Chapter, Cardiff, Wed 10 Oct 2007, 8pm, £3 on the door
Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea, Thurs 11 Oct 2007, 7.30pm, £3
Parc & Dare Theatre, Treorchy, Fri 12 Oct 2007, 7.30 pm, £3
Phil Dodd, (Australian folk-rock singer, Act 1 in his twenties, Act 2 in his fifties) – Laurence Allen
Sarka Suchonova, (Act 1 political activist and translator, Act 2 a character from Phil’s memory) – Amanda Rawnsley
Barry Slate, (Act 1 student politician, Act 2 Australian State Premier. Doubles with Zdenk – Czech student) –Phillip Mackenzie
Sorrel Shea (Slate’s political advisor. Doubles with Zndeka – Czech student) – Manon Edwards
On the Edge is a production company, headed by Michael Kelligan, that promotes theatre in Wales. The Now I’m Talking season showing in Cardiff, Treorchy and the Dylan Thomas Centre, included Cargo penned by Swansea University’s own David Britton.
The play was performed script-in-hand, but the rehearsed reading soon made way in the audience’s imagination for the compelling dual stories of Phil Dodd, an Australian folk singer, and Barry Slate, Australian politician turned Premier. By far the most compelling element of the story was the relationship between Dodd and his Czech lover Sarka. The 1960s idealistic themes were infused with the immediate political and cultural realities of Prague. Folk Literature and authentic folk music provided a backdrop to the unsettling presence of the Russians.
The second act discussed the ideas of rewriting history and memory, and Dodd’s disillusionment with his own radical self-image forces him to refute false ideas about the idealism of left-wing pop-politics.
The dialogue shone through the intentionally unpolished performance. But it was Amanda Rawnsley’s performance as Sarka that held the strongest sway, above the less pressing story of Slate and his advisor Sorrell Shea. Sarka’s last minutes alive were utterly intriguing and drew deliciously to a poignant ending which, if depressingly predictable, was not illogically so given the characterisation.
A great example of Swansea’s capacity for staging great theatre.
It was standing room only in Chapter’s cramped alternative studio space – and all for a script-in-hand performance of an unknown Australian play.Furthermore, the audience was noticeably dominated young people who weren’t even born when the first act of D.J.Britton’s complex drama is set, 1968, and some, perhaps not even for the setting of second half, 1990. Those dates are important, too, because here we’re spiritually, and in reality, in Prague for first the revolution that incurred the invasion of Soviet tanks and then the aftermath of the Velvet Revolution that got rid of the Soviets. But maybe you don’t need to know your history to appreciate what Cargo is essentially about – memory. And trust. And redemption.
David Britton, an Aussie who’s now a long-term Cardiff resident, calls his 1993 award-winner, getting its UK premiere as part of the On The Edge series of rehearsed readings of contemporary work from the USA, Ireland, Scotland and Australia., “a play of politics and passion”.
The central character is Phil, a parody of the Sixties folk-rock protest singer, and it’s his conversion from cliché-spouting romantic radical to a different kind of hero that is at the heart of the narrative. It was his presence in Prague in 1968, when the tanks rolled in, that changed his life – not so much because the reality of Czech life but because he fell in love with a cool Czech activist who teaches him that Smetana may be more important politically than populist protest lyrics.
Jump forward twenty-odd years and Phil is back in Oz, a reclusive drifter whose life changes again when his 1968 diaries are found in the newly-liberated Prague and he and his lover Sarka are proclaimed heroes for their roles in the opposition to the invasion – a fame that local Australian politicians want to exploit.
The denouement isn’t perhaps the best part of this engrossing, intelligent play, with the weaknesses of the plot and characterisation exposed, although Larry Allan delivers the ex-folkie’s speech rejecting the cynical approach with great conviction and emotion.
More, it’s the sharp observations about language, about honesty, about who owns specific memories, that makes this an interesting piece of theatre. With only a few days of rehearsals, we don’t expect in-depth portrayals by the cast but I suspect that the characters are underwritten – especially the politicians – and that the play is also a lot funnier than came across.
The story in effect is appropriated by the character of Sarka, played with effective iciness by Amanda Rawnsley, the memory of whom sustains and confuses Phil until he resolves it and redeems himself.
David Adams (Western Mail)