Review The Stick Maker Tales, National Theatre Wales by Kevin Johnson

The Stick Maker Tales by Peter Cox

Pavilion, Llandrindod Wells



You wait ages for a good play, and then two come along at once. Another of National Theatre Wales’ NHS70 plays, this time performed in the Mid-Wales town of Llandrindod Wells, a Victorian spa and market town.

The Stick Maker is Geth Roberts, an old sheep farmer working up the Elan valley, high above the market town of Rhayader. Famous for his hand-made shepherds crooks, and feeling the advances of time, he recounts stories of his family, and the part the NHS played in their lives.

From his grandfather’s death from tetanus, to his nephew’s work accident, and his own failing body, he speaks of his life working the hills and valleys with fondness, honesty, and humour. But now his eyesight is fading, and what good is a shepherd who can’t look after his sheep?

Peter Cox has created a wonderful character in Geth, and written a play full of humour, old-fashioned warmth, and truths. From Geth’s proud declaration that ‘I’ve alway paid my stamp’, to the harshness of losing his stillborn twin, this is no rose-tinted vision of the past, just a simple reminder of the lives of ordinary people before and after the health service was created.

The accent and dialect used are a tribute to the research put in by both actor and writer, and have had a very favourable response from the community portrayed. Sheep are ‘yowes’, a large flock is a ‘hep of sheep’, a shout of pain is a ‘bellock’. A clumsy new shepherd is ‘a young lumper’, while Geth himself is old but can still ‘nettle to it’.

Director Kully Thiarai skilfully marries the script with Llion Williams superb performance. Making the most of the jokes, he soon makes us warm to the gruff, plain-spoken farmer, whose belief that ‘a good shepherd looks after the whole flock, not one or a few’ parallels the underlying principles of the NHS itself.

That may seem like a simple observation, but with the constant attempts at privatisation, it’s one that needs making again and again.

National Theatre Wales have maintained a high standard over the last ten years, and if this play is anything to go by, those standards are actually getting higher.

Kevin B Johnson

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