Star rating: five stars ★★★★★
"Passionate, relevant and heartbreaking. My Land’s Shore’s professional world premiere is a roaring success.
Christopher J Orton’s score is gorgeous, and it is most definitely written for a Welsh voice, the sound pouring over the entire audience and blending beautifully. Although there were lots of standout solo performances, there is no doubting that the show is most impressive when the full ensemble is together.
The stand out performance is Michael Rees’ Lewis Lewis. His passion fuels not only his character’s story line but the entire piece, the fire underneath the show that keeps it alive and vibrant. He has one of the most beautiful voices I have heard in a long time (A Lonely Voice was particularly breathtaking), and if this show transfers – which I hope it does – they would be mad not to take him with. It is as if the part has been written for him and he embodies the character in his every breath.
His relationship with his wife Rebecca played by Kira Morsley (who is shockingly Australian, not Welsh, and fooled me and my Welsh friend) is touchingly complicated. Robert Gould should be commended for creating complex characters across the board but he hit the nail on the head with Rebecca. It is refreshing to see such a powerful and strong female character on stage, and even more satisfying because she is not playing across from a weak male character. So often, there must be one weak character and one strong character, but both Lewis Lewis and Rebecca are fiery and opinionated, and Morsley embodies the strength and passion of the Welsh women of that time.
Another complicated and passionate character was Taite-Elliot Drew’s Jenkins. It is in this storyline that I can see why it has been called the Welsh Les Mis because Jenkins is undoubtedly Javert. His voice is beautiful and he uses its power and his undeniable presence to form the shows villain.
Brendan Matthew’s directing is inspired, and I was quite surprised to find that he himself is English. However I think that is what makes this show so accessible. I went to see the production with a Welsh friend of mine, and in the interval she asked if “I was getting it”, but besides a few lines in Welsh, I failed to see what there was I wouldn’t get. In front of me I saw passionate people, fighting against injustice and risking their lives for what they believed in. It would have been simple to spoon feed the audience with parallels between the musical and today’s society, but Matthew has the grace to allow the audience to see this all for themselves. Simple nudges, such putting the two powerful figures on the upper level looking at the struggling workers and then juxtaposing this by putting Lewis Lewis and Richard Lewis in their place at the beginning of the revolution, created images that provoke thought and insight reflection. This in itself is so much stronger than forcing thought on the audience. Although I am not Welsh, and therefore didn’t leave reflecting on my culture and the struggles of my ancestors, the play and what it stands for remained in my mind for longer than most shows would, particularly walking past the Houses of Parliament the following morning and turning on the news to see an address from the White House later that afternoon.
The show is relevant and undeniably passionate, and I think that is something the theatre scene is sometimes lacking. Yes, there is a place for musicals which serve the purpose of providing an escape from a terrifying reality. However, more and more we are seeing shows tackle these issues head on. I was very surprised and disheartened to hear that the show has received practically no support from any government arts funding in Wales, as this show is a show that not only entertains, but educates and empowers. However, selfishly I am glad it has found a home in London, as I think it teaches lessons that anyone can learn from. It is a show that most definitely needs to live on, be that in London or Wales or anywhere, its message is universal and the story is beautiful."