"Dylan Thomas still looms large in the Welsh theatre psyche, and not with just inevitable productions of Under Milk Wood. The latest to fall under the wizard's spell are two well-respected non-Welshmen who have earned themselves high reputations in Cardiff, dancer Andy Howitt and the composer Charlie Barber, whose collaborative Conceived Sheraton Plaza is the highlight of an exciting programme, Out of This World, premiered at the Sherman Theatre.
The piece is based around an opera planned when Thomas and Stravinsky met in New York just before the poet's death. It was a significant era for the world, with the death of Stalin and the birth of the Bomb and Thomas' messy end miles away from home, cut short a project that was to have explored the brave new world of the Cold War by centering it on the last man and woman on earth. Howitt and Barber leave that fascinating idea alone, instead exploring the myths around Thomas's reputation and that disconcerting mix of beauty and bestiality that accompanied the image.
It really does have the excitement of a live collaborative show - the choreography and music developed side-by-side, Barber's eclectic new world compositions played amazing well by the Welsh College of Music and Drama orchestra and with the udual togetherness of Barber's own band. Howitt mixes telling the story in a wordless narrative with less direct episodes, Dylan and Caitlin's love expressed perfectly in their duets, his ambiguous sexuality more than hinted at, and his seduction by alcohol expressed in an excessively outré appearance by Howitt in skimpy drag carrying a drinks tray. Craig McNight's Dylan is the more credible because the dancer has not the usual lean pysique, but perhaps not all the movement is convincing. The work is over-ambitious and there are too many ideas - but it will be interesting to see if the electricity of the process can be sustained when more work has been done on it before taking it on tour."
David Adams, The Guardian, 19 November 1991
"In 1953, poet Dylan Thomas and composer Stravinsky sat down to discuss plans for a radical new opera.
It never saw the light of day, because Thomas died shortly afterwards, but the seed of the idea has inspired a contemporary composer and choreographer to take off where the incongruous couple left off in a room in the Sheraton Plaza.
Andy Howitt's choreography weaves together scenes from Thomas' debauched existence in New York with his last days in Laugharne where his marriage to Caitlin has hit the rocks. Elements from each enter into a surreal, fantasy world that makes up the second sequence of the work, danced by figured in period underwear waving flags.
Here the dancers seem to enter into the brave new world Thomas seems to have had in mind as he attempted to change direction - personally and professionally - in the drink-sodden final days of his life. The switch in styles is impressive, from the opening, which is rich in details familiar from any reading of Thomas' life, to the wildly extrovert couplings that follow, echoed in the final duets between the poet and Caitlin. The sense of a world spiralling out of control is captured in a fast-moving array of images, a disintegration summed up best by the displacement of Caitlin (the excellent Emma Carlson) who offers a manic poet poet bread and milk, with a muscular waitress in red stilettos (Andy Howitt). These moments of self-destructive violence, tenderness and craziness are held together by Charlie Barber's evocative score. Exhilarating stuff."
Penny Simpson, South Wales Echo, 18 November 1991