The Rime of the Postmodern Mariner

More ramblings of Rhys Hughes.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Vulcanology in Swansea

In 1924 a chap named W.W. Moore published a small guidebook called Swansea, the Naples of Wales. He wasn't the first to compare Swansea with Naples. Nor was he the last. The fools who control the local government of Swansea still like to compare this city with Naples.

Why this obsession with comparing Swansea to Naples? I can hardly imagine two more different cities and settings. The bays are NOT similar, neither are the pizzas, mopeds or prostitutes. The people are different, so is the language, culture, history and climate, to say nothing of the general ambience and sense of aesthetics.

In fact there is only one thing they have in common -- volcanoes.

Naples has the lovely and deadly Vesuvius, likely to blow in the near future and kill thousands. Swansea has a volcano that is less literal but more literary, the Volcano Theatre Company. They are good, very good. Their most recent work was a fascinating interactive piece of drama called 'What am I doing here?', a satire on British attitudes, on racism, patriotism, tribalism, pseudo-reasonableness and our love of inappropriate analogies. It was strong rather than heavy handed and also funny and disturbing.

The play was sandwiched between two bus rides, the first a mystery trip to a secret location, the second a short comedy hop on a vintage vehicle. The filling was a sequence of absurdist tableau that were by turns faux-jolly, genuinely disturbing, profound and hilarious. We danced, we were imprisoned, we were tested. This was exciting theatre performed with crisp professionalism and perilous enthusiasm. It was also the most ergodic play I've ever attended: the audience were an integral part of the work. No breaking of the fourth wall was necessary here: there simply wasn't a fourth wall to start with.


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