Theatre in Wales

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"Sophie Melville is Absolutely Extraordinary"

Quarterly Critical Round-up

Grand Ambition – Sorter , Culture of Swansea , May 18, 2023
Quarterly Critical Round-up by Grand Ambition – Sorter Over the years so many fringe companies.

They light up the sky, sparkle for a season or two, then are no more. Think Waking Exploits.

A new one is always to be welcomed and Grand Ambition comes with powerful credentials.

Richard Mylan, Michelle McTernan, Steve Balsamo and Christian Patterson are its founding foursome. All are from Swansea; all are closely linked to the Grand Theatre.

“Sorter” was a high profile debut, even a London broadsheet getting to see the production. Its principal credits were:

Written by Richard Mylan
Directed by Francesca Goodridge
Designed by Jacob Hughes
Music by ChimpanA
Lighting design by Cara Hood
Sound Design by Russell Ditchfield

* * * *

Sarah Morgan Jones was there for Nation Cymru:

“...A hard hitting and unflinching debut drama, set on the streets of Swansea, puts the lives of two people under the lens, each one drifting on the peripheries of the other, inhabiting the same geography but lost in their own painful worlds.

“Sorter” was written by actor Richard Mylan during lockdown, his first attempt at writing, and starting, as many writers do, with what he knew. Mylan wrote to come to terms with his own addiction journey, and his storytelling is clinically honest, at times darkly funny, dynamic, pacey, and thought provoking.

“...We meet them at the bus stop, together but strangers, isolated but connected in that degrees of separation way that is not unusual in Swansea. One is a mother separated from her kids, striving to satisfy an unsatisfiable need, and the other, angrily unpacking his initially good childhood to an unseen counsellor. With monologues artfully interspersed, wasting no time, we quickly catch up with who they are and how they got here.

“...Produced by Jennifer Lunn for arts collective Grand Ambition, Sorter is brave, moving and challenging but by no means without humour or hope...under the direction of Swansea born Francesca Goodridge, this powerful debut has emerged as a high quality production..

“...Melville exudes the involuntary physicality inherent in Example A’s addiction, and breaks hearts when she grasps hold of a raindrop of to quench her thirst for love, before reality crashes in. Mylan offers us the tenderness of youth and an insight into Example B’s vulnerability. His success seems matched only by self-sabotage and shame, marked by the blunt and cruel choices he makes at crucial moments.

“The soundtrack, created by ChimpanA duo Steve Balsamo and Rob Reed, alongside sound design from Russell Ditchfield, builds a soundscape which swirls around the set...gritty, witty and poignant, managing to challenge the audience, perhaps instil some empathy, but refraining from sentimentality. Someone’s mother, someone’s son. Someone.”

From the full review at:

* * * *

Ally-Joh Gowan-Day was there for Wales Arts Review:

“Richard Mylan steps into the world of playwriting with a bang – his debut play “Sorter”...a wonderful mix of dark and laugh-out-loud intense two-hander exploring the struggles of addiction and the social stigma surrounding it.

“...Mylan stars opposite Sophie Melville – both are Swansea born and bred, and this type of authenticity runs throughout the production. There’s a complexity to the way the two roles gradually intertwine; initially their differences are marked, but as the play unfolds we see the similarities between their characters begin to emerge.

“....Sensitively directed by Francesca Goodridge, “Sorter” is a beautifully ugly, bite-sized triumph...subtle sound design from Russell Ditchfield...emotional and effective score from ChipmanA.

“...the play works like a well oiled machine. Sorter is an important piece of theatre.”

From the full review at:

* * * *

Gareth Llŷr Evans was there for the Guardian:

“...”Sorter” takes its title from a term that refers to a drug (usually heroin) that is used instead of money as payment for work. Written by and starring Richard Mylan, consisting of two interweaving and eventually interconnected monologues, it is an unflinching account of how opioid addiction shapes the lives of two characters: Example A, a young mother whose three children have already been taken into care and Example B, an A&E nurse who fakes prescriptions to feed his own addiction.

“...imbued with sympathy and compassion, Mylan’s script deftly avoids caricatures and cliches, resisting the need to arrive at neat conclusions. It demands greater empathy and understanding of its audience, even as it offers little hope or resolution for its characters.

“...Sophie Melville is absolutely extraordinary. Example A feels as if she is in her skin and in every sinew and bone. It is an all-consuming performance, fearless and terrifying.

“Superbly staged, Francesca Goodridge’s incisive, focused direction confirms that she is one of Wales’s most exciting theatre directors. Evocatively lit by Cara Hood...Jacob Hughes’s bus stop set, the production displays a stylish theatrical cohesion; captions flash where bus routes are listed, fluorescent tubes are carried, tenderly cradled, rearranged.

“This is Swansea-based creative collective Grand Ambition’s inaugural production. Rooted both in the city itself and in Mylan’s own experiences and recovery from addiction, it is an often challenging watch, but also a careful and compassionate portrait, both of a city and of an illness.”

From the full review at:

Picture credit: Kirsten Mcternan

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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