Playwright Lisa Parry set out to amplify a voice she considered, in her words, “at risk of being muffled”: to tell a story of someone with little to no media megaphone. The Merthyr Stigmatist, the resulting two-hander production opening at Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre this week – albeit via our screens only – uses Christian iconography to make a statement about contemporary culture and society.
Set in a Merthyr Tydfil classroom, teenage pupil Carys – played by Bethan McLean [pictured, top], from Merthyr herself and making her professional acting debut – is the play’s focus, alongside Bethan Mary-James [pictured, bottom] as Carys’ teacher Siân. Carys believes herself to have stigmata, or “the wounds of Christ” – bleeding from bodily extremities corresponding to Jesus’ crucifixion. Siân interprets this as a cry for help, which then presents her with the question of whether that cry is best indulged or suppressed.
The Merthyr Stigmatist accordingly touches on several topics, some with particular contemporary resonance: fake news – perhaps more rife than ever in the last year or so – self-doubt, safeguarding and close-knit communities, likewise individuals’ place within those. Siân’s classroom represents a swirling mass of hormones and social immaturity, where outlandish claims may thrive as young people attempt to be heard in a sea of noise.
Produced by the Sherman Theatre in-house, The Merthyr Stigmatist has been delayed from its original scheduled opening in autumn 2020. It’s also a collaborative effort with English company Theatre Uncut, who celebrate their 10th anniversary this year and who shortlisted Parry’s script for their Political Playwriting Award. Theatre Uncut’s Emma Callander subsequently came on board to direct. Staged and recorded in the Sherman studio, and available to watch online in prerecorded form for just over a fortnight, the play text is now available for pre-order from Nick Hern Books to complete the immersive experience of this event.
The Merthyr Stigmatist, online, Thurs 27 May-Sat 12 June. Tickets: from £7.50. Info: 029 2064 6900 / here
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKLEOUS