Theatre in Wales

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Dense and multi-layered

At the Sherman

Sherman Cymru- The Almond and the Seahorse , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , April 9, 2008
At the Sherman by Sherman Cymru- The Almond and the Seahorse Previous reviewers have said it but it is worth repeating. “The Almond and the Seahorse” is a dense and multi-layered text, almost too much to take in on one viewing, Happily, Sherman Cymru have wisely followed Theatr Clwyd Cymru and published script and programme in one.

Conditions of mental loss and suffering have been depicted on stage before. Jean-Claude van Itallie dramatised the experience of a stroke from within in “The Traveller.” Simon Gray put paranoia and obsession on stage in “Melon.” Even Alan Ayckbourn wrote of hallucination and collapse in “Woman in Mind.” What marks out Kate O’Reilly’s writing is the skill with which she sets up deep echoes and resonances so that her play vaults beyond its subject of Traumatic Brain Injury. The parallel story of two victims and those left behind is heartbreaking, but the play moves it into wider questions of culture and identity.

She shows how love requires more than an atmosphere of compassion in which to breathe. Archaeologist Sarah is exasperated by husband Joe. He has become kind, well-meaning, likeable and she yearns for the lost grit in his personality. Twenty years the carer of Gwennan, husband Tom has read his Oliver Sacks and Gerald Edelman. What is a personality, he wonders, if it can be changed so abruptly? If we are “ just electrical impulses, carbon matter” what are we worth? In a landscape bereft of divinity, where bodies are burned but refrigerators are interred, the mind sustains itself on illusion. “The poor brain thinks it’s a soul” he says “it thinks it’s immortal.”

Dramatically it could be said that “The Almond and the Seahorse” is lacking in tonal contrast. But then the same might be said of Rothko, or Satie. Like those two Kaite O’Reilly has complete mastery over a territory that is distinctively her own.

Its closest neighbour might be “Black Daisies for the Bride”, Tony Harrison’s voyage via song and metaphor into the world of Alzheimer’s sufferers. Back in 1993 public service broadcasting saw fit to film this prize-winning work. Hundreds of channels later I cannot somehow see this happening in 2008. But “the Almond and the Seahorse” is a rich soundscape, and after the last two performances at Manchester’s Contact Theatre I hope that Ms O’Reilly’s agent is at least badgering radio producers from Portland Place to Llandaff.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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