Review, Mr Jones by Liam Holmes, Theatr Soar, Merthyr Tydfil by Bethan England

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A pair of muddy trainers, a tan rucksack and jumper are the only items that sit upon the stage of Theatr Soar. The atmosphere was set by soaring Welsh anthems such as Green Green Grass of Home and Yma O Hyd filling the eaves of the converted chapel.

Liam Holmes as Stephen Jones, enters, in a square of light. His natural cadence and natural ability mean he instantly won over the audience’s hearts. Asking where his rugby boots are to an off stage unknown person, the moments of silence and glances towards this unknown character are poignant and we are immediately aware of something unspoken. The entreaty to ‘talk about it,’ leading to the awkward admittance of this ‘being a bit weird’ sets the scene perfectly for this moving piece about the pain of the Aberfan Disaster for families of the village and that inability to fully express the pain and trauma of that traumatic event.

The simple stage and lighting transports us from house in Aberfan to the waterlogged rugby pitch where Stephen is practising his kicks after his winning penalty against Dowlais in the semi-finals. The stage is used ably, the space filled by Liam and Tanwen Stokes as Angharad. The ‘in the round’ space allows Liam and Tanwen to fully immerse us in the story; Angharad watching from the audience, berating Stephen for being on the pitch rather than at home with dad or entertaining his younger brother, Dafydd. Throughout the play the space is used to great effect, bringing the audience truly into the action.

The sound is also excellent. From the soaring sounds of the crowd as Stephen steps up to take his winning kick, the rumbling of the ‘thunder’ that turns out to be the starting of the waste coal sliding down the mountainside, to the haunting spoken records of Dafydd and the parents of the lost children from the school. In particular, I enjoyed the use of Owen Sheers’ ‘The Green Hollow,’ echoing throughout the space and reminding us of the very human loss of this disaster.

I especially enjoyed the use of Welsh phrases throughout, which were used particularly evocatively during the description of the coal duff slipping down the side of the mountain. Hearing the Welsh then echoed with the English, or vice versa ensured that the script was still accessible to all. I would have liked to hear even more as I thought that this was an excellent device used in an innovative way by the writer.

The pair are ably directed by Michael Neri, clearly they have been told to not be afraid of weighted silences which leave the audience breathlessly waiting for the next line. The humour peppered throughout captures the essence of the valleys village, that easy natured way of speaking to each other which is balanced with what is not said, the glances unseen and words unspoken. With barely any props or set, we are transported between the different scenes of the action; the pitch, the mountain top, the bustling hospital of St Tydfil’s and the dark home of Stephen, Dad and Gramps.

The final scenes perfectly counterbalance the earlier humour and playfulness between Stephen Angharad. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Liam delivers the final lines to that unknown voice, his dad, as the two desperately struggle to come to terms with what they have lost. The final cry from Stephen of ‘I’m still here Dad!’ as the lights fade brings the story to its heartbreaking conclusion, leading to a well deserved standing ovation.

The piece was particularly poignant in Merthyr Tydfil but the themes of loss, family, friendship and unspoken love will be met with universal acclaim no matter where this is viewed. I highly recommend Mr Jones, but do make sure you take those tissues along with you!

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