Theatre in Wales

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National Youth Theatre Of Wales- Frida And Diego: A Love Story , Sherman Theatre, Cardiff , September 12, 2003
The turbulent lives of Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera provide the starting point for the National Youth Theatre of Wales’ annual summer school production.

Written by Greg Cullen – who is also NYTW’s new artistic director – it’s a production which pretty much has it all – tension, romance, violence, song and dance, and a political background to boot.

While Cullen might have built his name from his work with youth companies, it must be said that this is a very ambitious piece of work for such a young company to be tackling. The fact that the 50-strong cast handle the play so well bodes well for the future of Welsh acting.

Catrin Elizabeth Morgan is a strong performer with a most-lovely voice who portrays Frida exceptionally well. It’s a shame that because the script focuses so much on Diego, Morgan is not given the scope to fully explore the range of emotions sparked off by traumatic events in Frida’s life, such as an horrific bus crash which leads to problems in pregnancy and multiple miscarriages and abortions.

Her co-star Thomas Evans as Diego undoubtedly has the makings of a good actor – he’s confident, clear and has good stage presence. He just needs to put more variety into expressing his lines as his monotonous tone becomes tedious at times.

While the scenery itself is kept to a minimum, a lot of thought and time has gone into the visual aspects of Frida And Diego. The faces of all cast members bar Frida and Diego are painted white with red eyes and black cheekbones. Coupled with skeleton cat suits under their costumes the effect is very striking and rather eerie.

Calavera Catarina (Teifi Vaughan) is a traditional embodiment of death, and along with her five hand-maidens, creates some chilling moments. Particularly haunting is the scene where the child Diego had with an ex-wife dies. While the mother is grieving, Catarina and the maidens coo over the baby’s spirit.

Throughout the show, giant images of Frida and Diego’s work are projected onto the stage and recreated by the cast with admirable attention to detail. Some of these images form the basis for short episodes of dialogue. How true these are to real-life events is not clear, but nonetheless they show great imagination, and open the audience’s eyes to a host of striking art work.

As is usual with NYTW, the performance features quite a few lines in Welsh. As a speaker of the language, it’s great to hear Y Gymraeg popping up in predominantly English performances – but only if it’s in context. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work particularly well here. Frida And Diego is set in Mexico and America; the characters talk about political events relevant to the time, so their frequent bursts into Welsh spoil the flow and realism of the story.

That said, this is a show in which enthusiasm and talent literally leap from the stage, making for a performance which is as thrilling to watch as it must have been to perform in.

Reviewed by: Cathryn Scott

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