Chapter, Cardiff, Wed 15 Frb 2006, 8pm, £3 on the door
Si- Nathan Sussex
Kay – Maria Pride
Mam – Sharon Morgan
Bri- Michael Kelligan
Blink / Hitting Funny
Blink, I guess, is the play that Ian Rowlands just had to write some time, an act of catharsis, of long-repressed disclosure, and even in a rehearsed reading such as this, albeit on Chapter’s main stage, it has the electrifying force of angst and authenticity.
Rowlands was one of the many young people abused by John Owen, a drama teacher who regularly exploited the inexperience and trust of his students until he was apprehended and committed suicide and whose activities were recorded in the Clywch report.
But what problems the playwright has had to get this work into the public domain since he first wrote it five years ago. The BBC has recorded the first third of the play which should be on the radio in May. Rowlands’s own North Wales Stage Company rejected Gareth Miles’s Welsh translation. No-one else would touch it. So congratulations to Michael Kelligan and his On The Edge season for at last allowing this stunning, harrowing and excellent play to have life in performance.
In fact Blink is about a lot more than one life blighted by a sexual predator, although that part of the play is riveting enough. Rowlands is far too good and intelligent and natural a playwright to write simply about individual tragedy, as we have seen in his earlier works such as Blue Heron in the Womb and Marriage of Convenience.
He doesn’t write action dramas, and Blink is as static as you can get: three actors spotlit on a stage, a chair signifying a hospitalised patriarch, struck dumb with a stroke, whose sudden demise is the cause of the mother, her son Simon and his ex-girlfriend Kay meeting again in the Valleys town after six years of separation.
For the mother and son, it is an accident of liberation – she can confess to her helplessly mute husband her dissatisfaction with their marriage and confess to an infidelity, the son can explain why he walked out on his first love and the effects of his teenage abuse.
There’s also a Rhondda revenge tragedy here, too, because Si knows that the cause of his father’s untimely stroke and his mother’s mental derangement is the theft of his father’s van and cherished tool set and he is out to find the thief.
And what a neat allegory that is, the theft of a man’s working tools, his wherewithal for earning a living in a working-class community – that revenge that Si seeks is more than a son’s anger, it is a community’s despair at losing its livelihood and status.
Knowing Rowlands’s work, we are not surprised when Blink becomes, then, more than about the awful effects of sexual abuse. It is about the abuse of a people, from without and within, with Si’s dad representing a whole comatose community and Si himself a metaphor for the victims of abuse of power and trust.
For the playwright it is still mainly about himself and the others like him, their personal lives so affected by this monstrous teacher, whose activities were ignored or concealed by those who should have acted before. Now the play is out in the open, I suspect it will be seen as something deeper and broader, about power and abuse, impotence and failure, guilt and retribution, love and pretence, dead souls and dead societies.
Blink as it stands is perhaps too long and needs editing and in Michael Kellligan’s otherwise fine production it climaxed too early. But it contains some beautiful, lyrical, vernacular writing that sweeps from the sexually explicit to the very funny in typically Rowlands style and it was well served by some performances that belied the short rehearsal time – a scatty Mam from Sharon Morgan, a tough warm Kay from Maria Pride and an anguished Si from Nathan Sussex.
David Adams (Western Mail)