it’s a revelation.”

Planet 243 includes an article “Breathing Freely. A Future Vision for Welsh Theatre.” Charmian Savill writes: “I don't want theatre to act as a therapeutic confessional for the theatre artist...Theatre is not our friend: it is a cruel vessel, exposing our fault-lines...Theatre events that ask for love, sympathy or uncritical agreement merely revert to old power structures”

Back at Wales Arts Review the critique extended to the corporate culture.

“NTW have often struck me as frustrated wannabe film-makers rather than theatre artists, and “Possible" is no exception to their historical commitment to privileging visual spectacle over language and ideas. Someone should explain to them that snazzily executed back-projections aren’t a sufficient substitute for insight...central message of “Possible” is undeniably true but it is nonetheless banal...doesn’t render this experience into art, it seems more like a podcast put on its feet with some accompanying slides.”

“This is a substantial failure of dramaturgy that is even more unforgiveable given the inclusion of yet another narrative – a meta discourse on how “Possible” developed from an earlier pre-pandemic commission from NTW titled “All About Love.”...Giving a cutesy shout-out to NTW artistic director Lorne Campbell, thanking him for putting the show into production is a post-modern joke without a punchline. It’s not that companies like NTW shouldn’t maintain support of their freelance collaborators and associates, that was a vital function to perform while theatres remained closed, it’s just that such self-referentiality smacks of smug self-satisfaction.”

In a small irony of programming another national theatre, in London, re-opened with a Welsh production. “Under Milk Wood” had not just its lead names, Sheen and Philips, but a class cast of Wales regulars including Iwan Huw Dafydd, Lee Mengo and Gillian Elias.

More information, with thanks, at:

https://www.walesartsreview.org/for-the-grace-of-you-go-i-theatr-clwyd/

“Merthyr Stigmatist”- https://www.walesartsreview.org/the-merthyr-stigmatist-digital-world-premiere/

“Possible”- https://www.walesartsreview.org/possible-national-theatre-wales/

Pictured: "Merthyr Stigmatist" & Nogood Boyo in London

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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