Theatre in Wales

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Five Reviewers Applaud Surreal Space Adventure

At August 012

Petula- August 012, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, National Theatre Wales , Cardiff and Touring , April 7, 2022
At August 012 by Petula- August 012, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, National Theatre Wales Covid-19 saw its first patients in Britain, two visitors from China, hospitalised in York in January 2020. March 23rd was the second anniversary of the first announcement from Downing Street that we cease to be public beings. There was an irony to the date, 23rd March 2022, being a day that the virus, in its variation of lower lethality, was still omnipresent enough to fell the performance at Aberystwyth.

It was a loss felt of a production that promised to give what was needed. From past form director Mathilde Lopez and translator Daf James share a quality of zestful effervescence.

The publicity ran: "Theatre companies National Theatre Wales, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and August012 are joining forces to co-produce the multilingual space odyssey, "Petula." That may be but it looked and it felt like an August 012 production.

"Petula" was scheduled to come to Ceredigion with a particular Ceredigion echo. Kizzy Crawford, then Kezia, cut her acting teeth with a remarkable prowess at a remarkably young age on a Memorial Hall stage here.

If Ceredigion was to be regretfully deprived of sight of "Petula" others were luckier.

* * * *

Jon Gower- he had loved the team's previous collaboration "Yuri"- was the first to exult:

"This tender, affecting and utterly bonkers play is perhaps the ideal antidote to these challenging times, as it is full of the bright colours and yearning complexities of childhood. That tenderness is a hallmark of pretty much anything Dafydd James touches and here he enlarges the already big, bold, beating heart of Fabrice Melquiot’s play, adapting and translating it whilst also making of it something trilingual to boot.

"....The deeply caring Mami’s hooked up with Joe Potatoslouch, played with enormous gusto and energy by Tom Mumford, whose life revolves around throwing javelins and smoking cigarettes. If he can’t do the latter he’ll happily eat a sofa. Meanwhile Dadi’s new consort is the vampiristic Amethyst Crappp (yes, with three p’s, played totally OTT, with two T’s by Rachel Summers) whose cooking skills eave everything to be desired.

"...López fair paints the production into being, with a bright palette of costume and film projection, totally in keeping with Melquiot’s ticker tape approach of creating visual and verbal poetry – one bright image following the other like a trail of stars. She fills the floor of the stage with hundreds of balls, so that every movement across it is, in a sense, play and that playfulness is part of what makes the play so buoyant and ultimately uplifting."

* * * *

Zoe Kramer was there for Wales Arts Review.

"...This production had the ambitious goal of presenting the script in trilingual form, with dialogue in English, Welsh and French. The execution of this was not unsuccessful — in fact, Daf James’ translation is exceptional, the interplay of the languages sounding musical. However, the trade-off is such that...the focus of the play is cast perpetually onto the screens to the side of the stage, and not on the actors themselves."

"...The stage itself is filled up like a ball pit. The initial effect of this is undeniably fun, however, as the play progresses, the balls seem to present more opportunities to hinder the actors than opportunities to be used in interesting ways. A row of TV screens descends to create the space-like realm— exciting conceptually, yet in impact the screens seem to add little to the atmosphere...The comedy is goofy and surreal. The heart of the play is poignant and raw. It wholeheartedly embraces the most essential aspect of itself, which is its surreality."

* * * *

From the Guardian:

"....translated by Daf James from Fabrice Melquiot’s 2007 play Wanted Petula, it is a grotesque and absurd giddy fantasy from the outset. Partly a riff on The Little Prince, it similarly takes wild flights of fancy unencumbered by naturalistic logic.

"Performed among thousands of small black balls, bodies hide, writhe and glide across the stage. Jean Chan’s design sets Pwdin’s journey in the gap between innocence and knowing; the tactile playthings of childhood now hint towards something far more sensual and mysterious. Joe Price’s lighting is gorgeous – fluorescent tubes that progressively fill the night sky – and Lopez’s direction is dexterous and fine. Through juddering rides on the back of a flea or – in a poignant moment – the glimpse of a row of grandparents with their backs turned, the show is filled with stage images that expand the edges of the universe."

* * * *

Marine Furet was there for the Institute of Wales Affairs.

"Young Pwdin Evans is suffering from a bad case of teenage angst. He is constantly worried about his weight and his French homework, his parents have separated and remarried to dysfunctional partners, and his beloved cousin Petula has mysteriously disappeared after she stopped eating. While the adults around him have apparently stopped searching for her, Pwdin thinks she may simply have gone on a ‘human strike’. After a particularly disastrous family dinner, he decides to go out into space looking for Petula, physically propelled into the ether by his father-in-law in a fit of superhuman strength.

"...The production is chock-full of visual finds and Jean Chan’s set design subtly alludes to the transformation of childhood’s playthings into adulthood’s hurdles. As they attempt to reach each other, the cast bounce and slide on the stage, which has been turned into an all-black ball pit for the occasion. Screens display half organic, half futuristic psychedelic landscapes to accompany Pwdin’s quest for his beloved, while on earth his family try and fail to unite forces to look for him, all to the sound of synthetic beats. The performance offers moments of irresistible laughter, and the cast manages to establish a genuine sense of closeness with the audience."

* * * *

"Petula" lost a performance at the Sherman due to infection but attracted a London critic to Wales for the first time in years. Claire Brennan is among the best.

"Pwdin is 12 years old. He thinks he’s fat (“You’re not fat!” exclaim the adults). Petula is his 15-year-old cousin, who has grown so thin she has disappeared. No one can find her. Pwdin is in love with Petula and determined to find her. His quest takes him into space. Here, he meets astronaut Neil Armstrong, a variation of Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince, and Petula’s parents (pop stars called Beyoncé Clark and Ed Sheeran). Travelling on the back of a “flea of knowledge” called Gillian Anderson, he takes a tour of planets Petula might have visited, including one that is home to the dead and another where children wait to be born (meanwhile, on Earth, Pwdin’s vampire-actress stepmother and father are busy making him a brother).

"...language is mutable: single sentences flow seamlessly through English, French and Welsh (projected, with translations, on to side screens, they are easy to follow, once you get used to the switching). Under Mathilde López’s direction, the patterned chaos of Melquiot’s text sometimes lacks momentum; scenes need trimming and crisping up. Nonetheless, her six-strong ensemble delivers well-balanced, committed performances; among them, recent graduate Dewi Wykes deserves special mention for his out-of-this-world Pwdin."
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* * * *

"Petula" performed at the Sherman, Pontio, Ffwrnes, the Torch, the Riverfront and Theatr Brycheiniog.

Quotations taken, with thanks, from reviews which can be read in full at:

https://nation.cymru/culture/review-petula-is-a-tender-affecting-and-utterly-bonkers-play/

https://www.walesartsreview.org/petula-ntw-tgc/

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2022/mar/16/petula-review-interplanetary-adventure-ends-with-bump

https://www.iwa.wales/agenda/2022/03/review-petula-national-theatre-wales/

ttps://www.theguardian.com/stage/2022/mar/27/petula-review-a-schoolboys-quest-is-out-of-this-world

"Yuri" is reviewed at the link below.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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