Partnered with Llanrwst-based Migrations, NTW’s bilingual piece NHS70: Touch had me intrigued from the get-go. Their flyers and marketing were vague but alluring as they promised an interactive and contemplative piece, set to explore the importance of physical touch as part of a patient’s care and treatment.
So, as the sold out audience of around 30 people gathered by the doors of Pontio’s Studio Theatre, I was full of intrigue. Vague instructions helped raise the excitement too as we were asked to put our bags aside before entering and to be prepared to stand for the entirety of the piece.
The space was simple. We, the slightly apprehensive audience stood divided from the eight members of cast by a large sheet of paper which filled up most of the room. The electric-guitar music played by all of the cast as we entered was surprisingly soothing and remained as a welcome constant backdrop throughout the piece.
Soon we were invited by the cast to join them to collaboratively create a spider diagram of words which centred around words such as care, wellbeing and peace. It was nice to see the room suddenly fill with words and also interesting to see how others chose to synonymise.
Where the magic and meaning was lost to me here, and in several other parts of the show, was the timing and pace. Yes, I was captivated by the words and found myself on a journey to see how connections were made by others – though only for so long. A quick look on my watch showed that half an hour, and indeed half of the piece, had already passed with nothing but some light introductory music and the writing challenge.
The second half ranged from improvised spoken word to interpretive dance. I enjoyed the second half more, as I felt that we bonded closer as a group and defeat an internal battle of understanding our place in the piece amongst the professional performers. However, once more I found elements that held great beauty and promise dwindled as they were stretched out longer than needed.
The fast paced and euphoric ending was a high as we returned to a refreshing collaborative state and owned the piece. It felt like we had achieved something great – though a few hours on I’m yet to determine what indeed that was.
As I listened out for remarks by other audience members whilst they made their way to leave, one thing was clear – everybody had a different experience. Reflecting on Touch’s aim, this was probably exactly as National Theatre Wales and Migrations had hoped for too. The piece resonated with everyone differently just as the words on the paper did at the beginning. Plus, to think how words written at the start of the production shape the entirety of the piece no two audience members’ experience be the same.
NHS70: Touch will be at Pontio until July 28. www.pontio.co.uk or to find out more about National Theatre Wales’ NHS:70 Festival visit: https://www.nationaltheatrewales.org/ntw_projects/nhs70-a-festival/