There was something decidedly odd about the build-up to National Theatre Wales’ Assembly. Rumours flew around town claiming that somebody had coated Theatr Bycheiniog’s stage with real turf. Posts
on the NTW community website hinted that they’d be traditional Ghurkha dancing alongside hot-off-the-press scriptwriting and aerial performance, bringing Brecon’s artistic and cultural variety together. Indeed, in the spirit of Wales’ young national theatre, this was set to be a community event with a difference.
True to expectation, NTW kept us all on our toes throughout the evening. Bluntly refusing to let us go along with the recognisable conventions of theatre, they instead chose to generate a curious, if not a little puzzled, crowd. After meeting in the upstairs bar at the venue, we were shepherded through the labyrinthine network of the theatre’s backstage. The audience were then abandoned behind the backdrop for a few exciting minutes, relishing the expectation as the fabric finally lifted to reveal the spectacle from the other side.
The production took advantage of the kind of controlled atmosphere that only theatre provides, sculpting a surreal and magical world where actors dressed in animal masks pranced across real turf in a curiously imbalanced take on reality. Yet the conversation was something National Theatre Wales couldn’t control, and so the discussion swayed from issue to issue as different members of the community brought their own individual insights into the question, ‘What is Brecon guarding and protecting?'. The result was a night tailored to Brecon’s significant economic and cultural role in modern Britain.
A sister project to the company’s more publicised shows, the Assembly has rapidly built up a reputation for providing intimate and quirky community orientated events, with a focus on local talents and concerns. This was a night which innovatively and effectively fused community discussion with performance, resulting in delightful reminders of why Brecon is unique. Now, we can only hope that the ideas expressed in the Assembly are aired outside the artificial world of the theatre, and we can continue to be reminded that Brecon is indeed a town worth protecting.