The latest “On The Edge” presentation at Cardiff’s Chapter, was a double-bill of rehearsed readings of short plays with a vague mental health theme, directed by Gilly Adams. First up was a revival of one of Hijinx’s “learning difficulties” plays, “Wishful Thinking”, a devised piece with music. It tells the story of three sisters (excellently played by Claire Cage, Adrienne O’Sullivan and Nicki Rainsford), one of whom is a carer for the youngest, while the other has “escaped” – her long overdue return disrupting the family routine. Very poignant, with a beautiful music score, but a more developed narrative might have enhanced its resonance. Heartstrings were also tugged in “Talking To Wordsworth”, National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke’s play which was first performed as a joint Sherman Theatre/BBC Radio Wales production in 1997. Cage starred as the trying-very-hard-not-to-be-patronising poet visiting a hospital for the elderly mentally ill, with O’Sullivan as the hard but caring nurse, Lynn Hunter as the ward busybody, Rainsford and producer Michael Kelligan providing background colour, and Richard Berry as the elective mute who is slowly drawn out by the magic of words. Very effective, if inevitably slightly sentimentalised. Another satisfying evening’s entertainment.
The latest “On The Edge” production at Chapter was a semi-staged reading of “Don’t Breathe A Word” by Cardiff-based poet Susan Richardson. It traces a writer’s relationship with her journal, from childhood to old age and beyond; the main protagonist played by Polly Kilpatrick, and the voice in her head (variously encouraging, undermining, censorious and ignored) by Rebecca Knowles – both excellent. While the life itself seemed somewhat idealised (numerous uncomplicated love affairs, a comfortable lifestyle despite only modest literary success), the story (played out on a set comprising only an armchair and several small piles of books) was told with great charm and fluency, Bethan Morgan’s direction foregrounding the humour, and her scoring subtle and sensitive. I guess the author’s aim is to highlight the general invisibility of women’s stories; I found it somewhat more inspiring than I had expected to.
I attended the Chapter performance of the latest in the On The Edge“Deadlier Than The Male” season of work by female playwrights :- “Gryfhead” by Lucy Gough, an everyday story of boy meets girl, girl’s brother kills boy, girl digs up boy’s body and keeps his head in the fridge. Based on a story from Boccaccio, via Keats, it starred Katy Owen as the feisty heroine, James Ashton as the unfortunate lover, Robert Harper as the unhinged, thuggish brother, and Alastair Sill as the Poet who alternates between observing, devising and participating in events, ultimately losing control of his creations, as Ella inconveniently refuses to fade prettily away. Less densely poetic than previous Lucy Gough plays that I’ve seen, “Gryfhead” is a grippingly gruesome tale of female empowerment set in a sink-estate/Grimm fairytale landscape (although it could probably have worked without the lupine trimmings). Despite the inevitable, distracting moments of awkwardness involving the juggling of scripts and props, this being a semi-staged reading, director Sita Calvert-Ennals kept things moving, striking a good balance between tragedy and absurdism. I went expecting edification, and ended up being thoroughly entertained.