The spectacle of the venerable Boyd Clack in a dress (and trousers) – a middle-aged man not quite pretending to be a woman. This is the latest treat provided by the Welsh Fargo Stage Company in their series of “On The Edge” readings at Chapter. Lucinda Coxon’s apparently little-performed monologue “I Am Angela Brazil”, directed by Hugh Thomas. Nothing to do with the children’s author of the same name, except that the title evokes a long-lost, girlish innocence as the protagonist, a tortured, adulterous woman, relays her troublesome dreams and fears. On a set consisting of a chair, and a table on which sits a glass of water, Clack is a reassuring presence, all charm, charisma and gravitas, only glancing occasionally at his script. The writing is elegant, poetic, occasionally profane, and captivating, despite the coldness of the character and the many levels of ironic distance between her and her audience. Beautifully done.
THE success of Michael Kelligan’s script-held readings was encapsulated in one crucial scene from the opening play in his latest On the Edge series. There are no props beyond a wheelchair and a few desks and chairs, yet we all strained our necks to look at the luggage that the cast were opening – even though we consciously knew they were completely improvising, there was no luggage there. Such is the acting talent, the richness of characterisation and the slick delivery of mounting tension that you quite forget you are not watching a costumed, staged drama.
It is also the strength of Emlyn Williams’ writing that you are instantly absorbed into the lives of these characters and gasp to know what will unfold. This thriller is a psychoanalyst and also film maker’s dream (providing Robert Montgomery with an Oscar nomination and a dodgy accent). As the play opens with a judge (played by Hugh Thomas) summing up the murder trial it is no whodunit element to this tale. Rather it is why. Set in a remote cottage in the rich and controlling old Mrs Bramson (Judith Haley) assisted by her penniless, single niece Olivia Grayne (Clare Cage). Hubert Laurie (Robert Harper) is Olivia’s suitor and the wonderfully acted domestics; down to earth housekeeper Mrs. Terrence (Clêr Stephens), and the ditzy pregnant maid Dora Parkoe (Lizzie Rogan) even the ubiquitous police inspector Belsize (Johnny Tudor). Then we have dashing Dan, played by Jay Worley.
Haley plays Mrs Bramson as more nastily lonely than cruelly tyrannical so it makes sense that the fabulous housekeeper is more than her equal as a sparring partner yet is bitter enough to make her niece’s life a misery. Robert Harper oozes experience and effortless character playing. Jay Worley’s Dan is chirpy, happy chappy but with always a little menace in there. His psychosis slowly unravels as the play develops as he smarms his way into Mrs Bramson’s affections, manipulates Olivia but ultimately self-destructs when his belief that he is incapable of being found out proves false. He does the watching, as he tells us. He gives a performance well beyond his years even if his delivery is at times rushed and he has the looks for the role. Yet, he is already able to use them to look creepy as well as alluring.