The Sherman Theatre turns 50 this year, and there’s no better way to celebrate than with the golden line-up they have planned for their anniversary: Gary Owen’s much-anticipated Romeo & Julie, Nia Morais’ magical Imrie – and the Sherman Youth Theatre’s Ghost Cities. It’s a new take on Gary Owen’s 2004 drama Ghost City, directed by Justin Teddy Cliffe and incorporating new material by the Sherman’s Introduction to Playwrighting Participants Mared Seeley, Loki Skyrme-Croft, Lauren Hindmarsh and Emma Phelps.
Set in Cardiff over a single night, Ghost Cities follows the capital’s lonely souls in a series of interconnected vignettes. There is little to link them directly, save a postcode and a prayer: a universal yearning for connection, understanding, and empathy. I haven’t seen the original play, but there seems to be a nice synergy between the original and its additions. You might be able to spot some of the new material, but it synthesises well with Owen’s text into a cohesive and rewarding whole. And while not every story carries the same sway (some seem as weightless as ghosts), others linger like spectres – largely due to the skill and enthusiasm of its cast and creative team.
Designer Ruby Brown (supported by The Fenton Arts Trust) and lighting director Rachel Mortimer have worked wonders with the set. Fragments of what’s happening onstage are projected onto an imposing pyramid, distorted and partial; casting doubt on whether what we’re seeing is what’s really happening. At one point, the pyramid becomes the inner core of a Matrix-like computer algorithm; at another, the live feed of an increasingly sinister political broadcast. These are just some of the many striking images that make the play gripping: a hooded stranger leaning against a door, a phone line stretched across the void, a eulogy illumined by a single beam of light as if from heaven.
After The It in 2020 and Treasure Island last year, this is the third Sherman Youth Theatre production I’ve had the privilege to attend – and it’s incredible to see such talented young actors continue to grow in their skill and their craft. They navigate brilliantly through drama, comedy, and even tinges of horror, creating a very specific world for the stories to inhabit: the standouts for me were a teacher explaining her gender transition to a previously scornful student, a hilarious night out at Walkabout that ends in both hope and disaster, and a Deliveroo rider philosophising on the meaning of life. All the while, a disenfranchised young man haunts the stage, very much alive and very much at our elbow – we, and the characters, may just overlook him at our own risk.
Ghost Cities is a celebration of Cardiff in its hidden corners. It begins with a single voice and ends with many: in doing so, it seems to say that a city is a living thing, and we are its lifeblood: our lives, our stories, the connections we make and the ones we might miss.
Ghost Cities is performed by Rashid Ali, Lily Cole, Rhys Evans, Theo Greenwood, Daisy Griffiths, Twm Llwyd, Edith McCarron, Maya McDarren, Orrin Niziblian, Pringles North, Elian Owen, Jim Pesticcio, Lucia Taher, Brooke Thomas, Nia Thomas, Rory Tune, Indigo Wernick, and Jett Wood.
Ghost Cities is performing between 2 – 4 March at the Sherman Theatre. More information and how to book tickets here. Tonight’s production is a double bill with the Youth Theatre’s ‘Chaos’.