Review Winners, Nova, Sherman Theatre By Vic Mills

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

‘Get It While It’s Hot’ is a good vehicle in various ways for Lowri Jenkin’s honed, clever and at times visceral comedy, ‘Winners’.  It tells the old tale of how difficult is it to keep it ‘hot’ – whether that is the vegan dishes or the sex, fuelled by the aphrodisiac of the aptly named Dan Biggar and the colossus of Alun Wyn Jones.  You should know though that they succeed, in this warm-hearted, life-affirming and love-affirming piece, they succeed in keeping it hot – though we had to learn to change our minds a little about what that comes to mean for Cassie and Dafydd.

The stage is stripped to two very ordinary chairs and the production to a very simple and stripped lighting and sound plot.  This works very sympathetically with the stripping of the two characters as they face a ‘couples counselling’ session, an anniversary present from Cassie to Dafydd.  The device of the counselling session works beautifully too, as it allows for audience interaction as we become the counsellors for these two engaging and deeply sympathetic figures.

Jenkins’ is very well served by Samantha Jones’ direction and Garrin Clarke’s design – less is certainly more in this case.  We are allowed access to characters and actors who have nowhere to hide.

And Cassie and Dayfydd do certainly attempt to hide.  There is wonderful humour in the writing and in the performances of both actors from the first moment of the play.  Timing is crafted and almost every mark is hit.  Dafydd is warm, garrulous and very engaging from the outset.  Cassie is initially more poised and sophisticated – looking for the process to solve Dafydd’s problems whilst she makes suitable noises of support.  The play works, as these things do, to peel way the layers of her social pretences as the increasingly complex roots of the problems in their long term relationship are exposed.

The piece could have felt very familiar, safe and predictable had it not been for the quality of the comic writing, the beautifully honed and pacey dialogue and the genuine charm of the characters and above all the actors.  This is not challenging, groundbreaking theatre in any sense but it is an extremely well-crafted, warm, clever and engaging play, done wonderful service by two compelling and lovely performances.

Lowri Jenkins understands comedy and dialogue.  There are moments when the interchanges are too rapid fire and when we feel the writer trying too hard, but they are few and fairly insignificant.  She understands lyrical cadence and silence as well as crowd-pleasing belly laughs.  She looks honestly and unflinchingly at contemporary relationship issues and familiar gender tropes and there is a warmth and affection for both her characters and the audience responds with the real affection and engagement that this piece requires to succeed.

This play is a winner; it is a crowd pleaser certainly but it deserves to be.  The performances are very, very good and that they are equally good is rare.  Genuine chemistry on stage is the Holy Grail of theatre and these two have the cup of Christ in their grip.  Get to see it if you possibly can on one of these wet and wintry nights – it’ll warm you right through – it is hot!

The production plays at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff from 11 – 15 Feb 2020; 6.30pm

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