Nia Roberts in Love Steals Us From Loneliness, by National Theatre Wales at Hobos Nightclub Bridgend
Six years ago I was a mess. I had dropped out of university. Everything I had been working up to in my life so far had fallen apart during the time it takes to read one email. I honestly didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to do with the rest of my life – a gaping eternity with not a single flash of hope ahead. Working a full time job in retail, to prove I wasn’t a directionless burden on my family, did little to improve my mood.
Somehow I found myself in my usual boozer, Bridgend’s only alternative club, Hobos. But this time it wasn’t to throw some shapes on the dance floor. Instead I was seeing the first professional production I’d ever heard about taking place in Bridgend. Like many others I was a little annoyed that the play was inhabiting the space in which I could usually let my hair down (yes I had long hair back then!).
Working with National Theatre Wales Guy O’Donnell (Arts Development Officer for Bridgend Council) had set up a new initiative – The Young Critics. The aim was to get more young people into theatres, seeing professional work and sharing their opinions on what they had seen with a wide online audience. I had taken a chance and got involved with the scheme, feeling very strange as I climbed the steps into Hobos in flat shoes rather than heels to see Gary Owen’s Love Steals Us From Loneliness.
Thanks to the Young Critics I was able to review more and more work. It was rare for me to go a full week without seeing a show. My knowledge grew exponentially. My taste for theatre exploded – I’m now a huge fan of more experimental work that would have left me confused and unsatisfied as a 19 year old.
That first year as a Young Critic gave me my passion for life back. Seeing so much exciting work gave me my love of theatre back. Feeling like my opinion was valid (if sometimes wrong) gave me my confidence back. I applied to study English and Drama at Cardiff Metropolitan University and I haven’t looked back since.
During my studies I started previewing people’s work. Being able to sit in on the rehearsal process and learn the tricks of the trade got my mind whirring. This is what I wanted to do! I wanted to be in the rehearsal room making beautiful theatre.
Chelsey Gillard & Rachel Williams – Bridgend Young Critics. National Rural Touring/Night Out Wales. Extending the Reach: Working with Young People
And now here I am (warning! Bragging ahead). I’m an associate director for The Other Room in Cardiff, I’ve been teaching a module at Trinity University, I am setting up my very own theatre company and I’m writing a funding application for a rehearsal and development period on my first piece of work as a writer. And perhaps most importantly I now only publicly share my opinions in short-form on twitter.
Looking back at my review of Love Steals for this article was painful! I was so opinionated about theatre, something that at the time I was so unknowledgeable about. I throw my opinion about like it’s the only thing that mattered. There are comments in that review that make me not want to share the article again for fear that they could stymie my career now. But at least I was honest. I said what I felt in my characteristically awkward way.
Now as a theatre maker in my own right I hope I have retained some of that honesty. I try to hold my own work up to the same brutally honest criticism that I levelled on NTW.
Love Steals Us From Loneliness is being staged again, by exciting new company Chippy Lane. In a lovely circular twist of fate I myself directed a rehearsed reading for them earlier this year. I am so looking forward to seeing the show tonight. I wonder if my opinion of the play will have changed (my opinion of Gary Owen certainly has – I’m so sorry!). But there is certainly one part of my original review I still wholeheartedly agree with:
“Hopefully this production will force those with the power to sit up and realise that Bridgend is bursting with talent and a thirst for quality theatre that requires a full time venue in the town centre that will hopefully attract more productions”
There is now an arts venue in Bridgend – Carnegie House – but it isn’t a fully functioning theatre that is ready to receive work and there is not enough of a concerted effort to develop audiences in Bridgend.
Of course it is easy for me to say all this, but what am I doing to change it? Honesty… nothing. I haven’t made a single piece of work in my hometown.
I am fully aware of my own hypocrisy.
This isn’t an online call to arms for us to crusade into Bridgend and inject some ‘culture darling’. It isn’t even me promising I will make more of an effort. It is me thinking out loud about what has started my strange journey to be sat here in Chapter Arts Centre like so many others tapping away at their laptops. It’s me realising I am not as honest with myself as I should be.
It’s me making a promise to myself that I will make work that 19 year old Chelsey would find exciting and worthy of comment – even if that comment is brutal and judgemental. I will go and see more work than I currently do (life has an awful habit of getting in the way). Or at least I will try until I once more get so absorbed in my own projects that I can’t see the wood for the trees.
Hopefully then I will read a Young Critic’s review of one of my shows and once again they will remind me that making theatre is about so much more than what other theatre makers think. It’s about sharing a live experience with a room full of other humans and being led on a huge emotional journey that has the power to change the direction of someone’s life.
Chelseys original review
THURSDAY, 4 NOVEMBER 2010
Love and Loss in Bridgend
Love Steals Us From Loneliness by Gary Owen
National Theatre Wales with Sherman Cymru
Venue: Hobo’s Rock Club, Bridgend
Dates: 7th – 16th Oct 2010
Director: John E McGrath
Review by Chelsey Gillard
Being born and bred in Bridgend I was dreading either a depressing, dark and moody look at teenage life in “the Big-End” or a telling off about how the town was so much better back in the day and that kids don’t get outside enough. The teens in this play were of course moody and bordering on depression (what teen isn’t) but they certainly got out enough! Their destination of choice was Bridgend town centre at Halloween; a place that locals know, come midnight, is full of witches and monsters all year round.
Standing in the bar waiting for the show to start I realised that someone I vaguely recognised was standing next to me looking nervous, a second look revealed Mark Sumner in the part of Scott. He was living the geeky character so thoroughly that even after years of acting alongside him in the Bridgend Youth Theatre it took me a while to figure out his identity. The karaoke microphone on the small stage was soon put to use as Scott began the play with a song interrupted by a rather gobby yet beautiful Catrin (Katie Elin-Salt) storming out of the club.
We were led into the intimate, double sided, theatre area and the play began proper. Catrin and Scott were now in a graveyard where Catrin was trying to relieve herself. The awkwardness of the situation soon forced the two- linked by their friendship and love of Lee, Catrin’s boyfriend – to not only talk, but listen. This act of the play was beautifully naturalistic, with a lot of Bridgend’s unique language captured almost perfectly, including very regular F- and C-bombs. Scott’s understated declaration of love for Catrin was realistic, funny and most of all touching. The interval came all too soon as we waited for Catrin’s response.
In the second act the metal hoops that were earlier used as seats and fences were now decorated in various personal belongings – Lee’s belongings, who we learn has died in a car crash via the brutal text message “Lee’s dead” from his mother to his sister. His shoes, clothes and car accessories constantly give this character a presence on the stage although there is never a physical embodiment of the boy who is to remain forever 17.
We are joined by three new characters; Lee’s sister Becky, played by Remy Beasley, who was possibly a secondary character but she made the part as important as all the others with a unique combination of brash charm and sensitivity. Catrin’s new boyfriend Mikey, Matthew Trevannion, who reminded me of that friend we all have that we sometimes wish we didn’t know so we don’t have to admit to any connection in public but we love deep down. And Lee’s mother Mags, superbly portrayed by Nia Roberts, who won most, if not all of our sympathy with her descent into grief- stricken meltdown.
This act flipped, sometimes ungracefully, between naturalistic speech and more poetic musings on life, love and mortality. Personally I think these musings were perhaps out of character, but they did serve the purpose of giving us an insight into each person’s journey from the hell of losing a loved one to the need to move on with life. The monologues occasionally seemed to be designed only to tug on the heartstrings and I felt more moved by some of the more underplayed lines. The bittersweet ending gave us Catrin’s much anticipated answer to Scott’s adoration; a brief kiss that had provided the fuel for Lee’s high speed death
Having myself acted in one of Gary Owen’s plays “Mary Twice” I must rather brutally admit that I was not expecting much from the script. Although “Love Steals” was an improvement I still feel the success of this production lies in the hands of the director and actors who used everything they were given; script, music, set and venue; to their full advantage.
My main criticism is that on times the effort the actors were making to address both sides of the audience was a bit obvious with big, although probably unintentional, flourishes when turning around and that as they we on stage for the full second half brief lapses in concentration were all too visible. Also if that is what a Bridgend accent truly sounds like I need to get myself some elocution lessons pronto!
Hopefully this production will force those with the power to sit up and realise that Bridgend is bursting with talent and a thirst for quality theatre that requires a full time venue in the town centre that will hopefully attract more productions from the fantastic NTW. The time has come for my little ugly-beautiful town to lick its wounds and move on to a bright future whilst also remembering its past, bad times but more so good.