Category Archives: On The Edge (Spring Season 2006)

A season of script-held performances of challenging plays.

Yard by Kaite 0’Reilly

Performance

Chapter, Cardiff, Wed 17 May 2006, 8pm, £3 on the door

Cast

Da (Bull Man Rourke) – John Pierce Jones

Ma ( Breda Rourke) – Julie Gibbs

Fin ( Finoulla Rourke) – Helen Vance

Skully (Bull’s brother) – Michael Kelligan

Rory – Mark Sullivan

Director

Elen Bowman

Review

The On The Edge season of rehearsed readings at Chapter ended with what should have been a bang – an explosive humanitarian play from Wales-based Kaite O’Reilly – but while a lot more than a whimper it exposed the limitations of this kind of economy theatre.

Script-in-hand readings can, as we have seen here, be thrilling, the rawness of the production allowing the words to dominate – a notable case being the first complete showing of Ian Rowlands’s Blink at the beginning of this season.

But it’s a delicately-balanced business, setting off the freshness with the problems of limited rehearsal time, and director Elen Bowman here seemed to want to mitigate the difficulties by reminding us at the outset that this was a “reading” and referring to her cast not as actors but as “readers”.

This is disingenuous. They are, of course, acting not reading as they portray the members of this dysfunctional Birmingham-Irish family: Helen Vance, currently a postgrad at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, acted the pregnant daughter with subtlety and a maturity that belies her age and experience, while Michael Kelligan, not only the producer but occasional director and actor of the On The Edge project, overacted the role of the dodgy Skully but did it with conviction. Mark Sullivan’s laid-back style worked in this case as the naïve and simple-minded Rory but John Pierce Jones relied too much on his towering physical presence as the bullying Da, never finding the character or, painfully, the accent (which seemed a tortured amalgam of Brooklyn, London and Sydney). Julie Gibbs seemed at a loss as how to play the abused wife and only when she let her voice get above a whisper and let out her rage was she credible.

But all were acting not reading and their different approaches to acting made this a far from ensemble performance, which it needs to be. There’s a more than a touch of the Sean O’Casey about Yard and that very Irish character was evident only in some of the more authentic accents, with little obvious rapport between the actors.

The play itself, however, was strong enough to survive the vagaries and varieties of this particular script-in-hand production. Set in a butcher’s shop and slaughterhouse, it is a multi-layered allegory of bullying, abuse, oppression and male aggression – while the resonances are obvious the Troubles, Kaite O’Reilly’s inspiration for Yard comes from her time working in Kosovo.

The irredeemably awful paterfamilias, Bull Man Rourke, a butcher who has lost his care for the necessary art and integrity of the trade, is an archetypal tyrant, but one whose violence and dodgy practices will see him fall. For the playwright, the wider issues here seem to be gender-based: it is an indictment of violence and abuse as practised by men, albeit sometimes unopposed by acquiescent women, and the play suffers a little from its feminist sexism.

Perhaps the play needs the reality of meat carcasses and the offal that is invisible here to get across powerfully the stench of the slaughterhouse: not only is this anti-male but anti-carnivore. In the intimate space of Chapter’s smaller performance space,
however, I for one was glad we didn’t actually have the hearts and the skinned rabbits.

Within the savagery and conflict that dominates the play there is not only passion but humour and wit and while Wales may only claim Ms O’Reilly as a relatively recent resident (Cardigan from Birmingham by way of Glamorgan University) it would be good to see her powerful, intelligent plays here.

David Adams

 

Look Back in Anger by John Osborne

Performance

Chapter, Cardiff Wed 12 April 2006, 8pm, £3 on the door

Cast

Jimmy Porter – Dean Rehman

Cliff Lewis – Huw Davies

Alison Porter – Rebecca Knowles

Helena Charles – Stacey Daly

Colonel Redfern – David Prince

 

Director

Michael Kelligan

Review

Why, one might wonder, has this iconic classic of the British stage, the play that changed theatre here forever, not been performed in Wales since it first exploded on the cultural scene fifty years ago ?The answer, I suspect, is to be found in Michael Kelligan’s brave but doomed-to-failure production at Chapter as part of his On the Edge season: Look Back in Anger is no longer relevant, isn’t that good a play and is best left to lie as an historical landmark along with Andy Warhol’s films, Yes albums and Damien Hurst’s formaldehyde fish of later decades.

It is, of course, important, but it must have been difficult for anyone in the audience who didn’t yet qualify for a bus pass to see what all the fuss was about. Only if you had suffered the blandness of mid-century British theatre could you properly appreciate the breath of fresh air that was The Royal Court and Look Back in Anger.

Hence the dilemma: are we seeing a period piece or a play for all time ? Are there Jimmy Porters out there now – and what would they sound like ? Kelligan’s cast on the whole, alas, suggested that their characters were like creatures from outer space or some tv costume drama, with an Scots and a Welsh actor (Rebecca Knowles and Stacey Daly) trying to sound like posh totty, a Welshman (Huw Davies) playing a Welshman – and a raw Cardiffian pretending to be… well, what is Jimmy Porter (Dean Rehman) but an over-erudite, snotty, elitist, sexist bully who unconvincingly claims to have working-class roots ?

This script-in-hand production suffers from the limitations of the genre – reading out that mix of wit and pomposity makes it seem even more wordy – but at least it reveals the faults of the original: the unbelievable characters, the essentially fascist attitudes of its anti-hero (and of his creator) dressed up as radical moral protest, the dependence of the well-made play for its structure, the self-indulgent lack of self-editing.

It also brings out some of the subtexts we hadn’t necessarily noticed then in the euphoria of seeing a play where the status quo was so challenged – the very Englishness of it emphasised by the Welsh outsider-observer, the scarcely-suppressed gay relationship between Cliff and Jimmy (confirmed years later when the model for the character outed his and Osborne’s relationship), the anti-female bile of not just verbal abuse of the women in the play but their victim status, the conflict between the personal and the political, for example.

In a performance where only the briefly-seen father-in-law (David Prince) and Cliff are played with any conviction, presumably because both are characters closer to the world we know, the crucial disappointment is the usually impressive Dean Rehman’s Jimmy. Rehman, we know, can do Angry Young Man but twenty-first century AYM rather than 1950s AYM – unable to get into the part completely (though he has some good moments) he has to read from the book too much to allow himself the space to persuade us that this obnoxious young man is owed any sympathy, respect or even attention.

Kelligan, perhaps, could have used his own experience to make the play more urgent – and to correct his actors’ mispronunciations (menagerie, charade, meringue, hysteria, matelot, for instance, as well as the English accent, all defeated the cast) and unsuccessful attempts to be English.

With just a few days rehearsal, of course, we should not expect perfection, although these seasons have yielded some cracking performances, so maybe the idea of commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the day theatre changed for ever was just too ambitious.

 David Adams

The Big Crunch by Neil Rhodes

Performance

Chapter, Cardiff, Wed 22 Mar 2006, 8pm, £3 on the door

Cast

The P.R. Girl – Stacey Daly

The President –Terry Victor

The Ex Prisoner – Dean Rehman

The Officer – Dion Davies

Director

David Prince