"A Gringo's Journey" / "Nine Suitcases"
Two monologues – or, more precisely, duets between actor and musician. Both slice-of-life narratives, adapted by David Prince; both exploring the limits of human endurance. Otherwise, there were few similarities between these plays, presented together under the auspices of the Welsh Fargo Stage Company, at Chapter, Cardiff. First up was Mandan Productions’ “A Gringo’s Journey” (from a book by Cris Osborn), in which Alex Harries plays a backpacker who decides, on impulse, to cycle from Colorado to the southern tip of South America (via Canada, for reasons which weren’t explained). Director Zoe Davies took full advantage of the mobility inherent in the story to create an entertainingly physical spectacle; Harries was an effortlessly engaging hero; and the live, onomatopoeic score, provided by Matt Salisbury (on percussion and occasional banjo) was highly sympathetic and effective. The tale descends into darkness as the traveller is stuck by debilitating illness along the way, but the conclusion (perhaps a few minutes too slow in coming) is an upbeat one, and the general tone affirms faith in humanity. Which is in deliberately stark contract to the second piece, Mercury Theatre Wales’ “Nine Suitcases”, directed by Lynn Hunter, adapted from Bela Zsolt’s memoir of a life in limbo - in a hospital in a Hungarian ghetto, where a Jewish writer awaits deportation to Auschwitz. The title refers to the symbols of the affluence previously enjoyed by the already jaded protagonist, compellingly played by Prince himself, whose world-weary demeanour seemed designed to undercut assumed audience over-familiarity with the general context. The eerie, folk-inflected live score (with pre-recorded elements), provided by Bethan Morgan (on violin and bodhran) was profoundly evocative (although on occasion it did drown out the words); the overall experience bracingly traumatic. A delicately balanced, dramatically satisfying double bill.