Blakeson - Writer

Cardiff-based film, theatre and gig reviews, cultural ramblings, whingeing, short films, etc.

Friday, October 15, 2010

"The Laundrette Plays"/ "Love Steals Us From Loneliness" (aka ntw#07)

Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre are taking advantage of their temporary lack of a space to explore the idea of site-specific performances. Earlier in the year, they put on a series of plays at the Big Sleep Hotel, which I failed to attend; the latest experiment, “The Laundrette Plays”, took place at my local Wash Inn, so I had no excuse. Bethan Whitcombe, Jo Simpkins, Eiry Hughes and (former “East Ender”) Richard Ellis, performed (scripts-in-hand) a trio of plays by Tracy Harris, Matthew Bulgo and Alan Harris, deftly corralled by Simon Harris. As the writers noted afterwards, they coincidentally, and perhaps inevitably, focused on themes of love and loss :- a tragic affair, a grieving wife, a broken relationship. The tone was poetically naturalistic, all pieces cleverly balancing poignancy with humour; indeed, the proximity of the actors might have been problematic had the writing (and performances) been less strong. A highly successful venture, I thought, although with a maximum audience of around 12, perhaps more workable on an experiential than an economic basis. The project is a collaboration with Washington DC’s Studio Theatre – it will be interesting to see if their American colleagues are inspired by the laundromat setting to take a different approach.

Gary Owen’s “Love Steals Us From Loneliness”, is another site-specific Sherman production, this time in conjunction with National Theatre Wales - the seventh show in their inaugural year, and the second to be directed by their creative supremo John E. McGrath. Staged in Hobos Rock Club in Bridgend, it was inspired by media coverage of the apparent high rate of suicides in the town in recent years. In a BBC Wales documentary about the play, the author explained his reluctance to tackle the “suicide” issue head-on for fear of adding to the hype; thus while a death is at the centre of “Love Steals…”, it is an accidental one. Act One sees partying teenagers Scott and Catrin (Mark Sumner, and Katie-Elin Salt in the showiest role, one which, if this were Hollywood, would be star-making) having an intense, once-in-a-lifetime conversation in which the dialogue sparkles knowingly whilst retaining its South Wales earthiness. Following the interval karaoke (an innovation from which many a play would benefit), the second act, taking place on the same, other-worldly, post-industrial set, is a series of unhappy exchanges, autobiographical musings and unexpected musical interludes from Scott, Catrin, the mother and sister of the deceased (Nia Roberts, somewhat less elegant than usual, and the spirited Remy Beasley), and a subsequent boyfriend of Cat's (Matthew Trevannion); it culminates in a scene which harks back to a moment, prior to the unfortunate incident, in which it appears that anything is possible. Act Two is perhaps a tad over-long, but as a piece whose aim is to encourage its audience to deal with grief by seizing life, “Love Steals…” is a success both tonally and artistically. Another sold-out run, too, in what is turning out to be a triumphant first year for N.T.W.

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