Established in 2016, the Wales Millennium Centre’s Festival of Voice Cardiff is rapidly establishing itself as a vehicle for inventive and original artists. With a clear aim to highlight and celebrate the power and impact of voice, long linked with Welsh identity, the festival seeks to create community through an art form that links culture. Each festival is notably unique, using current trends, or cultural interests to inspire the programme. Thus, each festival offers an opportunity for both artists and audiences, in performing and experiencing something that is entirely of a specific moment. A moment that can be shared, but only for a brief time.
Lovecraft is one such show. One that is specific in its aims, and hopes to be innovative in its approach. Self-professed as a ‘one-woman-science-comedy-show’, it is brave in its conception. Created and performed by Carys Eleri, the show’s central conceit focuses on love and loneliness and their involved neuroscience. Partly autobiographical, Eleri, known for her work in Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon and with the National Theatre Wales, strives to fuse emotive experiences with wit and humour.
Such an approach, while not necessarily unusual, is one that helps to emotionally engage the audience, in turn ensuring that its message’s aim is true. Such a topic, in its universality, will always appeal, yet that is not to say that this topic is one that’s tired. Rather, its universality helps to create a communal audience viewing experience. There is something quite notable about being immersed in a show with fellow audience members who have all experienced something similar. A shared connection with strangers further highlights the importance of the show’s concept.
The show takes place in the WMC’s Ffresh restaurant, an initially innocuous choice, but one that is, in actuality, entirely fitting. The decision allows the audience to self-select seating, a task which invites an immediate informality, and personal environment. The lack of staid, or overly-posed props ensures that the audience is already introduced to, and readied for, a closer, and more relatable, experience.
It is this personable approach that is central to Eleri’s show and performance. Her entrance, which sees her weaving through the crowd before arriving onstage, is a clear signal to the audience that this show, and the writing, is one that is intended to engage, and emotionally connect. Indeed, it feels lacking to simply describe Eleri’s act as a ‘performance’ as while the onstage persona is clearly performative, it is one that is approachable and intimate. Early on in the hour-long running time, Eleri invites the audience to turn to the person next to them and give them a cwtch. Doing so, she informs her audience, will help to develop connections, releasing hormones that will heighten positive emotions.
It is an intelligent approach, mixing her own personal experience of love with facts and science, Eleri highlights the behaviour that many of us so easily adopt when in the first flushes of love. She explains that these responses can be readily explained through various brain functions, and signposts the audience to previous scientific experiments that highlight key aspects of behaviourism. Eleri freely admits that she is not a scientist, but rather, through her own desire to find a means to explain her behaviour and responses when in a relationship (such as continually returning to a destructive relationship dynamic), has read voraciously. Thus, each anecdote invites an eclectic musical performance, ranging from the heavy metal enjoyed in her first relationship, to ballads and pop. The songs, while not necessarily memorable, help to capture Eleri’s emotions at that moment and time, carrying the narrative’s trajectory forward and seamlessly transitioning to the next formative moment in her life.
While the approach, infusing humour that enthuses the audience may, to the casual observer feel rather superficial, Eleri’s aim is rather more insightful, and one that is reinforced at the end of the show. Loneliness is, as demonstrated by evidence, hugely damaging, and it is crucial then that, rather than falling prey to the ‘Disney’ dream, the focus should be on love and connection. This love does not have to be romantic, rather, any love that demonstrates clear support for others is vital and necessary in order for us to navigate our way through the various difficulties of life.
Lovecraft runs until June 16th.