Feral Monster, National Theatre Wales, Sherman, Cardiff

February 21, 2024 by

I confess I was slightly dreading Feral Monster from National Theatre Wales with themes that have been hijacked by big theatre producers and movies, dusty academic writing and agit prop awfulness. So, it was a real joy to watch an hour and a half of no-nonsense, realistic, humorous, and poignant in equal measure, storytelling.

That was due to three things, elegant and honest writing from Bethan Marlow, entertaining and true to life movement including dance choreography from movement director Osian Meilir, and performances that were uniformly accomplished.

I do not know how much it was down to the excellent writing by Bethan Marlow or that along with the fact that it was created by an all LGBTQIA+ creative team, and developed with collaboration with teenagers across Wales, including students at Pupil Referral Units in Pembrokeshire and the LGBTQIA+ youth club of GISDA, a young people’s support charity in Gwynedd.

Clearly, all these components contributed to this piece of live theatre that was, rarely, genuinely entertaining, and didactic.
Yes, the story is framed in an LGBTQIA+ storyline and this is all handled extremely well, with a neat balance of young people obsessed with ironically restricting labels and sociology riddled concepts of identity with should we say real people who find them all stifling, baffling and utterly unhelpful. However, the other issues that the cast deal with are universal, damaged families, self-harm, knife culture, suicide, alcoholism, deprived communities, lack of prospects and ambition, drugs, isolation, peer pressure – which can be made even worse by sexual orientation and gender identity but are not unique to this.


Carys Eleri, Rebecca Hayes and Geraint Rhys Edwards


Leila Navibi


Nathanial Leacock, Rebecca Hayes and Geraint Rhys Edwards


The plot revolves around Jax, described by some of her family as a tomboy and who is attracted to a girl but who is not comfortable with being labelled, particularly under pressure from her girlfriend. Jax has a group of friends who also are coming to terms, or not, with their own sexual and emotional urges and the consequences of exploring them, or not.
There is a mixture of sung and spoken monologues telling the story and very effective outpourings of what is going on inside the characters’ swirling, whirling, thoughts, and emotions kaleidoscopic brains. I didn’t quite get the fact they are meant to be in a rural setting.

As Jax tells us, this is not a conventionally it will all end nicely sort of show, unlike that Jamie outing.

The music is an instantly engaging mixture of genres, soul, pop, grime, R&B, soul, and lots of rap, composed by Nicola T. Chang, performed live on stage by sound artists and performer Alex Comana. As with lots of live performance, there are times it is difficult to make out every lyric but that is a very small issue. It also has a little Welsh which my non-Welsh speaking partner could not understand but he got the gist of it.

Rebecca Hayes is clearly a powerful performer as Jax, able to create a sympathetic character who is neither a victim drowned in pathos nor a trail blazing antihero. Rather, the character is just portrayed as real. Similarly, Lily Beau is excellent as Ffion, full of glib self-confidence and spouting happy-clappy platitudes of gender and identity and freedom but when confronted with reality as insecure and needy as the others scrambling their way around. The class element and Ffion’s own back story were a little underplayed such as why she was so determined to keep her parents out of view. Whether it was intentional to portray Carys Eleri as Jax’s Nan as what seemed to me quite a young woman was not clear to me but she is a perfectly down to earth, no nonsense and totally loving carer for Jax. She was also full of fun.

Directed by Izzy Rabey, there was also sympathy rather than man hating bile for Jax’s alcoholic father played nicely by Geraint Rhys Edwards who also took other roles such a some of the gang of mates. I didn’t really like the drag portrayal of the chippy owner, which was too much just for laughs, but then I am old school in being troubled by men portraying ridiculous, stereotypical female characters.

Making up the rest of the gang were Leila Navibi as possibly the most difficult and troubled character Cuz and Nathanial Leacock as Sam who was just painfully aware of his virginity which leads to one of the teenage trauma storylines.

Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, until Saturday 24 February.

Touring: Aberystwyth Arts Centre from Thursday 29 February to Friday 1 March; Pontio, Bangor, Wednesday 6 and Thursday 7 March; Y Ffwrnes, Llanelli, Wed 13 March; Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon, Thursday 21, and Friday 22 March.

More information https://www.nationaltheatrewales.org/events/feral-monster

Images by Kristina Banholzer

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