Theatre in Wales

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Fine Direction and Acting in Important American Drama

At RWCMD

RWCMD Cardiff- In the Blood , RWCMD Cardiff , April 8, 2011
At RWCMD by RWCMD Cardiff- In the Blood The Royal College's first function may be to help create the new generation of musicians and actors. In the context of theatre in Wales it also performs a valuable second function. Significant pieces of theatre get their first Welsh airings here. A year ago it was composer Michael John LaChiusa with “Hello Again.” Long before “After the Dance” swept all the 2010 awards for the RNT director Charlotte Westenra had presented it in Cardiff. She is director again in this unique and important piece of drama.

Suzan-Lori Parks won a Pulitzer Prize for “Topdog/Underdog.” That had a production in Glasgow in 2009. “In the Blood”, written two years before, is a clever variation on Hawthorne's “the Scarlet Letter”. Transposed to Memphis, Tennessee we see Anjana Vasan's Hester La Negrita writing the letter “A” on a wall covered with “A's”. Unlike Hawthorne the letter does not carry the stigma of adultery but stands for the equal stigma of illiteracy.

The form of “In the Blood” is striking. It may well be unique. Hester's five children appear in impoverished family scenes of high energy. Charlotte Westenra and her cast have captured the mannerisms of childhood to perfection. The production suggests that not an hour of the three weeks of rehearsal was put to waste.

Clifford Lyonette as Baby is just that. He spent a couple of days in a nursery, not just observing but playing with the infants, and it shows. Lewis Reeves, last seen as a shaven-headed skinhead in “Oi for England”, is well-named Trouble. In a baseball hat he and the other children surge across the performance space in a mix of romp and fight, playing with matches, foraging in the neighbourhood; it is the true stuff of childhood.

Parks' structure gives every child another role as an adult and a monologue called a “confession.” It builds cumulatively to a powerful picture of neglect. “The world is not here to help” as a character puts it “the world is simply here.” The poor arouse mixed emotions. One confesses to “the hate I have for her hunger.”

Temi Conde is not just child Bully but the strutting Welfare Lady. Parks' language has Southern cadences to it. “I am paid”says Welfare “to stretch out these hands, to stretch out these hands to you”. At first strong and realist towards Hester her confession reveals that she and her husband have exploited Hester for sexual purpose.

Gwawr Loader's adult role is Amiga Gringa. Her face has a remarkable mobility in the acting. A smile can flick on and off while she speaks. A single eyebrow can arch. At first appearing a kindred spirit to Hester it emerges that she too has used Hester for mixed-race pornographic display. “Chocolate and vanilla get into the ugly.”

Royce Pierreson's childhood role is thirteen-year old Jabber, still a bed-wetter, and as adult the oily Chilli in a suit of gloss. He even goes as far as dressing Hester in a prospective wedding dress. It then emerges that all kind of conditions come with the offer of marriage which is soon cruelly withdrawn.

Lewis Reeves’ doctor, carrying a weird sandwich board, urges sterilisation. “The higher-ups, they want results, they want solutions.” He too has exploited his role of authority in a one-off alley encounter.

The last adult character is Clifford Lyonette's Reverend D. First seen as an elastic-jointed preacher on his soapbox he progresses towards the building of his own church. Hester, he says, had best come in by the back door.

The Caird Studio is transformed. With the audience placed in two sets of facing rows the performance space that is freed up must be six hundred square feet in area. Charlotte Westenra puts every last inch to good spatial use. The studio's pillar and low black girder do not matter one bit for “In the Blood” with its urban setting and passing train sound effects.

Productions of American in Britain can often have a voice or two where the regional intonation jars. “In the Blood” is essentially a chamber piece. Here the voices all flow together. One and all sound Memphis, a tribute to an unidentified voice coach. At a technical level Anjana Vasan delivers very fine breath control on delivering long lines. A life of loss is summoned up in one of Parks’ lilting lines. “Love don't stick longer than a quick minute.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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