Theatre in Wales

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At Theatr Clwyd

Theatr Clwyd Cymru-Two Princes , Theatr Clwyd Cymru , November 17, 2007
At Theatr Clwyd by Theatr Clwyd Cymru-Two Princes As usual some cunning programming is afoot this winter in Mold. A re-airing of Sophie Stanton’s “Cariad” with its cast of three women is balanced out by an astounding cast of twelve- for a new play!- Meredydd Barker’s “Two Princes.”
If Ms Stanton’s play is a single set chamber piece over a short timespan “Two Princes” also directed by Philip Breen feels as if it needs a lasso to rein it into a single evening’s drama. Barker has earned his cast; this is a big play, a big step up from “Aqua Nero”, and emphatically a big pleasure to watch.

Firstly the dramatist fires off a visual coup in scene five that elicits a gasp from the audience. The plot centres on the selection of a mountain sculpture to commemorate the one historic event that has occurred in the West Wales village of Treianto. No plot is ever entirely new. Memorialising a historic event was used by Alan Ayckbourn in his 1977 play “Ten Times Table.” Sir Alan’s play, as expected, is tight in form, humorous in tone, wrily observed, and mildly ironic in its treatment of character. Meredydd Barker’s by contrast is discursive and open-ended, aburst with themes, whether it be history- “deeds and names misremembered, half-remembered or forgotten completely”- civic politicking, art or heritage.

It boldly opens with a scene set in the twelfth century and switches to a public meeting. Writer Barker and director Breen mount the best scene of its kind since David Edgar did it in “Destiny.” With the cast size it looks impeccable, the exact picture of a thinly attended public meeting, and crackles with politics, sharp asides and jokes. If anything it has a verve that the rest of the play finds hard to match up to.

The script continues to be interlaced with jokes. A sculptor fills his vacant time between commissions by churning out hideous four kilogram steel ashtrays. “Ashtrays...after a blanket smoking ban” mutters his business partner.
The play inevitably has some roughnesses at its fringes. The character Fin is hazy and the dead girlfriend, Cassie, not really integrated into the whole; but far better for a young playwright and, for drama in Wales, the ambition of a giant canvas over the perfection of a miniature.

I came away with that rarest of thoughts, that “Two Princes” might easily have carried an extra thirty or forty minutes. When Peter Flannery composed his big plays “Singer” or “Our Friends in the North” they lasted three hours. Meredydd Barker has the compositional skill, and “Two Princes” the scale, to be permitted the same.

By coincidence on leaving Mold I tuned into a radio discussion of Kwame Kwei-Armah’s latest play. “Too much packed in it” said one reviewer. Better that any day than the reverse; there is a lot of substance to “Two Princes”. It took fifteen years for “Our Friends on the North” to make it, past a sequence of management and political convulsions, from RSC stage to being the best television series of its decade. Over that time its core plot remained but its emphasis altered. If anything, media timescales have lengthened even more, but I look forward to seeing “Two Princes”, in some form but still big and bold, up on the screen sometime around 2020.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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