|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.