Chapter, Cardiff, Wed 28 Sept 2005, 8pm, £3 on the door
Adam – Nathan Sussex
Rita – Stacey Daly
We have come to expect passion and anger and outrage from poet-playwright Patrick Jones.
The man who penned some of the Manic Street Preachers’ early radical lyrics is a deeply political animal, as his first astounding play, Everything Must Go, proved five years ago.
The War is Dead Long Live The War is a recent bit of lyrical polemic which got a Cardiff premiere as part of the On The Edge season of rehearsed readings, which is where we find Jones’s latest, Absents.
But this controversial new play is something else. Passionate, yes. Angry, yes, Outraged, yes. Polemical, yes. But political ?
Only if we, as the feminist playwrights of several decades ago proclaimed, the personal is the political.
Because Absents is a heartfelt scream of protest against abusive wives and how the system seems to support mothers at the expense of fathers when a relationship breaks down.
It isn’t a play in the conventional sense, because from the beginning we have a hero, modest sensitive Adam, and we have a villain, foul-mouthed, malicious, belittling Rita, and their downward spiral to despair and inevitable tragedy never gets to be presented as a complex story of rounded human beings, which is what we might expect from drama.
But Jones has never been conventional. He wears his heart on his sleeve and his best work is more like a dramatic poem than a play – and very effective, too. His writing is visceral, raw, arresting and provocative and Absents is all of that.
At the centre is the invisible Jake, a nine-year old product of this horrendously mismatched coupling.
Michael Kelligan’s tight direction has trimmed the original script and given it a new ending that tries to mitigate the misogyny. He has also got a couple of committed performances from Nathan Sussex and Stacey Daly.
Thus the evening was undoubtedly deeply engaging and affecting, the minimalist production giving the slight story a strong emotional thrust.
But however harrowing, and the force of the writing and the powerful performances ensure that we are caught up in this modern melodrama, Absents remains a one-sided case for justice for “Saturday dads”, albeit one that that worked well here, and might possibly as a radio play.
Does it matter that there is no balance here, that Adam is simply a good dad who likes to relive the 1973 Cup Final while Rita is a snarling, nasty, selfish bitch ? Only, perhaps, insofar as the real arguments about fathers’ rights when presented in such a black-and-white way can be diminished by the extreme portrayals.
And unlike, say, Everything Must Go, just as passionate and angry and outraged and one-sided a piece of polemic, where the politics was about principles rather than personal experience, Absents does come across as a personalised statement. Politics, after all, is about fighting for and against ideologies rather than apportioning blame to individuals: it isn’t the system that’s accused here, it’s Rita and, by extension, many other women.
David Adams (Western Mail)