Review: The Merthyr Stigmatist

An image of Carys, a sixteen year old schoolgirl played by Bethan MCLean, and Sian her teacher played by Bethan Mary James standing face to face in confrontation.

Photo by Mark Douet

Sherman Theatre (Online)

28/05/21

“Do you have any idea what that’s been like, Miss? To see my hands every Friday and think, I must exist.”

In Merthyr Tydfil, on a Friday afternoon, a teenager is in detention. But unlike the myriad other teenagers in Friday detention in other schools in other towns, Carys is in detention because she appears to have stigmata, the wounds of Christ. As Carys and Siân, her frustrated, cynical teacher, argue over Carys’ decision to share a video about her stigmata online, The Merthyr Stigmatist paints a picture of a community seeking a moment of divinity.

Lisa Parry’s deft two-hander, directed by Emma Callander, conjures a vivid sense of the town on stage, despite the only connections to the world outside the classroom being a laptop on a desk and the haunting strains of a local choir singing their support of Carys from the schoolyard. In Bethan-Mary James’ taut Siân, we see a woman who tried to escape and distance herself from a town that she felt stifled and trapped in, while Bethan McLean’s recalcitrant Carys presents a young woman who wants to find her freedom through making herself and her town visible and unforgettable. In less than an hour of tense, revealing dialogue, Parry poses pertinent questions about how towns like Merthyr Tydfil are treated by governments, and about the too-easy assumption that a young person has to leave their town to make something of themselves. Carys’ pride and frustration in her town challenges us to consider what changes can be made, and Siân’s experience describes the danger of ignoring that challenge.

Elin Steele’s stark set design, and Andy Pike’s lighting design combine to create moments of the sublime in the plain setting of a secondary school. As shafts of warm light stream through the windows onto the laptop where Carys’ video is garnering viral attention, it is as though they are falling through the stained glass of a church window, illuminating Merthyr’s young Messiah, “Carys Christ.”

Whether Carys’ stigmata are real or not, they deliver a vivid moment of possibility for her and her town. As she cries “I’ve just caused what might soon possibly be a global situation because you’ve stopped thinking a person like me is worth hearing,” McClean declares the crux of the play. Carys and her community don’t need another martyr like the town’s namesake, and they don’t need to escape, they need to be listened to and heard.

In its sharp balance of humour, pathos and cutting insight, The Merthyr Stigmatist crafts a striking and affecting celebration of the power and resilience of community.

The Merthyr Stigmatist is available to watch as a streamed performance from The Sherman Theatre until the 12th of June.

Lovecraft (Not The Sex Shop in Cardiff) – Review

Ffresh, Wales Millenium Centre

Cardiff

29/11/19

Lovecraft credit Kirsten McTernan (1)

Credit: Kirsten McTernan

Self-professed international love-monger, Carys Eleri, takes to the stage in Ffresh to introduce the audience to Lovecraft (Not the Sex Shop in Cardiff), her one-woman science comedy musical about the brilliant neurological nonsense that is love. In her hour on stage, Eleri takes a comprehensive, comic and considered look at the loneliness epidemic that is sneakily working its way through society, and at the importance of love in life to combat it.

Telling anecdotes of her past relationships (with the memorable characters, Eddie Pie-Hands and Bernie the Beautiful Shit) Eleri takes her audience on a journey through the chemical processes of falling in love, and reminds them of the importance of all sorts of love – romantic, platonic, familial. However, this is not just a science or sociology lecture. Throughout the show Eleri accents her point with howlingly funny stories and songs about rejection, jealousy, tinder, and cocaine-addicted mice among other topics. The musical numbers, produced by Branwen Munn, are welcome earworms that will stay in your mind and provide you with residual giggles well after you have left the theatre.

Not only are Eleri’s writing and performance excellent, the slideshow that accompanies her performance on screens at either side of the stage is the source of much hilarity. I know, a slideshow in a theatre show; it doesn’t sound like it will work, but with glitzy hormones and dancing rats, and a kaleidoscopic mammary montage, this is not your average PowerPoint presentation. Like the rest of this show, it is slightly mad, and yet catches the audience and draws out common experiences that make Eleri’s escapades easy for the audience to relate to.

From the moment she walks on stage, Eleri has the audience in the palm of her hand. Even I, an avowed avoider of audience interaction, was happy to join in the audience-wide cwtch (Welsh for cuddle), and sing-along songs. Lovecraft (Not the Sex Shop in Cardiff) is an open, frank show that draws its audience in with ease as Carys Eleri not only reminds the audience that life is short and best spent in the company of others, she gives the audience a chance to enjoy the reality of it as they share an evening of laughter, chocolate and music with each other.