When drippy countrywoman Mary Morris launches into a refusal to take Samuel Jenkins’ hand in marriage, her blunt attempts are thwarted as magical woodland creatures cause a surprising affirmative to burst forth from her mouth.
There are so many delicious interpretations we can make from this unwilling relinquishing of mastery, and the piece is opened up to both a literal and metaphysical reading. Do we ever control love? Are we all victims of fate? Does the supernatural bear any influence on our lives?
Skipping onto the stage with the cheery declaration that they are all storytellers, the cast of four implicitly promise to maintain the knowing artifice of the work. We humour them, and let them start their narrative, willing to see how the unravelling of the narrative allows the work to transcend the limits of fairytale.
However, this potential for multiple interpretations is certainly untapped as, just five minutes in, the mood shifts and the story is told with a straight and narrow sense of realism. Characters delve too deeply into analysis of metaphysical events and two-dimensional relationships are acted out in all their banality, severing any allegorical readings of the work.
With unbelievable characters and groan-worthy jokes, this story, with its by-the-fireplace form, doesn’t translate onto the stage. What remains is a flat, implausible narrative which suggests that the production could certainly benefit from the inclusion of a distant storyteller’s voice to pull away from realism and bestow more depth upon the work.
Even if you can overlook this, alongside the patronising and short-circuited depiction of rural life and the irritating pantomimic jokes, the attempts at musical theatre are simply disastrous. Throughout the show, the audience are subjected to tedious little rhymes, unusual pitching, repetitive melodies and cringe-worthy soppy lyrics. The inauthentic, ‘jolly’ folk-tivities and over-pronounced folk vowels also grate, combining to forge a truly irritating distortion of the British musical tradition.
That being said, there are a couple of decent local references which complement the piece’s status as community play, and the set is incredibly inventive in its simplicity. Unfortunately, though, as the moon shone above Newport’s Riverfront and was reflected into the brown waters of the Usk, I found myself irrefutably ill met.
(originally published on Buzz.co.uk)