The Merthyr Stigmatist at the Sherman Theatre
Opening online this week with the Sherman Theatre, Lisa Parry’s two-woman performance shines light on the intersection of the political and the religious in everyday life, exploring what it means to create hope when it appears that there’s none left to hold on to.
The Merthyr Stigmatist is Bethan McLean’s professional debut, and her interpretation of complicated, troubled, but ever-charming school girl Carys – held back in detention to be supervised by form teacher Siân, played brilliantly by Bethan Mary-James – is equal parts moving and enchanting from the outset. The play draws on traditions of Catholic martyrdom and mysticism to shape the characters’ engagement with the society they were born into, considering the different paths they could take, each in their own way, to leave it in better shape than they found it.
Carys’s development from gossiping school-girl (gradually filling the audience in on the back story of the drama as she teases her teacher with whispered news drawn from neighbours and the other students) to religious figure of uncertain significance, on the verge of going viral, is what shapes the play, but as details emerge about these characters the context falls into place. While Siân attempts to fulfil her role in safeguarding her student, she grapples with her own faith, her family, and her disillusionment with those in power, who have no interest in the suffering of someone like her, or Carys, or anyone from their hometown. With simple staging and powerfully jarring use of lighting, music, and visceral props, the understanding between Siân and Carys – and the audience alongside them – develops quickly, and an initial confrontation opens up the possibility that they could fight on the same side.
Though at times ideas are pieced together a little clumsily in the dialogue, this is a thought-provoking and startling play, delicately performed. Obliged to wait out the detention together, thanks to the arbitrary justice system of the school rules, these characters listen to one another, and it’s this gesture that begins to heal their wounds, whether or not something higher up is listening too.
The Merthyr Stigmatist is at the Sherman Theatre from 27th May until 12th June 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.