BLOG Philip Maughan

NWR Issue 96

Sherman Cymru: The First Six Months

As is often the way with new buildings, it wasn’t finished on time. When we newly hired front-of-house staff arrived for training last January, there was as yet no bar, no tills and no plumbing. Our training became an abstract exercise: you will change barrels here, like this... We wandered through half-finished rooms in safety hats and goggles, wondering if it could be pulled off.

Leap forward six months and things appear to be running smoothly at the Sherman. Two consecutively sold out nights for the one-woman show Whose Afraid of Rachel Roberts, starring Helen Griffin, for whom the foyer erupts in applause. Local ales selling well, patrons munching bowls of bubbling tapas and a DJ spinning records in the corner. But by day, the theatre is quiet. Working long eight hour shifts on the bar, I chat to regulars and memorise orders: the cheerful Indian poet who types out verses on his iPad (latte), the Dragon Taxi drivers who park defiantly on double-yellow lines (americaaano) and creative writing tutors from the university (soup, sour-dough, apple juice). It’s little wonder one afternoon a Chinese couple walk up to the counter looking lost and ask: ‘What exactly is this place?’

£6.5 million buys you a lot of building. Sherman Cymru opens onto the student-dominated Senghennydd Road in Cardiff by way of a huge crescent window at the heart of a bold collection of patterned steel slats. Inside all is modern, pale and minimalistic. A touch ‘hanger-like’, as a customer complained to me one morning, clearly mistaking me for the building’s architect. For staff, the greatest perk of working in the theatre is of course seeing free shows. Favourites have included Clytemnestra, a tense and morally provocative home grown adaptation of the Greek legend written by Gwyneth Lewis. Political Mother, a loud, frenetic exploration of political power by Israeli musician and choreographer Hofesh Shechter, and Lovesong, a powerful drama which juxtaposes moments from the life of one couple at the beginning of their marriage with those at the end.

The play I most enjoyed requires a return to January, back to when we had no soda taps, no bins and no ice cream. As a new arrival in Wales, I sceptically took my seat for the theatre’s debut production, Bethan Marlow’s Welsh-language play Sgint, which was said to ‘deal with the recession’, but in fact did so much more. As a stranger who speaks neither the Welsh language nor the language of theatre, watching the play’s final scene — a visual metaphor in which its characters stop arguing about money and dance gracefully together as twenty pound notes float gently from the ceiling — I realised some things are universal. Money is one; theatre is another.


previous blog: Picador Poetry Prize Shortlist
next blog: Quick checklist of favourites from 26 Treasures


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