Having a Grammy Award winner write the music for your latest production would be the ultimate dream of most theatre companies but for Neath’s Theatr Na Nóg it’s a reality.
Wales-based Amy Wadge, who co-wrote Ed Sheeran’s international hit Thinking Out Loud, has penned the score for the company’s new country music play Eye of the Storm, which is being performed at Swansea’s Dylan Thomas Theatre until 3 November for schools and will have a public run at the city’s Taliesin Arts Centre from 7 to 10 November.
Conceived and written by Theatr Na Nóg’s highly experienced Artistic Director Geinor Styles and starring three actors fresh from West End show The Commitments, the musical play tells the story of 14-year-old Emmie who must decide between pursuing her passion for science and fascination with tornadoes and being the sole carer for her mother.
The action takes place in around the caravan, on a site in the valleys, that is home to Emmie and her mother. We’re first introduced to the teenager, ably played by a youthful 23-year-old Rosey Cale, while she’s watching a storm report from America live on her laptop.
In the first song, Alive, we find out exactly how Emmie feels about her life: “when clouds fill the sky and the rain falls on you … I won’t mind, at least I’ll feel alive”. The music is supplied by the other actor-musicians, at the side of the stage, and a couple of them play the roles of the US TV weather presenters as well, so that the audience can see what Emmie is watching.
The production team has done a creative job on the visual and sound effects throughout, especially portraying the storms. The simple set changes were carried out seamlessly too. It all works together really well.
We learn that Emmie has several obstacles in her way to achieving her dream of winning a bursary to study extreme weather at a university in the US: an unwell mother who tries emotionally blackmail her into staying, an older half-sister who won’t help out, difficult living conditions, not getting her schoolwork in on time. What makes the play so engaging is that the relationship between Emmie and the other characters, with their ups and downs, is totally believable.
For me, the highlights of the production were the (untitled) song sung by Lloyd (played by Huw Blainey), Emmie’s classmate and suitor; the thigh-slapping country anthem If you’re gonna win sung by Emmie; and the cameo appearance by Canadian scientist Louis Michaud. I also particularly liked the local references, such as the mention of Lyn Evans (the Welsh scientist behind CERN’s Large Hadron Collider). Given the play’s serious subject matter, there were plenty of comic moments too.
Needless to say, all comes good in the end – just not in the way Emmie was originally hoping. The play achieved its goal in showing that girls and those from disadvantaged backgrounds can pursue a career in science if they have the ability – we see Emmie coding and working on a project for renewable energy. It’s not surprising that it’s been shortlisted for the Kevin Spacey Foundation Artists of Choice for 2017.
Although Eye of the Storm is aimed at Key Stage 2 and 3 school kids, there’s plenty to entertain adults too thanks to an emotional and uplifting story, a multi-talented Welsh cast and a toe-tapping, top-notch soundtrack. It’s worth an hour and 15 minutes of anyone’s time.
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