The current foray from Avant Cymru into the chaos of the Fringe is a celebration of working-class Wales. Blue Scar takes place in the Rhondda, where a trio of kids look for adventure in the mountains they grew up amidst. Using hip hop and breakdance, three performers turn that exploration and play into dance routines, aided by a soundtrack from local Welsh musicians; and built into these dance performances is the story of two siblings trying to move on after the death of their father. Blue Scar was performed back in July, on the back of a part-funded Research and Development grant from Arts Council Wales. Its first performance in Edinburgh was less than a month later and, on the evidence of what they’ve produced, that was a mistake. It’s a show that tries to juggle too many different theatrical devices into its short running time, only to fumble each of them.
That first fumble comes immediately when the audience are shown a poorly produced short video setting up the story and introducing the characters. The acting is not of a good standard, and would not feel out of place in an episode of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (with all the irony taken out), and that continues throughout the show. Rachel Pedley is the strongest actor of the three but she’s also the weakest hip hop dancer. Jamie Berry and Tommy Boost are good dancers but show little aptitude for acting, even as far as not being able to bring out their characters during the dance sequences. Yes, the argument could be that this is a dance piece for children and not a dramatic play but, with the limitations of the performers involved, perhaps there shouldn’t have been so much demand for acting in the first place. Surprisingly, though, even the dancing isn’t at a high standard. Other than some brief flashes from Boost it feels very safe, with no big set-piece to wow the audience.
The acting sequences appear in the form of animated video clips, also created by local Welsh artists, but they’re not effective enough. The clips are crudely designed, with the actors all in blue silhouette in front of a red brick wall. By not being able to see any faces or bodies properly, the audience have to rely on dialogue and overly obvious physical gestures to stay on track. The biggest missed opportunity is that, in a play purporting to capture the proud past of the Welsh valleys, the Welsh valleys aren’t ever shown (neither is Wales, for that matter). Even just still images of the mountains and surrounding areas would have been useful, for both visual and emotional resonance, but we get none of that.
Blue Scar’s only consolation is the amount of Welsh talent involved in its creation. Performers, musicians and designers are just some of the local talent used, something the company should be rightfully applauded for. Unfortunately, it just isn’t enough. Avant Cymru describes itself as a forward-thinking theatre company but, creatively, this is a huge step back. It’s a show in need of significantly more development, not a show that runs for an entire month at the biggest arts festival in the world.
Blue Scar is on at the Fringe until August 27th.