Tag Archives: Clare Isaac

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

Music You Don’t Normally Hear by Alan Perry

Performance

Chapter, Cardiff, Wed 9 Feb 2005 £3 on the door

Cast

Belfast Danny – Michael Kelligan

Ken – Roger Nott

Wayne – Nathan Sussex

Lyn – Clare Isaac

Sarah – Clare Isaac

Tall Paul – Nathan Sussex

Tom – Roger Nott

Sylvia – Stevie Parry

Director

Karl Francis

Review

Inside this uncomfortably-titled collection of scenes from Alan Perry’s book on Swansea street people there is, maybe, a play trying to get out.

It wasn’t really there in this first production of the latest On The Edge season of rehearsed readings, despite sterling attempts by actors Nathan Sussex and Claire Isaac to make something dramatic out of what’s all too often straightforward reportage.

It’s not a thin book, Perry’s record of interviews with Swansea’s homeless, and any adaptation that seeks to create theatre from the verbatim views of the cavalcade of characters is going to have to decide what it’s all about – and for director Karl Francis, it seems, it’s about giving the marginalised a voice (as in the book) but also finding the emotion and the human dramas in what’s a random collection of memories.

So we have here Ken and Sylvia, a mature couple who continually bicker as he tries to tell us about his experiences as a soldier, while she wants to convince us of her past beauty and desirability. Wayne and Lyn offer a kind of stand-up comedy with corny jokes based on Swansea scandals – controversial murders, lesbian police, the making Twin Town. Sarah, an alcoholic, has never liked men since she was raped and Tall Paul is angry and with good cause.

Confessional theatre and docudrama meet, then in this never boring but rarely effective play. Script-in-hand performances can be problematic and here, for the first time in this series of seasons, the work suffered because of the process: not everyone went beyond reading their parts. The two younger actors were outstanding because they did what they’re supposed to do: they created characters, they found depths – and they didn’t have to read every line. Stevie Parry managed by the end to bring real complexity to the woman who had always wanted love but found herself living with ghosts, although still having to use the script as a prop. Roger Nott rarely went beyond reading his lines as if he’s hardly seen them before, and it threatened to ruin the production.

It struck me, too, that it all didn’t really work because the conventions weren’t clear: we know it is based by Perry on his book, but why is he referred to as present throughout, the invisible man with the tape recorder: better, surely, to have the characters talk to us direct rather than through the intermediary of a transcriber.

Karl Francis has clearly, in the limited time available for rehearsal, tried to find some truths in the text and to turn journalism into theatre. He fails not because it isn’t there but, I suspect, because more thought is needed in terms of character selection – why these people, what is it they say, about themselves, about the human condition, about the bigger picture, and what does it all say to us, the audience, who want to feel and to think ?

The show leaps into life once we meet Sarah and Isaacs establishers her without any trace of sentimentality as a sympathetic, independent person, deeply scarred and with a rich albeit depressing life-story, her lack of personal contact, never mind love, in contrast to Sylvia’s need for men and Tall Paul’s bitter experience of an unfaithful partner.

Similarly Essex grabs the part of Tall Paul and shows us again what an underrated and underexposed actor he is: like Isaacs he performs rather than just delivering his lines and for much of the second half-hour of the play real dramatic characters with humanity and experience make us realise that, yes, there is indeed a good play to be made from this material that would not be voyeuristic, patronising or sentimental.

David Adams (Western Mail)

 

More Lives Than One by Mark Jenkins

Performance

Chapter, Cardiff , Tues 5 Oct 2004, £3 on the door

Cast

Robert Marrable

Michael Kelligan

Claire Desmond

Clare Isaac

Roisin Clancy- Davis

Duncan Bett

Tony Leader

Director

Michael Kelligan

Review

The evening was billed as a celebration – excerpts from the plays of Mark Jenkins and the launch of his new collection – but one suspects the enthusiastic audience gathered at Chapter was there to celebrate more than a new publication.For this was the first opportunity to congratulate the playwright on his Edinburgh Festival Fringe First Award and, perhaps, to celebrate the arrival of a Welsh-based writer with established credentials – though it’s taken Jenkins twenty years to “arrive”, with half-a-dozen professional productions to his name.

The award was for Rosebud, his fascinating and uncannily credible portrayal of Orson Welles, and the performance here finished with the author himself reading part of the monologue, reminding us, too, that he’s probably best known for another one-man drama, Playing Burton, currently in LA and due to get another Welsh outing at the Millennium Centre in December.

But this event concentrated on less-known works and, as with other performances in this series of rehearsed readings, held out the prospect of a rare overview of the oeuvre of this neglected Welsh success – and maybe a hint as to why and how an ex-communist academic became a much-lauded playwright who is still snubbed in Wales.

Mr Owen’s Millennium, Norah’s Bloke, Birthmarks and Downtown Paradise (the four plays in Parthian’s More Lives Than One collection) do not, in fact, tell us much about the enigmatic Mr Jenkins, except that he can be passionate about what he sees as real socialism, cynical about politic theorists, aware of his London-Irish-Welsh upbringing, fascinated by larger-than-life characters. But of the real Mark Jenkins we discover little and he remains one of those playwrights whose creations have their own dramatic life and are not agents of their author’s own agendas… or so we are led to believe.

Excerpts, of course, do not give much indication of the complete plays, especially when the performances are of such varied quality as here, but what they do offer is a taste of Jenkins’s skills in sketching out characters, his manipulation of them to make debate, his erudition and also his empathy.

For Jenkins does tend to write about real-lifer individuals – Norah’s Bloke, his latest play, is the only one that is about a social situation and while the scenes we had here were well-done and effective, it’s not his best play as a whole, perhaps because it is autobiographical and lacks the toughness of the others.

It does show him as a more mature artist, though, less concerned with rewriting history or trying to get under the skin of famous people – Robert Owen, Marx and Engels, Strinberg, Burton and Welles, all of whom have had a Jenkins makeover to their benefit or detriment.

So why isn’t he revered in his home country ? His tribute to the pioneer of cooperativism and socialism, Mr Owen’s Millennium, is the only Welsh-based play (though his study of Richard Burton obviously has Welsh connotations), but perhaps it’s too uncritically adulatory – more obviously the work of someone deeply disillusioned by theory and approving of practical socialism.

No such generosity to Marx and Engels (in Birthmarks) or to a Black Power activist and his besotted solicitor (in Downtown Paradise) – people Jenkins seems to dislike for what he would see as their lack of human concern, with the implication that all hard-line idealists are not only insensitive but corrupt.

Jenkins in these political biographies writes in a kind of David Hare mould but on a minimalist scale: he criticises dogmatism through the study of individuals rather than the bigger picture. One suspects he is also fascinated by big names and is not too humble or afraid to presume to rewrite their lives from the selective perspective that gives him enormous control over their arguments.

It’s that uncomfortable, unfashionably revisionist analysis of heroic icons of ideology and culture that must make many approach Mark Jenkins with caution – but it’s also what makes his work often irresistibly fascinating, even when presented in frustratingly bite-sized portions.

 David Adams