Theatre in Wales

Plays and dance productions in Wales since 1982...

Caitlin by Mike Kenny
First presented in 2003 by Sherman Theatre Company
cast size:1
She was Dylan Thomas's wife and her story is of a supporting character in his drama, a minor character in his legend. Will she eer be known as anything other than Dylan Thokas's wife?

Performed by Helen Gwyn

   There are 4 reviews of Sherman Theatre Company's Caitlin in our database:
Caitlin by Mike Kenny
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Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
She was a young Irish woman, Caitlin Macnamara, a dancer in Paris. He a young emerging Welsh ‘penniless’ poet. With his head in her lap they fell in love, real love. That closeness of compelling love was so delicately captured by Helen Griffin at the opening of her so compelling performance in her ‘One woman show about one man’. This was certainly no marriage made in heaven. Everybody did marry in those days; today things would have, no doubt been very different.

As the actress says we might not have come to see a play about her. We were there to see a play about the wife of Dylan Thomas. Yes we had the evil bitterness and the sinking into debauchery that Caitlin is best remembered for. Demonstrated with ever increasing bravura as Helen drank her way through the performance. Was there real whisky in that bottle?

Dylan Thomas is one of the worlds great poets, Up there with Wordsworth, Keats and Shelly and his best known contemporaries. His work gives us the romance of sonorous words, tremendous understanding and imagination and great sensitivity of the human condition. This genius poured out of him across twenty years. If he knew all this, why, oh why didn’t he apply it to his own life? And I ask myself, is this fair question to ask?

Like Dylan, Caitlin was a free spirit living out a life that many of us might dream of. Helen’s Caitlin showed us Dylan’s childish, infuriating, loveable ways. With only an old jacket to represent him, we never failed to be aware of his presence. In the earlier years she joined him and together they celebrated irresponsibility. She accepting this as the price of being married to a great poet. Even to the cost of their child. In the beginning fatherhood did not seem to register with him. She was still in love with him. It seems he was no great lover yet fell into bed with women whenever it was offered. She had a similar disregard for faithfulness but she did strive to keep the marriage going.

Her love remained passionate and intense only to turn sour when she discovered he was having an affair with Pearl an unknown American woman who she sensed Dylan was in love with. The physical betrayal meant nothing to her but this transfer of his emotions to another bit deeply into her. It was at this point she lost it! She consoled herself with more drink; sex with sailors and other men whom she would seek out to feed her craving. She also put herself through an abortion. She was a strong woman. Her story as you would expect is laced with strong language.

Mike Kenny’s scripts skilfully and graphically throws the story at us, an hour of words where each one pierces and strikes deep. The sequence where she describes her abortion is on of the most intense and disturbing speeches I have ever heard on any stage. This is a tough story acted with great toughness. Caitlin is a hard-edged lady. Helen Griffin creates a remarkably believable character. We can’t love her but some times she does get us on her side.

Towards the end as he lies in his coffin we do hear the remarkably sounding voice of the real Dylan reading one of his poems. It is hard, very hard to reconcile this beauty, this aestheticism with what we have witnessed before us under the spell of this exciting performance.

It may seem perverse to go into the subject of Arts Council funding at this point but this is a genuine piece of fine Welsh art. The actress needs to perform it far more times than is currently provided for in order to reach the peak of her creative abilities and it is a show that deserves to be seen through out not just Wales and England but every where!

A complex of difficulty story skilfully directed by Phil Clark who leads a team that has put together, perhaps not yet faultless, but a very satisfying piece of real theatre.
Michael Kelligan
Portrait of the poet's wife seems to ask more questions than it answers
Caitlin by Mike Kenny
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Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
IN the same way that Caitlin Thomas struggled after his death and largely during it to understand her life with her husband Dylan, so too did I tussle with this intense monologue.

It's not that the performance wasn't vibrant and in equal parts tragic, angry and self-assured.

It's because, with only one voice being heard, it's difficult to discern if you're in the presence of the real Caitlin, as far as that goes.

Unlike Bob Kingdom's portrayal of the poet in Return Journey, where the impassioned and almost drone-like delivery of Dylan's remarkable poetry tends to do all the work for you, watching Caitlin unfold is an altogether more curious event.

If this production set out to ask more questions of the viewer than it answers, it was successful.

If, however, it sought to give us a definitive account of the crazed, sad, chaotic, chastised, unfaithful, drunken, sad, strong, complex woman who was Caitlin it left much to the imagination.

As actress Helen Griffin took us through her meeting with the poet, through the trial of their marriage, strain of their discourses, their trials and separations and the unquestionable - but fickle - love they had for each other, the nature of the wild and wilful Caitlin Macnamara is eased forward with almost pseudo-sexual aplomb, her undeniable sensuality peeking through a life of half dreams and hazy, alcohol-infused perspective.

But, because we just have writer Mike Kenny's interpretation of Caitlin and her reactions to Dylan, it's a challenge to correctly discern at which point in her life we actually meet her.

Is she forever the dreamer who wanted to be a dancer?

Is she always a drunk? Does she speak with a different voice when she makes sense of her life? Do we ever hear it?

Undoubtedly you leave the theatre sympathetic, touched and musing if Griffin was forced to over-act her role or if Caitlin really was as crumpled, loud, brash, flawed and gregarious as she appears postmortem.
Western Mail
A gutsy, multi-faceted portrayal
Caitlin by Mike Kenny
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Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea
It is curious that exactly fifty years after Dylan Thomas achieved a kind of macabre immortality by dying in such a tragic and untimely fashion - putting him in the same category as later pop culture icons such as Tony Hancock, Bruce Lee, Marc Bolan, Sid Vicious and Elvis Presley - the spotlight should suddenly be diverted from the self-styled "Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive" to the woman with whom he shared what was described in Under Milk Wood as the "flight and fall and despairs and big seas" of his dreams.

Helen Griffin's gutsy, multi-faceted portrayal of Caitlin Macnamara is at once mesmerising and disturbing: this is a Talking Heads-style monologue fuelled by hard drink, bad memories and bitterness, painting a portrait of a relationship so volatile and dysfunctional that it makes The Osbournes look like The Waltons.

Mike Kenny's script is fiercely contemporary in style - a little too contemporary at times for what is essentially a period piece - and is liberally strewn with expletives, underlining the fact that Caitlin was an unconventional figure who was born ahead of her time and was therefore bound to offend delicate sensibilities and frighten the horses wherever she went.

One suspects that some of the references to America's role in Dylan's deterioration and ultimate demise have less to do with Dylan himself than with current anti-war sentiments: "I blame America, God bless it" is undoubtedly a wonderful line, but it seems to be aimed squarely at George W. Bush and its effect here is jarring.

Paula Gardiner's evocative and haunting jazz score provides the perfect accompaniment to this powerful and thought-provoking study of a deeply troubled mind, and praise is also due to director Phil Clark and set designer Sean Crowley - do they still give money back on empty beer bottles? If so, he's in for quite a windfall when they dismantle the set).

Brickbats, however, to whoever decided upon the designs for the publicity material - not only did the images bear absolutely no relation to what was seen on stage, but they said little or nothing about the show itself and one had to work fairly hard to find the name of the venue hidden away on the back of the flyers.

One small point: the age guide is given as 14 and over, leading one to wonder about the inclusion of an expletive usually deemed too strong even for a '15' certificate movie.

Nitpicking aside, this is surely destined to become a classic of its kind - and I for one was extremely disappointed to see that so many of the usual suspects from Swansea's Dylan Thomas fraternity failed to attend the opening night performance. A little loyalty to local venues would not come amiss.
Graham Williams
Caitlin by Mike Kenny
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Chapter, Cardiff
This is an edge of seats, powerful hour of dance that takes us into the inner circle of Caitlin and Dylanís turbulent lives.

The choreography integrates the glorious performance artistry of Ladd and Emberton with their physical setting, simply using a circle of foldable chairs, plastic cups and sweets. It is terse, intricate and, at times, frightening with the interaction between Ladd and Emberton capturing the relationship in a way that so many drama biopics fail.

Conceived by Eddie Ladd, directed by Deborah Light and devised and performed by Ladd and Gwyn Emberton, the dance is just like the Thomasís relationship, a multi-textured roller-coaster of humour and pathos, sexuality and innocence, violence and interdependency. It is also a refreshing antidote to the TVís overkill anniversary obsession with Under Milkwood that would have left even Thomas bored with his play for voices.

We start off sitting in a circle of foldable chairs at the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the 1970s when Caitlin faced her drinking demons. Emberton is the facilitator and Ladd is Caitlin. Some chairs are kept empty by having plastic cups on them some with sweets in them. The sweets become the alcohol that dominates their lives. The characters use the chairs as props which they move around, fling around, squeeze through, wear, are crushed by and which are intricately employed both symbolically as well as as actual items, from a crib and high-chair to a straightjacket.

While clever, the use of the chairs risks dominating our attention to the detriment of concentrating on the interaction of the actual bodies of the two dancers, as they take their dysfunctional journey through to Thomasí death and beyond.

With music by Sion Orgon and a great costume for Caitlin by Neil Davies, Ladd is the narrator with a minimum of spoken word that stresses her frustration at having once been an equal partner with aspirations of being a great dancer to the mum and left at home wife of a great poet as her husbandís fame, affairs and drinking advance.

The words spoken by Ladd are not that of a faultless victim. Rather, the most effective part of the work is the choreography that conveys the pair as two equally drunken, playful, sexual, out of control interdependent individuals with dance that is at times quirky and charming yet ultimately deeply disquieting.

Further performances: Chapter, Cardiff, October 30, 6.30pm and 8.30pm, (029) 2030 4400, 6pm and 8pm, £10 - £8; Volcano, The Iceland Building, High Street, Swansea , November 3,4 , 6.30pm and 8.30 pm, (01792) 602 060,, £10 - £8; Town Hall, Montgomery, November 15, 16, 6pm and 8pm, (01686) 207 100, , £10
Mike Smith

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