National Theatre Wales
My name is… Dylan
My age is… 30
I live in… Cardiff
But I’m originally from… Mid Wales
‘That’s not very specific,’ says NTW producer Lucy Davies, standing nearby. I tell her the name of the hamlet where I’m from. She’s never heard of it; not many people have. She takes a felt tip pen and writes Pennorth on my sticker; an extra piece of information, an additional talking point. ‘Where’s that?’ she says. I smile. ‘Mid Wales… near Llangorse Lake.’ It’s this phrase ‘But I’m originally from…’ that gets people talking. Name, age, place of residence retain the coldness of fact; it’s the contentious nature of words like ‘originally’ and ‘from’ that break the ice, opening up autobiographical worm cans and plugging straight into the narrative of ‘The Beach’.
Prestatyn is a dead seaside town. It is dominated by self-interested ‘curtain twitchers’, or, as the stickers on the back of their cagoules would have it ‘P.R.A.T.S. Prestatyn Residents Against Twenty-Somethings.’ These people have forced out ‘the missing generation’. There is nothing keeping young people in the town. All the creative talent is drained away and the town becomes more and more stagnant.
This information is relayed to us by our hosts for the evening, a double act called Charlie (Mathew Lloyd) and TJ (Michael Humphreys). Charlie is from Prestatyn, but was forced out by the curtain twitchers. He went to dance school in Moscow where he had an accident that has provided him with £100,000 compensation. He wants to spend the money on something that will bring ‘the missing generation’ – people like himself – back to Prestatyn. TJ is his amiable sidekick, hails from Merthyr
Tydfil, and offers light relief from the often frantic anger that motivates Charlie.
These central characters, and the narrative they provide, are absolutely vital to the production of a piece that is essentially a series of team games on a beach. In our – randomly selected - teams of six we enjoy a series of challenges that engage us in an interactive experience whose outcomes genuinely depend on the audience, but it is the conviction of the two lead actors that make this a
truly immersive piece of theatre.
As we milk Daisy the cow and fill milkshake glasses to the brim without spilling any on the coconut mats, play Pictionary-cum-charades through the medium of kazoos, fill an fishtank using buckets with holes in and transport families of cardboard cut-outs via miniature cable cars, Charlie and TJ are there to support us, playing on the ‘us and them’ situation created by the ever-present menace of the curtain twitchers, looking to steal our ‘elements’.
The ‘elements’ are our rewards for competing in the various games (two for a win, one – if you’re lucky – if you lose). At the end of the event, these elements are transported back via the trolleys we have had to wheel around the seafront to the billboards that have been erected on the beach, each depicting an under-utilised facility in the town. Our mission is to produce a credible concept for bringing the missing generation back to Prestatyn, using the elements we have collected to illustrate our idea. My group ended up creating a MarioKart theme park, where visitors had to reach a castle by various means of transport, thereby perfectly vindicating director Catherine Paskell’s desire to
target this piece at ‘the PlayStation generation’.
But the end of the night is not ‘Game Over’. ‘The Beach’ finishes on a note of real possibilities. This is the dual project here. Despite the overt simplicity of the game’s narrative, the ‘missing generation’ are lost to theatre as well as to Prestatyn. The target audience are exactly the kind of people in the majority on the night I attended, declared on their introductory stickers as twenty (and thirty) somethings who live in cities but hail from small towns all over the country, who don’t mind looking a bit silly in straw hats with colour coded ties and who don’t mind a night at the theatre which involves getting wet and going home with sand in your socks.
It is testament to the success of the production that by the time we leave the windy seafront behind, having written a message in the sand to our own hometown (Mine? ‘Keep On Farming’) we are not only using the language of the piece, but our heads are buzzing with ideas about how our own hometowns could win back people like ourselves. Pretty thought provoking, for a game.
The Beach, National Theatre Wales’s collaborative production with Hide and Seek, creators of pervasive gaming experiences, transforms a stretch of North Wales coastline almost beyond recognition. The seafront scattered with run-down holiday parks and neon flashing music blaring amusement arcades becomes a giant playground for adults and children alike, with not a single slot machine in sight.
This show, directed by Catherine Paskell, is as far removed from traditional sit down and shut up theatre as possible. In fact, deciding if the production is a piece of theatre is a big challenge in itself. There is no stage, no strong narrative thread, two characters mingle and interact freely with the audience and the show is spent playing silly games in silly hats. Is this merely a large scale team building exercise? Or is it a fresh approach to theatre which reaches out and grabs its audience with both hands?
The production’s use of the audience is a seismic shift from the mindset that an audience should look, listen, and leave quietly. On the beach the audience has no choice but to actively participate in all aspects of the show. However the audience’s role in the production is much more than as mere participants, as the audience continually shapes, changes and influences the show as it makes decisions, develops its own ideas and acts upon them. Without an audience there would be no show.
From the very beginning the audience is immersed in the production as the motley crew of individuals on the beach is divided into six teams with a shared goal. That goal is to help Charlie (Mathew Lloyd) and TJ (Michael Humphreys) to bring the Missing Generation, twenty-somethings who have left to find work and better prospects, back to Prestatyn. This is no mean feat due to the persistent harassment, bullying and awkwardness of the Curtain Twitchers: the cold-hearted conservative people of the town who refuse to let young people camp on the campsite, drink coffee in the cafes or any activity that might include an ounce of enjoyment.
Following the “Curtain Twitchers” theft of the “elements” (pictures representing items that could be used to lure back the Missing Generation) each team is thrown down the gauntlet of completing a series of strange and surreal games as the only method of reclaiming the “elements”.
The games test the audience’s physical, musical, dancing, acting, logistical and communicating abilities, as well as its willingness to get wet and wind-swept in the process. The team starts by endeavouring to transport cardboard cut-out adults, children and dogs, on a miniature cable car. This game was devised by a bitter, tortured (self-appointed) genius with an appetite for endless rules and regulations.
Then the team is sent to contend with a crazed mobile aquarium owner who challenges the participants to fill his fish tanks with water from two paddling pools using a random selection of items including a wellington boot, a colander, a gravy boat and a funnel. This was followed by a hostile encounter with a woman who forces the team to participate in a game of kazoo charades.
Each team returns with its hoard of “elements” to create the ultimate plan to entice the Missing Generation back to Prestatyn. All the ideas are pitched to the Curtain Twitchers who must choose their favourite (or should that be least hated). The winners are declared, the games come to an end, and the teams disperse leaving the tide to come in on the beach.
The production’s ability to convince grown men and women to partake in often ridiculous games is down to the success of our interaction and rapport with our enthusiastic and charming guides for the evening Charlie and TJ. Their energy is the driving force of the show, giving what could have been a rather uncomfortable, even slightly embarrassing evening of childish games, a real sense of character, and an over-arching purpose.
Far from being merely a series of albeit enjoyable games, this production continues National Theatre Wales’s year long attempt to push the boundaries of what is possible in the theatre in Wales. Having already unearthed a lost gem by John Osborne and created a most beautiful guided tour of Barmouth, the company has, with this show, challenged assumptions about the very nature and definition of theatre.
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