Back in Play Review

Sheman Theatre, Cardiff – 11 October 2021

Reviewed by Rhys Payne


It was heavily publicised during the most recent lockdowns that one of the industries that were most affected by the stay at home restrictions were the theatre industry. Actors, stage crew, box office personal (among others) were all out of work with no guaranteed return date. This lasted for just over two years and I can’t imagine how tough it must have been for people who have worked for years to get into the industry to not be able to actually work. Luckily, theatre in Wales has just begun reopening which is why the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff have decided to organise a mini-festival that showcase Welsh creativity but also the possible future theatre we may see. Their Back In Play series (which runs from the 8th to the 30th October) is a way of the theatre celebrating the return of live audience into their premise. They selected four, very distinctive welsh theatre creatives to write a short thirty-minute piece that was inspired by a classic play or book. I was able to watch the first two of these unique performances which both focused mostly of Shakespeare and bringing his work into the twenty-first century.

Hamlet is a F&£$boi

I have to admit that when I first heard the title “Hamlet is a F&£$boi” I instantly cringed. For those who are not familiar with this phrase ‘F&£$boi,’ defines it as someone who is “self-absorbed, does stupid things, and f**ks with others’ emotions” usually with no respect for women or potential lovers. With all this in mind, I anticipated an extremely cringy retelling of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ where the titular character was an over-the-top, caricature who wears a backwards cap with sagging jeans etc. Luckily this was not what was performed for which I am extremely thankful for! The story however follows the narrator as they discuss their unsuccessful partner searching and after a booze-filled night decides to revisit some of Shakespeare most famous male characters. She opens up an anthology of all Shakespeare’s (which fun fact I also own) and is suddenly greeted by a spirit called Gemma. Gemma introduces the narrator to a series of the male suitors in Shakespeare’s work that the narrator used to have a crush on when they were younger and highlights the dangers of falling in love with fictional characters. Firstly they meet Paris from Romeo and Juliet who turns out to be too passionate and loving which causes a lot of uncomfortableness and frustration from the narrator. Then they encounter Hamilton who is famously known for his disrespect towards women and this is where the label ‘f&£$ boi’ is bestowed to him during the story. Finally, they met John Proctor from The Crucible who seems like the perfect guy but after a while becomes too controlling and reinforces the classic idea of a women’s role which we in the twenty-first century no longer agree with!

From my very limited experience, writing and performing original pieces of work is extremely difficult. Being able to flip between writer and performer mindset was very difficult but I had a team of actors working alongside me so they were able to take on some of the pressure. I can only imagine the stress that Lowri Jenkins was under during this performance as not only did she write and perform it herself, but it was a one-person play. This meant that she, and she alone, had to keep the audience entertained throughout the whole performance which is difficult on its own at the best of times however this did not seem to phase Lowri at all! Her performance within this play was incredible as it flipped from critiques of modern dating, comedy, supernatural elements and self-love flawlessly. I was surprised initially when I entered the theatre as all the seats were sat around a table with three smaller stages across the centre of the room. This was a very unusual set-up for a play but it was used perfectly through this satirical play. Due to how imitate the audience was, Lowri was able to give eye contact to the majority of audience members which really helped to pull them into the centre of the story and helped everyone to be able to relate to her story. I do think that this is a play for a more mature audience due to the sexual references, strong language and the fact that it is built on the idea of crushes from classic literature that many young people may not be able to relate to. It also managed to cleverly integrate classic Shakespearean quotes (which I personally would struggle to remember) which again showcased the tales of Lowri while also being a nice reference that the fans of classical literature would really enjoy!

Overall this is a very engaging and contemporary play that was influenced by some classic male characters that most people would know of. It goes from comedy to more heartfelt moments beautifully while keeping the audience engaged despite their only being one performer throughout the whole show. I would rate this original play 4 out of 5 stars and would recommend it to anyone who has ever said “I wish men in real life were like the men in my books!”

The Messenger

The Messenger written and performed by Seiriol Davies however was an almost complete contrast. I knew as soon as I spotted Seirol in his bejewelled monk’s outfit that we were in for an extremely camp time and that’s exactly what we were given. This play tells the story of a delivery boy who is tasked with delivering the letter to Romeo which outlined Juliet’s plan for a staged death. If you have read or seen ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by William Shakespeare before, you will know that the two-character tragically end their respective lives after thinking that the other was already dead. What I really enjoyed about this mini-musical performance was that it did in fact fill a gap in Shakespeare’s original story and stuck a lot more closely to the original source material. In this play, however, the messenger and Romeo have shared a brief romance so when the latter is tasked with delivering a letter that outlines the plan of Juliet’s fake death he has a change of heart and decides not to hand over the plan. Again this was another one-person show which means that praise needs to be given for Seirol to be able to keep the audience attention throughout the whole performance!

This show was extremely camp and gave off very drag Shakespeare (now there’s an idea for any drag performers out there!) which was very entertaining. There were points where the performer weaved through the audience, spoke to viewers and used every inch of the auditorium to create a unique theatre experience. As stated earlier this was a musical retelling so not only did Seiriol had to write and perform this show on his own but he also had to sing live. This really showcased their many talents with the lower sections in the vocals being the place in which they were most comfortable and sounded incredible! A highlight during this performance for me was the rendition of “What’s in a Name” which saw the performer sit down at a piano and play their own accompaniment which was amazing to watch. Seiriol appeared to put everything he had into this performance which made for a very powerful and emotional song.