Welcome back to Wales Arts Review’s new series, ’10 in 10′, exploring key cultural moments in contemporary Wales. Today, we take a look at 10 of the most memorable National Theatre Wales performances.
Tide Whisperer – 2018
Tide Whisperer brought the issues of displacement and migration to the shores of Tenby, in a series of stories written by poet and playwright Louise Wallwein MBE. An immersive experience which was broadcast live on NTW’s social media channels, Tide Whisperer was an opportunity to bring a global crisis into an exploration of life within a Welsh community and what “home” really means to us. You can read our review of Tide Whisperer here.
City of the Unexpected – 2016
Perhaps the most surreal production on this list, City of the Unexpected, offered a full-blown celebration of the work of Roald Dahl, brought to life by an array of colourful characters across the centre of Cardiff. On an unusually mild weekend in September, thousands gathered around Cardiff Castle to watch Mr Fox attempt to evade ‘Pest Control’, and to witness the arrival of a giant peach which had just been discovered in the city. As events unfolded, scenes played out to the backdrop of an original musical score, with Direction from Nigel Jamieson. The weekend culminated in a mass pyjama party in Bute Park, where Mr Fox finally made his escape.
The Passion – 2011
The Passion has become one of the flagship productions for NTW and gained an enormous following after Michael Sheen was cast in the role of The Teacher. A modern day passion play, the drama took place across the streets of Port Talbot, charting the journey towards crucifixion and resurrection. The production included a host of professional actors, alongside local residents and played out in real time across a 72 hour period. The Passion, written by Owen Sheers, was later incorporated into a number associated works, including Sheers’ 2012 The Gospel of Us, which reimagined the play as a work of fiction.
The NHS70 series – 2018
The NHS70 series marked 70 years of the NHS with a series of one-person plays which took place in a range of venues across Wales. The series featured new writing from Welsh playwrights, including Elis James and Roy Williams, and sought to both celebrate the work of the NHS, as well as exploring the challenges faced to date in its turbulent history.
Bordergame – 2014
Billed as an “experiment”, Bordergame tested the boundaries of performance with a simultaneous live and online performance where a real world audience were asked to attempt an escape across the border from England to Wales. The action took place in an imagined future where the countries had been separated and an online audience were invited to patrol the border using surveillance technology, influencing the events faced by the real world audience by taking part in votes about the potential outcomes. While the exercise may have been intended to be fun, it provided a poignant opportunity for further discussion around the topics of political and geographical borders, and the question of how we regard immigration.
On Bear Ridge – 2019
On Bear Ridge marked a change in direction for NTW. A cast led by Rhys Ifans, Rakie Ayola and Jason Hughes presented Ed Thomas’ play about a village whose borders have been redrawn, shaking its identity as a town, as well as the identity of its residents. Ifans and Ayola played the owners of a now-deserted local butchers and grocery store, left to reminisce about the past and the erosion of the language which once defined their community.
You can read Gary Raymond’s review of On Bear Ridge here.
We’re Still Here – 2017
This dynamic piece of site-specific theatre saw NTW return to Port Talbot, this time with a focus on the threatened steel industry in the area. As part of the production, three films were produced by Ffilm Cymru, who worked with members of the local community, including groups such as Tai Tarian Housing Association, DEWIS Housing and Neath Port Talbot College, providing an opportunity to learn practical filmmaking skills and to share their stories through poetry, theatre and film. Produced in collaboration with Commonwealth Theatre, We’re Still Here featured a script written by Rachel Trezise and included local steelworkers and their family as part of the cast.
Coriolan/us – 2012
Shakespeare met Brecht in this immersive production back in 2012. In an abandoned aircraft hanger in the Vale of Glamorgan, NTW created an experimental mash-up of Shakespeare’s play and Brecht’s unfinished version of it. The audience were asked to wear headsets throughout and the action was screened on large projectors in the warehouse, creating a tense atmosphere and an unusually heightened focus on the language and the strained relationship between Coriolanus and wife, Vergilia.
Petula – 2022
A surreal, intergalactic adventure, Petula was the joint work of National Theatre Wales and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, which took audiences on a whirlwind trip into an alternative world. Played out in three languages (Welsh, English and French), Petula marked NTW’s return to the live stage after the Covid-19 pandemic, with teenager Pwdin’s mission to space in search of his missing cousin.
You can read Zoe Kramer’s review of Petula here.
The Dark Philosophers – 2013
Reviewing The Dark Philosophers in 2013, Dylan Moore described it as a “fitting celebration” of the iconic Welsh writer, Gwyn Thomas. A small, but intense, cast maintained the pace in this lively production which drew together some of Thomas’s short stories, alongside a biographical re-telling of his own life. Packed with colourful characters, The Dark Philosophers also featured a set created by Angela Davies, which used an array of furniture, including wardrobes and drawer units, to depict the houses which formed the backdrop to this surprisingly witty staging of Thomas’s life and work.