Review: The Merthyr Stigmatist (Sherman Theatre/Theatre Uncut)

Clever in both design and execution, Emma Callender brings Lisa Parry’s problem play The Merthyr Stigmatist to the stage of the Sherman Theatre.

In a Welsh town run by the council, the school, and church, where everyone knows everyone just a little too well, an eleven year old schoolgirl, Carys, declares herself a Stigmatist.

Each Friday, she claims her hands freely bleed and has put a video on social media to prove it – but is she a conduit for a miracle, or a self-harming attention seeker looking for validation?

In detention with her teacher, Siân, the girl clearly knows which buttons to push as the tension rises. Is this a matter of safeguarding, or suppression?

Bethan McLean and Bethan Mary-James command the stage as pupil and teacher. In McLean’s debut, she captures that moment between child and teen where the world seems to open up. Mary-James is equally fiery in her portrayal of someone in authority with her own secrets to hide.

Bethan McLean in The Merthyr Stigmatist

Carys seeks to be an influencial celebrity with viral comments and likes, a concern for Siân, who notes “half the school is calling you Carys Christ already”.

The name Carys could be a nod to Carrie of the horror film fame, whose defining image is one of blood. The stigmata could be indicative not just of religion but of sexual maturity.

Designer Erin Steele has created a sparse classroom in which the characters verbally spar behind locked doors. Composer Eadyth Crawford ramps up emotion with an unseen male voice choir and incidental music.

This is a powerful piece helped by Andy Pike’s lighting and Ian Barnard’s sound, although the ending feels rushed and a little anticlimactic.

The Merthyr Stigmatist ran at the Sherman Theatre in live perfornances before becoming available in an on-demand digital version in June 2021.

Image credit: Sherman Theatre

LouReviews received complimentary access to review The Merthyr Stigmatist.