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Praxis Makes Perfect, National Theatre Wales | reviews, news & interviews

Praxis Makes Perfect, National Theatre Wales

Praxis Makes Perfect, National Theatre Wales

Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip tell of the Italian publishers who rocked the Communist Party

Gruff Rhys: spectral will-o'-the-wispFarrows Creative

Almost before the dust has settled on their globe-spanning collaboration with New National Theatre Tokyo, National Theatre Wales embarks on a very different, if no less ambitious, partnership with the mercurial synth pop duo Neon Neon.

The sometime project of Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys and producer and solo artist Boom Bip, Neon Neon have written their second concept album (the first, Stainless Style, was a biography of John DeLorean); this is another life story, another sharp, warm, joyous record filled with snappy bass turns and raise-the-roof keyboard riffs. On this night, augmented by the wonderfully chaotic drama that winds in and out of the band’s performance, the music is a rabble-rouser, turning NTW’s warehouse, where the show takes place, into a gritty night-club rollick.

Gruff Rhys is an effortlessly charismatic presence throughout, a spectral will-o'-the-wisp overseeing the action, an Olympian god, but one of the wiry mischievous ones with a glint in his eye. Rhys controls the roughness of the whole production - every jagged edge seems to come from him, and each of those edges, rather than proving uncomfortable, come together to form an enlivening experience.

Praxis Makes Perfect, then, is a history lesson, told to good effect by playwright Tim Price, director Wils Wilson, and Neon Neon. It is the story of one of the 20th century’s most significant publishers, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, who disobeyed the Communist Party of Russia and put out Dr Zhivago, the novel the Party felt could lose them the Cold War. He went on to publish Che Guevera, Chairman Mao and Lampedusa among many others. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, it’s because he was the one who did the championing. His life, spent in meetings and poring over manuscripts, is perhaps not action-packed. But Praxis does well to send up the eras the story passes through, to involve the audience without making them participants, and Price does an extremely good job of turning what could have been a 90-minute lecture set to music into a humorous and often camp journey through the shenanigans of the decades’ Social Democratic revolutionaries.

There is a strong sense of peril and tragedy throughout, if little sense of who Feltrinelli really was. This is more homage than portrait, a play about the iconography of sacrifice, not the human cost. Wisely, Wilson sets more stock by the choreography of Feltrinelli’s basketball face-off with Fidel Castro and a gun-toting Che Guevera (pictured above, Matthew Bulgo and Alex Beckett) than the breakdown of Feltrinelli’s marriage or, finally, the curious circumstances surrounding his death in 1972.

But these decisions to use a wide lens pay off , as the audience and the band, on a precarious-looking scaffold, come together to create an almost riotous atmosphere. When Rhys holds aloft a placard at the end requesting a left-fisted salute for the catafalque of the departed Feltrinelli, barely an arm stays down. Neon Neon and National Theatre Wales should be sure that, though some of the fists may have been pointing at the notion of revolution, some even at the complex politics of Feltrinelli himself, most were saluting Praxis Makes Perfect.

  • Praxis Makes Perfect at NTW Warehouse, Cardiff until 5 May then touring to Mayfest, Bristol (23 May), Village Underground, London (4-6 June), Latitude Festival (18-21 July) and Festival No 6 (13-15 September)

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