Tag Archives: Karl Francis

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)

 

The War is Dead Long Live the War by Patrick Jones

Performance

Chapter, Cardiff, Wed 1 Sep 2004 £3 on the door

Cast

Paul Amos

Chris Lennard

Director

Karl Francis

Review

Patrick Jones caused quite a stir with his first play, Everything Must Go, a few years ago – an angry, lyrical, passionate lament for the lost values of traditional socialism that got a big, powerful opera-style production from Phil Clark at the Sherman Theatre.

The contrast between that loud, visually-exciting and energetic show and the latest play production to come from this poet couldn’t be starker. The opener for an ambitious series of small-scale readings of new Welsh drama (Alan Osborne’s shamefully neglected Merthyr Trilogy, work from Edinburgh award-winner Mark Jenkins, Lewis Davies and Ian Rowlands are to follow), this was a trimmed-down minimalist two-hander staged in Chapter’s smaller studio rather than the main-stage spectacular that was Everything Must Go.

Directed by film and tv veteran Karl Francis, The War is Dead Long Live the War, however, comes across as no less angry or lyrical or passionate a denouncement of society, although this time the subject is not so much the loss of ideology but the timeless horrors of war and the way that war persuades us to hate others.

Set, we soon guess, in a kind of limbo between life and death during the Iraq occupation, two soldiers debate – or rather present opposing views of – the effects of armed conflict. One is a gungo-ho boyo, racist, sexist, Sun-reading, stereotypical squaddie from today, the other an erudite, despairing poet shot for desertion at the end of the Great War.

The deal is simple and familiar: the dead poet is stuck in limbo until he can persuade another soldier to take his place – and to do that he has to persuade his modern-day counterpart to admit that war is wrong and simply makes people turn to hate.

It’s a tough task and, frankly, we aren’t really convinced that Jones’s modern soldier, fed on a diet of reality tv, quiz shows and Playstation and trained to call murder “collateral damage”, is really ripe for conversion by his Wilfred Owenish predecessor.

That lack of credibility is but one problem with this play – the characterisation can seem crude and patronising, the polarity of the attitudes as revealed in the contrasting cultural references and language is too pat, there is no real dramatic tension and we learn nothing new.

This spare production from Karl Francis, with Paul Amos and Chris Lennard as the black-and-white antagonists, does make us concentrate on the words (something that can get diminished in larger-scale productions), always the strong point of Jones’s limited stage output, but it sounds to me too trimmed, too crudely oppositional.

I like Jones’s writing (his book Fuse I find an impressive collection) and I have no problems with theatre that operates between lyricism and realism, or one that is blatantly polemical, but this struck me as simply not complex enough, not subtle enough, not theatrical enough – not that it couldn’t be, just that in this form at least the theme needs more space for the arguments to be more interesting.

Still, it’s an ongoing project, this The War is Dead Long Live the War production, and the work deserves to be developed: there’s too little committed poetic theatre to let this be dismissed as unfinished business.

David Adams