Theatre Review: Milky Peaks on tour from Theatr Clwyd
The title of Seiriol Davies’ latest musical carries an echo of David Lynch’s weirder-than-weird TV series ‘Twin Peaks,’ with its oddball cast of characters, including the woman who always cradled a log.
But whereas Lynch gave us a skewed, dark and troubling version of life in small town Washington State, Davies gives us an uplifting, joyous if complicated tale of a pebble-dashed town in Snowdonia, albeit with streets filled with people three times as odd.
We first encounter them up on some mountain ledges where the various voices combine in a sort of robotic chorus to deliver a skewed pastiche of ‘Under Milk Wood’ which indeed ‘Milky Peaks’ knowingly subverts, just as it does the transformations of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and a whole lot else.
Ostensibly it’s the story of how Milky Peaks wins a competition to become ‘Britain’s best town.’ The idea that this can all be monetized helps local entrepreneur Alun John (played in this delightfully gender fluid production by Tanya Bridgeman, complete with moustache) decide to turn a local nature reserve into a gay nightclub.
This coincides with hotel worker Dewi (Seiriol Davies) coming out and promises to give him the chance to be with his people.
But the judges of the competition turn out to be right wing bigots (under the jealous command of Rhombus, played by Miriam O’Brien) and soon Milky Peaks is under siege from waves of Union Jacks and ugly jingoist sentiment.
In this sense it’s a play about identity and stereotype, melding gay and Welsh identity and history (personified by Dewi, who aches for so many things) but there’s a danger in making this sound a tad too serious, which it’s not.
Rather it’s two hours of wildly inventive and invigorating theatre, shot through with fabulously catchy songs and Russian-doll-style sub-plots which make the madness of this show, zestily directed by Alex Swift all the merrier.
There’s arts centre director Linda Maria’s plan to stage ‘My Fair Lady’ with local drag queen Pariah Carey (Matthew Blake, in a performance both tender and screamingly OTT) as the flower girl Eliza Doolittle.
Or the battle to save the dragonflies of the nature reserve (which is also a popular dogging destination, as nature reserve car parks so often are) or The Mother’s (Lisa Jên Brown) faltering attempts to save her marriage.
It would be unwise to try to make too much sense of this but rather just go along for the ride, which is like going on a zip wire across the maw of a deserted north Wales slate quarry whilst entirely out of your mind on magic mushrooms – you know the feeling.
This is spirited theatre delivered at a lick and there were many times when I forgot that there were only seven actors on stage as the choreography and movement suggested they’d managed to shoehorn the entire population of a busy if looney small Gwynedd town onto the stage.
Meanwhile, the pulsing energy of the performers suggests they’ve been hooked up somehow to the National Grid. It makes for breathless stuff, and while there’s the feeling that there’s probably too much going on occasion, the sheer spectacle and machine-gun rate of punchy, good dialogue rivets the attention and there are precious few lulls in the proceedings.
The songs spanned a spectrum from power ballads to The Mother’s achingly poignant Welsh language song called “Poen” (Pain) where the lyrics conceal, in truth, a lacerating attack and “Shut Up” which has everyone singing over each other as they proclaim ‘I’m queer. I’m British. I’m Welsh, I’m here but so is everybody else’ and asks ‘Is it poison to want to protect what you love?’
There’s even a madcap love ballad to the aforementioned dogging area, so that’s a first in the history of musical theatre.
A special shout out to Dylan Townley who provides all the on-stage music (sometimes at the keys of a grand Liberace-style piano complete with inlaid chequerboard disco-floor lighting).
Townley also delivers the hilarious cameo of the evening, playing a Styrofoam toilet wall as deadpan as can be and running a gamut of good jokes about anything from Stonewall to needing solid foundations in life.
One of the running gags in the show suggested that the performers actually controlled the audience, which might well have been borne out by the fact that, at show’s end, everyone was immediately on their feet, whooping and a-hollering for a standing ovation that was magnificently well deserved.
On our way back to the car my 17-year old daughter and I traded superlatives for the show but maybe something we overheard one couple say on the way out of the theatre can fair sum things up. ‘Amazing,’ said one. ‘What amazing, happy theatre,’ echoed the other.
Milky Peaks plays at Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre tonight (Saturday 7 May) before moving on to Pontio, Bangor (11-12 May), Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon (17 May) and Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea on the 21 May.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.