David Cottis reviews Milky Peaks from Theatr Clwyd, a musical recounting the antics of a community thrown into disarray by a nomination for “Britain’s Best Town”.
It takes nerve, in a gay-themed musical, to close the first half with a number suggesting that the community lost something important when it turned legal. Similarly, it’s rare for a show in Wales to raise the issue of the overwhelming whiteness of Welsh nationalism. The achievement of Milky Peaks, the latest show written, composed by, and starring Seiriol Davies, the twenty-first century’s post-modern Ivor Novello, is that is does both of these things while still finding times for songs, Shakespearean references, and jokes about dogging and glory-holes.
The title gives you the idea, combining echoes of both Dylan Thomas and David Lynch with a reference to whiteness and a boob gag. Milky Peaks, we discover, is a pebble-dashed village in Snowdonia. Like Twin Peaks and Llareggub, it’s inhabited largely by misfits and obsessives, notably Dewi (played by Davies himself) who comes out in the first act, but realises that nobody cares, and faded drag (on) queen Pariah Carey (Punchdrunk’s Matthew Blake), drowning her sorrows in absinthe, self-pity and a radical production of My Fair Lady.
On the way, we have a competition to find Britain’s Best Town that turns out to be a front for a white supremacist plot, an unscrupulous businessman building a club on the site of a nature reserve, and a semi-serious meditation on the gay and Welsh communities’ twin obsessions with identity, and the uncomfortable company this can put them both in. Davies happily jokes with narrative itself – students of screenwriting will be made very happy by the appearance of an actual Big Red Button – and even includes a gag at the expense of the monoglots in the Clwyd audience, as a beautiful Welsh ballad (performed by 9Bach lead singer Lisa Jên Brown as Dewi’s mam) turns out to have virulently anti-English lyrics.
The cast of five stay on-stage throughout, chorus-style (‘To begin at the starting bit…’), and switch roles with cheerful disregard for gender or ethnicity. Even the accompanist Dylan Townley gets into the act, taking a (literally) supporting role as a pair of talking toilet walls – ‘Why do you assume I know Stonewall just because we’re both walls? That’s a bit racist!’
That last joke is very typical, referencing gay history, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a line from Avenue Q within two sentences. Davies borrows from and alludes to other works like a magpie with kleptomania – as well as Dream, we get quotes from Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and Macbeth (‘By the thumbing of my pricks…’), while the costumes alone include references to Starlight Express, Blade Runner, Mad Max, Leigh Bowery, Alice Cooper, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Bjork (and I’m fairly sure I’ve missed a couple). The effect is heady, like eating a whole box of chocolates in one go – if your attention slips for a minute, you’re likely to miss three jokes, a plot development, and a choreographic reference to the ‘Like a Prayer’ video.
Given this abundance, it’s inevitable that not everything works – a sub-plot about an arts centre director with a murky past is less developed than the rest of the story, and a dragon ex machina ending is a cop-out – but these are minor points. Milky Peaks is a show stuffed with delights and if it’s sometimes too much to digest, that’s a small quibble after the starvation of the last couple of years.
Milky Peaks is on tour until 22nd April – tickets available here.