‘Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage’

National Theatre of Wales in conjunction with Out of Joint & Arcola Theatre’s ‘Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage’ is based on the life of Gareth Thomas, rugby union’s first openly gay rugby player.

The piece dramatises Thomas’ life before, during and after his coming out and the stormy channels of prejudice and self doubt that he was forced to navigate. In addition the production also follows the story of a young girl from Bridgend who, amidst the tragic spike of teen suicide in the area, struggles with her own demons and becomes a self harmer. The two stories are not satisfactorily linked until the end, albeit somewhat tenuously, when it is revealed that Thomas meets the girl at a support group. Although tragic and compelling in and of itself, the subplot does not sit comfortably alongside the grander narrative of Thomas’ struggle in the spotlight.

Each member of the intimate cast portray Thomas at different points in his life, passing a rugby ball in order to signify the change. Daniel Hawksford gave a particularly strong performance as Thomas, conveying the perfect measure of humour and poignancy as necessary. Bethan Whitcomb and Rhys ap William were perfect as Thomas’ parents, finishing each other’s sentences and believably creating that element of family support that was obviously so crucial to Thomas through his life. Katie Elin-Salt gave a youthful and energetic performance however her exaggerated accent was quite jarring and occasionally undermined the sensitive nature of the script.

‘Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage’ is an interesting insight into Gareth Thomas’ life and his undoubtedly difficult struggle to assert his identity in a conventionally heterosexually dominated sphere. The piece as a whole is very enjoyable and offers an alternative, personal perspective on one of Wales’ rugby greats.

Dame Edna’s Farewell-Eat, Pray, Love

Dame Edna is bidding farewell (well, at least to us folk outside Australia). Barry Humphries brings the legend to the Millenium Centre stage for the last (and first) time along with some old acImagets to keep her company. The evening begins with the embodiment of the xenophobe, Les Patterson. Announcing that he’s working towards becoming the world’s top celebrity chef, he spends the majority of his time dribbling into his gourmet rissoles and rushing off every ten minutes due to violent bowel movements. Two unsuspecting latecomers try to sneak in, failing miserably, and spend the next fifteen minutes on stage with Les, flipping his rissoles and handing him extra toilet paper.

Humphries delivers a poignant monologue before the interval, a character named Sandy. He reminisces about the Australia of old and his occupation as a spirit as he watches over his wife Beryl at a care home for the ‘bewildered’.  He sympathizes with staff who are more preoccupied with updating their Facebook status’ than picking Beryl up after a fall. It was a rather stark contrast to move from Patterson to Sandy, but it really did highlight Humphries’ ability to do just that; to move from the grotesquely comical to the believable and heartfelt.

Dame Edna makes her grand entrance post interval arriving on a gigantic Indian elephant. A video fills us in on what Edna has been up to, and it isn’t pretty. She got herself mixed up with Al quaeda so felt it necessary to embark on a spiritual cleansing journey to the Far East. Edna delivers a fantastic hour of comedy; She has to be the only character who is successful in creating twenty minutes of comedy gold from incessant audience interaction.

After Edna’s grand exit, Humphries emerges in a trilby and a wonderful double breasted velvet jacket. He keeps it short and sweet, walking through the smoke to the sound of Gracie Fields’ ‘Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye.’ It really was a privilege to watch the amazing stamina of a 79 year old legend. I’m sure it won’t be the last time we see Edna, but it certainly was an emotional farewell to a character that has become an inherent figure in the entertainment industry. 

It’s a Family Affair

Who knew a Russian farcical satire could be so successfully uprooted to Wales? Simon Crowther was commissioned to adapt this 19th century comedy debut from prolific playwright Alexader Otrovsky for Sherman Cymru’s 40th birthday. Originally written in 1849, Otrovsky’s satire on Moscow’s vulgar nouveau riche was promptly banned thanks to its undesirable language and themes. With such relevant themes to a modern audience however, the play is perfect for adaptation, and though this specific production preserved the original era, it could just have easily been set in modern Wales. 

The play explores the undesired status of the nouveau riche, nestled uncomfortably between the peasant merchants and old-money aristocracy. One such fortunate merchant, Bolshov, is an aging, tired, corrupt businessman who stands to lose his money and his daughter’s dowry. In his despair, he decides to declare himself bankrupt, signing over his estate and businesses to his faithful clerk, Lazar, with guidance from his alcoholic lawyer Rispolozhensky. The old faithful plot device of ‘the fall from height’ is hard at work throughout the piece, but the play does have a distinctly modern edge. Littered with Brechtian devices, the adaptation playfully alludes to the script’s modern feel. The chunky four act structure is dealt with well, although the second act does feel like a speedy downward slope towards the inevitable.

Lee Mengo gives a fantastically skilled performance as the shrewd Lazar, his transformation from lowly Swansea bred clerk to smarmy noveau riche gentleman is particularly entertaining. Similarly, Rachel Redford gives an amusing performance as the unbearable Lipochka, disgustingly spoilt and hilariously deluded. The set is absolutely beautiful and completely encapsulates the feel of a 19th century Russian abode. It is also easily adaptable for the big changes. The cast would continue to perform during scene changes which made for a more interesting transition.

The production’s biggest strength is its relevance to a Welsh audience. Several Welsh dialects are nestled very naturally into the script; in fact, the accents seem to allow for easy Russian pronunciation. It’s a Family Affair is the perfect choice for a classical adaptation, and is made particularly relevant to a Welsh audience.

Say It With Flowers- Sherman cymru

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Nobody embodied the concept of rags to riches better than Dorothy Squires. Born in a carnival caravan in Pontyberem near Llanelli, Squires packed in her job at the tin factory, and set out on the ultimate gold paved path to The Big Smoke. There, after years of tireless performances in the West End, she rose to unimaginable fame, and soon after became the highest paid singer in the UK. Although her story is most certainly rags to riches, it is also the perfect example of a rise and fall too. After numerous court cases, Squires found herself broke and back in Wales, housed by a devoted fan in the Rhondda valley Trebanog. From her marriage to Roger Moore to her dependency on amphetamines, Squires’ offstage life was perhaps more dramatic than her performances onstage, and so it was only a matter of time until her life became the focus of the contemporary stage.

The play, named after one of Dorothy’s songs, is a collaborative project between notable Welsh playwright Meic Povey and personal friend of Squires, the writer Johnny Tudor.  The script provides a rather well-rounded representation of Squires’ life, but unfortunately it is peppered with numerous clichés and clumsy stumbles into past flashback scenes. The performance is divided into past and present, eventually coming together in a chaotic climax before Squires is carted off to hospital. 

Ruth Madoc Imageplays a stock-type celebrity, although she really begins to thrive during the more dramatic scenes in which Dorothy is falling apart, hallucinations driving her to near madness. Gillian Kirkpatrick is absolutely phenomenal as a younger Squires, not only a fantastic singer and performer, but a truly believable and impressive actress. Lynn Hunter as devoted fan Maisie provides the comic relief, with natural flair for comedy. The script is both funny and original in parts, but it is let down by endless Tory gags, somewhat easy for an assumedly left-wing audience. The frequent swearing, although provoking shocked, cathartic laughs from the audience, really is excessive; the over use of one specific word (beginning with c and rhyming with runt) becomes meaningless and lazy. 

The smooth interweaving of music into the piece really gives the script a well-needed boost. Similarly, the odd Welsh language phrase creeps in, serving as a reminder of Dorothy’s rejection of her Welsh identity. This, being such an interesting and relevant theme, certainly could have been developed more. The stage is divided into two diagonal halves, one side a grotty 90’s valley living room, the other a completely black and underused space. The piece does contain a wonderfully creative scene change. Intruding on Dorothy when she is at her most vulnerable, paramedics and policemen come in and strip the walls bear in a frantic display representative of Dorothy’s confusion. The stage is then moved deeper, and is transformed into the clinical confines of a hospital. 

Certain aspects of the script really pulled the story back into the harsh light of reality. The reveal of Dorothy’s catheter bag as she tries to seduce an imagined young Roger Moore is really quite poignant and upsetting, but it seems to be misinterpreted by the majority of the audience who laugh at its grotesqueness. This particular example seems to indicate that the script really could have taken the whole thing in another direction, but it never arrived there; the laughs just kept coming.

The story was certainly worthy of stage adaptation, but the script seemed confused somehow. The whole production needed to go that few steps further; more character development certainly would have improved this. It has to be said however that the audience certainly enjoyed the piece; a standing ovation signalled the general feeling of enjoyment. Singing performances were the strength of the production, and after all, that is arguably the main point of representation; Dorothy Squires was above all an iconic Welsh songstress.  

Praxis Makes Perfect-National Theatre Wales

National Theatre Wales’ latest collaboration with Neon Neon promised something different; the very anticipation of them both coming together through art was intriguing, but nothing could have prepared an audience for the spectacle brought to us from within the confines of a storage warehouse.
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After pre-show drinks at ‘The Champagne Socialist’ bar, the audience are ushered into the space which begins to fill with the sound of news audio clips announcing the suspicious death of the Italian publisher and left-wing political activist, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. Praxis makes Perfect is originally a collaborative album between Super Furry Animals front man Gruff Rhys and Bryan Hollon, aka, Boom Pip. The biographical album focuses on the life of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. The project with National Theatre Wales is an attempt to create action to the sound. The performance is almost like an extended music video. Taking the audience by surprise, the dramatic sweep of the garage doors reveals a larger space, at the head of which is a stage showcasing Gruff Rhys and a live band. The theatre audience then shift to become fans of the band, gathering to watch them gig as the heavy thump of the electro beat begins to fill the air.

The space mutates smoothly to create desired scenes. Characters file out of filing cabinets, fragments of staging break away and float through a sea of gawking spectators. Ushers are used tactfully; they don’t directly address the audience and so do not pull the audience out of their theatrical trance. The ensemble cast are incredibly strong, each member complimenting the next. Surprisingly, humour protrudes the excerpts, Alex Beckett as Fidel Castro being a particular highlight. Matthew Bulgo does a fantastic job portraying the older, more conflicted Feltrinelli, whilst Lisa Jên Brown’s vocals are a delight.

Tim Price composes a script which feels full bodied and sufficient despite the skeletal facts on which it is based. Screens are used to provide filling information for the lapses in time. The band plays a large role in the production, whilst Gruff Rhys is a real rock-star type compere, flourishing sarcastic placards throughout.

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The whole production is incredibly cinematic, and at times the experience is more of an unconventional gig as opposed to a theatre piece. It seems this was the natural outcome of what one can only assume to have been an organic process. What resonates is the slightly odd combination of the buzz after leaving a live music event and the gratification of experiencing a well-rounded, enjoyable piece of theatre. Biographical albums may have been done in the past, but this marks the beginning of the action to these sounds; the beginning of further advancement for National Theatre Wales.

Tir Sir Gâr

Tir-Sir-Gar-Web_largeBeth yw arwyddocâd tir? Beth yw arwyddocâd teulu? Beth fydd yn digwydd pan na fydd pennaeth y teulu a hynny yw, prif rheolwr y tir yn gallu cymryd cyfrifoldeb? Pwy fydd yn cymryd drosodd? Pwy fydd eisiau cymryd drosodd?

Dyma rhai o’r gwestiynau sy’n cael ei ofyn yn ystod  perfformiad promenâd newydd gan Theatr Genedlaethol. Pan fu Bryn Fferm Pencerrig yn cwympo’n dost, daw teulu at ei gilydd er mwyn trafod dyfodol y fferm. Ar ôl iddo farw, dyma’r plant yn dechrau ail-feddwl am beth mae’r fferm yn golygu iddynt; beth mae cartref yn golygu iddynt. Mae Luned yn hapus yn gweithio yn yr archfarchnad, breddwydion o fod yn sief talentog wedi hen farw. Mae Celyn yn gweithio yn Llundain  lle does neb yn gallu dweud ei enw’n iawn. Mae Arwel yn gweithio mewn swydd di-wobr i gadw tô dros teulu ifanc ei hun. A wedyn mae Non, yr unig un sydd wedi dangos diddordeb i barhau a traddodiad y teulu. Ond gyda’r disgwyliad bod hi’n mynd i redeg y fferm yn annibynnol, ydy hi’n barod fel person i gymryd drosodd? Mae pawb eisiau cadw’r fferm, ond does neb wir eisiau’r cyfrifoldeb, a tra bod pawb yn ceisio dod i dermau gyda beth fydd colli’r fferm yn meddwl i hunaniaeth nhw, mae Mam yn brifo’n dwfn ar ol colli ei ŵr yn sydyn. Mae’r holl sefyllfa yn fwy na colli Dad a colli gŵr: mae’n meddwl colli tir, colli ffordd o fywyd a cholli cartref hefyd.

Ar ôl cychwyn ein daith yn neuadd San Pedr lle gawsom paned a bara brith, mae’r  bws yn cludo’r cynulleidfa i’r amgueddfa yn Abergwili. Wrth sefydlu’r perfformiad yn yr amgueddfa hanesyddol, nid dim ond teimlad o dŷ ffarm go iawn sy’n cael ei chreu, ond hefyd teimlad o anysmwythder: fath o arwyddwr o beth sydd i ddod. Wrth gerdded o stafell i stafell, mae’r cynulleidfa yn gweld darnau o sgript a chyfres o fonologau. Roedd hefyd darnau o fideo yn cael ei ddangos, ond i fod yn hollol onest, mi allai’r cynhyrchiad wedi neud heb y fideos yma. Ar amseroedd, roedd y ffaith ein bod wedi symud mewn i stafell gwahanol er mwyn gwylio fideo o ffermwyr yn gweithio yn teimlo braidd yn ddi-bwynt: fe all y cymeriadau wedi trosglwyddo anhawster y gwaith llafur trwy deialog neu darnau corfforol ei hun.

Roedd yr olygfeydd rhwng y cymeriadau yn hollol realistig, yn llawn egni ac yn effeithiol dros ben. Roedd yr olygfeydd rhwng y brodyr (Gwydion Rhys a Siôn Ifan) yn penigamp, yr egni frwd gwrywaidd yn creu cyfnewidiau gwefredig.  Roedd Rhian Morgan fel Anne yn perffaith. Heb mynd dros ben llestri gyda rôl y wraig weddw, roedd y perfformiad yn sensitif a theimladwy, yn enwedig yn ystod golygfa lle bu Bryn ifanc yn ymddangos o flaen hi yn ystod y nos.

Mae’r perfformiad yn dod i ben gyda angladd, angladd Dad ac o ganlyniad, angladd y fferm. Gyda côr Llanpumpsaint a’r cylch yn canu’n swynol, roedd yr holl peth yn cryfhau’r ystyr difrifol, ac yn uwcholeuo’r teimlad o golled mewn mwy nag un ffordd. Wrth gerdded mas, welwn ni Anne yn pacio lan y llestri, ac wrth adael mae synau tŷ arwerthu yn cael ei chwarae. I gloi’r darn, welwn ni Luned ac Arwel yn barod i yrru caws a llaeth i werthwyr. Yn fy marn i, mi fydde fe wedi bod yn well i adael yr olygfa olaf, i orffen gyda marwolaeth busnes y fferm: mi fydde hwnna wedi bod yn fwy effeithiol i mi.

Cynhyrchiad realistig wedi gyfleu trwy stori ingol, stori i gynrychioli cwymp busnesau ffermio fel canlyniad o straeniau a realiti bywyd modern. Diolch i Tir Sir Gar am ddod a’r peth i sylw pob un ohonym.