Theatre in Wales

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

Why is History so Bloody Heavy?

Peter Morgan reviews two new collections of plays

On the Road Again, The Best Years of Our Lives, Cradle to the Grave
Laurence Allan
Seren Drama, 7.95

Crossing the Bar, Head, Our Lady of Shadows
Lucy Cough
Seren Drama, 7.95


The way things are going at the Arts Council, the only place you'll soon find Welsh theatre is between hard covers. While the cowboys of Park Place seem determined to destroy the foundations of new writing theatre, Welsh publishers have finally started to recognise these achievements in print. Seren's drama imprint has led the way with smartly produced texts by Dic Edwards, Ed Thomas and Lucinda Coxon, amongst others. Parthian Books responded with three new plays by Made in Wales, including Roger Williams's marvellous Gulp. Publishers clearly believe new work is worth celebrating. A pity the Arts Council don't think the same way.
Laurence Allan's bold, ambitious plays are an example of what is being thrown away. Born and raised in Pontypridd, Allan brings voices and views to the stage which would otherwise be ignored. In The Best Years of Our Lives - the most successful of the three plays collected here - [....}

On the Road Again inhabits territory which has already been busily colonised by Ed Thomas. Two poetic drifters; a derelict caravan; dreams of leaving for an American pastoral. Allan gives his two chancers - Beefy and Rich - a lyrical depth. Their memories are wistful and whiskery: they argue over a dancing dog in Doncaster and the fate of their radio, "won from that seafaring fellow in Bristol". It's the most touching and humane of the three plays, perhaps because many of its effects are understated. We're all with Rich when he declares that "dreams are the business".

Lucy Cough's dreams are of another time and place. "This is not a naturalistic play," she warns in the introduction to Our Lady of Shadows. In fact, Lucy Cough's world is as refreshingly distant from naturalism as one could imagine. Two of the plays - Our Lady and Head - were first commissioned as radio dramas, and they share a love of intimate sound. Head, a clever reworking of Keats's Isabella, includes some mordant asides. When Isabella's lover Enzo returns to life as a talk ing head, he ends up in the kitchen fridge. Thus the wonderful director's note: "The fridge has started to make chattering noises."

[....}

In its final scene, Crossing the Bar achieves a powerful epiphany. It would be unfair to give the game away, but one can merely say that in death the characters find a reason for life. Cough's attention to sound is also evident here. Act Two is prefaced by strict instructions on the "soundscape" which has to be achieved: "It starts as a surreal sound which could be many things: the sea, prison sounds...," she writes.
Lucy Cough has created a visual and aural world that is recognisably her own. Laurence Allan has achieved similar results with a more documentary style. As we're talking of soundscapes, it's worth noting how Allan's musical tastes have changed with time. The first two plays are underscored by American music - Roy Orbison in particular. By 1997 though Allen is drawing inspiration from the Manic Street Preachers and A Design for Life. Welsh writers have found a welsh soundtrack

author:Peter Morgan

original source: Planet Magazine (August | September 2000)
01 August 2000

 

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