Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Touring Theatre Tells a Tale of the Time of Covid-19


Pentabus , Chapel Court, Aberystwyth Arts Centre , September 2, 2021
Idyll by Pentabus Harry Egan performs on a square of wood, placed on grass, its size three by three metres. He has a line of trees behind him, open sky above.

He has a tale to tell, words written by Matt Hartley. But most of all the actor has himself. For an hour-plus his body, feet to eyebrows, are in motion and energy. He becomes an asthmatic, gasping for breath and scrabbling for his inhaler. His torso folds, he dances, he drops to the floor. His hands clench into a fist, his palm unfolds in a gesture of plea, his fingers perform a ballet of expressiveness.

The article below, 7th April, led with "Theatre is Carnal, Corporeal”. For months social solidarity required we forgo the social for a greater good, the health of the whole. Credit then to Pentabus, for getting out on the road, for returning us an actor, in real space, time and in common presence. Credit too to the programmers at Aberystwyth for doing what has hardly happened in Cardiff- making a piece of theatre happen.

Pentabus, a company with a thirty-year heritage, has featured in the theatre of Wales. Former Artistic Director Elizabeth Freestone was director for Tim Price's “For Once”. The company is located outside Ludlow. Matt Hartley has set his tale in an unidentified village but which recognisably belongs to the border counties. The time is July 2020, four months in from lockdown's start. He reprises a tale that was common. In Church Stretton a news account a year back read that the village was overwhelmed with visitors. Those who lived there, in the time before the vaccines, became fearful prisoners within their homes.

Matt Hartley's unnamed narrator has an Olympian view, akin to the role that Thornton Wilder gave to his stage manager in “Our Town”. A widow goes daily for two hours to be at the grave of her husband of decades. The narrator knows that she has three years to go before joining him. There is many a detail from the times of restriction. The village has its enclave of council houses at its edge. But it retains “the Red Lion” and has a darts team. But a death from cancer takes place in a hospital without the presence of loved ones. A funeral allows only six.

The tale that follows is a common one from the time. Cars from the urban interior are parked haphazardly. A BMW on a verge impedes the passage of a hearse. Litter and excreta blot the rural scene. Hartley has prepared a group of characters, Harry Egan jumping from voice to voice. An altercation ignites; it inevitably escalates. The visitors have spent months in an urban flat. The playwright asks who the land is for, a question that ricochets across rural and coastal Wales. As at Abersoch this season this village has lost a primary school for a lack of numbers.

In this altercation there are no winners. Smartphones are pressed to record the scene. It all goes viral. Last summer a scene on the Madoc estuary was just one. The Gwynedd police were courteous; the dog-walker from a hundred miles distant rebutting with “Boris says we can” and then “I thought Wales was in England.” In this fiction the incident comes to the eye of an employer and the arguer loses his job. The writer's eye is one of sympathy. Dramatists are there to make action not pass judgement. “Idyll” bursts with vitality.

The credits for “Idyll” are writer Matt Hartley, director Elle While, designer Lucy Sierra, sound designer Dan Balfour, lighting designer James Mackenzie, assistant director Alessandra Davison, associate sound designer Dylan Winn-Davies.

“Idyll” plays at Presteigne Assembly Rooms, 5th September.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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