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when I go to view a production by a company of company of players based in West Wales, I expect to have a generally pleasant evening entertained by half decent actors who can deliver a few moments of cheery laughter along the way. What I don’t expect is to come out after a performance wondering if I ever saw anything with quite the emotional power, acting flair and visual originality I have just experienced at Newcastle Emlyn this evening. “Power and Petticoats “  is quite as accomplished as any theatre I enjoyed in my time in London; on or off West-End.

I have to admit here that I am something of a fan of Newcastle Emlyn’s Attic Players. I have enjoyed many of their past shows and so I knew that this evening’s offering would be worth seeing, but I did fear that I might be entering something of an ‘echo-chamber’. Who these days would question the validity of universal suffrage? When there is nothing to debate, political theatre is as unrewarding as those tired alternative comedy rants against Thatcher through the eighties. However, writer and director Melanie Davies has delivered an intelligent script which makes this historical struggle relevant for our time. there are references to the economic  ‘glass ceiling’ the ‘Me Too’ movement and campaigns of personal smear served up by the media. Plus ça change..

  Davies demands a great deal from a cast of just nine of the Attic Players -they do not disappoint. It would be invidious to pick anyone out of the ensemble cast for special mention, nor is it possible.  There is not a wrong move made by any actor involved in a production which relies on timing for effect. Changes of character keep the audience on their toes, even though there is a colour coding to guide the viewer through a social conflict which builds bridges across the social strata of Edwardian Britain.

If I am making this seem rather earnest viewing, it wasn’t. Changes of pace prevent this work from being a long and level pitched polemic. I found myself laughing one moment, developing a lump in my throat the next.

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There are some deliciously funny moments, such as the four women in a train carriage on their way to Wrexham, two of which are travelling to disrupt an official visit to the Eisteddfod. Their wobblings on their seats -and their synchronised pitchings as the train’s brakes are applied, are a delight of comic timing.  The factory scene has just the right note of ambiguity. Are two of the men on the production line really ignorant of the significance of the WSPU anthem they are humming, or are they taking a sly rise out of their anti-suffrage co-worker? The boxing match where the pros and cons of women’s suffrage are landed as body blows is a smoke-shrouded set-piece of political pugilism .

The boxing match is a visual treat, but just one of many. Visual originality is a vital key to tonight’s success. Here the technical team deserve great credit. The slideshow of posters and photographs from the historical archive is both a narrative thread and a technical device which seamlessly links and overlaps set scenes, preventing the whole from becoming a series of fragments. Stage setting is sparse, but  surprisingly serviceable when a change of aesthetic is required. Significant battle lines in the central argument are elucidated while working across a washing line. A shadow play behind a gauze screen slowly emerges into stark focus to create a town hall riot through a series of freeze-frame poses expressive of increasing violence.

Sadly, as this was the final performance of “P&P”, I am too late to direct you to the ticket office. All I can say is that if the personnel have the energy left to revive this very soon, do not miss it.

The only problem I see with the Attic Players is that with each production, they seem to have cranked up the quality that bit higher. How are they going to top this one?  But I have thought that before and still they get better. Be that as it may, all involved in tonight’s tour de force should be buzzing after tonight. I am.

Glenn ibbitson     September 1, 2018

Photographs lifted from the Attic Players Facebook page

Click here for a link to a promo video by Clare and Melanie 

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