Category Archives: On The Edge (Spring 2005 Season)

Slaughter on Grand Avenue by Alan Osborne

Performance

Chapter, Cardiff, Fri 8 July 2005 £3 on the door

Cast

Antonia – Katy Owen

Hogarth – Jason Camilleri

Alicia – Clare Isaac

Puffin- Ffion Williams

Isaf- Lloyd Everitt

with Henry Johnson on drums.

Director

Michael Kelligan

Lighting

Dan Young

Review

Calling a theatre festival Passion is, I guess, provocative enough: to launch it with a group of scantily-clad dancing devils and an off-the-wall play about poetry, pornography and patrimony is even more interesting.So Passion, Cardiff’s first-ever city of drama festival, was launched at the New Theatre by the Lord Mayor, complete with chain and formal speech, but just as she stood up to the mike she found herself assailed by the suggestive close-up shimmying of a man wearing blue paint and little else, with a trident and his gang of squirming Trinidadian Blue Devils, just flown in to make their presence felt throughout the Passion festival and for the Mas Carnival in the Bay on July 30.With hips shaking and red tongues shooting in and out, the troupe were not really the sort of event normally encountered in the New Theatre bar or by civic leaders. You could almost see the think bubble above Cllr Freda Salway’s head as she waited for the gyrating and drumming to abate so she could open this exciting 25 days of drama in the city: HELP ! it said silently.

And if you thought that Chapter’s theatre was going to offer a refuge from the crazy and the carnivalesque – well, when does it ever ?

Alan Osborne, that remarkable polymath, can however express just what the Lord Mayor said when she did get to make her speech: the culture of Cardiff is unique and it is one created by the different communities who have settled there.

Osborne has always been interested more in the fringes of that culture – the dispossessed, the inarticulate, the odd and the plain loopy. Bull, Rock and Nut, Redemption Song and In Sunshine and In Shadow remain a trilogy of exception force and unconventional lyricism.

Those three plays are now known as the Merthyr Trilogy but his new play, Slaughter on Grand Avenue, harks back to the subject matter of one of his earlier plays, working-class Cardiff. Johnny Darkie, through, was based on dockland while his new work, as yet unfinished, is set in Ely and the road that runs through it.

Here we find Alicia J. Rummell, porn queen and entrepreneur, rap poet Hogarth and his girl, Antonia, who cons disability allowance by acting mental, “doing poetic illness”, and an odd couple in fancy dress, Puffin and Isaf, who turn out to be Hogarth’s half-siblings whom he and his father had abandoned in Swansea.

Just what happens, or why, is not terribly clear, especially in this script-in-hand production from Michael Kelligan as part of his On The Edge season of rehearsed readings, with its mainly young cast not seemingly sure of how to deliver Osborne’s often opaque if lyrical speeches.

Osborne’s stylised writing, I suspect, demands a very special kind of actor (I recall Dorien Thomas as the perfect performer to voice Osborne’s words) and while Katy Owen is fine, quirky and highly talented oddly I didn’t find her convincing as an Ely freak; and while Ffion Jenkins impressed considerably she did make her scenes seem, perhaps not unsurprisingly, to be more from Ed Thomas country than the even crazier world of Alan Osborne.

Clare Isaac grounded the play to an extent, Jason Cazmilleri was a convincing rap poet (after all, he is one) and Lloyd Everitt showed promise – but none, it seems to me, created that distinctive real-but-unreal place inhabited by Osborne’s larger-than-life characters.

Even so, I enjoyed the show enormously, if only because Alan Osborne has got just what this festival is all about: passion.

 David Adams

Utah Blue by Dic Edwards

Performance

Chapter, Cardiff, Wed 25 May 2005, £3 on the door

Cast

Gary – Dean Rehman

Mikal – John Norton

Nicole – Lisa Zahra

Bessie – Bethan Morgan

Director

Michael Kelligan

Review

The idea behind any so-called rehearsed reading is to give the playscript prominence – no set, no costumes, no lighting, no polished performances, just the words delivered with enough expertise to make the characters live. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.The On The Edge season at Chapter, which came to a close with Michael Kelligan’s direction of a controversial ten-year old Dic Edwards classic, usually does work, even if the most memorable events have been re-presentations of familiar work – and Mr Kelligan, whose brainchild this On The Edge project is, was clearly determined to go out (until the next season) with a bang not a whimper.Utah Blue’s main character is serial criminal Gary Gilmore, the murderer who achieved more notoriety after his death because of his fight to be executed rather than imprisoned, and it was immediately elevated to cult status with its production by Made in Wales at The Point.

But, like so many plays by that wayward wordy genius Dic Edwards, it has never been produced since, and it was remembered by some as simply a difficult play with lots of sex and nudity.

Well, you don’t do nudity in rehearsed readings and, to be honest, the hand-held scripts did rather get in the way in the simulated sex scenes (in a strange play there is still something bizarre about a couple turning folio pages and reading while attempting to copulate), but without the distractions of staging the more explicit moments it is the extraordinary text that we notice here.

And I (and the playwright too) felt this was a far more passionate, committed and rewarding staging of Utah Blue than we got in its full production in 1995 – thanks, perhaps, to a minimal direction and the policy of letting the actors find and deliver the richness, the complexities, the humanity and the challenges in Edwards’s script.

What we got in the small room upstairs at Chapter was an electric experience – shock after shock as ideas come tumbling out, as characters start to make sense then collapse into confusion, as elegant ideas knock against coarse sexuality. Reincarnation, karma, Spinoza, the value of art and the American Dream are debated alongside the sometimes cruel practices and conservative creed of The Mormons, in which Gilmore was reared, and the cynical sexual imperative that decrees that only thing man need know is how to eat pussy.

It is not an easy play to watch and certainly not an easy one to perform, but with relatively little rehearsal Dean Rehman as the central character, Bethan Morgan as his mother, and especially John Norton as kid brother Mikal and Lisa Zara as his lover Nicole, allowed to see the strengths and weaknesses of this abstruse but arresting study of contemporary Western culture.

I still don’t really understand the play but certainly this modestly-mounted production revealed the passions, the weird compulsive philosophy of this complex character, the fascinating playwrighting and the sheer eloquence and relishing of language of this most intriguing of contemporary Welsh playwrights. A good play to end this season.

 David Adams (Western Mail)

Tossers by Derec Jones

Performance

Chapter, Cardiff, Wed 27 April 2005 £3 on the door

Cast

Ree Davies

Jams Thomas

John Norton

Gareth Potter

Director

Gareth Potter

Review

The On The Edge season of script-in-hand productions has always been good value for money but a double bill seems almost extravagant – and a couple of such contrasting plays as these even more so.In the event, neither lived up to expectations – though it was far from a boring evening in Chapter’s Media Centre (which oddly has nothing to do with media and has a bar but doesn’t serve drinks).Susan Richardson’s Two of Me Now has had plenty of outings before this Cardiff premiere, but I can’t imagine how it works as a full production because it isn’t really theatrical: two characters, the iconic writers Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, talking about the relationship between art and life, may be of some interest to academics but has few of the ingredients to create engaging drama.

What it does have here is a brave direction from Sharon Morgan and a couple of clear-cut performances from Kathryn Dimery and Stacey Daly as a Woolf who thinks and a Plath who feels, two lives intersecting intellectually and parting emotionally. But there isn’t much that can be done with the script except have the pair occasionally speaking the same words, standing and sitting as two parts of the same feminine consciousness, occupying the similar and different ideological territories.

We don’t ever feel we are hearing the spoken voice here, and maybe each did talk as if she were writing – the text has all the hallmarks of a verbatim-theatre piece, a collage of extracts from books, essays and letters, and as such it might be more acceptable. But actually Ms Richardson has put her own words into the mouths of these two women and they are quite unconvincing; these are literary characters, not dramatic ones.

It’s intelligent, occasionally interesting, even tantalising in terms of where documentary ends and fiction begins as regards the characterisation, but it seems more of an exercise than a theatrical exploration of anything – and I didn’t end up knowing anything more about these fine writers and problematic people with difficult relationships.

I guess you could hardly get more of a contrast than Derec Jones’s Tossers – except that what it shared with Two of Me Now is the impression that it would make a better radio item than a theatre piece.

That’s despite an obsession with the audience that would be almost postmodernist if it weren’t treated so casually. In fact the whole piece is casual, playful and inconsequential as we have three characters in search of an author while waiting for a Godot called Bill.

One does feel that if Mr Jones took it more seriously, while retaining the anarchic sense of humour, there might be the basis of a short absurdist comedy – although we did have a lot of this sort of thing in the 1960s with Henry Livings, N F Simpson and Spike Milligan’s post-Ionesco nonsense plays.

Jams Thomas is good enough to hold it all together, just about, and it’s quite funny at times, but in the same way a student revue sketch is. Good fun, but hardly a play.

 David Adams