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  • John Hoddinott

Feral Monster paints a vibrant and complex portrait of queer adolescence at Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre

Updated: Feb 21

Photo Credit: Kristina Banholzer

The feeling when leaving Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre following a Saturday night performance of Feral Monster, National Theatre Wales’ latest touring production, was anything but monstrous – uplifted and inspired feels more fitting, having been invited into the life, and mind, of title character Jax, and their friends and family, over a 90-minute rollercoaster ride of queer adolescence unpacked.  

With an impressive cast, of ranging experience on the stage and screen, you felt that each one of them had been raised together in the very village where this production, described as “a banging new musical celebrating teenagers and queer Wales”, is set. Seemingly focusing on the coming-of-age sexual exploration of Jax, whose pronouns are self-proclaimed as “she/they/whatever”, we follow the story of their first love (or is it lust?) affair with Ffion – an unapologetically politically correct character, who owns their pansexuality loudly and proudly – who couldn’t be more opposed in their attitudes, outlooks and goals in life. 

Photo Credit: Kristina Banholzer

As this is a story that explores queer teen love, it’s no surprise that things get complicated along the way. The couple’s differences often bring out the worst parts of Jax’s loud, opinionated brain, which is creatively personified on stage by the rest of the cast when not playing their primary roles. Each member takes on a different voice in Jax’s mind, from anxiety to happiness, to negativity, and of course, youthful horniness. These moments, where the inner workings of Jax’s mind are revealed, were as comic as they were tragic, successfully highlighting the high highs and the low lows that narrate much of our teen years. Comedy and tragedy are themes that punctuated the whole production as we learn more about Jax’s past, present, and envisaged future as a self-confessed 'mundane' working-class kid from rural Wales.

Without wishing to give away any spoilers, expectations for the production to solely focus on the queer teen love story – something we’ve seen a little more of in mainstream media recently thanks to successful shows like Netflix’s Heartstopper – were happily unmet. Writer Bethan Marlow’s script also focused on other rich and poignant narratives along the way, including the exploration of class and the inequalities of opportunity that face a working-class queer teen like Jax. 

The strength of these narratives was brought to life through Rebecca Hayes's consistently powerful performance. They led the production with a firm understanding of how to bring light and shade to a character whose outlook, and existence, often didn’t seem hopeful. The supporting roles in the show were handled with equal care. Geraint Rhys Edwards provided much-needed comedy value, playing a series of light-hearted roles throughout the show, while Carys Eleri portrayed Nan, fitting the no-nonsense matriarch role to a tee. Both also delivered great vocals during the show’s musical numbers. The younger cast members brought energy and dynamism to each of their roles too. The musicality of the production was enhanced by that energy throughout, bringing constant enthusiasm to the songs and soundtrack—a mash-up of grim, R&B, soul, pop, and rap—for audience members.

Ultimately, the show was a refreshing and lasting experience, further acting as another important step forward in the diverse representation of queerness in the arts. In my belief, the sign of a great theatrical production—one that isn’t just entertaining but also thought-provoking—is the need to discuss and debate its contents afterwards. Let’s just say, you couldn’t shut me up once I left the theatre, and I’ll keep on talking about Feral Monster for some time to come.

Feral Monster, showing at Sherman Theatre from 15-24 Feb.



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