Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Winter Theatre Riches Briefly Seen

Quarterly Critical Round-up

Bara Caws, Theatr Genedlaethol, Theatr Iolo, Sherman, Cwmni Franwen, Wales Arts Review , Winter 2021/ 2022 , February 3, 2022
Quarterly Critical Round-up by Bara Caws,  Theatr Genedlaethol, Theatr Iolo, Sherman, Cwmni Franwen, Wales Arts Review  The thirteen week quarter of the year was reduced to eight in Wales, albeit not in England.

On 22nd December the WALES MILLENNIUM CENTRE said of the new alert level:

"impossible for us to open the theatre in a way that provides a good audience experience and is economically viable".

Cancellations were announced by other venues. The Welsh Government made £15.4m available to support the arts and cultural sector. The Arts Council of Wales launched an application process on 12th January.

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BARA CAWS managed to get its Christmas show out before the closures. "Dawel Nos", directed by IWAN CHARLES, played Bethesda, Llanrwst, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Pwllheli, Denbigh, Llangefni and Caernarfon.

The Scrooge character was turned into that of a billionaire businessman who owns the world’s biggest toy manufacturer. But he is angry, miserable and hates Christmas. An opponent features in the form of Dilwyn Trwmp, owner of Toys We’ R.

Bob Scratchit meanwhile is fundraising for his son, Twm Fychan, to receive a saving operation. The touring show was performed by Iwan Charles, Mari Emlyn, Llyr Evans, Carys Gwilym and Emyr Roberts.

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THEATR GENEDLAETHOL, manifesting a post-lockdown energy, did a third tour of 2021. Billed as "an enchanting winter’s tale for children under 5 and their families" the company went into co-production with Theatr Iolo for "Llygoden yr Eira."

ARWEL GRUFFYDD: "We’re delighted to be taking the production to small venues up and down the country in the run-up to Christmas. For many, this will be the first time back in the theatre after a very challenging couple of years, and we will be working with venues to make that experience as safe and as delightful as possible. Set in a magical winter wonderland, this is an enchanting and accessible theatre experience, where language, music and play combine.”

"Llygoden yr Eira" toured all points November 18th to December 18th.

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The WALES MILLENNIUM CENTRE set the pace in the autumn after the long absence. It continued with another variation on Dickens. In collaboration with Big Loop Theatre Company it promised " Cardiff's most chaotic anti-panto.ever!" "XXXmas Carol" at the Wolfson Studio promised drag, circus, burlesque and song. The company of Polly Amorous, Foo Foo LaBelle, Rahim El Habachi, Eric McGill, Bunmi Odumosu and Geraint Owen were not to perform.

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Wales Millennium Centre was also a co-producer, alongside the Egg and Oxford Playhouse, in HOLM THEATRE’s "Josephine."

"Josephine" was written by LEONA ALLEN, co-written and directed by JESSE BRITON and designed by Debbie Duru. The musical director was Nadine Lee and movement director and choreographer Ingrid Mackinnon.

I saw it 30th January in a packed studio in an audience whose make-up was 60%-70% non-white. It is exuberant in tone, formally inventive and complex. Thematically it roams the elusiveness of the past, a key line "the legacy never stays in the hands of the legend."

* * * *

The SHERMAN presented another adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" by GARY OWEN and directed by JOE MURPHY. Barbara Hughes-Moore was there to enjoy it before its abrupt closure.

" exceptionally skilled ensemble of actor musicians who perfectly capture the magic of the original tale with an added Welsh twist...It’s hard to convey how impressive a cast this is, swapping effortlessly between characters, costumes and instruments, and collaboratively weaving a gorgeous tapestry of this much-beloved story of a miser who learns to see the error of his ways.

"...Newtown, Riverside and Splott all get a mention (it’s even subtitled ‘Miracle on St Mary Street’), and Welsh-language lullabies and folk songs evoke a poignant sense of history and place. Its Cardiff setting is one of the two key things which set this version apart from any other; the second is that this Ebenezer Scrooge is a woman, superbly played by Hannah McPake.

"...McPake’s Scrooge is a glowering menace....with a swagger and style that is distinctly and deliciously her own. To be alternately horrifying and hilarious is a feat few have ever accomplished, and none quite as brilliantly as McPake does here....Keiron Self as Jacob Marley...deftly guides the audience through the story. Singer-songwriter and actor Kizzy Crawford brings an ethereal grace and otherworldliness to the Ghost of Christmas Past in her Sherman stage debut.

"...Seiriol Davies as the Ghost of Christmas Present is truly a gift in every sense of the word and has, as far as I’m concerned, created a new festive tradition: performing Pink’s ‘Get the Party Started’ whilst dressed as a glamorous Christmas tree....Lucy Rivers composes a musical deserving of the silver screen while Rachael Canning’s puppetry casts the kind of spell that’s only possible on the stage...And Hayley Grindle’s strikingly gorgeous set makes you feel like you’re walking into a storybook."

Quoted from the full review at:

* * * *

The re-making of Theatr Clwyd, below 27th January, is not the only capital project in the north. Construction has started on NYTH, a cultural and community hub for young people in Bangor.

St Mary’s Church on Garth Road is being made into a small performance and rehearsal space, an underground studio, and smaller creative spaces for artist residencies. Outdoors it will offer multi- purpose performance spaces, a community kitchen and garden.

GETHIN EVANS, CWMNI FRANWEN Artistic Director: “We are so excited to see work starting on site for our new home, Nyth. This new space will be a hub for young people, artists and the wider community to come together, connect, challenge, create and share through the arts.“

The project has £1.8m from the National Lottery, administered through the Arts Council of Wales, £1.2m has come from Gwynedd via by Welsh Government’s "Transforming Towns" programme. Other capital providers: £300,000 from the Coastal Communities Fund, £250,000 from the Community Facilities Programme, £200,000 from the Garfield Weston Foundation, and £172,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Pledges of support have been given by the Pennant Foundation, Cist Gwynedd, Landfill Disposals Tax Communities Scheme, the Oakdale Trust and the Laspen Trust.

* * * *

The quarter's punchiest critical commentary came from WALES ARTS REVIEW. Always strong on music and cinema the Review was at a film rather than theatre. But GARY RAYMOND's feelings could equally be applied to the condition of Wales' theatre.

He is weary of stale scripts. He did not name "Last Summer" but recalled it. It was dire. Of his review "I reluctantly reviewed one particular movie in the only way I felt I honestly could. You could call it scathing. Months later it picked up the best film award at the Welsh BAFTAs. I stand by my review, but, God, it’s tiring. It happens time and time again. You begin to question your own sanity, not just your critical faculties."

" the context of a film critic battle weary from the war on dross, it is a Welsh film with a lot to like, even if nothing really shines and nothing really lingers in that place in the heart and mind where the fuzzy things live.

"....It has that easy-on-the-ear one line pitch for commissioning editors looking for an easy Yes. Like Welsh miners raise money for Gay Rights groups and everyone becomes friends. Or, out of work miners turn to stripping to pay the bills and everyone becomes friends. Or, woman convinces a disparate group of community members to buy a race horse and it wins the Welsh Grand National and everyone becomes friends.

"...And it’s all just decent. Decent people portrayed in a decent way in a film made by decent people. The story has a decent outcome – no-one wants to linger too long on the plotline about chronically corrupt local politicians because it might have seemed all a bit too indecent to do so."

To the crunch:

"Oh, how I would love to see Welsh cinema do something worthwhile. Something that says something real about the country and its people. Something more than just Wales has community spirit. Give us a "Nil By Mouth" or a "Breaking the Waves" or a "Ratcatcher".

Quoted from the full review which deserves attention:

Picture credit: "A Christmas Carol" at the Sherman by Richard Hubert Smith

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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