Tuesday, 28 March 2017

REVIEW: The Eisteddfod at Etcetera Theatre

In Welsh, the 'eisteddfod' is a festival of literature, music and performance, with a tradition dating back to the 12th century. As a title of Lally Katz's play, this is linked­ to the annual competition that the two characters – Abalone (Heath Ivey-Law) and Gerture (Leila Ruban) – aim to win with their performance of Macbeth. The two siblings – who have been left orphaned after a tree pruning incident – spend their days isolated and absorbed in games of pretend, where they embody their deceased parents or a young couple of lovers. With time, though, Gerture starts losing interest in their shared parallel world and Abalone becomes increasingly jealous of her need for privacy. Their relationship is at best toxic and at worst a disturbing incestuous courtship.

Despite the underlying presence of the highest theatrical tradition – with interwoven references to Chekhov's Three Sisters, Kane's Blasted, Ionesco's The Chairs, Pinter's The Lovers and Shakespeare's tragedies Macbeth and Hamlet - The Eisteddfod appears devoid of meaning and quite hard to frame. During what has been one of the longest hours of my life, I've unsuccessfully tried to find explanations for a number of issues, which affected every value of this production.

In the programme, director and producer Liz Arday, aptly refers to the show as being 'full of cultural tropes and quirks and awkwardness'and further 'about the mundane pointlessness of it all' and, in fact, awkward and pointless are exactly the terms which better describe it. From the actors that are wearing only their underwear (except in a few scenes), to the insistent and cringe-worthy sexual images, most of the directorial choices seem unnecessary. This is combined with a script that lacks a proper character development – overshadowing entirely the acting skills of both performers – and a makeshift design that results in odd lighting streaks and an unpleasant videogame-like soundtrack. Little help is offered by the playwright's own voice recordings, which – choosing to tell rather than show – denote, from the beginning, an undercooked play that feels the urge to explain itself.

As a reviewer, I have great respect for the hard work that goes behind a low-
budget production but, equally, I feel the duty to reward those who create something exceptional despite the limited resources and this is not the case. Perhaps a weak knowledge of its theatrical genre prevented me from understanding the hidden meaning of this piece but, as a simple audience member, I can't think of a good reason to go and see it, except after a few pints in the pub beneath the theatre, when inclined to laugh for something wholeheartedly awkward.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★
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