Tag Archives: Elen Bowman

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

 

Crossing the Bar by Lucy Gough

Performance

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

Cast

Nun – Sara Lloyd

Boy- Dyfan Dwyfor

Keeper/Gaoler –Gareth Potter

Director

Elen Bowman

Review

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)