Chapter, Cardiff, Wed 9 March 2005 £3 on the door
Nun – Sara Lloyd
Boy- Dyfan Dwyfor
Keeper/Gaoler –Gareth Potter
Lucy Gough’s remarkable two-hander is one of those plays more revered than seen – written twelve years ago, it gets very rare outings despite its reputation.
It is a brave soul, indeed, who takes on this intense, wordy, complex but exhilarating trip through religion, sex, metaphysics, love, death, redemption and salvation, so all credit to the On The Edge series of rehearsed readings for reminding us of Ms Gough’s lyricism, ambition and originality.
The challenge is compounded by the lack of clues we get at the outset: in Chapter’s sparse so-called studio space (aka the media centre, aka the upstairs bar) all we see at the outset is two young people in casual clothes who don’t know each other in a room with two candles burning, rather than the instant signs we’d get in a full production – the script clearly says that the boy has “Cut Here” tattooed on his neck, the girl to be dressed in a nun’s white habit.
It takes time, then, to realise that we have a young criminal and someone from a medieval religious order, two conflicting cultures and times, thrown together in a kind of limbo between heaven and hell.
The boy seems hardly fazed by his companion’s strange cod-archaic speech, she unperturbed by his inarticulate obscenities. Both novices of kinds, they share a cell she calls Dread where a mysterious gaoler/keeper appears occasionally with messages.
Now there comes a time not long into Crossing the Bar when we might think it would work better as a radio play – for one thing, the language is so dense you have to concentrate very hard to follow – especially as the characters are not in costume. The beautiful ambiguity of the rehearsed-reading genre, however, comes into its own when the actors actually perform as well as just read – and in Elen Bowman’s sensitive production of Crossing the Bar you realise that you do need to watch as well as listen.
The developing relationship between the two caught between heaven and hell, between life and death, is here not just in the words but in so much more: the space each inhabits, the physical contact, their faces, their interaction, all portrayed subtly and strikingly by Sara Lloyd and Dyfan Dwyfor.
Indeed, we realise more than any personal reading of the text might suggest that they are falling in love, that in her he sees the girl he has left behind when he hangs himself in Swansea goal.
There is a moral to this tale, however, and it depends on the final scene, which I have no intention of revealing. But on the way to the crossing of the bar a lot happens to that young boy, who is not only a criminal but, perhaps inevitably in a drama laden with religious references, can be seen as a Christ-like saviour of us all.
The play is, I suspect, a work that could not ever be performed to complete satisfaction – and, indeed, we wouldn’t want it to yield all its secrets, because we will find more in it every time we see it (or, more likely, read it). But this very committed production, even if it is script-in-hand with minimal rehearsal, does more than hint at the power and mystery of the piece, thanks to a great extent to Sara Lloyd’s finely-nuanced portrayal of the nun as a young naïve figure who can talk so scatologically and fart ferociously yet express a mix of innocence and sexual awakening.
David Adams (Western Mail)