Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

Ed Thomas's Plays

Many of Edward Thomas's characters awake, and look around them, at four grey walls that surround them, and realize that yes, they were only dreaming.

Many of Edward Thomas's characters awake, and look around them, at four grey walls that surround them, and realize that yes, they were only dreaming. The point is, whose dreams were they dreaming? And why? And how?

Some say that a man or woman is made up by their memories. But memory is a selective process, drawing on imaginative experience. Memories might revolve around something that can be verified by so- called objective witnesses; but also and equally, they might not. Thomas's plays show how relationships break down when one person insists on the exclusive truth of their own point of view, and in so doing blocks their partner's capacity to sustain, improvise and develop alternatives - in other words, blocks their capacity to play, in the most full and vital sense, which is a large factor in human dignity. When people limit other people's abilities to dream and transform, they limit their own: they sacrifice strangeness, preferring familiar, reiterative patterns of possibility which mount up in the form of depression

On the other hand, the creative imagination works, and plays, through transferring qualities from one thing to another in a way which is quite different to what is familiar. As the French philosopher Jean- Francois Lyotard says in his essay 'Lessons in Paganism': 'How can you possibly grumble when the intimate and infinite power of stories is unleashed, even if you do find those who spread them despicable? If you thinktheir version is worthless, you have only to come up with a different version'. This is why he calls for a politics based on narratives - 'after all, anyone can tell stories'. Unlike theories, narratives are social elements which challenge the very things that political parties and authoritarian regimes depend upon: namely, an exclusive monopoly on identifying what is historical, factual, valuable and possible. Lyotard suggests that one way to respond to the tyranny of ideologies is not to 'tell the truth and save the world', but instead 'to will the power to play out listen to and tell stories'.

House of America (written 1988) shows characters reduced to playing out other people's stories, suffering from being made subservient to technologically transmitted images which they have not created and cannot control. The last remaining fugitive excitement seems to be in versions of glamorous doom, driving out towards a frontier of death: the grass of this imposed mythic landscape may look greener, but may also finally demand that you be laid beneath it

Flowers of the Dead Red Sea (written 1991) is a desperate vision of a shrinking island, increasingly submerged by shame, where memory is suffocated, forcing the characters into a relentless plunge inwards, hurtling to find something or someone to hold on to, amidst the grim sense of time running out. Even as they suffer from believing others' truths for the sake of 'general good', they express a need to respond, break the silence and discover a new way of saying 'I am still here'.

East from the Gantry (written 1992) turns from the sea to the desert, from submergence to expansiveness. Some familiar Thomas characters show up again, as if rinsed out by time (the mythical birdman Martin Bratton might be a reanimation of the title character from the 1989190 Thomas play The Myth of Michael Roderick). Together they play in the knowledge that their lives depend upon it reinventing themselves through assuming various identities. This is Y CWMNI: not striving for 'making history' on the terms of somebody else's authority, or lamenting some golden age lost forever, but exercising the right to remake history, in the company of wild astonishment and artful challenge, and so create new presents and new futures for a living. These plays deal in self-authorization: the painful cost and the terrible release involved in making yourself up, becoming the writer and reader of your own life, answerable only to other people's equal power to do the same. And we hope you will join in, changing the past in order to change the future, building your own stories out of ruined hopes, making a landscape fit to live in. As the characters in East From the Gantry find out, it's a fragile and dangerous business, which flies in the face of rationalism and realism; but when they work together with all their imagination and will, there is in fact NO reason why that crazy love can not be theirs.

author:David Ian Rabey

original source:
01 December 1995


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