Tag Archives: theatr clwyd

5 Minutes with Katie Elin-Salt, writer of ‘Celebrated Virgins’, Theatr Clwyd

Celebrated Virgins is Theatr Clwyd’s brand new play written by Katie Elin-Salt and directed by Eleri B. Jones. The show is based on the true story of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby who were forced to flee Ireland and took up residence in Llangollen. They were true LGBTQ+ icons of their time and this show sees them tell their story, on their own terms for the very first time.

We sat down with Katie, writer of the show, to find out more:

You will be a familiar face to many at Theatr Clwyd as an actor. What’s it like to be back?

When I first came to Clwyd, I was a nervous 21-year-old performing a cameo role in As You Like It, under the direction of Terry Hands. Since then, Theatr Clwyd has always been a home from home for me and I have been privileged to perform here as an actor many times – growing from bit parts to leads in shows such as Educating Rita and Under Milk Wood, I was even lucky enough to be the fairy in the panto two years ago – what an honour! To come back to Mold under this capacity, is just the most incredible feeling. I have always felt so supported by the team and the audience at Theatr Clwyd and I could not be in a safer place to be premiering my first full play. But I honestly feel if I could tell that nervous 21 year old a decade ago that her name would one day be on the front of those programmes – she would never have believed it!

Give us a brief of what Celebrated Virgins is about?

Celebrated Virgins is based on the true story of two remarkable women – Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler a.k.a ‘The Ladies of Llangollen’. We follow their story from separate childhoods in the upper echelons of 18th century Irish society to meeting each other at school and forming an unbreakable bond. This leads them to decide they would rather leave everything they have known behind than live without each other. We then follow their journey to Plas Newydd, their home for over 50 years in Llangollen and learn through them the bravery and the fear involved in living an authentic life in full view of a community who does not always understand who you truly are. 

What made you want to create this show?            

Well, firstly it is just an amazing epic love story and I remain amazed and bewildered that it has taken nearly 300 years for it to be put on a stage. It really has everything – love, risk, danger, even someone dressing in a suit and jumping out of a window armed with a pistol and a Jack Russell – I mean what more could you want? But also, I think it is incredibly important for today’s society that we see stories like Sarah and Eleanor’s represented on stage. It has taken such a long time for love between two women to be not only accepted but celebrated, and I want to show the next generation of LGBTQ+ that their stories and their history are just as important and worth celebrating as anybody else’s.

It’s such a fascinating story but this will be the first time they are telling it themselves. What can the audience expect?

The audience can expect to see two brilliant women at the front and centre of their own story. We have an amazing cast of professional actors and also added to that the addition of a cast from the local community – who will show us what life was really like for the Ladies as they tried to make their way in society. We have an incredible movement and sound team who will bring this story bang up to date and of course fantastic direction from Eleri B. Jones. I would tell the audience to buy an ice cream and get comfortable as the lights go down as they are in for a truly epic night of theatre – and after the last two years I think that is the least an audience deserves!

What advice would you give to people wanting to get into the industry?

My first bit of advice would be to try out as many facets of your creativity as you possibly can! Like many young people I got into this industry through my local youth theatre, there I found a love of theatre and a friendship and connection I couldn’t find anywhere else. I realised there that I could act but it took me until the age of 30 to realise I might be any good at writing – think of all that wasted time! I am also now training as a music therapist to spread my creativity even further. There are some elements of this job I definitely can’t do (trust me you don’t want to see me trying to move set around a stage), but that is when you find the people who can and let them support and help you. Basically, no matter where you come from or what your story is – find it, own it and let yourself be seen in as many glorious ways as you possibly can!


Celebrated Virgins will be performed at Theatr Clwyd from Friday 20 May – Saturday 4 June. Tickets start at £10 and can be booked here. Please check the website for Trigger Warnings.

Review, Curtain Up, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Curtain Up is a celebration. It is a celebration of creativity, imagination and Welsh talent. Over three fun-filled weeks, it has been the setting for a series of short plays that have all taken the notion of play to heart. And where better to host this menagerie of pure ingenuity than Theatr Clwyd. It has certainly delivered on its aim to make the world a happier place one moment at a time. Coming out of conversations with creative freelancers, Curtain Up has given writers the time and space to write again, actors the chance to perform on stage once more; and allowed stage managers, lighting technicians, and sound operators, to name but three, to return to what they do best. It is a reminder to all of us of the power and wonder of live theatre.

Oat Jenner’s smile said it all. It was the widest of smiles among the 10 actors taking part in the final week of plays. It seemed that he couldn’t contain his delight during both Normal Day and Seen, expressing the same euphoria felt by so many after so long. No wonder the excitement in the room was palpable. The opportunity presented to the audience at the start of the night, to choose which props would feature and who would play who, only heightened the sense of anticipation*. And with each week’s performance, the cast and crew delivered. It may not always have worked – the Cadbury’s Milk Tray in Kristian Phillips’ Trwsio: Repair was ripe for comic exploitation but came over rather dead in what was an otherwise touching story – but when it did, it produced chaos aplenty (see Sion Pritchard’s inventive use of a skipping rope in Just Another Blue Marble and the hilarious water spray face-off in In the End). Such fun.

There were moments of real depth alongside the humour. I found The Order of the Object by Lisa Parry to be a fascinating critique of both the religious and the secular; Jennifer Lunn’s Stop the Drop a deftly comic analysis of political power and influence, steeped in contemporary irony; and the symbol of a child’s pink and flowery wellington boot to be a potent symbol of subversive oppression in Alun Saunders’ Beginnings/Dechreuadau. It was left to Thieves by Mali Ann Rees to reduce me to tears, in a moving story of love, friendship and loss that was brilliantly written and wonderfully acted by Catrin Mai Edwards and Miriam O’Brien. Meanwhile, David Bower’s performance in Seen by Katherine Chandler was utterly mesmerising. What a storyteller he is, working his magic alongside Chloe Clarke in a tale of online dating, belonging, and love. And the improvisation of Sian Reese-Williams and John Carter in Life 2.0 was a masterclass, making it seem as though the prop chosen by the audience had been theirs to rehearse with all along.

To choose a favourite among this smorgasbord of 15 plays would be like picking your favourite child. They were all so very different, ranging from the virtual (The Ongoing Eternal Search for ‘Da’) to the real (Letting Go). The inclusion of the Welsh language in and amongst them was great to see, the surtitles accessible and undistracting. The way that they were weaved into Mari Izzard’s The Ongoing Eternal Search for ‘Da’ was cleverly done; and they held extra poignancy in Beginnings/Dechreuadau whilst adding superbly to the realism of Trwsio: Repair. If there was one play that really struck me though, it was Nine Point Two Minutes by Ming Ho. It shone a spotlight on some of the pressures of the healthcare system and its effect on both doctors and patients. It was so effective that the sense of injustice apparent in Ho’s narrative, pressed home through the fragility and passion of Llŷr Evans and Anita Reynolds in their roles respectively, was impossible to miss. It was but one of many highlights over the three weeks of Curtain Up.

Curtain Up has been the perfect opportunity to revisit the theatre safely again after lockdown. It has been an enjoyable pilgrimage to Theatr Clwyd every Wednesday night for the past couple of weeks for a fabulous evening of entertainment in the company of some of Wales’ finest. Its success must surely pave the way for similar shows in future, if only to continue supporting the very best in the nation’s emerging talent both on stage and off. I will miss this weekly trip to the theatre on a hill. But I am grateful to director Tamara Harvey et al for making it a return to savour. The words from Finding Your Feet by Samantha O’Rourke feel like the most fitting to end with here. They seem to sum up what has been the overwhelming response to Curtain Up from both creatives and audiences alike: “Thanks for being here. Thanks for listening. It means a lot”.

*This review is written in response to the Wednesday night performances over the production’s three-week period. Therefore, references to certain props and actors are made accordingly.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

An Interview with Francesca Goodridge, on Curtain Up at Theatr Clwyd, conducted by Gareth Williams

Curtain Up is a celebration of creativity, live theatre, and Welsh talent.

Over the course of three weeks, three companies, comprising of ten actors each, will perform 15 new plays – five each week – by 15 Welsh playwrights. That’s 15 voices with 15 very different stories to tell.

Associate Director Francesca Goodridge took some time out of her busy schedule preparing for week one to tell us a bit more about this exciting new project from Theatr Clwyd.

How would you describe Curtain Up?

It’s like a conveyor belt of theatre. So we start week one with a group of ten actors who work on five new plays, about 10-15 minutes long each, written by five playwrights who were specifically commissioned for this project. They have one week of rehearsals, one week of tech, and then open the following week. Meanwhile, during their tech week, a second company of ten actors come in and start rehearsing another five plays, with the third group of ten actors coming in to rehearse another five plays a week after. So that’s 15 new playwrights that have been commissioned for a project involving 30 actors in total.

How did the idea first come about?

It was borne from a series of conversations that Tamara (Artistic Director) and Liam (Executive Director) were having during lockdown with freelancers. They just asked, ‘What can we do to support you guys? What do you need?’ and the general consensus was that creative people can only live when they’re being creative – we’re just such strange beings, aren’t we, that nothing else really feeds our soul – and so Tamara and Liam came up with this concept, this conveyor belt of theatre, which allows us to give as many freelancers as possible the opportunity to be creative. It gives 15 writers a paid commission to write something after what might have felt like an age; to write something that is going to be seen, and hear people saying their words. It gives actors a space where they can just play and learn lines and be silly again. And it allows design, stage management, lighting, all of these freelance jobs, an opportunity to use their craft again after so long; to be creative on a huge scale.

And I’ve heard there is an opportunity for the audience to get involved as well…

So not only do the audience have the opportunity to see five new plays each week but the really good thing about Curtain Up is that an audience member can come every night and see something different. We’ve cast it in such a way that two actors learn every role, and at the start of the show we “rock, paper, scissors” it to see which actor will do which show that night and what part they are going to play. (So that’s the fun and excitement we’ve really been missing; the chance to not just be creative in rehearsal but for that to still live and breathe in the production.) Also, the writers were asked to include an unspecified prop in their play so the actors don’t know what that prop will be. The audience chooses the props at the start of the night and the actors are only handed the prop as soon as the play starts so there’s some improvisation: they have to react differently, which can change the course of the play. It’s all about having spontaneity again and feeling that excitement of live theatre. Every night is super-charged because things change, props change, the costumes change, an actor might do the scene opposite one actor one night and then do the scene opposite a totally different actor the next, so every night it’s something different.

Has it felt like an explosion of creative energy being back on stage after so long?

I think everyone has felt the same, me included. On day one, going into a rehearsal room and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, can I even do this anymore? I haven’t done this for so long. Can I still do this?’ But I feel so lucky right now to be sat on a stage, and it’s the same for the whole company, not just the actors but stage management too, to be able to do the things that we love and we’ve really missed. I think an explosion is a great way of putting it because I think that’s what it will feel like every night. It is going to be different; and I think, in a world where nothing really feels steady at the minute, it’s kind of nice to have that little bit of tension on stage as well, that little bit of no one knows what’s going to happen, and the excitement and energy that comes from that.

Was it a conscious choice to perform the plays in the round?

It was a conscious decision because it’s about bringing people together again and, ultimately, the reason why this project is so special is because we aren’t flying in sets or have a huge budget. What is at the heart of it is storytelling and actually hearing stories again, which is what I’ve missed so much. I think being in the round is so much like sitting around a campfire and telling a story – that is where we come from and how we tell stories. It also allows the actors to have real fluidity. They can move; and with it being double cast, it opens the space and it becomes like a big playing field for them. We want the audience to feel like they’re in this bubble and to feel like we are all united again in being together.

How important do you think it is that there is such a diverse range of writers with such a diverse range of stories to tell here?

You can’t tell a story the same, and what is so exciting about this is having five stories from five writers with five different backgrounds – totally different people, totally different identities, with totally different upbringings, from totally different homes – so every single play is different. One of the plays is set on a spaceship, for example, and then for another we’re in someone’s living room. And that is the beauty of theatre: that we are transposed from place to place and we totally believe that. It’s so imaginative.

But though each of the play’s are different, each of the five writers was given a theme – so the first one is new beginnings, the second is finding feet, and so on – so that every night has got an arc that will take us through the night. So although the audience will see five different stories each week, they will have gone on a journey on the night through these themes. And to add to the diversity, we have some Welsh language stories too, which was a bit of a logistical challenge to make sure that four of the actors were Welsh speakers, but it’s been really great to have these Welsh language plays as well and to have Welsh language theatre included. I know that this was one of the most important things for Tamara and Liam, to make sure that it was truly diverse and was championing many different voices in Wales.

How excited are you about the writing talent coming out of Wales at the moment, and the opportunity that something like this affords them?

The thing that excites me most is working with a writer and sitting down to work on a new play and having that seed of an idea and seeing it through. It is one of the best things in the world. But aside from these sorts of opportunities, what Curtain Up has done is given 15 people a chance to write – how many of these writers may have come out of lockdown and lost their love for it, or not had the opportunity to do it, or were working elsewhere and had no time to fit it in – so as much as it’s about wanting to commission new writers, it’s also about giving people time and space to just write, without them feeling like they have to come up with anything. Yes, this is a commission, but more than that it has given them a bit of time and a bit of space to just do what they love. If that then ignites something in them to then write something else, great. But it’s about letting people have time and space to just do what they love without having to produce something all the time; where there’s no pressure to write. That’s hard when it’s something you might be doing alongside another job because you need to live. So, yeah, I think more of that would be great because that is where some of the best work is made, when there’s no pressure to have something in by a deadline, as you can make what you want when you have time and space.

Click here to find out more and book tickets.

Conducted by
Gareth Williams

Review For The Grace Of You Go I (Online). by Alan Harris. A Theatr Clwyd production, co​-commissioned by Wiltshire Creative by Richard Evans

Many of us have bemoaned the lack of live theatre over the past months, the atmosphere, the immediacy, the inventiveness behind a good production.  Would a virtual presentation be able to compensate and provide a stimulating theatrical experience?

Online interaction has been something that many of us have had to get used to and is now such a familiar form of media for both business and entertainment.  Would it work for a play that cries out for a live audience? 

Alan Harris’ play, ‘For The Grace Of You Go I’  is a dark comedy that explores the theme of mental illness, in particular a personality disorder.  It demonstrates how illness and disadvantage fits in a context of a ruthless, profit driven society that shows little understanding and still less sympathy for those who find themselves unable to conform to a standard sense of normality. The main character, Jim (Rhodri Meilir) is forced into a job creation scheme or else lose the benefits he needs to survive.  However he is unable to keep up with the demands of work or the strictures placed upon him.  Why should a pepperoni pizza have 6 pieces of sausage arranged in a circle?

Central to the play is an examination of reality, individuality and purpose in life.  Jim suffers from a depersonalization=derealisation disorder where he has a repeated experience of viewing himself from outside his body.  This has a debilitating and demoralizing effect on him and effectively prevents him from accessing work and relationships as he would like, leading him into a spiral of depression.  However, he expresses this with an honesty that contrasts markedly with Mark (Darren Jeffries) who comes across as self-assured, successful with an aspirational lifestyle.  This however is a sham and his life is effectively a lie. 

With both characters being dysfunctional, the play explores the support society should give to those with a mental illness. Remi Beasley’s character, Irina is the person who promotes the back to work scheme designed to help reconstruct the lives of those like Jim.  She presents an enthusiastic, sympathetic persona to him that is sadly crushed by the target driven, profit oriented company they work for.  Her frustration is initially directed to Jim but as she grows in knowledge and affection for him, this is directed towards the soulless nature of the company and the empty promises it makes.  This very much mirrors the experience of those marginalised in our society who seek to reconstruct their lives.

The play is drawn to a memorable climax when Jim and Mark meet at a film club.  They are both heavily influenced by a film by Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismaki, ‘I hired a hitman’.  To escape his despondence, Jim attempts to mimic the film by hiring Mark to be a hitman who will end his suffering. 

The set was highly effective using a simple backdrop of three primary colours that allowed a change of mood and scene to occur seamlessly.  It helped focus the attention on the actors and dialogue rather than distract the eye as some more complex backdrops can do. 

It was superbly acted by the three players, whose dialogue and interplay was slick and convincing.  However, while there were many occasions when the dialogue brought out a smile, there was a smouldering intensity about the production that drew towards an inevitable, tragic conclusion.  To me, the most important conclusion was that the authentic life must prevail and be lived with integrity no matter what the circumstance.  This is followed closely by the searing indictment of a harsh, money driven society lacking compassion and the ability to help those with significant mental health problems.  As such it is a timely reminder that after this current pandemic, there will be plenty of people in need of substantial support. 

Did the play successfully translate to a virtual environment?  It was certainly riveting viewing and well worth a watch, but I stand by the impression that this is no replacement for a live performance, good as it was.  It is a convenient format, where you can pause, refill your glass and come back to it, but the flat screen dulls the senses to the poignancy playing out in front of you.  Congratulations to Theatr Clwyd for having the ambition to film and broadcast this production.  It was a welcome treat after being starved of theatre for so long, however, it will be great to walk through the doors and experience once again live theatre in reality. 

Review, For the Grace of You Go I, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a sadness and deep sense of injustice behind the humour and surrealism of For the Grace of You Go I. Due to begin just before the pandemic hit, Alan Harris’ play may be long overdue but its delay has proved timely. Beneath the strange veneer of a storyline in which a man puts out a hit on himself lies a sobering analysis of the inequalities that coronavirus has exposed in society over the past 18 months. It makes for a darkly comic play that is both hugely entertaining yet deeply unsettling.

Its colourful set, of luminescent pink, green and yellow walls, belies the broken and struggling lives of its characters. They do reflect the dreaminess of their existence though. Jim (Rhodri Meilir), employed to put pepperoni on pizza as part of a government scheme, imagines himself as Employee of the Month – complete with giant rosette and accomplished chef’s hat – in one of several cartoonish scenes projected onto the walls. In reality, he is a thorn in his line manager Irina’s side. Played by Remy Beasley, she is under constant pressure to meet targets, and Jim’s daydreaming does nothing to help matters. Though work gives him a sense of purpose, she is forced to let him go. His only solace is found in a monthly film club where he meets new guy Mark (Darren Jeffries), whose obsession with American action movies makes him the perfect partner in Jim’s movie-styled life. After watching the 1990 Finnish film I Hired a Contract Killer, Jim decides that he wants to take the place of its protagonist and asks Mark to do the honours in killing him. It may sound rather far-fetched but there is a serious underbelly to its hyperbole and other-worldliness.

Jeffries gives an assured performance as Mark, whose Mancunian swagger hides a far more vulnerable masculine existence. He is terrific opposite Rhodri Meilir, who brings a beautiful innocence to the troubled Jim, their exchanges pacy and lively throughout to give a slightly unnerving edge to the funny and ironic dialogue. Beasley is wonderfully on-edge as the hassled Irina, maintaining a brilliant balance between sanity and breakdown such that her character fizzes both in dialogue and action like a loosely-corked bottle of pop. The pressures on all three are palpable in their different ways; and they give rise to the much bigger issues at play. Harris comments on mental health, consumerism, capitalism and the political system without ever being preachy. He achieves this through the disabling use of humour and by intimately tying the issues to the narrative. As a result, they ooze naturally out to offer a searing indictment on the oppressive systems and privileged attitudes in existence within society, tempered frequently by the comic form.

I had expected to be overwhelmed as I walked through the doors of Theatr Clwyd for the first time in 18 months. But though it felt special to enter the building to a familiarly warm welcome, made more so by the beaming sun as it flooded in through the windows; to give a knowing smile to the recognisable pictures on the stairs up to the Emlyn Williams theatre; and to be greeted by the same ever-delightful staff who were courteous and helpful as I got into a bit of confusion over my ticket number, it was the reminder of the importance of theatre, as a medium that can speak truth to power, that really made its mark. That importance has not gone away over the course of the pandemic. If anything, it has grown stronger and become more vital than ever. But having become acutely aware of this once-unspoken assumption outside of the context of its physical space and place, For the Grace of You Go I was the first opportunity for what had become apparent through the screen to be embodied within the bricks and mortar to which theatre most truly belongs. As such, Alan Harris’ already-powerful message struck an even deeper chord than it might have in pre-Covid times. If it had something to say then, it most definitely needs to be heard now.

Click here to find out more and purchase tickets.

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Gareth to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

An Interview with Actor and Director Eleri B. Jones, conducted by Gareth Williams

In this latest interview, Get the Chance member Gareth Williams chats to actor and director Eleri B. Jones.

Eleri is a graduate of the University of Manchester and Drama Centre London. She is currently undertaking a traineeship with Theatr Clwyd as an Assistant Director.

Here, she talks to us about the traineeship; her involvement in Clwyd’s latest production, The Picture of Dorian Gray; a collaborative project with the North East Wales archives*; and representation and the arts in Wales.

To find out more about The Picture of Dorian Gray, including how to purchase tickets, click here.

*Below is one of four videos produced by Theatr Clwyd in collaboration with the North East Wales Archives as part of the project ‘Women Rediscovered…’. To watch them all, click here to access their YouTube channel.

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Gareth to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

Interview conducted
by Gareth Williams

Review, The Goat Roper Rodeo Band, Theatr Clwyd, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Or so it seems. The arts sector is not out of the woods yet by any means. But there is a glimmer of hope. Like the neon bulbs dangling across the stage at my first live gig since March, there are rays of optimism breaking through the darkness. As the sun set on the magnificent red brick building towering over us, aglow with rainbow-coloured light, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of joy and relief that I am back. That I have been able to come back. That my theatre, unlike others, still stands.

It never stopped, of course. It innovated; collaborated; diverted its resources; sought creative solutions. And now, it is slowly returning to a sense of the old normal. Not indoors, mind, but out. On a grassy field marked with white boxes and filled with makeshift chairs of all shapes and sizes. A tapestry of camping and outdoor furniture laid out before a plain black stage, simply lit and acoustically sound. Onto it step three lads with three instruments ready to entertain the throngs that have ventured out on this Friday evening. And entertain us they most certainly do, with a barnstorming hour of country, blues, and alternative folk.

Their blistering set was much needed to get the toes tapping; to counter the cold wind blowing across the site. The audience applauded in enthusiastic appreciation throughout, determined to enjoy an hour of music after the dearth of live performance over the past few months. The Goat Roper Rodeo Band certainly offered plenty of enjoyment and more besides, an eclectic sound keeping things fresh and lively, with no let-up in their high-octane delivery. Even in the slow, ballad-like songs such as Toss and Turn and Old Joanna, there was intensity in their presentation, perhaps caused by the welcome release that this post-lockdown opportunity presented for them. Whatever the case, it only added to the brilliance of the evening. With a carefully-crafted back-catalogue of wonderfully-catchy songs – reminiscent of Mumford & Sons one minute, sounding like a 1950s WSM Radio broadcast the next – The Goat Roper Rodeo Band certainly left their mark on proceedings in an hour that went by way too fast.

It was a very different experience of Theatr Clwyd to the one that I am used to. But it is moments like these that weave themselves into our memories. They are the unexpected surprises that make our relationship to a place so rich with meaning. They crystallise into a particular instance on our timeline that helps us tell the story of our lives to those that come after, when we recall how this theatre and its work has impacted us down the years. It may appear to the one looking in and gazing upon the photographs that this was just another outdoor gig. But to those who were there, or to me at least, this show marked the occasion when the arts began to breathe again, as the tightly-bound corset of Covid-19 restrictions was loosened enough to allow for such a socially-distanced gathering to take place.

There will be many bumps in the road to come. We are not out of the woods yet. But beyond the many trees still to wind past to get to the edge of what can seem an overwhelmingly-bleak scene, there is a light that shines. It will not be the same one we left behind. And neither should it be. Lockdown has been an opportunity to view and do things differently. Live performance as we knew it will return I’m sure. But the arts sector must also move forward. Change must be embraced.

Click here to find out more about The Goat Roper Rodeo Band.

Click here to find out what’s coming up at Theatr Clwyd.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

My Top 5 Showcase: Theatr Clwyd Shows

In the third part of my showcase series for Get the Chance, I thought I’d share five of my favourite Theatr Clwyd shows in conjunction with their #TCTogether project.

Under Milk Wood

I have this production by Terry Hands to thank for falling in love with theatre in the first place. On a cold February night in 2014, I sat on the end seat in the front row of the Anthony Hopkins theatre and was transported to the wonderful world of Dylan Thomas’ famous drama. It featured an excellent cast of Welsh actors whose delivery of the language created a very vivid experience. I can still see the character of Polly Garter (Katie Elin-Salt) under intense spotlight, transfixed by her plaintive tones as she sang of lost love. A true ‘conversion’ experience for me.

Junkyard: A New Musical

Writer Jack Thorne has gone on to critically-acclaimed success with TV dramas like The Accident. This play came hot on the heels of the first in his National Treasure trilogy, and was every bit as good. Set in an adventure playground, it featured a rowdy group of teenagers led by the outspoken Fiz (Erin Doherty). Doherty led the company brilliantly, giving a pitch-perfect performance in a production that used lighting and music to brilliant effect. Emotive and funny, it shone a light on the overlooked corner of an urban landscape.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Anyone who has witnessed the annual Rock ‘n’ Roll pantomime will know that the costume department at Clwyd are a talented bunch. They excelled themselves with this production however, with costumes that were every bit as colourful as the spectacularly rich scenery. Oscar Wilde’s already witty script was brought to life hilariously by the physicality of actors Matt Jessup and Nick Harris in particular. Brilliantly funny, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun in a theatre.

Home, I’m Darling

Deservedly winning awards (Best Comedy among them), Laura Wade’s critique of nostalgia and domestication was a beautifully-constructed, well-acted and aesthetically-glorious piece. The bold and impressive scenery – effectively a life-size doll’s house – would have been enough to bowl you over. Thankfully, the acting talents of Katherine Parkinson and Richard Harrington, clearly in their element, brought plenty of humour and vulnerability to their lead characters. It made for a highly original, thoroughly enjoyable play.

Pavilion

I loved this play. Playwright Emily White’s debut is a modern Under Milk Wood, casting a sharp, satirical and dark eye on life in small town Wales. It featured an incredible array of performances from established actors and upcoming talent alike. The true genius of this production was in its realism; the way that White created drama out of the everyday and mundane. The cast brought it to life superbly. I cannot wait for it to be revived for the stage again already.

What are your favourites? Share them using the hashtag #TCTogether, where you’ll also find lots of creative ideas to do during lockdown @clwydtweets.

Written by Gareth Williams

Review, Pavilion, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Emily White’s Pavilion is a sharp and witty ode to small town Wales. Described as a modern day Under Milk Wood, it is an acute observation of life in a once proud, increasingly hopeless community. Whilst we may read the childhood memories of Dylan Thomas’ days of being ‘young and easy under the apple boughs’ through rose-tinted spectacles now, White’s play is a reminder that for all its sentiment, Thomas’ world was borne out of reality. His poem Fern Hill is as much about the loss of childhood as it is a celebration of it. Pavilion strikes much the same chord.

Set on a Friday night fuelled with booze and infused with lust, we are witness to the final hours of the Pavilion nightclub before it closes down for good. Here is where the ‘hoi polloi’ gather: girls in their ill-fitting dresses and lads in their best-kept trainers and tracky bottoms. They drink, they dance; they dream, they despair. There is laughter and tears, love and loss. Not since Jack Thorne’s Junkyard have I felt such affinity for a cast of characters. They resemble a microcosm of my own home town. White’s great strength in this production has been to create drama out of the mundane, the everyday. She does so through the innocuous language of routine conversation, cadenced with humour and pathos behind which lies a depth of emotion and meaning. It leads to an immediate investment in her characters and their story. They are recognisable, relatable. We see in them something of ourselves and those around us. Theirs is a fully functioning, wholly believable world.

Rebecca Smith-Williams (left), Lowri Hamer (centre), Carly-Sophia Davies (right)

Annelie Powell deserves huge credit for assembling such a fine cast. It features some of the best in both upcoming and established Welsh talent. Director Tamara Harvey is no doubt the reason for the strong onstage chemistry between them. It is becoming a regular feature in her productions. The result is a thoroughly impressive ensemble piece, in which the professional debut of Caitlin Drake goes unchecked such is her striking turn as Myfanwy. Lowri Hamer (Bethan) and Carly-Sophia Davies (Jess) already appear like seasoned actors such is the strength of their performances alongside the reputable Ifan Huw Dafydd (Dewi) and Tim Treloar (Dylan). The dialogue between Michael Geary (Evan) and Victoria John (Big Nell) fizzes off the page. A special mention must go to Ellis Duffy (Gary) who is simply sublime as Gary.

Caitlin Drake as Myfanwy

My one criticism of Pavilion is that can sometimes overstate the nation that it represents. It is undoubtedly a fantastic thing to see Wales portrayed onstage. But the strength of this play lies in its subtlety. It is through realism that White succeeds in creating a strongly-defined Welsh play. There are moments of ethereal transcendence that add a beautiful dimension to the otherwise real-world setting. However, once or twice these scenes verge too close to sentimentality. In particular, the end of act one teeters on the brink of schmaltziness. The giant red dragon that descends as the cast carry out a rendition of ‘Mae hen wlad fy nhadau’ may be a dazzling set piece. However, it feels like an unnecessary indulgence in national pride. There is no need for such overt, celebratory statements. Pavilion’s success lies in its tact.

Come the end, the audience sat in stunned silence, the darkness sustained for much longer than I have ever experienced before. This tells you all you need to know about the power of this play. Once you have entered into the world of Pavilion, you won’t want to leave. Emily White deserves the rambunctious applause that finally spilled out into the auditorium. She has freely admitted that with its large cast and herself an unknown writer, Tamara Harvey has taken a huge gamble with Pavilion. It is one that has paid off. It may have taken time for it to see the light of day, but it is now unlikely to be returning to the shelf any time soon.

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gareth

Review, Orpheus Descending, A Theatr Clwyd/Menier Chocolate Factory Co-production by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The set design may be far more sedate than in her last
production, Home, I’m Darling. But
the cast assembled by director Tamara Harvey for her latest offering Orpheus
Descending
spark off one another with electrifying chemistry. One
wonders what she does during the rehearsal process that nurtures such strong
unity among cast members, and produces such creative energy that then flows out
on stage, with amazing results.

Tamara Harvey

In this adaptation of one of Tennessee Williams’ lesser-known
plays, Lady and Val might be advertised as the two main characters. But it is
very much an ensemble piece, with the most absorbing scenes being those in
which a whole host of players feature. Spread across the stage, the dialogue
zips from one to another, bouncing around like an entertaining ball game. The
script is so sharp and punchy. And the dialect coaching given by Penny Dyer and
Nick Trumble only enhances it further. It makes for a very immersive play – the
protrusion of the stage to the front row, and the use of the aisles either side
of the auditorium, intensifying this experience.

Not to say that there aren’t some amazing individual
performances however. Laura Jane Matthewson brings such a delightful humour to
her character Dolly Hamma that her mere presence on stage brought a smile to my
face. Seth Numrich’s turn as traveller and musician Val is full of charisma. His
guitar skills might not be up there with Val’s hero Lead Belly, but Numrich nevertheless
has the unenviable ability to own a stage without ever overshadowing his fellow
cast members. He is an excellent match for Hattie Morahan, playing opposite him
as Lady. Morahan brings a powerful sense of independence to the role that is
both frustrated by her marriage to Jabe (Mark Meadows) and teased out through
her developing romance with Val. Morahan’s performance grows steadily
throughout the play, becoming one that, in many ways, defines the second half.

I reserve special praise for Jemima Rooper, who is nothing
short of excellent as Carol Cutrere. The rebel, the rouser; the misfit and the
mistress in this portrait of small-town life, Cutrere is such a fascinating
character. She is made so by Rooper, who grants her such a vast expanse of unashamed
openness that I could only wonder at how Rooper manages to retain a slight air
of mystery about her. Yet she does, in spite of her character’s exhibitionism;
there remains a hidden depth to her even as her vulnerability and brokenness are
so apparent. If Morahan is the star of the second half, Rooper is most
certainly the star of the first.

Tamara Harvey’s production makes you wonder why Orpheus Descending has not been produced
more regularly. It is perhaps because Harvey has the ability to nurture, and
the skill to mine, the best of performances from her actors. In other hands,
perhaps it would not be as gripping or as interesting. But it is here, largely
because of the evident chemistry that exists between the cast members. One can
only credit Harvey with developing that. And it is this which draws out the
extra quality that sees such great individual performances, which combine
beautifully to create such an excellent overall production.

Click here for more info

gareth