Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

“'Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky"

Theatr na n'Og

Operation Julie- Theatr na nÓg & Aberystwyth Arts Centre , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , April 11, 2024
Theatr na n'Og by Operation Julie- Theatr na nÓg & Aberystwyth Arts Centre [A guide to past productions by Theatr na nÓg can be read on the first link below.]

Musical theatre is flourishing. And it is flourishing on every scale. There have been disasters- the translation of cinema's masterwork “The Third Man” as a musical- not a good idea.

“Rebecca – The Musical” had 19 performers and an 18-piece band to it. The lyrics given to the heroine included “Orchids never were my style / Azaleas are far more versa-tile. Empty those flower pots / On the compost pile.”

For every sunken piece like the bio-musical of Twiggy there has been a half-dozen triumphs. Lauren Drew- yet one more blazing Port Talbot talent- took the lead in “Lizzie”, an all-women production, four on stage, six in the band.

“Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York”), conceived by the Royal & Derngate Northampton and New Wolsey has grown and grown. “Operation Mincemeat”, based on a World War 2 episode with a key Welsh element, played and played and also vaulted to London's West End.

And so to Wales' contributions. In late 2023 “Branwen: Dadeni”, from Cwmni Franwen and Wales Millennium Centre, left not a seat unfilled. And “Operation Julie” returns.

Like “Operation Mincemeat” a true story has inspired “Operation Julie”. At the 9th April performance the audience rose to its feet a-cheering. It's not unusual.

The producing duo of Theatr na nÓg and Aberystwyth Arts Centre has remarkably assembled most of the company that lit up venues across Wales in the post-pandemic summer of 2022. Dan Bottomley is a new Alston “Smiles” Hughes. Phylip Harries is PC Evans with his penchant for amateur history. Kieran Bailey is Richie Parry and a driving pummeller of the drums. Steve Simmonds is the manic Dick Lee from Thames Valley Police with his grudge against the Met and wielder of a fearsome lead guitar.

On the other side are are the idealists, Joseph Tweedale's Richard Kemp and Georgina White's Christine Bott, who sings a beautiful lead vocal on King Crimson's “I talk to the wind.” Caitlin Lavagna's five roles, and multiple costume changes, include the eponymous Julie whose name was borrowed for the huge 1970's police operation.

Rounding out the alternative life-stylers are Daniel Carter-Hope as Buzz and an American in shades, Siôn Russell Jones' Gerry, his acoustic guitar a constant companion.

Greg Palmer and Theatr na nÓg go back decades. That closeness rings through in the quality of sound as well as in the impeccable casting. Theatre that works is inspiration but it is first and foremost collaboration.

David Benedict wrote an article in the Stage on 11th January headed “Lucy Kirkwood deserves more praise.” In it he highlighted the quality of the book she had written for the winter adaptation of “the Witches.” It was a return to the subject of an article he had written a year before, in February 2023.

He wrote of Arthur Laurents, George Furth, James Lapine. They are not names that leap to the fore and that was his point. They had written the books for “West Side Story”, “Company” and “Sunday in the Park with George.” Musical theatre starts with a good book. “Standing on the Sky's Edge” soars because it is anchored in the book of Chris Bush.

Geinor Styles has been writing for the stage for twenty years. The historical material is extensive. Its distillation to a crisp narrative sequence has that sureness of experience to it. It captures en route so much of the texture of the era and the location: red kites and curlews, football and metal-detectors, choirs and the Romans of Sarn Helen, an agricultural show and the IRA, the 1975 election of a new leader for the Conservative Party.

“Operation Julie” is a roller-coaster of enjoyment and a high-talent fest. It is no surprise that audiences have warmed so much to it. Like "Six" it is half-way between theatre and rock-gig; like "Six" it is attracting viewers to return and return. But like all good art it is underpinned with seriousness of theme.

The finale is a reading by Richard Kemp of a manifesto-cum-credo that he had written. Its sole publisher was the Cambrian News. Joseph Tweedale steps to the front of the ample Aberystwyth stage. “We are living on the world's capital, not on its income", he says, "Temperatures will soar."

Operation Julie" is at Aberystwyth until 13th April. The tour continues to Newport, Brecon, Carmarthen, Bangor, Swindon and Crewe until 25th May.

The opening night of the first tour of "Operation Julie" is reviewed 4th August 2022.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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