Ten years ago, had someone told me that not one, but two Welsh national theatres would be performing work at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, it would have come as a real shock.
The writer Gwyn Thomas might have had more faith. He had long argued in favour of a national theatre, and would be chuffed to bits (we hope) to see a production on him and his short stories – The Dark Philosophers – performed here.
Thomas’ profile outside Wales is not nearly as high as that of his namesake, Dylan, but he is every bit as good a writer, if not better. He’s certainly more surprising. If you ever get a chance to read his short stories, you must – they’re subversive and witty, they portray bleak landscapes with vivid characters, and they can shock you and make you laugh out loud in the same sentence.
Marrying that lyricism with the physical wit of Told by an Idiot – who have co-produced the show – has resulted in an unexpected production.
The set in particular has drawn a huge reaction. Angela Davies’ design is of a jumble of wardobes, stacked almost on top of each other to recreate the look of the terraces in the valleys. The cast of eight leap around the stage, in and out of cupboard doors, creating exactly the kind of frenetic energy that makes Thomas’ writing so surreal and lively.
I think some audiences are shocked at his humour – one critic said it was “the jaunty side of incest and murder” – but there is a great empathy behind his work. Others have been even more surprised to learn that he really was a guest on Michael Parkinson’s chat show in the early 1970s – and to our own surprise, some audiences members didn’t know who Michael Parkinson was, let alone Gwyn Thomas.
Theatre should aim to surprise an audience, to defy expectations.
If we’ve done that much, we feel we’ve done well.
Launched in 2010, National Theatre Wales creates bold, invigorating theatre in the English language that is rooted in Welsh culture but which embraces internationalism. Expressing topical issues in innovative ways through collaboration with a rich community of creative talents in and beyond Wales, NTW seeks to find new and surprising ways to engage and involve audiences by making and presenting their work in both traditional and unexpected places. Told By An Idiot has toured its award-winning work extensively internationally. Devised and improvised by a core team of highly skilled performers, the company’s productions combine expertly executed visual and physical theatre with a playful but rigorous approach to text in order to create genuinely spontaneous and universally accessible experiences for their audiences.
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