Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Feral Monster- Critical Round-up for National Theatre Wales' Musical

At National Theatre Wales

Buzz, Stage, Guardian, Arts Scene in Wales see Feral Monster , Sherman Theatre , March 7, 2024
At National Theatre Wales by Buzz, Stage, Guardian, Arts Scene in Wales see Feral Monster The National Theatre of Wales performed “Feral Monster” at the Sherman Theatre eight times over 15th to 24th February.

Buzz Magazine was there:

“Written with strong doses of autobiography by Bethan Marlow, Feral Monster follows Jax, a teenager with few prospects but a big heart. Jax is jobless, parentless (living with their nan) and loveless, content to aimlessly roam a rural Welsh village with their mates, perhaps indefinitely. Then Jax meets Ffion, played by the bubbly Lily Beau, who is confident, middle-class and well-read, and sparks fly almost instantly. Played with vulnerability-laced tenacity by Rebecca Hayes, Jax is a beautifully complicated but well-rounded character: assured in the fluidity of their gender and sexual identities even if they’re unsure of the language to express those facts. When asked in a job interview what their preferred pronouns are, they simply say, “whatever”, with a shrug.

“Their disinterest [sic] in labels irks Ffion, who has fully embraced the categorisation umbrella of the LGBTQ+ rainbow and seeks to clumsily and insensitively unpack what’s preventing Jax from doing the same. While Ffion isn’t an outright antagonist, she’s certainly a figure of parody, and in a culture war dominated by jibes rooted in bigotry, it’s nice to hear some self-deprecating humour from the community itself: there’s a lot of comic value to be mined from truth and lived experience.

“Other standout performances come from Carys Eleri – who primarily plays Jax’s hard-working nan and has arguably the best singing voice of the cast – and Geraint Rhys Edwards, who gets the most laughs in a small role as a (surprisingly politically correct) chippy owner, complete with pronoun badges and polyester peroxide wig.

“...Izzy Rabey’s direction keeps energy levels around the sparsely furnished urban environment onstage high....The other main star is the music, composed by Rabey and Marlow with help from Nicola T. Chang.”

““However, as is often the problem with smaller productions, the choreography and limited cast can’t always match the scope of the score, and at times, performers don’t look wholly confident or seamless in their dancing or transitions.”

Extract, with thanks and acknowledgement, from the full review which can be read at:

https://www.buzzmag.co.uk/feral-monster-national-theatre-wales-cardiff-stage-review/?dm_i=6YK7,MRBT,2EZ6GT,303MM,1

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The Stage was there:

“Being a teenager is never easy. Being a queer teenager is harder. But being a working-class queer teenager is almost unbearable. Bethan Marlow’s musical drama, directed by Izzy Rabey for National Theatre Wales, follows a young adult as they navigate their first romance, all while trying to keep their image amid heteronormative, occasionally prejudiced peers.

“Rebecca Hayes plays the protagonist, Jax, with an almost childlike spikiness, hubris betrayed by a layer of uncertainty they desperately try to conceal. Also barely hidden are Jax’s brain cells – played by Hayes’ fellow performers – which curse and cajole their owner.

“...Rabey’s direction and a strong, role-juggling cast spin the plates cleverly. One synapse begs Jax to play things cool, while another cries out in anguish that the girl they have fallen for might leave them at any minute.

“That girl is Ffion (Lily Beau), a middle-class teen fully at ease with her identity, sexuality and pronouns. And this is where the play is especially smart – we have seen examinations of nascent queer feelings before, but Marlow shows how different the privilege of exploring one’s sexuality is across economic divides. Ffion is free to experiment and set up a queer circle support group without fear of recrimination; for Jax, embracing their sexuality could put them in danger. The appearance of Jax’s absent, mocking father (the strongest of the many parts played by Geraint Rhys Edwards) highlights the cultural chasm.

“Nicola T Chang’s score and songs (worked up with Rabey) are excellent – a thrusting melange of grime, rap, pop and theatrical underscore, as Jax’s demons close in. Sadly, sound levels on press night rendered some of the lyrics difficult to hear; a shame, as the melodies and performances are moving, with Hayes’ folksy lilt providing gorgeous counterpoint to the punchy rap that drives the production forward.”

Extract, with thanks and acknowledgement, from the full review. The Stage is a subscription newspaper.

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The Guardian was there:

“...There isn’t much that feels particularly feral or monstrous about this new musical, which is a bit of a strange beast. While often bold and brimming with smart theatrical ideas, it’s a little uncertain of what it wants to be – just like the hormonal adolescents at its centre.

“Teenager Jax (“she/they/whatever”) lives with her doting and supportive nan in a small Welsh village, passing the days with friends in the park and failing to get a job at the local chippy. That is until one day Ffion appears at the bus stop, armed with queer theory and poetry and terminology. Sparks fly, kisses are exchanged and climaxes reached as Jax navigates the turbulence of rural adolescence.

“Written by Bethan Marlow, with music by Nicola T Chang, Izzy Rabey’s production moves at a brisk pace, possessing an impressive athletic dynamism, aided by musical director Alex Comana performing live on stage, Osian Meilir’s muscular choreography and Cara Evans’s design of ladders and climbing frames. Marty Langthorne’s lighting is exquisite, as if the stage is a pulsating heart, fit to burst.

“As Jax, Rebecca Hayes carries proceedings with a sharp focus and Carys Eleri’s funny and moving performance as Nan is especially lovely. The entire ensemble are more than up to the task, doubling as relatives and friends as well as giving voice to Jax’s inner conflicting voices (echoing the conceit of the Thoughts in another queer musical, A Strange Loop).

“The 75 minutes whiz by with little pause but everything happens so quickly that there’s little dramatic build-up and little to resolve. Catastrophes are swiftly overcome, forgiveness quickly granted to fairly unforgivable transgressions and an agitprop detour feels unearned. Perhaps this is dramatic structure as hormonal flux, and while it’s refreshing to have a musical that centres queerness without making either gender or sexuality the source of dramatic tension, it causes the narrative to feel inconsequential.”

Extract, with thanks and acknowledgement, from the full review which can be read at:

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2024/feb/21/feral-monster-review-national-theatre-wales-sherman-cardiff

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Arts Scene in Wales was there:

“I confess I was slightly dreading Feral Monster from National Theatre Wales with themes that have been hijacked by big theatre producers and movies, dusty academic writing and agit prop awfulness. So, it was a real joy to watch an hour and a half of no-nonsense, realistic, humorous, and poignant in equal measure, storytelling.

...“Clearly, all these components contributed to this piece of live theatre that was, rarely, genuinely entertaining, and didactic.

“Yes, the story is framed in an LGBTQIA+ storyline and this is all handled extremely well, with a neat balance of young people obsessed with ironically restricting labels and sociology riddled concepts of identity with should we say real people who find them all stifling, baffling and utterly unhelpful.

“...There is a mixture of sung and spoken monologues telling the story and very effective outpourings of what is going on inside the characters’ swirling, whirling, thoughts, and emotions kaleidoscopic brains. I didn’t quite get the fact they are meant to be in a rural setting.

“...Directed by Izzy Rabey, there was also sympathy rather than man hating bile for Jax’s alcoholic father played nicely by Geraint Rhys Edwards who also took other roles such a some of the gang of mates. I didn’t really like the drag portrayal of the chippy owner, which was too much just for laughs, but then I am old school in being troubled by men portraying ridiculous, stereotypical female characters.”

Extract, with thanks and acknowledgement, from the full review which can be read at:

https://www.asiw.co.uk/reviews/feral-monster-national-theatre-wales-sherman-cardiff

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Reviewers see what they see. Something happened to the production when it made the trip to Aberystwyth. These impressions were not how the production came across on its tour away from the capital.

A GUIDE TO THE REVIEWS OF PRODUCTIONS BY NATIONAL THEATRE WALES CAN BE READ BELOW 18TH FEBRUARY 2021

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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