Sunday, 16 March 2014

R&D Week with Mercury Theatre Wales

From 3rd to 9th March Mercury Theatre Wales invited actors and writers to participate in their research and development week at Chapter Arts Centre. The aim of the week was to take the next step in the development of the company’s upcoming Christmas show.  

An improvisation session in the Loft

The Mercury team have already conducted numerous recorded interviews with a wide range of people; from pensioners to school children and wanted to use this week to dramatically explore the ideas and traditions each of us have around the festive period. By watching some of these recorded interviews the actors were able to begin creating characters in workshop sessions, some everyday, some extraordinary. By playing around with different scenarios and character types the actors provided a wealth of starting points for the writers’ imaginations to run with.

One of the characters who reappeared throughout the week was a homeless big issue seller for whom Christmas is just another day. In huge contrast was the domineering matriarch thrown into turmoil by an unexpected guest; ‘but I haven’t got him a present!’, her bah-humbug husband and his aging, alcoholic mother who only cared about the sherry and mince pies.

Some of the writers hard at work

Through a number of discussions different combinations of performers and writers explored their own views of Christmas, many of us realising that things we thought everyone did at Christmas are unique to our families whereas other traditions seemed universal. The orange at the bottom of the stocking provided a whole afternoon of improvised entertainment.

Although the festive season is usually seen as, well festive, the R&D week also allowed time to explore some of the darker stories. From the now grown up child of divorced parents for whom Christmas is a time struggle in order to see everyone, to those who spend Christmas alone or who can’t afford the now extravagant holiday. Perhaps the most common reason for a blighted Noel is one most of us can relate to; alcohol.

A group discussion 

On the final day the whole group of writers reconvened to share their thoughts and initial script ideas inspired by what they had seen throughout the R&D process. As the production develops it will be fascinating to see if any of the quirky characters developed throughout the week will make an appearance in the final production. I really hope so!

For more about the production please contact Mercury Theatre Wales email:

Or phone: 02921 328608 / 07807 282305

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Mercury Theatre Wales start R&D for their next exciting and immersive production!

Last year Mercury Theatre Wales showcased their tour-de-force production SPANGLED throughout the nation. Exploring the underground club culture of the 90s the immersive, promenade performance really caught the audience up in the action. I myself described it as ‘a truly original and innovative piece of work that is sure to leave the audience with a smile on their face and a sudden desire to don their best shell suit.’ Actor Lee Mengo was also nominated for a Theatre Critics of Wales Award for his portrayal of DJ Johnny in the hypnotic and physical production.

Lee Mengo as Johnny (photo: Kirsetn McTernan)

This year the company are creating a Christmas show for adults, but not in the way you may instantly assume. Mercury are keen to stage a festive production without all the fluff and child conscious goodwill. Instead they want to know what Christmas is really like for the people who may find themselves in the audience. Through a series of interviews Mercury have been collecting stories from a wide of people; from teenagers who are still in love with the festive season to older people whose first memories of Christmas are in war time Britain.

Tomorrow the team begin an exciting R&D week to explore their initial ideas and themes. Collaboration is a key part of this organisation’s work and as such local actor/musicians and writers will be working together to investigate and create potential material for the upcoming production. I’ll be popping in during the week to observe and learn about how to put on this kind of exciting work in Cardiff (especially since the recently announced arts funding cuts).

Looking at the changes in what Christmas has meant over the years and how it can irrevocably change for people affected by huge life events the company are getting to the true stories behind the commercial circus and Coca-Cola adverts December brings.  The final production will be a completely new experience for Welsh audiences – an exciting, entertaining and immersive Christmas show created for an adult audience.

Last Sunday Mercury held a fundraising event at Porter’s bar in Cardiff city centre to support the current work. In one of Cardiff’s best new venues the company arranged stalls, live music and an auction to raise some much needed funding. The afternoon was well attended and Mercury raised £400 to put towards the project.

Publicity shot from SPANGLED (photo: Raw Talent Photography)

Mercury are also looking for patrons of the company who will receive VIP benefits from the company in exchange for donations towards the work. Some of these benefits include credits in all publicity and tickets to shows and company events. To find out more about becoming a patron or supporting Mercury Theatre Wales contact them using the details below.

As the current project progresses I’ll be posting updates about the work and how it is being developed. I for one am really excited to see how this project grows, SPANGLED was one of my theatre highlights of 2013 and I think this project has all the potential to be even bigger and better.

To contact Mercury Theatre Wales email:

Or phone: 02921 328608 / 07807 282305