Tag Archives: theatr clwyd

Review For The Grace Of You Go I (Online). by Alan Harris. A Theatr Clwyd production, co​-commissioned by Wiltshire Creative by Richard Evans

Many of us have bemoaned the lack of live theatre over the past months, the atmosphere, the immediacy, the inventiveness behind a good production.  Would a virtual presentation be able to compensate and provide a stimulating theatrical experience?

Online interaction has been something that many of us have had to get used to and is now such a familiar form of media for both business and entertainment.  Would it work for a play that cries out for a live audience? 

Alan Harris’ play, ‘For The Grace Of You Go I’  is a dark comedy that explores the theme of mental illness, in particular a personality disorder.  It demonstrates how illness and disadvantage fits in a context of a ruthless, profit driven society that shows little understanding and still less sympathy for those who find themselves unable to conform to a standard sense of normality. The main character, Jim (Rhodri Meilir) is forced into a job creation scheme or else lose the benefits he needs to survive.  However he is unable to keep up with the demands of work or the strictures placed upon him.  Why should a pepperoni pizza have 6 pieces of sausage arranged in a circle?

Central to the play is an examination of reality, individuality and purpose in life.  Jim suffers from a depersonalization=derealisation disorder where he has a repeated experience of viewing himself from outside his body.  This has a debilitating and demoralizing effect on him and effectively prevents him from accessing work and relationships as he would like, leading him into a spiral of depression.  However, he expresses this with an honesty that contrasts markedly with Mark (Darren Jeffries) who comes across as self-assured, successful with an aspirational lifestyle.  This however is a sham and his life is effectively a lie. 

With both characters being dysfunctional, the play explores the support society should give to those with a mental illness. Remi Beasley’s character, Irina is the person who promotes the back to work scheme designed to help reconstruct the lives of those like Jim.  She presents an enthusiastic, sympathetic persona to him that is sadly crushed by the target driven, profit oriented company they work for.  Her frustration is initially directed to Jim but as she grows in knowledge and affection for him, this is directed towards the soulless nature of the company and the empty promises it makes.  This very much mirrors the experience of those marginalised in our society who seek to reconstruct their lives.

The play is drawn to a memorable climax when Jim and Mark meet at a film club.  They are both heavily influenced by a film by Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismaki, ‘I hired a hitman’.  To escape his despondence, Jim attempts to mimic the film by hiring Mark to be a hitman who will end his suffering. 

The set was highly effective using a simple backdrop of three primary colours that allowed a change of mood and scene to occur seamlessly.  It helped focus the attention on the actors and dialogue rather than distract the eye as some more complex backdrops can do. 

It was superbly acted by the three players, whose dialogue and interplay was slick and convincing.  However, while there were many occasions when the dialogue brought out a smile, there was a smouldering intensity about the production that drew towards an inevitable, tragic conclusion.  To me, the most important conclusion was that the authentic life must prevail and be lived with integrity no matter what the circumstance.  This is followed closely by the searing indictment of a harsh, money driven society lacking compassion and the ability to help those with significant mental health problems.  As such it is a timely reminder that after this current pandemic, there will be plenty of people in need of substantial support. 

Did the play successfully translate to a virtual environment?  It was certainly riveting viewing and well worth a watch, but I stand by the impression that this is no replacement for a live performance, good as it was.  It is a convenient format, where you can pause, refill your glass and come back to it, but the flat screen dulls the senses to the poignancy playing out in front of you.  Congratulations to Theatr Clwyd for having the ambition to film and broadcast this production.  It was a welcome treat after being starved of theatre for so long, however, it will be great to walk through the doors and experience once again live theatre in reality. 

Review, For the Grace of You Go I, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a sadness and deep sense of injustice behind the humour and surrealism of For the Grace of You Go I. Due to begin just before the pandemic hit, Alan Harris’ play may be long overdue but its delay has proved timely. Beneath the strange veneer of a storyline in which a man puts out a hit on himself lies a sobering analysis of the inequalities that coronavirus has exposed in society over the past 18 months. It makes for a darkly comic play that is both hugely entertaining yet deeply unsettling.

Its colourful set, of luminescent pink, green and yellow walls, belies the broken and struggling lives of its characters. They do reflect the dreaminess of their existence though. Jim (Rhodri Meilir), employed to put pepperoni on pizza as part of a government scheme, imagines himself as Employee of the Month – complete with giant rosette and accomplished chef’s hat – in one of several cartoonish scenes projected onto the walls. In reality, he is a thorn in his line manager Irina’s side. Played by Remy Beasley, she is under constant pressure to meet targets, and Jim’s daydreaming does nothing to help matters. Though work gives him a sense of purpose, she is forced to let him go. His only solace is found in a monthly film club where he meets new guy Mark (Darren Jeffries), whose obsession with American action movies makes him the perfect partner in Jim’s movie-styled life. After watching the 1990 Finnish film I Hired a Contract Killer, Jim decides that he wants to take the place of its protagonist and asks Mark to do the honours in killing him. It may sound rather far-fetched but there is a serious underbelly to its hyperbole and other-worldliness.

Jeffries gives an assured performance as Mark, whose Mancunian swagger hides a far more vulnerable masculine existence. He is terrific opposite Rhodri Meilir, who brings a beautiful innocence to the troubled Jim, their exchanges pacy and lively throughout to give a slightly unnerving edge to the funny and ironic dialogue. Beasley is wonderfully on-edge as the hassled Irina, maintaining a brilliant balance between sanity and breakdown such that her character fizzes both in dialogue and action like a loosely-corked bottle of pop. The pressures on all three are palpable in their different ways; and they give rise to the much bigger issues at play. Harris comments on mental health, consumerism, capitalism and the political system without ever being preachy. He achieves this through the disabling use of humour and by intimately tying the issues to the narrative. As a result, they ooze naturally out to offer a searing indictment on the oppressive systems and privileged attitudes in existence within society, tempered frequently by the comic form.

I had expected to be overwhelmed as I walked through the doors of Theatr Clwyd for the first time in 18 months. But though it felt special to enter the building to a familiarly warm welcome, made more so by the beaming sun as it flooded in through the windows; to give a knowing smile to the recognisable pictures on the stairs up to the Emlyn Williams theatre; and to be greeted by the same ever-delightful staff who were courteous and helpful as I got into a bit of confusion over my ticket number, it was the reminder of the importance of theatre, as a medium that can speak truth to power, that really made its mark. That importance has not gone away over the course of the pandemic. If anything, it has grown stronger and become more vital than ever. But having become acutely aware of this once-unspoken assumption outside of the context of its physical space and place, For the Grace of You Go I was the first opportunity for what had become apparent through the screen to be embodied within the bricks and mortar to which theatre most truly belongs. As such, Alan Harris’ already-powerful message struck an even deeper chord than it might have in pre-Covid times. If it had something to say then, it most definitely needs to be heard now.

Click here to find out more and purchase tickets.

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Gareth to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

An Interview with Actor and Director Eleri B. Jones, conducted by Gareth Williams

In this latest interview, Get the Chance member Gareth Williams chats to actor and director Eleri B. Jones.

Eleri is a graduate of the University of Manchester and Drama Centre London. She is currently undertaking a traineeship with Theatr Clwyd as an Assistant Director.

Here, she talks to us about the traineeship; her involvement in Clwyd’s latest production, The Picture of Dorian Gray; a collaborative project with the North East Wales archives*; and representation and the arts in Wales.

To find out more about The Picture of Dorian Gray, including how to purchase tickets, click here.

*Below is one of four videos produced by Theatr Clwyd in collaboration with the North East Wales Archives as part of the project ‘Women Rediscovered…’. To watch them all, click here to access their YouTube channel.

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Gareth to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

Interview conducted
by Gareth Williams

Review, The Goat Roper Rodeo Band, Theatr Clwyd, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Or so it seems. The arts sector is not out of the woods yet by any means. But there is a glimmer of hope. Like the neon bulbs dangling across the stage at my first live gig since March, there are rays of optimism breaking through the darkness. As the sun set on the magnificent red brick building towering over us, aglow with rainbow-coloured light, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of joy and relief that I am back. That I have been able to come back. That my theatre, unlike others, still stands.

It never stopped, of course. It innovated; collaborated; diverted its resources; sought creative solutions. And now, it is slowly returning to a sense of the old normal. Not indoors, mind, but out. On a grassy field marked with white boxes and filled with makeshift chairs of all shapes and sizes. A tapestry of camping and outdoor furniture laid out before a plain black stage, simply lit and acoustically sound. Onto it step three lads with three instruments ready to entertain the throngs that have ventured out on this Friday evening. And entertain us they most certainly do, with a barnstorming hour of country, blues, and alternative folk.

Their blistering set was much needed to get the toes tapping; to counter the cold wind blowing across the site. The audience applauded in enthusiastic appreciation throughout, determined to enjoy an hour of music after the dearth of live performance over the past few months. The Goat Roper Rodeo Band certainly offered plenty of enjoyment and more besides, an eclectic sound keeping things fresh and lively, with no let-up in their high-octane delivery. Even in the slow, ballad-like songs such as Toss and Turn and Old Joanna, there was intensity in their presentation, perhaps caused by the welcome release that this post-lockdown opportunity presented for them. Whatever the case, it only added to the brilliance of the evening. With a carefully-crafted back-catalogue of wonderfully-catchy songs – reminiscent of Mumford & Sons one minute, sounding like a 1950s WSM Radio broadcast the next – The Goat Roper Rodeo Band certainly left their mark on proceedings in an hour that went by way too fast.

It was a very different experience of Theatr Clwyd to the one that I am used to. But it is moments like these that weave themselves into our memories. They are the unexpected surprises that make our relationship to a place so rich with meaning. They crystallise into a particular instance on our timeline that helps us tell the story of our lives to those that come after, when we recall how this theatre and its work has impacted us down the years. It may appear to the one looking in and gazing upon the photographs that this was just another outdoor gig. But to those who were there, or to me at least, this show marked the occasion when the arts began to breathe again, as the tightly-bound corset of Covid-19 restrictions was loosened enough to allow for such a socially-distanced gathering to take place.

There will be many bumps in the road to come. We are not out of the woods yet. But beyond the many trees still to wind past to get to the edge of what can seem an overwhelmingly-bleak scene, there is a light that shines. It will not be the same one we left behind. And neither should it be. Lockdown has been an opportunity to view and do things differently. Live performance as we knew it will return I’m sure. But the arts sector must also move forward. Change must be embraced.

Click here to find out more about The Goat Roper Rodeo Band.

Click here to find out what’s coming up at Theatr Clwyd.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

My Top 5 Showcase: Theatr Clwyd Shows

In the third part of my showcase series for Get the Chance, I thought I’d share five of my favourite Theatr Clwyd shows in conjunction with their #TCTogether project.

Under Milk Wood

I have this production by Terry Hands to thank for falling in love with theatre in the first place. On a cold February night in 2014, I sat on the end seat in the front row of the Anthony Hopkins theatre and was transported to the wonderful world of Dylan Thomas’ famous drama. It featured an excellent cast of Welsh actors whose delivery of the language created a very vivid experience. I can still see the character of Polly Garter (Katie Elin-Salt) under intense spotlight, transfixed by her plaintive tones as she sang of lost love. A true ‘conversion’ experience for me.

Junkyard: A New Musical

Writer Jack Thorne has gone on to critically-acclaimed success with TV dramas like The Accident. This play came hot on the heels of the first in his National Treasure trilogy, and was every bit as good. Set in an adventure playground, it featured a rowdy group of teenagers led by the outspoken Fiz (Erin Doherty). Doherty led the company brilliantly, giving a pitch-perfect performance in a production that used lighting and music to brilliant effect. Emotive and funny, it shone a light on the overlooked corner of an urban landscape.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Anyone who has witnessed the annual Rock ‘n’ Roll pantomime will know that the costume department at Clwyd are a talented bunch. They excelled themselves with this production however, with costumes that were every bit as colourful as the spectacularly rich scenery. Oscar Wilde’s already witty script was brought to life hilariously by the physicality of actors Matt Jessup and Nick Harris in particular. Brilliantly funny, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun in a theatre.

Home, I’m Darling

Deservedly winning awards (Best Comedy among them), Laura Wade’s critique of nostalgia and domestication was a beautifully-constructed, well-acted and aesthetically-glorious piece. The bold and impressive scenery – effectively a life-size doll’s house – would have been enough to bowl you over. Thankfully, the acting talents of Katherine Parkinson and Richard Harrington, clearly in their element, brought plenty of humour and vulnerability to their lead characters. It made for a highly original, thoroughly enjoyable play.

Pavilion

I loved this play. Playwright Emily White’s debut is a modern Under Milk Wood, casting a sharp, satirical and dark eye on life in small town Wales. It featured an incredible array of performances from established actors and upcoming talent alike. The true genius of this production was in its realism; the way that White created drama out of the everyday and mundane. The cast brought it to life superbly. I cannot wait for it to be revived for the stage again already.

What are your favourites? Share them using the hashtag #TCTogether, where you’ll also find lots of creative ideas to do during lockdown @clwydtweets.

Written by Gareth Williams

Review, Pavilion, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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.

Rebecca Smith-Williams (left), Lowri Hamer (centre), Carly-Sophia Davies (right)

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.

Caitlin Drake as Myfanwy

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.

Click here for tickets and further info

gareth

Review, Orpheus Descending, A Theatr Clwyd/Menier Chocolate Factory Co-production by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The set design may be far more sedate than in her last production, Home, I’m Darling. But the cast assembled by director Tamara Harvey for her latest offering Orpheus Descending spark off one another with electrifying chemistry. One wonders what she does during the rehearsal process that nurtures such strong unity among cast members, and produces such creative energy that then flows out on stage, with amazing results.

Tamara Harvey

In this adaptation of one of Tennessee Williams’ lesser-known plays, Lady and Val might be advertised as the two main characters. But it is very much an ensemble piece, with the most absorbing scenes being those in which a whole host of players feature. Spread across the stage, the dialogue zips from one to another, bouncing around like an entertaining ball game. The script is so sharp and punchy. And the dialect coaching given by Penny Dyer and Nick Trumble only enhances it further. It makes for a very immersive play – the protrusion of the stage to the front row, and the use of the aisles either side of the auditorium, intensifying this experience.

Not to say that there aren’t some amazing individual performances however. Laura Jane Matthewson brings such a delightful humour to her character Dolly Hamma that her mere presence on stage brought a smile to my face. Seth Numrich’s turn as traveller and musician Val is full of charisma. His guitar skills might not be up there with Val’s hero Lead Belly, but Numrich nevertheless has the unenviable ability to own a stage without ever overshadowing his fellow cast members. He is an excellent match for Hattie Morahan, playing opposite him as Lady. Morahan brings a powerful sense of independence to the role that is both frustrated by her marriage to Jabe (Mark Meadows) and teased out through her developing romance with Val. Morahan’s performance grows steadily throughout the play, becoming one that, in many ways, defines the second half.

I reserve special praise for Jemima Rooper, who is nothing short of excellent as Carol Cutrere. The rebel, the rouser; the misfit and the mistress in this portrait of small-town life, Cutrere is such a fascinating character. She is made so by Rooper, who grants her such a vast expanse of unashamed openness that I could only wonder at how Rooper manages to retain a slight air of mystery about her. Yet she does, in spite of her character’s exhibitionism; there remains a hidden depth to her even as her vulnerability and brokenness are so apparent. If Morahan is the star of the second half, Rooper is most certainly the star of the first.

Tamara Harvey’s production makes you wonder why Orpheus Descending has not been produced more regularly. It is perhaps because Harvey has the ability to nurture, and the skill to mine, the best of performances from her actors. In other hands, perhaps it would not be as gripping or as interesting. But it is here, largely because of the evident chemistry that exists between the cast members. One can only credit Harvey with developing that. And it is this which draws out the extra quality that sees such great individual performances, which combine beautifully to create such an excellent overall production.

Click here for more info

gareth

Review, Lord of the Flies, Theatr Clwyd/Sherman Theatre Co-Production by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The all-female cast of Lord of the Flies, a Theatr Clwyd and Sherman Theatre co-production, may have caused a stir in some quarters. But, for me, it’s actually one of the least interesting aspects of the production. This adaptation of William Golding’s 1954 novel translates the characters from page to stage seamlessly. It is their unique and distinct personalities, and the interactions between them, that fascinate most. The gender, as well as race, of the actors on stage very quickly becomes superfluous. I hope that, after all the hype and controversy, Jodie Whittaker’s introduction as the 13th Doctor next week will have a similar effect.

Director Emma Jordan has chosen to explode this production onto the stage. Sitting comfortably in my seat, the sudden detonation of light and sound to begin the play made me jump out of my skin. It was terrifying. Yet the exhilaration was equally palpable. It doesn’t take long for the characters, stranded on a desert island after their plane crashes, to establish themselves in the minds of the audience. The sensible Piggy (Gina Fillingham), the humble Ralph (Lola Adaja), and the vitriolic Jack (Kate Lamb) are as familiar here as they are in the pages of Golding’s book. Nigel Williams’ script remains relatively faithful to the novel, whilst condensing the action into a tightly-framed two hour performance. This means that the narrative skips along nicely. Yet the big moments still have plenty of room to breathe, resulting in some dramatic scenes that ooze tension and leave tangible space for reflection in their wake.

Far removed from her lovely persona as Delia Busby in Call the Midwife, Lamb seems to relish the role of Jack. The harsh delivery of her early criticism towards Fillingham’s sweetly amusing Piggy makes her character instantly dislikeable. Lamb appears at pains to place her character as the central antagonist through her brash and bold movements alongside the venomous verbal outbursts contained in Williams’ script. Such characterisation presents a confidence and commandeering that translates itself into a vision of leadership that can seem right and proper. It is in stark contrast to the pragmatic Ralph, played by Adaja. Her presence is less about physical flare. Instead, it is a more contained performance that sees the character wrestling internally with conflicting ideas and sentiments. This is conveyed brilliantly by Adaja through far more subtle movement than we get from Lamb. Combined with more strain and staccato in her vocal expression, Adaja demonstrates both the humility and self-doubt that lie at the heart of Ralph. This makes her, to all intents and purposes, a far more qualified leader, in my view. Yet this is a vision of leadership that is so often judged as weak and ineffective. The dynamic between these two, very different characters is, I believe, of huge relevance today, not least in the context of local, national, and global politics.

When I encounter Lord of the Flies, it is the use and misuse of power that fascinates. It is a theme that goes beyond gender. It speaks of the human condition. Therefore, to argue that changing the gender of the characters is problematic is, in my opinion, nonsense. Not that it is completely irrelevant. After the show, I overheard one female audience member comment that girls can be just as savage as boys. Would this observation have been made without the female-only cast? To offer an alternative (female) perspective, one that still remains sadly lacking in contemporary theatre, is important. But it is by no means one of the main reasons why this production is worth seeing. It is worth seeing because it features a very talented and dynamic cast who work brilliantly together to create an engaging and interesting adaptation of Lord of the Flies. Add in some well-placed music and very effective use of lighting and it makes for a bold and challenging dramatization of a narrative whose themes still resonate strongly today. In the end, this is simply a great story, well told.

Click here for tickets.

gareth

Review Home, I’m Darling, A Theatr Clwyd/ National Theatre Co-production by Gareth Williams

Update : the production is transferring to the West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre for a limited season this January. Booking can be made at the highlighted link above.
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Travelling along the sun-drenched roads of North Wales in the heat of an early July evening, I wondered whether it was the right time to be going to sit in a theatre. But Home, I’m Darling is worth suffering a bit of sweat for. It may have been warm in the Emlyn Williams Theatre, but that did not stop me from thoroughly enjoying Laura Wade’s brand-new play. With a sizzling set, a bunch of colourful characters, and a blooming good narrative blossoming with resonant themes, this is a must-see for the summer.

As I entered the auditorium, I gasped with amazement at the sheer size and scope of the set. To be greeted by a full scale model of a house was not what I expected. I was positively overwhelmed by the sheer level of detail in its interiors and furnishings. The work of designer Anna Fleishle and her team is nothing short of remarkable. It transports us immediately into the world of the 1950s, where we meet a “sickeningly happy” couple played by Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd, Humans) and Richard Harrington (Hinterland, Lark Rise to Candleford). Parkinson plays the doting housewife to Harrington’s sporting gentleman. Set to the music of Mr Sandman, there is an air of pristine perfection about this opening scene. The song exudes a dream-like state in which these two characters exist and, indeed, as Harrington’s Johnny pops on his hat and coat, takes his lunchbox packed by Parkinson’s Judy, and kisses his wife goodbye, it all feels rather like a Sunday afternoon TV movie. So when Parkinson pulls out an iPad from a drawer, it creates a moment of dissonance that reverberates on the saccharine glass of this play’s squeaky –clean window.

Parkinson gives an accomplished performance as Judy, an idealist who delights in the idea of immersing herself in the 1950s by becoming a full-time housewife. It is not just the décor that oozes a nostalgic charm. Along with some incredibly elegant dresses, Parkinson’s slightly RP-toned accent and gliding movement paint a picture of a simple existence far removed from the complications of modern life. Judy is a woman who has chosen this life of frugality and servitude. Parkinson has her defend this choice with the kind of razor-sharp wit that is a staple of her acting persona. Even the impassioned speech of her feminist mother (Sian Thomas) seems to have little effect on her. It is a succinct and timely reminder of all that women have fought for over the past 100 years. It may not have broken through the resolute edge that Parkinson provides Judy with, but it was powerful to hear as an audience member. Such a resolute appearance is marked by an air of vulnerability however. Judy has lost herself in the pursuit of her ‘50s dream. It is left to Johnny to help her find herself again. Harrington invests warmth and loving care into his character. He could not be further removed from his troubled and brooding character in Hinterland. When he does get angry, it is a tone that will be familiar to fans of the BBC Wales crime drama. It seems that anger is what Harrington does best. Yet there is a distinctly soft side to Johnny that shows another side to Harrington’s acting ability that I’ve not seen before. It was refreshing to see, and proves his worth as one of Wales’ finest contemporary actors.

Sadly, we don’t get to see near enough of another of Wales’ finest. In my opinion, Sara Gregory is up there with Eve Myles in terms of her acting ability and characterisation. Her turn as branch manager and Johnny’s boss Alex in Home, I’m Darling is short but unsurprisingly sweet. She brings a professional charisma and expert flair to her character that makes her a formidable force for the short time she is on stage. When her, Parkinson and Harrington are together, it is one of the most electrifying scenes of the whole play. Kathryn Drysdale and Barnaby Kay complete the cast, both giving solid performances as husband and wife duo Fran and Marcus. Such is the quality of their characterisation that they could easily be the lead characters in another story. It is testament to Laura Wade’s writing that, instead, we have them occupying this space as minor, but no less significant, characters to Parkinson and Harrington’s leads.

Due to move to the National Theatre in London later this month, Home, I’m Darling is worth catching if you are in or around North East Wales. Director Tamara Harvey and her team have again excelled themselves with a production that is just as, if not even more memorable, than 2017’s Uncle Vanya. The set is certainly as iconic as the one created for Uncle Vanya, and the cast that has been assembled is again oozing with quality. Katherine Parkinson feels like she was made for the part of Judy. Richard Harrington is brilliant as her husband Johnny. Sara Gregory and the rest of the cast are given characters that could quite easily be lead parts in an alternative version of events. Massive credit must go to Laura Wade for creating such an inventive and mesmeric play. She has created something that perfectly encapsulates the zeitgeist, and that includes the weather at present. Amidst the current spell of sunny weather, it is worth venturing indoors for an evening in order to see this wonderfully colourful creation.

Click here for more info.

gareth

Gareth Williams

Review, Island Town, A Theatr Clwyd/ Paines Plough Co-Production by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The Roundabout Theatre makes a welcome return to North Wales sporting a rather distinct yellow exterior. If you’ve not heard of it before, this is a theatre like no other. Assembled from flat pack with nothing but an Allen key, once complete, it is a fully self-contained, intimate little theatre that houses some of the most fantastic new plays in Britain. One of those plays is Island Town, which I was lucky enough to see last week. This 80-minute story of small town life could be described as a dramatic stage version of the BBC3 comedy This Country. Still full of humour but with a darker political edge, Island Town focuses on the lives of three friends trying to get by in a place that offers very little in the way of meaningful activity. With only the hope of escape, they settle, for the time being, on hanging out with one another, getting drunk on cider and looking ahead to the start of their adult lives. But when school’s out and exams are over, they find that it’s not so easy getting by in a place where there’s nothing to do. And escaping is not as easy as it sounds.

Writer Simon Longman has done a sterling job in creating a simple yet powerful narrative. He has created three well-formed characters that all three actors seem to comfortably step into and make their own. It is their relationships that drive the story forward, and make this piece particularly engaging. Whilst I am sad that the wonderful Katie Elin-Salt is not part of the cast this year, the production company, Paines Plough, have nevertheless found three excellent actors to play the roles. Katherine Pearce, in particular, has proved to be a real coup. I say this because she steals the show as Kate, an angry and assertive young carer who feels trapped by the need to look after her ill father. Pearce crackles with antagonistic rage. She places Kate as the centre of attention, a position which seems to strengthen her resolve whilst simultaneously covering up her vulnerability. Such is her pragmatic insistence and strong-willed notions that the three of them must escape the confines of their hometown that we, like Sam (Charlotte O’Leary) and Pete (Jack Wilkinson), agree to go along with her. Yet the consequences of such a decision are damaging to say the least. From here, Pearce slowly allows her character’s vulnerability to creep up to the surface. She causes the fragile state of her character to painstakingly crack through its steely confines. Such a move makes for an emotive performance, and makes Pearce herself one-to-watch.

Both O’Leary and Wilkinson give good support to Pearce in her more central role. In particular, Wilkinson brings a wonderful humorous naivety to his character. He deposits real warmth into his performance that evokes much laughter from the audience, particularly as he spins a fantastic web of outrageous stories, the highlight of which has to be his cremation for a fish. You can’t help but love him, which is why the injustice that he subsequently suffers elicits very strong feelings. In this instance, Longman makes Pete a political mouthpiece for the small town unemployed. He notes that there are no jobs in the local area. With no means of earning money, he must sign on. Yet he can’t sign on as he hasn’t got enough money for the train to the out-of-town job centre. There are no buses, and he can’t drive either. The non-specificity of Island Town’s setting means that it speaks generally into the heart of rural British life, of “Towns that sit like islands in the middle of fields”. Longman shines a sharp spotlight on the realities of small town life, making this not only a humorous play but a very relevant one too.

Island Town is a funny, thought-provoking play of minimalist proportions. At the same time, its message is somewhat universal. At one end, it captures the wonderful creativity that can arise from sheer boredom. On the other hand, it reveals the desperation that can result from a lack of amenities. Katherine Pearce gives a strong emotive performance as Kate, ably joined by Charlotte O’Leary and Jack Wilkinson. The three capture life in a small town incredibly well. With no props or no scenery, they still manage to draw us into their world and make it incredibly real. I’d recommend you catch it, if not in Mold then elsewhere. That’s the beauty of this pop-up theatre. It can pop up anywhere.

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gareth