Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Competent but Familiar and Safe

At National Theatre

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru Gwlad yr Addewid , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , September-24-10
At National Theatre by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru Gwlad yr Addewid If an artistic management chooses to dramatise what has been a successful film it does so at its peril. When Peter Flannery adapted “Burnt by the Sun” it did not matter so much, as probably not that many had seen Mikhalkov’s great film. The dramatisation of “The Talented Mr Ripley” in Northampton this week is an obvious example of folly. It cannot live on stage without being smothered by Anthony Minghella’s sumptuous imagery.

Ed Thomas is now an indelible piece of theatre history. But his 1988 “House of America” is no longer a piece of theatre. It has passed into cinema. If Marc Evans’ film were forgettable it would not matter, but it isn’t. The cast do all they can, but if a director throws up huge video images of a grinding excavator it is an all too forcible reminder that this hardly adventurous choice of play is but a lesser version of a larger work. There is little of the comic anarchy, the edgy desperation, nor the elegiac images of America where absent father purportedly lives.

It is all the more ironic in that this of all plays is one whose characters are suffused with film culture. Sion Young’s Boyo, played with charm and vulnerability, blocks the view of the television screen to quote “On the Waterfront”’s “I could have been a contender” speech.

Rhodri Meilir’s Sid paces the stage with a rangy physical power. I wrote warmly about Elin Phillips eighteen months ago. She fills out the difficult role of Gwenny with a fine presence. In truth the first half of the play is too small for Aberystwyth’s main stage. The drawn-out final scenes are technically demanding. The fantasy playing-out of Jack Kerouac and girlfriend Joyce Johnson roles out-stays its welcome. But all the cast members acquit themselves commendably.

But the cast apart, it did feel somewhat like a congregation of the middle-aged. A middle-aged reviewer in a middle-aged audience watching a play by a middle-aged playwright, selected, directed and funded by a middle-aged artistic commissariat. (The music includes Cream and the Doors, bands whom a teenager I know calls “Grandad music.”)

Two pages of the programme are padded out with a summary of the Miners’ Strike - again. It all feels so safe. I am as much an Ed Thomas admirer as any. But a revival means that anyone from the new generation of writers stays stuck in a perpetual mire of workshops and pub readings.

The third part of the company’s mission statement is “ac sy’n portredau safle’r genedl yn y byd a safle’r byd yn y genedl.” English theatre does corporations and call centres. This summer Scottish theatre was doing the sexual exploitation of Polish immigrants. Politically WAG is doing interesting things on sustainability regularly. IQE in Cardiff last month got a couple of patents in relation to laser nanotechnology. There is a one hundred and sixty-one day countdown to the next stage in power being ceded by London. The English NHS now reportedly spends ten percent on servicing Labour’s PFI debts while Wales doesn’t do PFI. Hardly a whisper of the Wales of 2010 makes it to the stage. There is nothing wrong with theatre exposing the past. When Greg Cullen and Tim Price dramatised the sinking of the Arandora Star it was a genuine eye-opener. But with the odd honourable exception, modernity is more or less a theatrical foreign country.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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