Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Eye of the Storm

Theatr Iolo , Llanover Hall, Cardiff , March 19, 2004
This review first appeared in the Western Mail......

Time was when Wales’s Young People’s Theatre groups were an endangered species, threatened with extinction by bureaucrats and arts mandarins who couldn’t see the sense or the skills in this network of exemplary small-scale companies that cover the country’s schools.

Today, though, there’s almost a swagger in their stage work as they strut their recent recognition by the powers-that-be. There is, it seems to me, a confidence in their productions that proclaims their acknowledged importance to theatre in Wales.

Take Theatr Iolo, the Cardiff-based company that has been close to closure in the past, despite unquestionable artistic and educational success. For reasons that probably have little to do with quality or effectiveness and all to do with politics their grant from the arts council has doubled.

This means they can actually be adequately rewarded for their labours and can do the job properly rather than on a shoestring. They have just returned from an overseas tour and are off soon to Belgium (where they’ll be performing in French) and Canada – ambassadors of Welsh culture more than many a so-called big mainstream company.

So it’s maybe not surprising that they (and other similar Welsh companies are the same) wear their new-found status and approval on their sleeve, displaying the reasons with shows for the public that are mostly for schoolchildren – their latest, Eye of the Storm, getting an outing at Llanover Hall to a packed audience of adults.

In this they are even more blessed because Wales has, apart from its excellent YPT provision and practice, a playwright whose pre-eminence in the field has just earned him an arts council award – Charles Way was commissioned originally by Gwent Theatre to write this intelligent, erudite but accessible take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Iolo’s version is but the latest production of what I suspect will become a classic.

It’s a production that gives the lie to the idea that YPT is just about the curriculum and yoof issues. Taking the tale of Prospero’s power as a starting-point, Way weaves a story about a couple of teenagers who find themselves cast ashore on the magician’s island, where Prospero is having just a few problems with a daughter who is at that most difficult of ages, 14 – rebellious, hormonally het-up, impatient and generally bolshie… and with no boys on the horizon until the arrival of Trinculo and Stephano (although Stephano is actually Stephanie).

Shakespeare’s story is much played with – the spirit Ariel also has elements of the absent Caliban, Trinculo pretends to be Ferdinand, there’s no Gonzalo or Neapolitan court – but if you know the original you’ll recognise some of the lines with a smile, and if you don’t it doesn’t really matter.

And, neatly, the issues no longer revolve around magic, language or postcolonial power but around Miranda and her adolescent innocence as the arrival of the two teenagers from the real world open her eyes – as with other Charlie Way plays, it’s about the journey from childhood to adulthood.

Those questions of identity, relationships and independence are explored with subtlety, sensitivity and lots of humour – and Kevin Lewis’s production has the great virtue of making someone like me, who has seen the play before, feel that they are seeing it for the first time.

There are some excellent performances from the Theatr Iolo ensemble (Emyr John, Anna Joseph, Sian McDowall and Steve Hickman), with the added value of Charlotte Neville’s striking design, Antony Lamb’s effective music and Jem Treays’s movement coaching that are now affordable desirables, and my only reservation is that while an adult audience will find the play intelligent and knowing younger audiences may find it slightly wordy.

Reviewed by: David Adams

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