Review: Petula, The Riverfront, Newport

Andy Howells reviews the multi-language dark comedy Petula at Newport’s Riverfront Theatre.

To some, National Theatre Wales, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and August012 joint production of Fabrice Melquiot’s play Petula may seem surreal and confusing. This coming-of-age comedy drama directed by Mathilde Lopez with a script comprising Welsh, English and French certainly challenged my thoughts as I took my seat to watch it at Newport’s Riverfront Theatre on Tuesday evening.

The central character of the play is 12-year-old Pwdin Evans (Dewi Wykes). His world, it seems has gone beyond the orbit of any known universe with a long list of ridiculous scenarios to trouble any new teenager… Incapable parents (played by Sion Pritchard & Clêr Stephens), seemingly insane stepparents (Tom Mumford & Rachel Summers), his own weight and the French homework he needs to hand in by tomorrow.

It seems his only solace is his missing cousin Petula (Kizzy Crawford), his true love, who is believed missing and whom he believes has just given up on humans and gone into space. Pwdin, flees his crazy life following a ridiculous family dinner party and launches himself into space on a surrealistic adventure travelling on a space flea, meeting a little prince from the future, and hopefully finding his missing cousin.

Acknowledging that Petula is a French play from 2007, its 2022 modernisation and localisation into its Welsh surroundings is impressive. The actors seamlessly give intense and immersive performances with good use of Gestus as they switch roles and dialogue between the languages of Welsh, French and English.  

The set itself is unique and multi-layered, sporting several monitors displaying video images of the missing Petula. Characters progress through a variety of unusual escapades from a toothless vampire eating uncooked duck to a stepfather digesting an armchair via rolling around on hundreds of metallic spheres. Further screens appear on the side-lines offering translations for the multi-language script.

Pwdin’s personal journey borders on further surrealism as he encounters Petula’s parents who appear to be dead ringers for Beyonce and Ed Sheeran affirming that perhaps we are not observing any reality in Pwdin’s life at all.

Petula appeared to be well received by the Riverfront audience comprising a multi-generational audience. Themes of growing up, love and relationships inspire thoughts, conversation and room for your own personal interpretation beyond its stage presentation.

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