NTW Grand Opening of Year Two : The Village Social
The Village Social
Neath Little Theatre
As we enter “the dark half of the year” NTW invite all sorts of ghosts, ghouls and mythological beasts onto the stage in the first production of their new season.
In a small town hall, in the fictional village of Cae Bach the local town committee try to run the annual Autumn Social. The theme this year is “Autumn Glamour”, resulting in the tragic gold foil decorations proudly hung among tapestries and murals with the town’s name proudly embroidered upon them.
From the moment the audience enter the front door they are part of the action, buying raffle tickets where first prize is rather odd and very gory. Invited in by foot stomping-ly good folk music that is later described as a passageway into other worlds, it is obvious that the night’s entertainment is going to be unforgettable.
The town committee, led by the brilliantly ‘David Brent’-esque Lawrence (Darren Lawrence), take to the stage to welcome us and apologise that tonight’s entertainment, spiritualist medium Madame Isis, is going to be late – her Sat-Nav has broken down and the spirits are not reliable guides. To keep things going super-keen local historian Lisa-Jên (Rebecca Harries) delights in telling the audience local myths and legends; including that of the stag god who with the original godly inhabitants of Wales danced and frolicked the night away until they were chased away to the underworld by human settlers. The stag’s antlers were trapped above ground and over time turned into a beautiful yew tree, that was until recently Cae Bach’s crowning glory, that is until it was mysteriously burned down.
This unsettling undercurrent of violence continued as Madame Isis eventually shows up, only to reveal each and every member of the committee’s secret desires and bad habits; beautiful blonde Yvonne (Carys Eleri) has the most terrible smelling wind, her husband Dave (Oliver Wood) longs to dress up as a woman. Soon a pattern emerges and it is clear to see that the members of the committee each relate to one of the five myths told earlier. After a disagreement with the townsfolk Madame Isis disappears in true panto style in a puff of smoke, but not before she curses the town, saying the gods want Cae Bach back!
Descending into further madness and hilarious chaos, health and safety conscious Jean (Sue Rodrick) declares she is feeling funny – she grabs and brandishes a spear from the stage decorations and leaves the social, only to return with the dismembered head of next door’s dog proudly worn as a hat. This theme continues with each committee member being transformed with riotously funny results; Yvonne comes back as the stinky, sack wearing monk, Papa Begw; Dave shows up in a tutu and dances just like Little Missy who danced herself to death (or according to some beautifully non-politically correct historians Little Missy was actually an epileptic boy); and in an almost pornographic and highly amusing moment Lawerence and Lisa-Jên are revealed as secret lovers!
Unfortunately after all the hilarious and gruesome antics of the night, the production takes a sharp and jarring u-turn to become overly serious, Lawrence’s son Dion (Gwydion Rhys, who also had the stand out performance of the night as Madame Isis) tells us of his ill-fated mother and the evening ends in tragedy. In a weird way I hardly questioned the odd transformations and surreal goings on, yet when a brutal moral tale was force fed to the audience I was left a little confused. The rushed ending left me slightly disappointed; it didn’t fit in the otherwise brilliant production.
NTW gave every person in the hall a brilliant -if rather odd- night out, everyone laughed until their faces hurt, the memorable musical numbers will be hummed for days on end. On the night I attended it was a sell out, with the audience ranging from nosy old women to curious youngsters, and even if not every one of them understood the production in its entirety I truly believe each of them enjoyed it. Yet somehow it felt as if the production was just a warm-up for what’s to come. Having said that, if this is a harbinger of the year ahead it looks like NTW are going to blow last year’s productions out of the water and continue to bring new, exciting theatre to Wales.
Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard
Runs until 12th November at a number of venues
For venue specific booking information please visit: http://nationaltheatrewales.org/whatson/performance/ntw15#bookinginformation
For really great photos of the production : http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationaltheatrewales/sets/72157627958153740/
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