Theatre in Wales

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Brand new and exciting theatre art

At the Sherman

Sherman Cymru- Amgen : Broken , Sherman Cymru Cardiff , May 8, 2009
At the Sherman by Sherman Cymru- Amgen : Broken As long as Sherman Cymru can give us plays like this one from time to time they will assuredly well deserve their designated place as Wales’ theatre of new writing. Gary Owen has produced a superb piece of brand new and exciting theatre art, his director Elen Bowman and her team have brought this intriguing play to the stage with a creative care and sensitivity that is rare to see.

In a short period of just eight years Owen has developed from “a blazing new talent” as he was described by Lyn Gardner in The Guardian at the presentation of his first play ‘Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco’ in 2001 into a highly regarded writer, having had his plays translated and performed in many languages throughout the world. Like John Osborne is the fifties Owen is a writer of his time and is able to convey the thoughts and anxieties of people today in a way that both wrings the heart and sets off genuine laughter.

As in 2001 Owen is excellently served by actor Steven Mayo who has also developed from a very believable young actor into a commanding performer with a sense of conviction, charm and charisma that is a joy to watch.

He sets out to tell us how Rachel saved his life. His character Gary seems to be a bit of a waster with no job and spending his day wandering around the pubs. It’s in one of these he spots Rachel. They haven’t yet met but he is blazingly physically attracted to her and he lets us have a whole detailed list of his carnal thoughts. One of the absorbing aspects of Owen’s writing is the way he can make poetry out vernacular speech. Mayo is with him all the way delivering the lines with a strength and truth that is masterly.

They become an item, though Rachel never actually appears on the stage but her looks, attitude and thoughts are so clearly put before us that she does become a third character in the play. She helps Gary get back onto life’s track. Despite his hatred and fear of little children he gets a job as a classroom assistant. Of course this ends in disaster but as he goes on to better things the weight of the responsibility gets too heavy for Rachel and she begins to crack up. The circle is turned. It is not so much what happens in the plays but the words Owen finds to express them and the way he juggles with the words and the way the actors so lovingly and commandingly embrace them.

The other character is Gareth, he wears identical clothes to Gary but his are much better looked after. He is neat with his shirt tucked into his waist band and his tie neatly tied. Gary looks as if he has slept in his. Gareth speaks in Welsh. Simon Watts, as far as I can judge with my minimal knowledge of the Welsh language, also gives a very strong and equally enjoyable performance. They are much more than just two actors on a stage, they are like two intricate sculptors delicately carving a beautiful piece of work.

This was an extraordinary challenge, to write a play containing elements of two languages, certainly there were many bi-lingual speakers in the audience. There was always a risk that the
English speakers would switch off during the Welsh passages but it was very much to the credit of the actor that he could captivate the audience with the strength of the expression of his feelings even though his words could not be understood. As I write this it does sound a bit impossible but I assure you it did work. In The Q&A that followed the play it was clear from the many comments from the non-Welsh speakers in the audience that they remained caught up in the action at all times. There was some feeling of frustration which to some extent I shared that this rich experience we were going through might have been made even richer for us had we been able to understand the ‘other Gary’s’ words. The creative team responded saying they were well aware of the problem this created and were continually agonising and thinking of ways to make the play as clear as possible. From the response of this consummate group of artists it is clear that the creative process is a continuing one, not one that ends the moment the play goes on to the stage.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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