Previously shortlisted for the Theatre Uncut Political Playwriting Award, Lisa Parry has returned in partnership with Sherman Theatre and Theatre Uncut, to again test the boundaries and resoluteness of how we make sense of the world. Parry proves to be an urgent and contemporary voice with The Merthyr Stigmatist by centring the confrontations between divergent ontologies—those of faith and science, fanaticism and sacrilege, deception and scepticism.
Sitting detention one day after school, the sixteen year-old Carys incites these contemplations with only the bandages binding her palms and her sharp tongue. Convinced she carries the wounds of Christ and that they themselves are a gesture from God, Carys is desperate for someone to listen and advise her. However Carys’ science teacher Siân hears only a cry for help and worries about the practical causes and repercussions of her stigmata, doubting their legitimacy, and warning of their potential for hysteria. As their argument frays and unravels, what remains are only the desperation and angst at the heart of Carys and Siân’s individual stigmas.
At times hypnotic in their earnestness and realism, Bethan McLean and Bethan Mary-James drive Parry’s show swiftly down into its spiny depths, never plumbing them, nor retreating, but confronting every creature that may complicate Carys and Siân’s relationship. As they descend, they race each other to the end of an unknown depth—to some unequivocal answer that can somehow satisfy each ontology equally. McLean and Mary-James expertly navigate their characters’ fluctuating power dynamics, inspecting the obsessions and hypocrisy of youth, the politics of academia, the dangerous freedom and confinement of faith, and the intersections of our modern, dislocated age with the ancestries that predate it.
Technically, the show boasts a remarkable attention to detail. Though its set is minimal, it is carefully constructed and greatly enhances the show’s lighting design. When backlit, the classroom transforms quite eerily into a space not unlike a kaleidoscope; light changes, splinters, and moves in waves across the opaque walls downstage. The show’s sound design likewise cultivates an atmosphere of apprehensive reverence, contrasting a chorus of fellow believers outside with spasmodic interludes of electronic music.
The Merthyr Stigmatist is suffused with a tension quite subtle in performance, yet lingering in contemplation. It questions itself and its very performance by staging the wounds of Christ through Carys—and in doing so, Parry examines why and for what we bleed. Do we bleed for our home and our ancestry, or to cope with its denigration and stigma? Do we bleed to escape a place, or to ground ourselves in it? Do we bleed to know that we exist, or to forget it?
The Merthyr Stigmatist is available to stream until 12th June 2021 from Sherman Theatre.