Afternoon tea, Apple, Belonging, Brexit, Cricket. What connects these words and phrases? Well on the surface, not much. In the black box space of the Dance House at WMC, with audience sat in the round and screens at two ends, words from a pre-arranged lexicon flash up in alphabetical order on a screen. With the encouragement of performer Jonny Cotsen we the audience are encouraged to stop the lexicon and discuss anything in relation to these. English is a collaboration between National Theatre Wales and Quarantine and forms part of the Festival of Voice celebration. It is a live performance which is by nature different every night, and blurs the boundaries between creator/receiver and audience/performer.
In typically British fashion, people are initially rather hesitant to contribute to the conversation and instead sit silently in their chairs. For Jonny this isn’t an issue – he is an excellent and engaging storyteller in his own right. As words flash up he regales us with stories from his own life; from planting an apple tree for his daughter, to his time as a shepherd on a kibbutz in Israel, to his struggles during voice therapy learning to make speech sounds by feeling the vibrations on a balloon. As someone who is profoundly deaf and who has only recently started learning British Sign Language Jonny offers a fascinating perspective on the use of English and the ways in which people communicate.
With a strict time limit imposed by the stage manager of 90 minutes, our progression through the words continues apace. As people warm up to the idea of contributing, discussions bounce across the space – from the derivation of the phrase ‘arse over tit’, to a reminder of the poisonous qualities of the ‘daffodil’ Topics of conversation are generally light, with more contentious words such as ‘Brexit’ and ‘de-colonisation’ generally considered the ‘Elephant in the room’ (another phrase on the lexicon) and skirted over.
Occasionally the lexicon is interrupted by a filmed segment, or an invitation to contribute to the piece in another way. These range from the wacky to the surreal. This is a great way of breaking up the structure of the piece and ensuring that the performance never feels too much like an empty void which has to be filled with conversation. Towards the end Jonny encourages us to use alternative methods of communication – instead of speaking we use paper and pen to all contribute our ideas and answers. This provides the audience with some fascinating insights, from people’s first language (English, Welsh, Spanish, Dog) to where they consider home (the USA, Wales, New Zealand, Unsure) and many more. These serve as a reminder that while English may be our shared method of communication, we all arrive at it from different perspectives and angles.
Finally it hit me what the connection between the words was. They were all things associated with English/British identity. It is interesting that a production by NTW does not have more of a focus on Welsh heritage or identity, with Daffodil the only specifically Welsh centered word. Perhaps on another evening, with a different audience this may have come up in conversation. When the word ’empire’ flashed up, it is interesting that the conversation turned to the Aztec, Inca and Mongol Empires rather than the obvious choice of the British Empire. This only further highlighted the anglo-centric bias of most of the discussions of the evening.
The main difficulty in reviewing a show like English, is that while the structure and concept of the show will remain the same, the show that happens tonight or the next night will be radically different in content to the show the happened last night or the night before. So much of the show depends on the generosity and openness of your fellow audience members. This type of collaborative method for creating a show may not be to everyone’s tastes. However if you’re interested in seeing something a little different, in becoming part of a conversation about language and identity rather than just a passive audience member then English is a fascinating piece.
Live performance/performance art
Dance House, Wales Millennium Centre
20th June 2018
Performed by Jonny Cotsen
Directed by Richard Gregory
Part of the Festival of Voice – more info and tickets here
This story has now been turned into a play by Rachel Trezise, in collaboration with the National Theatre Wales and Common Wealth Theatre Company. Set in an old factory that was once part of the steelworks, this is promenade-style theatre, where you ‘wander through’ the play and it happens around you. There are seats if you need them, and good disabled access, but at around 80 minutes, the play is brief enough to endure, yet long enough to shock.
Sam Coombes (Lewis)
With a core cast of five including real-life steelworker Sam Coombes as Lewis, this is both spacious and intimate. The cavernous building is juxtaposed with the intimacy of the workers, who tell their stories, and confide their fears, amidst the jovial banter. Also roaming among the audience are actual retirees, who share true stories about the works, and the oft hidden cost.
Jason May (Rob), Siôn Tudor Owen (Mark) & Simon Nehan (Kevin)
In the interests of full-disclosure I should mention that I was born here, and as a local the steelworks have always been a big part of my life. As one of the actors says:’if you can smell sulphur in the air, somebody’s getting paid’. Both my parents worked there, so in a way it paid for my upbringing. Steel is in our blood here, and with so many accidents over the years, our blood is certainly in the steel.
Designer/Dylunydd Russell Henry, Choreographer/Coreograffydd Vicki Manderson, Directors/Cyfarwyddwyr Rhiannon White & Evie Manning
Co-directed by Common Wealths Evie Manning & Rhiannon White, music, song, comedy and monologues are used to create an enthralling and fascinating piece of theatre. Watching so many people coming to my ‘home’ to be entertained, gave me such a feeling of pride.
This threatened closure is the latest in a long line of body blows that have hit Port Talbot, brought home by the scene where the names of some of the 750 already made redundant are read out. A litany of damaged lives, counterpointed by the children the workers can’t see, ghosts from a lost future.
Sam Coombes (Lewis)
This isn’t sugar-coated either. At one point, in a gladiatorial arena of chairs shared by cast and audience alike, grievances are expressed with a violent passion. Characters turn on each other, unsure of the best course of action to take. One blames the union organiser, who then quietly reveals that his marriage has become a hidden casualty of the fight.
That’s a key element here: how long do you keep on fighting? When do you know when the cause is lost? What if all you have left is the struggle? The whole play roars a magnificent defiance at the world, but beneath that you can hear the scream of a wounded animal.
Ioan Hefin (Adrian) & Jason May (Rob)
If the steelworks closes it’ll be devastating to the town and its people, should that be allowed to happen? I’ll give the last word to Dic Penderyn, a local martyr hanged for rioting in the 1830’s, who’s last words on the scaffold are quoted in the play:
“O arglwdd dymma gamwedd, O Lord, what injustice.”
The Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently got the chance to chat to Kully Thiarai, Artistic Director, National Theatre Wales.
Hi Kully great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
“Hi I’m currently Artistic Director of National Theatre Wales and based in Cardiff. I grew up in Smethwick, near Birmingham and got into theatre quite by accident. I have over the years worked independently as a Theatre Director and also run organisations large and small –some with theatre buildings and others like National Theatre Wales whose work can happen anywhere.”
This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?
“I’ve not listened to much recently. I’ve just bought the new XX album and looking forward to seeing them in Cardiff very soon. I’ve mostly been listening to Bowie recently– his greatest hits and Black Star. I was lucky enough to see Lazarus in London– the new work he made before he died and it made me want to listen to some of his older music as well as Black Star.”
Have you had the chance to catch up with any Welsh or Wales based singers or bands?
“I’ve always enjoyed Super Furry Animals and Catatonia and would obsessively play the Manics albums but I have a lot to catch up on the more recent Welsh scene. Swn Festival is of course a great event and it certainly helped me hook into some Welsh musical talent that I wasn’t aware of.”
We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, so we want to ask you to list 5 records/albums which have personal resonance to you and why.
“I’m struggling to list only 5 – but here are few that come to mind for very different reasons.”
“U2 – lots of albums that I love but ‘War’ which featured ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ was my introduction to the band and I still think it’s a wonderful anthem and rebel song. There are loads of other U2 songs that I play a lot but I could be here for hours naming them.”
“I can’t name one single album as such but I loved the Jam and then The Style Council and now all things Paul Weller. ‘A Town called Malice’ is one of my favourite songs – it somehow captured the times I grew up in. ‘Brand New Start’ is heartbreaking but I always hear it as a song to help pick yourself up when your down and ‘Why Walk When You Can Run’ just celebrates the joy of being young and full of life.”
“Tina Turner because I had to include a great woman singer who was feisty, extraordinary and such an entertainer, but I can’t name an album – she’s simply the best!”
“Parallel Lines Blondie – I remember one of my Maths teacher at school being completely obsessed with Blondie and he used to try and sing her songs. She was such an iconic figure and the music felt so different from other things I was hearing at the time.”
“Monsoon Wedding soundtrack – I really enjoyed the film and the diversity of music from classical Indian tunes to contemporary compositions was really fun. It has a joyful quality and hooks into my Indian culture I suppose.”
Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?
“It’s really difficult to choose one but…..There is a beautiful song on the Monsoon Wedding Soundtrack called Aaj Mausam Bada Beimann Hai (Today the Weather Plays Tricks on Me) by Mohammed Rafi which always makes me smile. It’s playing as a young wedding planner is creating a heart of marigolds on the lawn as the rain is falling to show the maid of the house his feelings for her.”
“And you said something
you said something stupid like
love steals us from loneliness
happy birthday, are you lonely yet?”
It’s now six years since Gary Owen’s play Love Steals Us From Loneliness was commissioned and performed in National Theatre Wales’ inaugural production year of 12 shows in 12 months in 12 places all across Wales. The production was staged in Hobo’s, a nightclub in Gary’s hometown of Bridgend in October 2010. It was my second year as a founding member and Creative Associate of Wales’ English-language national company. I had directed the 5th show in National Theatre Wales’ first year: The Beach, an interactive theatre game on the beach at Prestatyn in July 2010. I also created artistic and community debate-and-response programmes, including our New Critics scheme that supported emerging writers to develop their critical writing through mentoring, workshops, feedback and a conference.
I was really excited to see Gary’s new play: a strong drama that responded intelligently to the ubiquitous reporting at the time of Bridgend county’s suicide incidents. The creative team and wider National Theatre Wales company members worked with artists and young people in Bridgend to investigate and tell the truthful local stories. We partnered with Guy O’Donnell, who at that time was Arts Projects Officer for Bridgend County Council, to spread the learning of the New Critics scheme and offer similar training to young people through Bridgend County Council arts projects. We delivered critical writing workshops for Bridgend’s young people so they could have a greater range of writing tools to respond to their first show, happening on their doorstep: Love Steals Us From Loneliness.
From these first collaborations, the Young Critics movement in Wales was born. Guy worked to engage more young people, firstly across Bridgend county and then across South Wales and more widely across the nation. National Theatre Wales provided more support through workshops and feedback from our own New Critics, especially Ben Bryant who was being mentored by Lyn Gardner and wanted to share his learning more widely. The Young Critics membership grew and structured its own bespoke programme, engaging with more arts and cultural organisations to provide greater access to exhibitions and open rehearsals, tickets to performances and interviews with artists. Conversations and critiques about creative performance, arts and culture sprang up online, in blogs, in videos, on social media: we heard voices talking about the arts that were different than those we had heard over the past years. The Young Critics scheme always had the learning and experiences of the young participants at its heart; from these experiences, many young critics became young artists, who are now engaging in the arts world in a different way, as emerging directors, writers, actors, producers and other creative practitioners. Young Critics opened the artistic world to make myriad experiences, jobs and roles more visible and more attainable.
I remember a teenager in one Bridgend workshop talking to me about how I became a theatre director. I talked about my training, my life experiences; she told me about her passions and what she was up to. Three years later, she interviewed me as a Young Critic about my directing process during rehearsals for my production for Dirty Protest, Parallel Lines by Katherine Chandler. She said she was thinking about being a theatre director, and these interviews and seeing and talking about work were all helping her development. This young woman was Chelsey Gillard, who two years after this interview became an emerging director with The Other Room pub theatre in Cardiff and is now a young director in her own right.
The Young Critics’ collegiate approach has influenced the professional theatre scene in Wales. The Young Critics created the first ever Theatre Critics of Wales Awards in 2013. They invited professional theatre critics from Wales to join them in nominating and voting. The ceremony was open to all: a joyful celebration of Welsh performance and growing arts analysis voiced by young people. In 2014, the production I had directed for Dirty Protest – Parallel Lines – won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Production in the English Language. For the first time I could remember, because the Young Critics scheme had opened up arts criticism to more than a few privileged voices, I needed more than two hands to count the number of reviews and critical blog posts the show received. I was thrilled to win the award not just because I was proud of the show and the team; the awards ceremony seemed to show a turning point in democratizing Welsh arts culture and criticism, as smaller project-funded companies were celebrated (and won more awards) than the larger core-funded portfolio organisations.
It’s two years later, and a new production of Love Steals Us From Loneliness opens at Chapter in Cardiff this week, the first production created by new company Chippy Lane Productions. The Young Critics scheme has merged with the Third Act Critics (for older people) and Community Critics Wales for critics aged 25-50 years and now all three projects operate under the umbrella of host organisation Get The Chance to engage even more people to see, participate in and write about arts and culture. Arts and cultural organisations ensure a seat for members at productions, alongside the national newspapers and TV journalists.
The Young Critics and Get the Chance are at the forefront of a movement towards democratisation of arts production and cultural criticism. Wales has a strong history of DIY arts activity, from choirs to theatre to craft. Digital and online media platforms mean that now more people can create and distribute art and cultural criticism. It’s very hard to make a living from arts criticism as newspapers close the few positions they have and digital distribution is largely unpaid. There are debates around whether opening up these fields to more people strengthens or dilutes the work.
I suggest that in line with American public radio host Ira Glass’ comments on creativity, when we all start out with creative endeavours, no matter our age, we get better the more experience we get through practicing, rehearsing and doing:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
If anything is to be new, it’s got to be allowed to be different, or not as good as our ambitions want it to be, when we first start out. That’s how we create new things and make change happen.
It’s an issue that I reflected on whilst directing theatre in Brazil earlier this year. I created a new production of The Merchant of Venice for Shakespeare400, relocated to Belo Horizonte. Professional full-time actors in Brazil are rare; most performers are poorly paid and rehearse in the evenings only over a period of 9 months because they need full-time day jobs to live. The ensemble cast were chosen for their talent and their diverse mix of ages, backgrounds, religions, political leanings, class, race, gender, sexuality. Some of them almost didn’t audition because Shakespeare is seen as an elite theatre form in Brazil; it wasn’t something they are normally allowed to make. Through rehearsals, their barriers came down and their confidence grew. They made Shakespeare belong to them, they owned it, they spoke the language in their own voice, and reflected on their contemporary experiences through a 400-year old story. This was radical theatre in Brazil.
The critics and cultural analysts responded: we had TV, newspaper and online interviews, photo shoots, blogs, articles and previews in the lead up to the first night, and this generated queues of audience members snaking around the building to see the show. But after opening night – nothing. No reviews whatsoever. Critical arts culture just does not exist in the same way as we know it in Brazil. Arts journalists exist to preview and promote high profile art, they are almost a “what’s on” guide.
For a richly diverse culture, theatre production and arts criticism in Brazil is largely homogenous. The same voices are heard through the same networks. New productions and new critical avenues are opening up slowly. Culture is seen as democratic, as the population are keen dancers, singers, sportspeople and other cultural consumers, notably through annual Carnival celebrations and samba competitions. But hierarchies within social, educational and cultural structures mean that most people don’t have access to high art, like Shakespeare theatre performances. In a country of extreme gaps between poor and rich, with corrupt politicians and police forces, where violent crime is experienced daily and the legacy of slavery is omnipresent, there are big debates about ownership of stories and arts, and who has the right language, means and background to participate and comment.
Just as the UK’s media responded to the young suicides in Bridgend by creating a distorted narrative that didn’t reflect reality, this happens daily to young people from poor backgrounds in the favelas and slums of Brazil, as their regional and national newspapers misrepresent them. Just as Bridgend needed a different story at the time of Love Steals Us From Loneliness, so do many people across the world who are not permitted to tell their own stories.
In Wales we run the risk of a homogenised culture if we don’t allow new voices and faces to come through arts. The Young Critics scheme and Get the Chance are providing an avenue to support these voices to be heard on a validated platform, alongside professional and already-respected individuals. I hope the new updated production of Love Steals Us From Loneliness shows us how Bridgend has changed since 2010, leaving those news reports of the time far behind. I have certainly witnessed the creative scene in Wales change in that time, thanks to the activities of National Theatre Wales, the Young Critics and the many, many arts projects run by creative people and organisations across the nation, as well as those Welsh artists and companies who have raised the profile of Welsh arts outside the country through touring and co-productions.
As a theatre director, I want to share my experience, passion and any privilege I have as a cultural leader in Wales to support and elevate others. Democratising arts and critical response is vital to hear more voices, understand others’ perspectives, imagine alternative possibilities and create change. This was the aim of my work with National Theatre Wales when Love Steals Us From Loneliness was first produced, and six years later, although we have made positive advances, the current political climate towards bunkered populism means a fight for democracy, diversity and pluralism is even more vital than ever. The arts world in Wales mustn’t bunker down ourselves, close ourselves off through fear of losing resources, risk quality, or become responsive service providers for ‘customers’ or ‘users’. We need the vision to lead, democratise and share, so that through elevating others we elevate everyone and ourselves.
It’s taken me a while to process what I saw on Tuesday night at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. National Theatre Wales seemed to create a sensory experience before even setting foot in the theatre space. As we settled in our seats, the lady next to me commented how much the set looked just like a nursing home – I was sure the heat of the auditorium and (I thought) faintest smell of disinfectant were part and parcel of the show – or was I imagining it? It seems I’d misjudged the show and its assumed setting before it even began.
The play won over the audience from the get-go as the characters emerge and we begin to see small vignettes and glimpses into their lives. These scenes cross over, interrupt one another and interface with their communal experience of singing in a choir. The set, beautifully designed by Anna Fleischle and her team, contextualises the rich landscape and history of the community where it is set on five digital windows, creating a vivid backdrop for the action on stage. This staging helps build up momentum and keep the play pacey and light, full of visual morsels and edgy, familiar riffs and melodies. The songs had a visible, moving effect on the audience as the connections between the songs and the choir members were played out. We see how the tangled personal lives of our loved ones are at odds with bureaucratic ‘local service providers’ and how at odds we are as a system to provide well-meaning person-centred care and support. There is one poignant moment where ex-police officer ‘Evan’ struggles to comprehend why a social worker is giving him a ‘needs assessment’ using an iPad: ”In my day, we had a pencil and a pad’, he muses while the social worker retorts: “Yes but I can see a whole street in New York LIVE if I want to…”. “Why…?” Evan says, completely exasperated by the whole thing. In that precise moment, Evan becomes our Dad, our Uncle, our Granddad…and probably us in the future, too.
Miner ‘Rocky’ is trapped in his past as an ex-picketing Collier and there is an on-going clash as Evan and Rocky dredge up previous battles fought during the Miners’ strike. Throughout the play we see dear Evan crumble as his daughter Gemma facilitates his confusion and takes advantage of his finances, causing him to lose his home and his grip on his own life and independence. We’re introduced to ex-punk Joe and his wife Dyanne who is doing her best to cope with Joe’s diagnosis of early onset Alzheimers. The first half, culminating in a rousing rendition of ‘Hurt’ by Nine Inch Nails/Johnny Cash, was tender and bittersweet.
The second half delves more in to the personal struggles of the characters as their meeting hub, the local library, is earmarked for closure as part of austerity measures (“Tory bastards!” Rocky spits out….and his frustrations with Tory Britain in the 80s seem as relevant as ever). As Joe struggles to comprehend and find words to air his frustrations, the couple clash causing Joe to lash out – there is a powerful scene between them as Joe becomes frightened and agitated and the police are called. Meanwhile, ex-librarian and Opera singer Marjorie is losing her grip on her orderly lifestyle and not even post-it notes can help her anymore. Will she be able to find her voice again?
In the second half, the pace of the play seemed to lose the hold for me slightly and lacked the initial punch of the first half. At times, the play reminded me of Jonathan Larson’s ‘Rent’ and seemed awkward in places as the scenes became longer. Rocky’s character was troubling for me. Jones clearly has a fondness for the Valleys and a clear message about their demise and future challenges. But the play does teeter very close to the edge of romanticism and sentimentality for a time when ‘everyone stood up for their rights’ and our communities were OK then. I find it awkward when the stereotype of the ‘wistful, mournful miner’ finds his way in to so many plays depicting Welsh/Valleys life (and this is coming from the Granddaughter of a Rhondda miner). There was something not quite right about the face-off between Rocky and the ‘Hoody’ who betrayed him.
That being said, the eventual coming together of Evan and Rocky was touching. They are after all, two sides of the same coin; both insecure, frightened and haunted by their past. Gemma’s treatment of her sweet Father Evan highlights the ugly side of all of us; too lacking in time, too impatient and to wrapped up in our own lives to care about the stuff that really matters. There is nothing like dementia or Alzheimer’s to drive this reality home. We see that it is all-encompassing and full of conflict for all who are touched by it. But it is a leveller, too. And we are reminded that living well is just as important as managing the condition. Exasperated by the choir’s experience at the ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ audition in Cardiff, mild-mannered Marge pipes up: “We are not SUFFERING from Alzheimer’s, we are living with it!”
The choir remind us that a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s does not mean that they ‘become’ their illness. There are shadows and small reminders that they are still there, if we care to look for them. In Isabelle’s tapping (as an ex-secretary), Ex-punk Joe not conforming when his wife wants him to get ready for an appointment: ‘Naughty boy!’ he shouts. This is what he was…and perhaps still is: a rebel at heart. We see it in the resilience and strength of character of Evan, despite being hemmed in and pressured to move in to a care home. This play is all of us. We are all Evan and Rocky and Gemma and the patronising stand-in choir director. Patrick Jones reminds us that even when the soul of a community is shut-down, threatened and it seems that all hope is lost, we are strongest when we find our community – wherever or whatever that community means to you.
Before I Leave
Venue: Sherman Theatre
Dates: 27 May – 11 June, PN 31st May
Director: Matthew Dunster
Written by: Patrick Jones
Design: Anna Fleischle
Technical: Heddwyn Davies/Andy Evans (Sound), Dyfan Jones (Music), Angharad Matthews (Costume), Dick Straker (Video designer), Joe Fletcher (Lighting)
Cast includes: Desmond Barrit (Evan), Olwen Rees (Isabelle), Dafydd Hywel (Rocky), Llinos Daniel (Gemma), Martin Marquez (Joe), Melanie Walters (Dyanne) and Oliver Wood (Scott)
Ffwrnes Theatre, Llanelli, 26 September 2015A bright autumn day in Llanelli grew even brighter as National Theatre Wales’ marathon production of the Iliad opened to an enthusiastic audience.
But there was something else going on that day. At 10.00 am the town was already buzzing with match-day fever as the first pints were evident and on Stryd Stepney, Max and Cerys belted out the old tunes. How would art fare in competition with rugby in this hotbed of the game? Rather well as it turned out.
In four parts this ancient tale was always likely to be epic, but it was never boring.
Directors Pearson and Brookes have previous, (Coriolanus, The Persians), and this multi-media staging of Logue’s War Music, itself derived from Homer’s account of the end of the Trojan War, is up there.
As you would expect the sound is compelling, always haunting it was at times almost wistful but the potential for bellicosity and pent-up violence was always present.
The projections range from largely static landscapes (in Wales?) which, whilst charming, seemed to be a long way from the Eastern Mediterranean and video headshots of local teenagers playing Gods.
A team of six narrators carried the three hundred pages of poetry with aplomb, all were convincing. Daniel Hawksford made a strong early showing and Richard Lynch grew into his roles but Melanie Walters stood out with her diction and accents and her acting through gesture and her facial projection.
The use of teleprompters restricted dramatic potential to the use of the upper body and engendered a sense of “talking heads” which diverted the attention of the audience away from the action and on to the screen, it seemed a bit like talking with friends in a pub with the TV on and finding that the usual dynamic cannot be established. Such an approach demands good tone and timbre in the voice and clear diction and enunciation which was provided on a consistent basis but the strongest effects came when the cast performed in choirs, as in the death of the bull sequence which was deeply moving.
The language conveyed the message. The elision of the ancient (7th century B.C.) and the modern and of the catastrophic and continuing threat of war, conflict and displacement, was conveyed admirably and the references to “helicopters”, ”privatise”, ”Australia” and “curly-girlie hair” could have disorientated, but did not.
NTW is good at sets and settings.The opened floor of the Ffwrnes theatre was a blank page and the weight of the production therefore fell on the set.
Think Kwikfit tyre bay meets a clearance sale at the garden centre.
I never appreciated how many uses plastic stacking chairs could be put to.
At its best it was outstanding, occasionally it was prosaic and sometimes it was plain irritating.
Building the set as you go along invites the audience to care and to share in the process and whilst some of the effects, like the raising of giant blooms on tripods were certainly dramatic, in the manner of raising the US flag on Iwo Jima, they also seemed to be rather pointless and distracting.
Audience engagement also involved being ushered around the space to make way for yet another “construction”, the audience becoming the set and, more welcomingly for the chosen few, being invited to lie down and play dead.
The marathon was sold out and as part four started the England v Wales rugby game kicked off. But the “literati”, as I heard us being described by a passing rugby fan (who must himself have been somewhat literate) were loyal to the cause. I recognised many who had been there at 10.30 that morning.
I asked our National Poet, Gillian Clark, for her opinion, she said” Tonight was so inspiring…it showed such respect for language…this was the NTW at its best.”
It was a marathon and it was epic. The concluding sound-scene with hunting horn and battle drums stayed with me as I scurried away from the theatre not wishing to overhear the rugby score, and made my way home on the M4, without the radio on, for the same reason. The sound of battle and desolation and of loss is with me now.
This was not just drama. It was arresting and compelling, a ”must-experience” experience.
The standing ovation was testimony to the power of this production and to the tenacity of the audience and I was delighted to be with them.
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