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Dandelion by Patrick Jones – Young Critic Review : Sam Pryce

welshfargo-dandelion(The play was first presented as a Script-held performance On The Edge in September 2009. Then the cast was Rachel – Sharon Morgan, Ernest – Michael Kelligan,  Mary – Christine Pritchard,   Mrs. Hartson – Olwen Rees,   Directed by Allan Cook)

Much of the work of Blackwood based poet, playwright and lyric writer, Patrick Jones, has been strong and challenging. In this new play he is in a much gentler mood. The play is a sensitive tribute to the human spirit. This beautifully written story revolves around the lives of four people, three women and one man living in a hospice. Not much of a place for laughter you might think, but the irascible and determined way Ernest continually strives for his rights and fights against authority brings us many hilarious moments in contrast to the gently beauty that permeates much of the action.

★★★★★

Review by Sam Pryce

This was the first play to make me cry. Not because it was so awful, of course; but because its story, characters and premise would bring tears to even the most cynical of eyes. In fact, the work of Patrick Jones has always been intensely emotional. His poetry is especially controversial and visceral, tackling subjects as taboo as male sufferers of domestic violence. Even the most fearless of playwrights, Harold Pinter, called his work “very strong stuff.” In November 2008, bookselling giant Waterstones cancelled an appearance from Jones at one of their stores after a pious religious group protested outside due to alleged blasphemy.

However, in Dandelion, Jones considers a gentler yet equally anguished subject – old age. Four characters – three women and one man – recount their lives through a crescendo of remember-whens slumped in armchairs awaiting imminent death. Written from actual encounters when Jones served as writer-in-residence at a hospice, this makes the stories in Dandelion all the more distressing. Death has now become a comfort to these dwindling flames; something to look forward to as the days drag on. They are the dandelions withering away in a garden already blossoming new life. It’s a truly heartbreaking premise, made even more so by the intermittent poetic monologues, showcasing Patrick Jones’ scintillating talent for poignant lyricism. Alongside the grief are some outright hilarious scenes played with as much adroitness and dexterity as the more sombre moments.

The acting is simply exceptional. Anthony Leader plays Ernest with the vitality and energy of a young boy, determined to show that his age isn’t getting him down. Sharon Morgan’s deeply moving portrayal of Rachel puts on a brave face despite the inner turmoil brought on by her tragic past. Olwen Rees wrenches the heart strings as Mary, playing her with wide-eyed innocence, and Lynn Hunter gets the audience cackling with her sour, acerbic comments.

The writing, the lighting, the acting, the set – it’s, quite frankly, flawless. It is rare that a play produces as many tears from laughter as it does from grief. As hackneyed a phrase as this may be: this play will make you live a better life. It’s a drama of universal empathy that beats any amount of dreary soap operas. Get off your settee and bag yourself a ticket before you end up like them.

 

Dandelion by Patrick Jones – Review : Sion Lidster

Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

★★★★

Review by Sion Lidster

A packed house sits in silence and watches the four empty chairs sat before them. The stage is slowly filled by four actors over the age of 60, one of whom rests herself straight in front of a television set. Three elderly women and one elderly man, living and dying together in a cancer hospice, set the scene for Patrick Jones‘ latest play, Dandelion.

This subdued subject matter might not be what you have come to expect from the man who wrote Revelation or The War is Dead Long Live the War. You may think that it lacks the crucial urgency, or the vitriolic commentary, that is burrowed deep in much of his work. This perception will all change of the next 90 minutes, as we are taken on a journey of hopes, dreams, regrets, and redemption, as these four character prepare to transcend this mortal coil.

The obvious weight of the theme is gladly lightened by a melancholic comic air that weaves itself throughout the play. Much of this laughter is provided by the youthful hearted Ernest, played by Anthony Leader, as he continues his mission to present the others with some excitement in the lives. Mrs. Hartson, played by Lynn Hunter, is equally hilarious in her sardonic retorts spoken from her television hub. Olwen Rees‘ portrayal of the innocent yet fragile Mary is a harrowing reminder of the plight of age, whilst Sharon Morgan’s monologues as Rachel brought me to the verge of tears on more than one occasion.

The soul of the play is the attention to each individual’s truth. All too often in our society, the elderly are cast to the sidelines, they are the dandelions; the weeds ready to be plucked from the garden. Here, Patrick Jones uses the time he spent in a hospice to provide a voice to the voiceless, and to highlight the fact that there is a wealth of emotion deep in every human being, whether you are willing to see it or not.

The acting is superb, the writing is magnetic (particularly the poetic streams of consciousness), and Michael Kelligan’s direction artfully segues between collective conversations and inner monologues with rhythmic ease.

The play is filled with hope and despair. On one hand there is the everlasting optimism of Ernest, and his call to arms through the words of Jack London. On the other, there is the dementia of Mary, a blatant reminder of the finality of life. Overall, there is a sense of the present – that we are here now to live our lives to the utmost, to build bridges and to enjoy every second we have left.

There will have been many people leaving the theatre making that phone call to the one they love whilst they still can. Such is the power of a humanist work of art, such is the power of Dandelion.

Dandelion by Patrick Jones – Western Mail review

Review by Bob Rogers of Western Mail

Everyone finds their own way of dealing with the inevitable decline into old age.

In Dandelion, playwright Patrick Jones gives us an insight into four ordinary but achingly precious lives based on an amalgam of people he encountered while working as a writer in residence in a hospice. The residents of this particular home have become institutionalised and set in their ways to the point where everyone else’s foibles annoy them in their closed and cloistered world.

Ernest (Anthony Leader) is determined not to “go gently”. He wants one last crack at his allotment and maybe a bit of passion with Rachel (Sharon Morgan) who in turn mourns the absence of a beloved grandchild she is not allowed to see.

Mary (Olwen Rees) is waiting for William who is never going to show, but even so manages to take her on imaginary picnics and picks her dandelions. And Mrs Hartson (Lynn Hunter) is obsessed with television quiz shows. This is a gentler offering from Jones, a visit to a world that anyone with elderly parents will instantly recognise. He has written their lives with compassion and genuine insight and there was many a damp eye from those watching who may have been all too familiar with the challenges of caring for a loved one whose eccentricities can change day by day.

Faced with the approaching possibility of dying, each of the protagonists struggles to find their own comfort, some in acceptance and some in resistance but all with courage. The characters are likeable and easy to empathise with thanks to great writing and sensitive directing.The staging is simple but effective, a few easy chairs, a television and a bookcase that becomes a bone of contention for the warring residents.

The cast of four are outstanding, bringing out all the angst, frustration, resignation and dark humour that the script offers in abundance.

This is a thoroughly entertaining drama that deserves a television audience. Dandelion is a production by the Welsh Fargo Stage Company and is directed by Michael Kelligan.