Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A Revealing Last “Good Night Out...”

At National Theatre

National Theatre of Wales- A Good Night Out in the Valleys , Coliseum Theatre Aberdare , March-29-10
At National Theatre by National Theatre of Wales- A Good Night Out in the Valleys Seeing a production a second time reveals the detail. The narrative is familiar so the eye and ear can pick out more of the internal structure, see the thematic and linguistic resonances. In the arresting Art Deco-derived surroundings of Aberdare's Coliseum three aspects of “A Good Night Out...” jumped out.

The first was a reinforcement of the sheer skill of the performers; the versatility and quick-change playing of Huw Rhys, the singing of Sharon Morgan and Amy Starling. Oliver Wood's comic timing was masterly, refined over the course of the production since Blackwood. In the bank robber joke the punch line not only had the pause but also a perfectly judged sideward nudge of the head.

Siwan Morris’ skipping while delivering a solo speech is as technically demanding a piece of breath control as it comes. As for her buck-teethed worker at the Christmas Cake factory never was a face rendered so nerdy-looking nor teeth so bucked.

The second aspect to jump out was the vibrancy of Alan Harris' language. To give someone the evils is a phrase still fresh enough not to have made it to the Urban Dictionary. The image of sucking bitter up through a straw and exuding tears of beer is quite surreal. If the concept of the bunjie-jump-lap-dancing stag night is taken from reality then Valleys social life has an exuberance truly all of its own.

But the most interesting revelation of a second viewing is that it is a play about parents and children. It is not concentratedly so, because the prime artistic motivation was to capture and incorporate a breadth of locally generated stories. Nonetheless there are three sets of parents and children and three deaths, one of which has occurred before the opening of the action.

The writing reveals all the ambiguities, the empty spaces of understanding, the yearnings for connection that bind children to their aging parents but also hold them apart. A mother here spins a wholly false and rosy version of the past. A son is on a mission of vengeance for a maltreated father. Another son faces the torment of watching a parent in unassuageable pain. He does what is asked of him even at the cost of legal violation and the guilt that comes with it.

Even in death the old make their claims. A pejorative nickname is handed on from father to son. Dirty Karen misses out on the fight of her life with Irish Fat Patty to be at the funeral of Stan Shandy. To pay respect to the dead is a declaration of loyalty to the living.

The method of the play-making has determined its form. As in architecture form has followed function. To fit the seventeen characters there are around thirty-two scenes. Because of the necessity for quick changes many scenes are two or three-handers. A proportion of the text has to comprise recitation or memory. I had the good fortune to be alongside a quartet of Frank Vickery regulars and their reaction was illuminating. They certainly had a good night out but the second act was better than the first. The reason was that the Story was more interesting than the stories; the story was new while the stories were what they already knew.

The first season of any new company is a test. If it succeeds in being fresh and challenging that is more than sufficient. This first production set itself a particular artistic challenge, quite bold, and earned itself critical and popular acclaim. “A Good Night Out...” is more intriguing, in some ways more contradictory, than press reviews, always crimped for space, can allow. The Daily Mail is convinced that a film is in the offing. When “the English Patient” made its way from novel to film the way it morphed on its passage from one writer to another, Ondaatje to Minghella, was fascinating. It would be equally so to see what this script might become in a future mutation.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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