Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

“Startling Grime-Theatre Mash-up Emotionally Raw, Playful, Imaginative”

At Wales Millennium Centre

Conor Allen- "the Making of a Monster" critical round-up , Weston Studio , November 24, 2022

An article, written in April 2021 before theatre's return, was titled “Looking at the Gap”. Its subject was diversity in the theatre of Wales, the only article ever written on the subject*.

2022 has moved forward with Wales Millennium Centre taking the lead.

Children’s Laureate Wales Connor Allen's autobiographical theatre, a Wales Millennium Centre production, won critical praise.

The Stage headed its review “Connor Allen’s startling grime-theatre mash-up is as emotionally raw as it is playful and imaginative.”

“Connor Allen’s highly charged grime-theatre mash-up is an engrossing autobiographical look at growing up mixed-race and fatherless in Newport in the noughties. Performed by Allen, the children’s laureate of Wales, the show begins informally, but gets swiftly to the crux of the matter – identity – and pulls no punches on its way to redemptive climax.

“Conrad Murray’s taut production opens with Allen inviting the audience to play pass the parcel. Unwrapping two Action Man dolls – one white, one Black – he playfully explores the positive and negative connotations of those words. From there, to the accompaniment of throbbing music performed by Oraine Johnson on drums perched above the stage, we hurtle through the challenges, crises and shocking bouts of violence on a young man’s journey of self-discovery.

“Allen draws the audience into his world with his effortless, unselfconscious, likeable presence, making the opening of his childhood wounds painfully raw and direct. There’s serious emotional heft to a story that confidently uses devices such as a frenetic rap battle with a school rival to drive the narrative. It’s not always slick, but the occasional erratic moment feels like an authentic reflection of the whirlpool of contradiction that is the teenage mind.

“Murray and movement director Krystal S Lowe make frantic use of TK Hay’s all-grey set, which suggests the concrete canvas on which urban lives are written. Allen – supported by David Bonnick Jr, who delivers blistering rapping as well as playing Allen’s father and teacher – is positioned between two skate ramps; sets of steps deliver dynamism, backed by a circular screen. Texture and colour are added by exuberant projections that blend seamlessly with the music and words, creating a fresh and coherent aesthetic.

“The pair, dressed in contrasting white and black streetwear, weave in and out as the high-tempo music pushes them relentlessly on, through a play and production that show no shortage of thrilling ambition.”

* * * *

Buzz was there:

“...The autobiographical performance of the Children Laureate’s life, directed by Conrad Murray, tackles themes of race, gender, family and age in a unique approach. To start, the backdrop displays dreamlike graphics, with sounds of ducks quacking and children giggling, settling on a backing image of some stairs. Allen immediately immerses the audience into his early life, as he sits endlessly on the steps, waiting for his father to take him to feed the ducks for his sixth birthday.

“The absence of his father takes on an important part in this play, but themes of racism take centre stage. Allen exemplifies this off the bat, with thesaurus in hand, exploring the contrast in connotations for different words for ‘white’ and ‘Black’, and even playing a meaningful game of pass the parcel with the audience.

“....As The Making Of A Monster‘s plot thickens, from high-school beef into darker themes of domestic violence, we are given a clearer picture of how Allen was made into the monster of the title, with contrasting recurring motifs of duck quacks echoing around. The protagonist’s identity crisis and lack of a father figure spiral into a deep pit of emotional teen turmoil as he faces the legal system. Touching – yet amusing – recordings of Allen’s mother and nan are played occasionally, expressing a crucial connection with his family and the importance of the women in his life, there for him when others weren’t.

Extract from the full review which can be read at:

* * * *

alt.cardiff was there:

“...Visually dynamic, educative and, at the foremost, raw, Connor’s debut play is an autobiographical depiction of his own experiences growing up mixed race in a single-parent household in Newport. With the aid of Connor’s lyrical narration, we are flash-forwarded from his liminal childhood dreamscape into the rough, graffitied walls of his council estate. There, the rapper recalls with humour his own experiences of racial abuse and falling in with the wrong crowd.

“The performance strikes a clever balance between the emotional and the comedic. Laughter bursts from the audience as Connor engages in a tongue-in-cheek rap battle between himself and his childhood bully (a brilliant solo given by David Bonnick Jnr.), only to be followed by a collective horror when Connor describes how the pressure from school led to a violent fight with his own mother. He later recounts his lowest moment as being when he is taken into custody, feeling as though he is a monster with no family to whom he can turn.

“...Tense music plays during several scenes, such as when Connor is getting a haircut, to evoke the extreme frustration that comes with feeling as though he is caught between two racial identities.

“Intimate, and at times important and uplifting work for all audiences.”

Extract from the full review which can be read at:

Credits for “The Making of a Monster”

Author: Connor Allen

Director: Conrad Murray

Movement director: Krystal S Lowe

Set designer: T K Hay

Costume designer: Kiera Liberati

Lighting designer: Zeynep Kepekli

Sound designer: Oraine Johnson

Video designer: Leo Flint

Cast: Connor Allen, Oraine Johnson, David Bonnick Jr

Production manager: Daniel Taylor

Stage manager: Harry Abbott

Producer: Wales Millennium Centre

Picture credit: Simon Ayre.

*”Looking at the Gap” can be read most easily via number 34 in the Most Read Articles, right side of main reviews page, and scrolling down to the link 16th April 2021.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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