Theatre in Wales

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Beautifully balanced performances

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru- Gwlad yr Addewid , Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold , October 5, 2010
Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru- Gwlad yr Addewid Ed Thomas' House of America keeps reminding me of Sam Shepard's True West with its two brothers and their relationship with a mother whose behaviour is erratic to say the least. Like that play it deals with dreams for other lives and other places. That's represented here by the absent father living in the mythical America created in the brothers' minds by films and by Jack Kerouac's On The Road.

The major difference is that the central character here is none of those three. It's sister Gwenny whose identification with Kerouac's lover Joyce Johnson starts to take over her life.

Mind you it's understandable that neither Sid, her Jack Kerouac, nor Boyo notice her sea change as there's too much else going on. The new open-cast mine that so upsets Mam, gets ever closer to the house, threatening its stability. Mam herself may or may not be getting senile. There are no jobs to be had, not even rubbish ones. There's the very odd labourer they meet at the workings. And always there's America to think about, the promised land to the west with its freedom and open roads.

All of this comes over strongly in Gwlad yr Addewid, Sharon Morgan's translation of the play. She obviously has a real grasp of its balance of Wales and the US, of its shifts between realism and stylisation. That's not too surprising as she was the first Mam under the author's own direction.

Directing for Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru is Tim Baker and he keeps things tight and focussed. Even the scenes that occur elsewhere happen in the house interior, although that interior has a corrugated back wall with gaps for glimpses of America on film.

Sometime during the second half the outside world begins to invade, not only breaking in to startling effect but revealing long buried secrets. The film and back wall projections are used with discretion and are particularly effective in the scenes of hallucinations.

The performances are beautifully balanced. Sara Harris-Davies' Mam is sometimes funny, sometimes very touching, always more vulnerable than anyone sees and every inch the tough yet maybe not wholly sensible matriarch holding the family together.

Rhodri Meilir is excellent as Sid, the romantic whose obsession with On The Road leads to the worst sort of family relationship complications. Sin Young is superb as Boyo, the barely adult youngest sibling who finds himself growing up too fast into a world of bleak darkness.

Elin Phillips is stunning as Gwenny, showing us a bright romantic young girl, possibly a bit too keen on substances that seem to make life more bearable, becoming hopelessly lost between reality and dreams. It is she who makes the play's powerful ending so devastating, helped by the fact that all the Kerouac inspired scenes are played in American English. That makes her final isolation all the more terrible as Joyce takes over from Gwenny leaving her stranded in an alien life and language.

This is one of those productions that grows in the mind. I've never noticed the Hamlet parallels before but thinking back on it they gain strength. In the intimacy of the Emlyn Williams Theatre there's nowhere to hide from raw emotion and this production left a full house stunned with the experience. As I slowly made my way out of the theatre I reflected that, as far as this fine version was concerned, the Sam Shepard comparison is not so far-fetched after all.

Reviewed by: Victor Hallett

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