Music You Don’t Normally Hear by Alan Perry

Performance

Chapter, Cardiff, Wed 9 Feb 2005 £3 on the door

Cast

Belfast Danny – Michael Kelligan

Ken – Roger Nott

Wayne – Nathan Sussex

Lyn – Clare Isaac

Sarah – Clare Isaac

Tall Paul – Nathan Sussex

Tom – Roger Nott

Sylvia – Stevie Parry

Director

Karl Francis

Review

Inside this uncomfortably-titled collection of scenes from Alan Perry’s book on Swansea street people there is, maybe, a play trying to get out.

It wasn’t really there in this first production of the latest On The Edge season of rehearsed readings, despite sterling attempts by actors Nathan Sussex and Claire Isaac to make something dramatic out of what’s all too often straightforward reportage.

It’s not a thin book, Perry’s record of interviews with Swansea’s homeless, and any adaptation that seeks to create theatre from the verbatim views of the cavalcade of characters is going to have to decide what it’s all about – and for director Karl Francis, it seems, it’s about giving the marginalised a voice (as in the book) but also finding the emotion and the human dramas in what’s a random collection of memories.

So we have here Ken and Sylvia, a mature couple who continually bicker as he tries to tell us about his experiences as a soldier, while she wants to convince us of her past beauty and desirability. Wayne and Lyn offer a kind of stand-up comedy with corny jokes based on Swansea scandals – controversial murders, lesbian police, the making Twin Town. Sarah, an alcoholic, has never liked men since she was raped and Tall Paul is angry and with good cause.

Confessional theatre and docudrama meet, then in this never boring but rarely effective play. Script-in-hand performances can be problematic and here, for the first time in this series of seasons, the work suffered because of the process: not everyone went beyond reading their parts. The two younger actors were outstanding because they did what they’re supposed to do: they created characters, they found depths – and they didn’t have to read every line. Stevie Parry managed by the end to bring real complexity to the woman who had always wanted love but found herself living with ghosts, although still having to use the script as a prop. Roger Nott rarely went beyond reading his lines as if he’s hardly seen them before, and it threatened to ruin the production.

It struck me, too, that it all didn’t really work because the conventions weren’t clear: we know it is based by Perry on his book, but why is he referred to as present throughout, the invisible man with the tape recorder: better, surely, to have the characters talk to us direct rather than through the intermediary of a transcriber.

Karl Francis has clearly, in the limited time available for rehearsal, tried to find some truths in the text and to turn journalism into theatre. He fails not because it isn’t there but, I suspect, because more thought is needed in terms of character selection – why these people, what is it they say, about themselves, about the human condition, about the bigger picture, and what does it all say to us, the audience, who want to feel and to think ?

The show leaps into life once we meet Sarah and Isaacs establishers her without any trace of sentimentality as a sympathetic, independent person, deeply scarred and with a rich albeit depressing life-story, her lack of personal contact, never mind love, in contrast to Sylvia’s need for men and Tall Paul’s bitter experience of an unfaithful partner.

Similarly Essex grabs the part of Tall Paul and shows us again what an underrated and underexposed actor he is: like Isaacs he performs rather than just delivering his lines and for much of the second half-hour of the play real dramatic characters with humanity and experience make us realise that, yes, there is indeed a good play to be made from this material that would not be voyeuristic, patronising or sentimental.

David Adams (Western Mail)

 

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