Emily White’s Pavilion is a sharp and witty ode to small town Wales. Described as a modern day Under Milk Wood, it is an acute observation of life in a once proud, increasingly hopeless community. Whilst we may read the childhood memories of Dylan Thomas’ days of being ‘young and easy under the apple boughs’ through rose-tinted spectacles now, White’s play is a reminder that for all its sentiment, Thomas’ world was borne out of reality. His poem Fern Hill is as much about the loss of childhood as it is a celebration of it. Pavilion strikes much the same chord.
Set on a Friday night fuelled with booze and infused with lust, we are witness to the final hours of the Pavilion nightclub before it closes down for good. Here is where the ‘hoi polloi’ gather: girls in their ill-fitting dresses and lads in their best-kept trainers and tracky bottoms. They drink, they dance; they dream, they despair. There is laughter and tears, love and loss. Not since Jack Thorne’s Junkyard have I felt such affinity for a cast of characters. They resemble a microcosm of my own home town. White’s great strength in this production has been to create drama out of the mundane, the everyday. She does so through the innocuous language of routine conversation, cadenced with humour and pathos behind which lies a depth of emotion and meaning. It leads to an immediate investment in her characters and their story. They are recognisable, relatable. We see in them something of ourselves and those around us. Theirs is a fully functioning, wholly believable world.
Annelie Powell deserves huge credit for assembling such a fine cast. It features some of the best in both upcoming and established Welsh talent. Director Tamara Harvey is no doubt the reason for the strong onstage chemistry between them. It is becoming a regular feature in her productions. The result is a thoroughly impressive ensemble piece, in which the professional debut of Caitlin Drake goes unchecked such is her striking turn as Myfanwy. Lowri Hamer (Bethan) and Carly-Sophia Davies (Jess) already appear like seasoned actors such is the strength of their performances alongside the reputable Ifan Huw Dafydd (Dewi) and Tim Treloar (Dylan). The dialogue between Michael Geary (Evan) and Victoria John (Big Nell) fizzes off the page. A special mention must go to Ellis Duffy (Gary) who is simply sublime as Gary.
My one criticism of Pavilion is that can sometimes overstate the nation that it represents. It is undoubtedly a fantastic thing to see Wales portrayed onstage. But the strength of this play lies in its subtlety. It is through realism that White succeeds in creating a strongly-defined Welsh play. There are moments of ethereal transcendence that add a beautiful dimension to the otherwise real-world setting. However, once or twice these scenes verge too close to sentimentality. In particular, the end of act one teeters on the brink of schmaltziness. The giant red dragon that descends as the cast carry out a rendition of ‘Mae hen wlad fy nhadau’ may be a dazzling set piece. However, it feels like an unnecessary indulgence in national pride. There is no need for such overt, celebratory statements. Pavilion’s success lies in its tact.
Come the end, the audience sat in stunned silence, the darkness sustained for much longer than I have ever experienced before. This tells you all you need to know about the power of this play. Once you have entered into the world of Pavilion, you won’t want to leave. Emily White deserves the rambunctious applause that finally spilled out into the auditorium. She has freely admitted that with its large cast and herself an unknown writer, Tamara Harvey has taken a huge gamble with Pavilion. It is one that has paid off. It may have taken time for it to see the light of day, but it is now unlikely to be returning to the shelf any time soon.
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