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Review, Eye of the Storm, Theatr na nÓg at Pontio Arts Centre by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

My love affair with theatre began a few years ago with Under Milk Wood. Theatr Clwyd’s production of Dylan Thomas’ most famous work was a revelation, a conversion experience that has led me to take a seat for many a show since. Over the last year or so, such journeys have become less frequent. Life has a habit of evolving with time, and I think I lost a sense of what made theatre so special for me in the first place. Two plays have recently rekindled the fire within me. I do not think it a coincidence that both happen to be made and based in Wales. Along with Emily White’s Pavilion, Theatr na nÓg’s Eye of the Storm reflects the nation in which I live; the nation from which I claim part of my identity. I wonder whether a lack of representation has been a factor in my dulled appreciation of theatre. If so, these two plays have supercharged my passion for the medium back to life.

Set in a small town, post-mining community, Eye of the Storm draws numerous parallels with Pavilion. This includes a focus on young people and the theme of aspiration. Writer and director Geinor Styles chooses to tackle the challenges faced by this demographic through an excellent supporting cast that circle around the main lead, played by Rosey Cale. Cale gives a strong and quietly emotive performance as Emmie Price, an intelligent and practical teenager whose ambition to study tornadoes at an American University is severely tested by the circumstances of her present reality. Living in a caravan with her mum, who has bipolar disorder, Emmie must juggle her role as a young carer with the demands of school and household chores, along with negotiating the rent and constant electricity problems with inept park manager Mr Church (Keiron Bailey). It is a wonder that she has the time, let alone the inclination, to dream big. Yet Styles has created a dogged and determined young woman whose empowering presence makes her the perfect role model for those facing adversity. She represents what can be achieved if you pursue your dreams in spite of your present situation.

Geinor Styles

Eye of the Storm is an uplifting narrative that does not shy away from the difficulties of life but adds splices of humour throughout. The poise and astuteness of Emmie is beautifully contrasted with the lovesick innocence of Lloyd, the cartoonish physicality of Dan Miles making for a truly affectionate character. Along with Keiron Bailey, who is fantastically hilarious as class clown Chris, Miles ensures that laughter is never far away in this production. For all that it deals with bigger issues such as climate change and the effects of austerity, like Pavilion, the real joy of Eye of the Storm is in its shrewd observance of ordinary life. The characters on stage are recognisable, relatable; all the more so to a predominantly Welsh audience who see and hear something of themselves reflected, including in the witticisms and references that season the script with a particularly Welsh flavour.

The script is bolstered by an original soundtrack created by prolific songwriter Amy Wadge. Most recently known for her work on Keeping Faith, here the ethereal, soulful sounds that accompanied Eve Myles and co are nowhere to be found. Instead, country music provides the backdrop to the action on stage. And it complements the narrative really well, offering extra pathos to the character arc of Emmie in particular. ‘Emmie Don’t Say’ is my personal favourite track, not least because Cale and Caitlin McKee (Karen) duet with such gorgeous harmonies, creating a poignant and tear-inducing moment that also represents a neat summary of the character of Emmie. It is a song that will stay with me for some time to come.

Awarded ‘Best Show for Children and Young People’ at the Wales Theatre Awards, such an accolade could lead to some confusion over its target demographic. Indeed, if my motivation to see Eye of the Storm had not come off the back of meeting Rosey Cale in her other guise as an independent singer-songwriter, it is highly likely I would have overlooked it entirely, considering I’m now approaching thirty. It is certainly a show suitable for children and young people but do not mistake Eye of the Storm as a show written exclusively for this age group. It can be enjoyed and appreciated by everyone from 8-98. Indeed, overhearing the feedback as the audience filtered out at the end, it was overwhelmingly positive, from old and young alike. Coming off the back of Pavilion, it certainly made its mark on me. It reignited that spark which I had lost somewhere along the way, returned through seeing something of my own life reflected on stage. Eye of the Storm has been, for me, a reminder of the importance of representation on stage.

Click here for show dates and tickets.

gareth

Series Review, Keeping Faith, BBC Wales by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Having just watched the final episode of Keeping Faith on BBC Wales, I’m asking myself: Is this a golden age for Welsh television drama? Hinterland was critically-acclaimed. Bang featured in the national press. Gwaith/Cartref continues to be a marker for quality Welsh-language drama. Parch has just entered its third series. And Craith will be broadcast in the English language later this year as Hidden. It appears that one cannot move for drama made in Wales. And it’s about time too. Gone are the days when S4C was presumed to be solely for first-language Welsh speakers. Once, BBC Wales-backed dramas were so few and far between that their broadcast almost felt like a national event. Now, subtitles are no longer a barrier, in large part thanks to the phenomenal success of The Killing. Meanwhile, BBC Wales will be following up Keeping Faith with Hidden later this year.

Of course, quantity does not automatically mean quality. However, in the case of the above, quality most certainly matches the output. In terms of Keeping Faith, this has not only been reflected in its incredible cast of Welsh actors but in the gripping storyline and its atmospheric soundtrack. So, if you haven’t managed to catch it yet, here are three reasons why you should go to BBC iPlayer and download the series:

Eve Myles

Fans of Torchwood and Broadchurch will already know the brilliance of Eve Myles. Personally, I’ve run out of superlatives to describe her acting skills. Here, she plays the lead character Faith, wife to Evan (Bradley Freegard), mother to three children, and a lawyer in her husband’s family firm. One Wednesday morning, her life is turned upside-down when Evan leaves home and disappears without trace. Over the course of the next eight episodes, we see this strong, no-nonsense woman face the most challenging emotional, professional and personal pressures of her life. In doing so, Myles produces a character of incredible complexity with seeming simplicity. She manages to wholly embody her character and, as such, Faith’s every expression is drenched in meaning. There is a moment in episode two, for instance, when her vacant stare manages to reveal a plethora of internal emotion. We see her frustration, pain, anger, sadness and confusion all packed tightly into that single expression. Only the best actors can convey so much through doing so little. This is not to say that Myles’ natural physicality does not also enhance the strength of her performance. There is a wonderful moment in episode six, in the boardroom of the law firm, where Faith’s frustration and joy is brilliantly conveyed through the movement of Myles. In this same episode, when Faith is in conversation with Gael Reardon (Angeline Bell), Myles moves so quickly from a smile to a frown that it adds a light humour to the serious nature of the circumstances. In so doing, we learn so much about her character. It is these small moments, in which so much is communicated, that make this such a standout performance. She really is one of the best actresses of her generation.

The Music of Amy Wadge

Alongside Eve Myles, the music has got to be the star of this show. It is beautifully constructed, weaving in and out of the series like the ripples of water in the opening titles. Written, composed and performed by Amy Wadge, it is gorgeous in its simplicity and captivating in its tone. It is a bit of a coup to land a woman who has written songs for some of the biggest stars in the music industry (Ed Sheeran and Kacey Musgraves among them). Yet her star quality is surely what elevates this soundtrack to become a powerful narrator within the series. Wadge has clearly spent time with the character of Faith, connecting so deeply with the character’s emotions that at times the music speaks what no dialogue could. As such, it perfectly complements Myles’ performance, even enhancing it at times. Before going out to buy the soundtrack however, I would recommend a listen to the Welsh translation, sung by Ela Hughes. If you like the originals, you will love these Welsh-language versions.

The Story

Keeping Faith is first and foremost a drama about family. The mystery of Evan’s disappearance may be the hook, but the central focus is on the family. To this end, Matthew Hall has enabled the series to steer the course of eight episodes without ever overstretching the plot twists or exhausting the narrative threads. It enables us to remain intrigued by the disappearance of Evan whilst giving us a fully formed world of characters all with secrets of their own. As a result, the central mystery becomes laced with other mysteries as the web of family affairs widens. It is not only the marriage of Faith and Evan that is put under the microscope, but those of Tom and Marion (Evan’s parents) and Terry and Bethan (Evan’s sister) too. Add a cast of corrupt police officers, a criminal underworld and a client that has feelings for Faith and there is no shortage of action. All that is left is to give a nod to some of the cast for bringing Hall’s intriguing narrative to life so vividly, among them Mark Lewis Jones (Stella), Aneurin Hughes (Hinterland) and Matthew Gravelle (Broadchurch).

What do you think? Is this a golden age for Welsh drama? And what are among your favourites? Answers on a postcard (or in the comments below).