Theatr Na nOg
The Muni Arts Centre, Pontypridd
In 2010 Welsh icon Sir Tom Jones released an album that was unlike anything he had ever released before. Praise & Blame is an album featuring songs that fuse gospel and rock and roll, songs that reveal the gritty, natural voice of Ponty’s own Tommy Woodward. These tones hark back to the early days of Tom Scott and the Senators playing numerous gigs around Wales in the fifties. The album is a far cry from the song that made him famous, ‘It’s Not Unusual’, the song that was originally written for female 60’s pop singer Sandie Shaw. Managers took a massive gamble on giving the song to Tom after he recorded it as demo for Shaw in ’65. Needless to say the gamble paid off.
Theatr Na nOg has brought this tale to the stage in their production The Story of Tom, a show that explores the beginnings of a superstar. From a basement flat in Pontypridd to a grotty basement flat in London, we see Tom, his band and their manager struggle to impress music executives in the Big Smoke. Allegedly they were ‘too old, too loud and too Welsh’. Kit Orton takes the lead role as Tom, at times rivaling the star’s vocal talent. Orton gives a sensational performance and strays away from the over-exaggerated husky Tom impression. His wife Melinda is played by successful television star Elin Phillips, who is the perfect partner onstage; Orton and Phillips’ chemistry is natural and believable. The band was a solid ensemble, bouncing off each other with ease and providing inherent comedy.
The performance combines Mike James’ punchy dialogue with the electrifying live music. The use of a narrator, however, was completely unnecessary; the story should have been subtly revealed through dialogue, as it sometimes was; but often after the narrator had already provided the background. Despite this, the production flowed well and credit is due for the skilful direction and effective scene changing, of what could have merely been a jumble of passages from Tom’s life.
The show was undoubtedly a feel–good production which will thrill audiences of Tom fans. It must be said however, that this production is more than that; what Theatr Na nOg have managed to produce is a very well executed show with impressive performances and brilliant live music.