Fringe Theatre has arrived in Cardiff!!! Yay!!
As their website tells you, this festival, which ran for 5 days from June 20th – 25th, is following in the footsteps of the Brighton, London and Edinburgh fringes. This in itself should give a hint of what to expect – experimental theatre, alternative venues and fresh new faces. My first experience of the festival had all of the above.
Big Loop Theatre Company is a group of young theatre makers comprising of actors, directors and writers. Their inaugural production takes the form of story of Moirai. The term comes from Greek mythology meaning destiny and may be more familiar to audiences as ‘The Three Fates’: the spinner; the measurer; and the cutter. Visitors to Castell Coch, in Tongwynlais, Cardiff may well have noticed three figures above the fire-place in the main drawing room. The statues are seen fulfilling their fates, spinning, measuring and cutting the thread of life. This concept was taken by the company and turned into a finely wrought script and performance.
The venue, in the basement of Jacob’s Market, lends itself to the existential qualities of the story and text. Performing against a white wall framed by steel girders, the actors wear grey, almost futuristic, clothes. This gives a bleak purgatorial feel to the piece – but there is the sense that there had been nothing before or there will be nothing after for the characters onstage. The text is extremely well thought out and seemed to be shaped around the silences of the pieces – it had a musical quality. It was dissonant like a Debussy opera, jarring in its narrative style.
The three players, Alice Downing (the spinner), Ellen Thomas (the measurer) and Megan Swingler (the cutter) were all excellent on the night being largely symbiotic with one another. Ellen Thomas served a strong anchor of the piece – her character controls everything – she played this to a tea. Megan Swingler’s role provides the humanity, and it is played with a beautiful tenderness. But it is Allie Downing that impresses in particular – it is hard to take your eyes off her. She reacted to everything with an almost animalistic instinct – every breath of wind in the space, between her and the other players, was nearly visible, such was her presence in every moment.
Director Duncan Hallis and his team have given great thought to the many disparate relationships between body, text and space. If I were to give one overall note it would be to be braver in pushing the inherent strangeness of the world they are presenting. It can happen with existentialism on stage when it becomes hard to resist imposing a social realism either through emotion or physicality. Audiences can be trusted a little more to ‘get the metaphor’ – they at the theatre after all; it’s all one big metaphor. Basically ‘get weird’ with the physicality! An extremely enjoyable piece that has that wonderful fringe vibe to it. I’d watch out for these guys in the future.
A note on the festival itself: a feeling I have gotten from a few sources is that they did not hear about the festival until very late in the run. While they do have a presence on social media, perhaps they have not had a lot of press attention. This is something I urge organizers, and already impressed audiences, to work on for next year. Get the word out!!! I reckon this could have a very bright future – Cardiff is crying out for such a festival and it would be a shame for wonderful little pieces like this to slip under potential audiences’ radar.
This production, and indeed festival, could be the start of something really great.