When you think of Aberystwyth, do you see a university town, home of the National Library of Wales, and guest houses along a pebbly beach front? I’ll bet you don’t think of sinister druids, sleazy nightclubs, mysteriously missing schoolboys, and 24-hour whelk kiosks. Welcome to the world of private detective Louise Knight, with his raincoat, fedora and smart-talking gumshoe drawl. And say hello to a wickedly clever mix of Film Noir tropes and an affectionate ribbing of Welsh traditions.
I first read the original novel of Aberystwyth Mon Amour several years ago, and remember falling in love with the characters and the slightly surreal humour. I admit I wasn’t entirely convinced this would work so well on the stage. After all, the story takes place over a period of time in a variety of places, and features a wide cast of characters (including seaside donkeys). Most of all, I was concerned an adaptation might dilute some of the humour of its writer, Malcolm Pyle.
I was relieved to find the script has been written by the author himself, and none of its wit has been lost in translation. The dialogue is still as sharp and funny, and the story has been cleverly tweaked so that events all take place within a 24 hour period. The 20-odd characters are played by a small cast of eight. Rather than this coming across as a weakness, it actually works to the production’s advantage, adding to the playful tone. Yes, we might spot the same actor with a different costume and accent, but the characters are so likeable and well-played, you can’t help but go along with it.
As for the frequently changing scenes, a special mention must go to Simon Scullion and the set design, which is both ingenious and surprisingly minimal. By simply moving three objects on the stage, rotating them, or changing the lighting, different settings are created quickly and effectively. I totally believed I was in Louis’ office, an amusement arcade, on the seafront, in a nightclub, and even in the cockpit of an airplane. And I have to say, this was the first time I’ve seen a scenery change get its own round of applause from the audience!
Aberystwyth Mon Amour is an intelligent and witty production, which the Lighthouse Theatre Company should be very proud of. A wonderfully bonkers plot and script, clever directing and production design, and a cast who all give top notch, straight-faced performances that really bring out the humour. The audience was certainly responsive to it, and clearly had a great time. Other comedy thrillers take note – this is how it should be done.
Aberystwyth Mon Amour
Company: Lighthouse Theatre Company
Pontardawe Arts Centre, 8th October 2016
Author: Malcolm Pryce
Director: Abigail Anderson
Design: Simon Scullion
Cast: Matt Addis, Llinos Daniel, Phyl Harries, Catrin-Mai Huw, Non Haf, David Prince, Sonia Beck, Adrian Metcalf