Theatre in Wales

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

Plays in Transition

Ruth Shade reviews A Trilogy of Appropriation by lan Rowlands [EXTRACT]

lan Rowlands is a fine writer and this edition of Blue Heron in the Womb, Love in Plastic and Glissando on an Empty Harp is well-prepared and good value for money. It is better constructed than the average collection: the short essays, providing different perspectives by a range of contributors, are illuminating, as is the analytically detailed "Retrospective" by David Adams; and the presentation of plays in reverse chronological order is a good idea, since it encourages the reader to begin by engaging with the playwright's most recent position and then to explore how that has evolved.

The publication of contemporary Welsh plays (in either language) is to be welcomed - far too few plays from Wales are profiled in the wider UK context through anthologies or promoted by major international publishers. There is a need, though, to develop ways of documenting play texts by using, for example, photography, illustrations, production diaries, audio tapes, funding histories, videos, and, especially, audience responses. Rowlands' plays would benefit particularly from an integrated textual presentation.


A particular difficulty in his work is Rowlands' recycling of a limited range of dramatic incidents, albeit that the context changes. All three plays utilise the death of several characters as a conclusion; birth features in two of the plays, as does the imagery of a car crash; a waiter thinks of jumping off a cliff in one play, while in another a woman commits suicide by throwing herself off a cliff. Of course, this only affects your perception if you have read/seen more than one of the plays. Nevertheless, it may be that this repetition is a consequence of working through metaphor, where the major rites of passage are more adaptable as signifiers.
The paradox of Rowlands' plays is that, although the characters are highly articulate, they cannot actually communicate witheach other. While this works well as a metaphor, it is less useful as a way forward for Rowlands' theatre practice. The most striking of the three plays - Blue Heron in the Womb - is potent because the characters engage with each other: they may not hear each other, but they at least listen. This makes it possible for the characters to impact on each other, and that produces both a social and a theatrical dynamic with which the audience can connect.
The evidence of these plays suggests that Rowlands' tactics for constructing theatre are in a state of transition; the value of this publication is that it offers the reader an opportunity to investigate a relatively short period in a significant career.

author:Ruth Shade

original source: Planet Magazine
01 August 2000


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