Tag Archives: Othneil Smith

Burned by Othniel Smith

Performance

Chapter, Cardiff, Wed 23 March 2005, £3 on the door

Cast

Mair Meredith ( A school teacher) – Lynn Hunter

Ruth Niyonzima (A nurse) – Karin Diamond

Donald Llewellyn (An accountant) – Brian Hibbard

Alun Meredith ( A doctor, Mair’s brother) – Jeremi Cockram

Director

Hugh Thomas

Review

The On The Edge theatre season in Chapter’s Media Centre has proved to be a fascinating series of events – some underrated classics, some new work still needing development and now a real cracker from a writer whose work we don’t see enough on stage.

And Othniel Smith’s previously-unperformed play also offers a rare genre: the domestic political comedy, as a family in bereavement take us from black humour to chilling realpolitik. It’s not farce, a la Dario Fo, but a calculated manipulation of an audience from getting us laughing at witty one-liners to searching our consciences and weighing moral issues: quite a journey.

In the archetypal situation of a run-down South Wales valley town four people gather: the daughter, a single primary-school teacher, the son, a doctor doing aid work in Palestine, a family friend, a local politician and accountant, and the nurse who had attended the dying mother.

It starts amusingly with all those familiar tensions, the revelation that the old dear had taken to drink after a lifetime of abstinence, the family friend is a randy old goat, and so on. There are tensions: why is the doctor son late for the funeral, why is the friend so suspicious of the nurse, what’s the development deal he’s involved with ?

Then things lurch into really tough areas and we are confronted not just tales of African genocide and Middle-East suicide-bombing but into abstract dilemmas: is morality relative, where does personal responsibility begin and end, what is individual integrity, what’s the divide between the personal and the political, who should feel guilt ?

And how refreshing to have a play that not only is full of ideas but, unlike most of the little political drama we do get, offers the audience an open debate with the only possible conclusion that no-one is innocent, we are all complicit, we hide beneath a veneer of respectability or the cloak of political rectitude.

The script-in-hand format of the On The Edge productions is actually ideally suited to a play of ideas like Burned. There is no real action and one suspects that a full production would not have the intensity of this taut argument carried out in a small intimate space with the audience inches from the performers.

What makes it work well, and without which it could seem horribly worthy or wordy, is an experienced company under the direction of Hugh Thomas: Lynn Hunter, Brian Hibbard, Karin Diamond and Jeremi Cockram are all actors who would give weight to any production.

That we can engage with the dilemmas, tease out the issues of identity, ethnicity, ideology and power, sympathise with and despise the central character, the disillusioned socialist, is due to the immediacy of the performances.

It is, inevitably, very tv-influenced as we can imagine the close-up shots, the pans and zooms that make the speeches more digestable – except, of course, any tv version would involve cutting and simplification.

Does this deserve a full-scale stage production ? Perhaps – but this rehearsed reading, small-scale, stimulating, provocative, accomplished, was just fine.

David Adams (Western Mail)

 

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)