Theatre in Wales

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As Graceful an Exit As Could Be

The Best of Touring Theatre

The Man Who Walked Through Walls- Theatr Powys , Morlan Centre, Aberystwyth , February 27, 2011
The Best of Touring Theatre by The Man Who Walked Through Walls- Theatr Powys The guiding metaphor that Ian Yeoman uses in directing Charles Way’s “The Man Who Walked Through Walls” is the frame. Chris Batten’s artist Gen Paul adorns the 1939 Montmartre café setting with his picture frames. A portable window frame and door frame are deployed to signify enclosure, whether it be a prison cell or a life of uneventful routine.

“Be somebody else” sings Ralph Bolland’s Monsieur Dutilleul as he makes his transformation from pin-striped, slave-to-habit clerk to jaunty Bohemian. In a great inbreathing of the savour of life he not only finds passion but more importantly “It’s as if I’m smelling spring for the first time.”

The plot archetype is that deeply satisfying one of the little man who strikes back. Dutilleul’s work is one of fixed repetition at the Ministry of Registration; his home life has the solitary pleasure of his stamp collection. Assailed by a new superior for drafting letters that contain too many words he is shunted into a closet. By the time he has finished, in a scene that induced cackles of laughter, the men in white coats have come for “the boor, the bully and the spoilt brat” of his boss.

The three other cast members switch with ease between a half-dozen supporting characters. Among them Olwen Medi plays earthy Philippa of the wickedly husky laugh who makes love regularly at two in the morning just as long it is the third Saturday of the month. Naomi Doyle gets to play a sensuous abused wife, an underpaid waitress and a prison warden of lascivious intent.

Charles Way’s script, imbued with a quiet surrealism, plays for over two hours. Ian Yeoman mounts one scene as a pastiche of a film of the pre-sound era. In another two guards prowl around a giant diamond; they hold cocked rifles which are absolutely real but wholly mimed. The scene and the whole production are beautifully choreographed.

Dan Lawrence’s musical direction includes a plangent accordion and hints of a Grappelli violin. Guitarist Andy Raven is on stage throughout, a handsome gypsy presence in waistcoat and cravate, hat tipped back on his forehead.

Jill Rolfe’s design has that quality of all accomplishment, that it has passed through complexity to achieve simplicity. A stage-wide stencil represents the great buildings of Paris. Nick Johnson Walker’s lighting renders the back screen in blues and pinks.

The timescale is 1939-1940 as newspapers announce the German army massing on the borders of France. But Charles Way has sewn his text with small anachronisms. Gen Paul, the artist, takes on the language of a later decade with his “you dig it, man”. Similarly, the hero is treated with a course of the then unavailable penicillin. “Dysfunctional” is a word out of its time as is the closed circuit camera that captures the night time image of master thief “the Lone Wolf”. The play ends against expectation with a surprise climax. But like the best of conclusions it is wholly satisfying in that it fits both thematically and stylistically with what has gone before.

Theatre is a mansion that holds many rooms. The quality of charm is not over-valued in a culture which ranks subjective expression above all. As with humans themselves genuine charm on stage is not achieved easily.

“The Man Who Walked Through Walls” is an endnote of distinction. “Theatr Powys have done great shows over the years” said my neighbour “I regret their passing.” The comment came entirely unprompted. As an eloquent epitaph to a particular strand of community-based theatre it does not come any better.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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