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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Lynch’

Welsh actor-writer Emlyn Williams wrote fifteen plays (including one adaptation) over a twenty year period between the mid 1930’s and 1950’s, many adapted into films. For some reason they are rarely revived; this is only the fourth produced in London during my forty or so theatre-going years here. I suspect this one could seem a bit stodgy more than eighty years on, but Dominic Cooke’s inventive production is very fresh, despite still being set in the same period.

Firstly, he brings the the playwright onto the stage from his 1930’s party, providing stage instructions, narrating and at one point changing the plot. Secondly, he adds a chorus of miners, a small group dressed like they’ve just completed their shift, who add a deeply emotional layer (well, for a Welshman at least) and tell you everything you need to know about the community in which the story is set. At first, without a set and just a few props, it’s a piece of storytelling, but it eventually transforms into a realistic room as if a painting was nearing completion, or indeed the production of a play evolving.

Miss Moffat is an English woman of means who chooses this community for her project to bring education to the working classes. There is resistance from the local squire, who scuppers her plans to turn a neighbouring barn into a school, but she recruits two locals to help her and sets up anyway on a smaller scale in a room in her rented home. Her pupils are young miners, one of whom stands out and he becomes a very specific and personal project, with the objective of getting him a scholarship to Oxford. By now, the squire has melted and the boy, Morgan Evans, becomes a beacon for advancement by the local community, who are now rooting for their boy. He makes it, but his plans are endangered by a ghost from his past. By now, though, Miss Moffat and her colleagues will do anything to ensure he makes the journey.

It’s clearly semi-autobiographical, a tribute to Williams’ own teacher and mentor Miss Cooke, which is partly why the inclusion of the writer, though initially uneasy, works well. The production draws you in to the point where you are rooting for Morgan too, virtually part of this community. I found it deeply moving at times, but that might be because I’m a miner’s son from the South Wales valleys, though if nothing else, the music will move anyone with a heart.

Nicola Walker is perfect as the emotionally controlled, even repressed, teacher, a contrast to the passion of Richard Lynch’s fellow teacher John Goronwy Jones, a lovely performance. Iwan Davies makes a superb professional stage debut as Morgan, capturing everyone’s heart. Gareth David-Lloyd (unrecognisable from his turn as Ianto in Torchwood – one of the few dead TV characters with a shrine, in Cardiff Bay!) is excellent as the 30’s society figure which Williams by then had become. There were a number of cast changes at the performance we saw, with two covers carrying their script, but this had no negative impact; if anything, given the production style, it seemed oddly appropriate. Will Stuart’s uplifting music makes more of a contribution than in any other production I can remember.

I’m probably biased, with shared heritage, albeit a few decades apart, but I loved both the play’s themes and this creative interpretation. The NT on great form.

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Well, I’ve seen Macbeth in Japanese, Cantonese, Zulu and Polish (twice), so why not Welsh? It was also in an 850-year-old castle in the town I went to school in, so it proved impossible to resist.

We wait sitting on benches in one of three castle rooms before the witches take us up narrow winding stairs to an intimate room where the first part is staged. It’s very atmospheric and the costumes are really authentic. There’s a dramatic orchestral soundtrack which adds a regal feel. We walk the ramparts, with glimpses of the witches and the soundtrack clearly audible, to the second location, the Banqueting Hall, which provides a bigger space for sword-fights, battles and murders.

I listen to a commentary / synopsis via their app, which I felt was much better than simultaneous translation or the surtitled synopses use in the Globe to Globe season of foreign language Shakespeare productions in 2012. Though I’m not a Welsh speaker, it’s a surprisingly lucid Macbeth.

There are fine performances all round, led by Richard Lynch as Macbeth and Ffion Dafis as Lady Macbeth, though once I’d realised Lennox was the gay undertaker from Stella, I became a bit distracted – but I got over it!

I’m always fascinated seeing Shakespeare interpreted by different cultures in different languages, and it’s good to add Welsh to my collection of 37 ‘foreign’ language productions in 29 languages.

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Another trip to Wales, this time to see the National Theatre of Wales ‘mash-up’ of Shakespeare’s play and Brecht’s mid-20th century left-wing spin on it. This one’s in a disused aircraft hangar at RAF St. Athan. It’s extraordinary.

They’ve solved the three great problems of site-specific promenade productions. You have headphones, so you can hear every word. There are two giant screens, so you needn’t miss a thing. You’re not marshalled or herded around, so no distractions built in.

The hangar is divided in two by a double wall so you really do move from Rome to Antium when you walk through the gap. You are the people, so they’re often speaking directly to you; when they’re not, they are in cars & vans (that move) or caravans (that don’t) and you eavesdrop on their conversation on the big screens and through your cans. The play acquires a depth which I’ve never experienced before. The heroic story. The contempt for the people. The loyalty to his mother. The political shenanigans.

You feel like you’re in the middle of events as they unfold. Everything is in black & white like CC TV. This really is happening and you have to decide where you stand. Are you for him or against him? It’s extraordinarily contemporary.

Technically, Mike Pearson & Mike Brooks production is masterly. The combination of live video and personal audio with live dialogue & music is terrific, but it doesn’t get in the way of the dramatic flow of the play – to the contrary, in heightens it. The performances are exceptional too. On a  number of occasions I felt like Coriolanus was looking directly at me, connecting with my inner thoughts; Richard Lynch is outstanding in the tile role. Rhian Morgan as his mother Volumia is superb. Richard Harrington is an excellent Aufidius. In fact, there isn’t a fault in the casting.

I was captivated by this play like I’ve never been before; the staging isn’t a gimmick, it’s a liberation of the story and the text and Coriolanus has never been more compelling or thrilling.

Based on my three visits to NTW, this company is very special indeed; I will be making more 340-mile round-trips – work this good doesn’t happen that often. The undoubted highlight (in English) of the World Shakespeare Festival.

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