Review, Shoulder to Shoulder, Swansea City Opera, Lisvane Memorial Hall by James Ellis

Photo credit: Guy Harrop

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

On their last leg of their Welsh tour, Swansea City Opera have made a personal and sweet show about the older men in our country. Inspired by the Mens Shed craze, which started in Australia and now is world-wide, it has seen men in the community overcome barriers and have a go at wood work. Though the craft element is the pulling force to join, many friendships have been made and its looks like men are opening up about their traumas and hangups.

This collaboration with the opera company saw a piece inspired by these stories, of men coming out of their shell after grief and turmoil. It’s a slight story one which, might not have needed an intermission. Brendan Wheatley as director and librettist, also gave a pre-show talk breaking down his role and the opera itself. He likes puns and rhyming, aside many Welsh tics and mannerisms. Lenny Sayers score was accessible for those new to opera, holding up as a spritely, pseudo Jazzy and Blues fair. A surprise and a delight to see a vibraphone and a saxophone in with the musicians. The former I imagine eventful when touring around Wales. A Gnome aria held up as an absurd highlight, only ever a good time. The inclusion of both the Llysfaen Singers choral bouts and the Lisvane Mens Shed for bouts of wooden chorus slamming felt right, proving the true community side of things.

We follow times spent with Ioan, Dai, Rhys and Charlie. Gwen, daughter of Rhys, drags him along to the shed to get him out of the house and to find a vocation. Popping along, he is warmly welcomed and comes out of his shell. The rest of the opera is the other three guys at the shed and what they have gone through, their reasons to join. This did feel like one big advert for the sheds, though if it does get extra members I can only see that as a positive.

The quartet of male singers: Robyn Lyn Evans, Dyfed Wyn Evans, Aled Hall and Wyn Pencarreg have tuned the show after said tour and previous stagings. Their humour, light and hearty singing is the bulk of the show, their histories of anguish and pain bubbling up. BBC Cardiff Singer finalist Jessica Robinson was a fine Gwen, she address the audience through speech and sung with a firm clarity.

I’ll applaud the show for giving opera to those who never thought they would go and also for its support for a mightily important endeavour. You know…I might just pop over to my own shed after all.

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