Penarth Pier Pavilion; 30th July 2016
Penarth pier has seen fashions come and go. Since it was first built in 1898, it’s watched an evolving array of leisure activities find a home in the (now restored) art deco pavilion. In Y Môr, the second production from Splatch Cardiff, its memories resurface, spliced into the lives of current locals.
With a 21st Century palette of retro costumes, the one-off show (whose title means ‘the sea’ in Welsh) engages local performers – hobbyists and professionals – in a long gaze through the lens of time. The material itself doesn’t explicitly makes the connections between past and present usages of the space, but I’ve seen enough site specific work to know the drill. It’s no great leap to see the swing, tap, and bathing beauty burlesque troupes as reflections of previous entertainments the pier has hosted, and a quick visit to Wikipedia suggests the looped footage of seaside shots could be in homage to the cinema it housed in the 1930s.
The initial premise of arriving as guests for a wedding party is fun, then dissolves into a loose collection of talent displays that seem generally disconnected from each other and the particular history of the site. I enjoy the recordings of people’s memories from when the pier hosted a gymnastics club earlier this century, and wonder what deeper trajectory could have emerged if some of the structure’s more dramatic moments – army requisition, fire, boat crashes – were integrated.
Splatch Cardiff are Esther Fuge and Elle Kate Edwards (who also co-runs Penarth Circus), and the pair have pulled off a remarkable undertaking with no funding and a hearty determination. While the dragging transitions between segments cause the atmosphere to lag, particularly in the first half, those who are here more for a social occasion than a traditional show are able to chat and enjoy a drink from the bar. This is an informal, homegrown affair, and the integration of local performance groups and circus professionals is a formula that has shown its cohesive impact on communities through projects like NoFit State’s Open House. It would be great to see Fuge and Edwards get the resources they need to realise their ambitions, as Y Môr proves they can make a real impact in community arts.
The show includes several skill highlights. Multi-award winning Sam Goodburn riding one-legged down the hill to his wedding on a unicycle, wearing only a dressing-gown, then later trying to shed it for more suitable attire while precision wheeling around the Pavilion gallery to a rousing rock track. Simon Chick on the trampoline, utilising the gallery balcony as a tramp-wall. The novelty of a troupe of flapper-styled tappers keeping time over the changing musical tracks.
When the action slow down, there’s much beauty to be absorbed in the views out to sea, although attention is not drawn to them until the final moments, as cast members gaze over the railings towards a darkening sky. Contemplating what’s gone before. Or, perhaps, what comes next.