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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 – Buzz Interview with Patrick Jones

Controversial poet and playwright Patrick Jones talks to Sion Lidster about human rights, hospices and his new play, Dandelion

Patrick JonesPatrick Jones has long been one of the most outspoken individuals in Welsh popular culture. The Tredegar-born poet and playwright, whose previous works include Everything Must Go, a tale of South Wales alienation and addiction, and Revelation, an examination of male domestic abuse, has no qualms about diving into the world’s darker subject matter.

His poetry has been no stranger to controversy either. In 2008, his scheduled book signing for Darkness Is Where The Stars Are at Waterstones was canceled due to a planned protest by a Christian pressure group.

The contention grew from such poems as Cut Up/Morning Prayer and 10 Million Christs, both of which juxtapose Christian motifs with violent war imagery.

Despite the cancellation, Patrick continued to sign copies of the book outside of the shop. He was later asked by Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Peter Black to read from the volume in the Welsh Assembly, in an effort to champion freedom of speech.

This kind of controversy can often overshadow the more positive aspects of Patrick’s work. In addition to founding the Blackwood Young Writers Group, he also teaches adult literacy and has recently worked as a writer within a day care unit for the elderly.

It was during this time that he devised the story for his latest play, Dandelion. “I was working in a hospice day unit talking about poetry and giving the patients room and space to express themselves with words. I’ve lost a few family members to cancer recently and it leaves a scar. The dignity and silent humility that they dealt with pain and suffering truly humbles, and I thought I needed to bear witness to this. It’s about death and how we live our lives really.”

The play centers around four elderly characters living together in a hospice. “[They are] all true stories I had heard and touched me,” continues Patrick, “It’s also about how we choose our death, or choose how to die, and not fucking God’s will!”

The play is directed by Michael Kelligan, founder of the Welsh Fargo Stage Company. It had originally been presented as part of the company’s On The Edge Project − a series of continually developing rehearsed readings by mainly Welsh writers.

The subject matter seems a far cry from Jones’ more cutting political works. The youthful venom and nihilism of Everything Must Go has been replaced by a four member cast all over the age of 60. Could this be a sign that the poet renowned for his restless and raucous energy is starting to calm down?

“No… I’ve just written new play about David Kato, the human rights activist killed in Uganda just for being gay, and I utterly rip into religion and it is one of my most brutal plays.”

He’s also keen to point out that there is no shortage of anger present throughout Dandelion: “There is some debate in the play about religion, and one character feels she is being punished by God, and another patient talks of her exit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and how everyone turned against her. In a way it’s a reaction against all the absolute bullshit, greed, selfishness, hatred, war-mongering, religious, faith-filled oppression. And these people, these moments in the hospice unit just seemed so beautiful, so human, so silent… I wanted to bear witness to it and hold it to the light really.”

What can the audience expect from this play? What message will they take away?

“Life and death, God and nature, man and woman, words. They will laugh, they will cry, they will look at people with life threatening illnesses differently − and maybe appreciate each day as it is. Oh, and never vote Tory again!”