Theatre in Wales

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The Greatest Men Have the Greatest Weaknesses

The Best of Touring Theatre

D J Britton & Taliesin- The Wizard the Goat and The Man Who Won the War , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , November 18, 2011
The Best of Touring Theatre by D J Britton & Taliesin- The Wizard the Goat and The Man Who Won the War A National Theatre of Wales script made mention of the name “Kinnock” on 28th October and it elicited a hiss from the audience. Terry Breverton in his “Wales: a Historical Companion” (2009) excludes Lord Tonypandy on the grounds of one act of perceived dishonour as Secretary of State for Wales. The name of a former prime minister was booed at his own party conference this last September. Political prowess does not create popular love.

D J Britton gives to his late-life David Lloyd George a line that fits. “I was loved” he says at the peak of his accomplishment but “nothing prepares a prime minister for the venom.” The play probes the unreal expectations that are placed on the premier, not just the steel for leadership but the need for perfection. Then as now, other political cultures tolerate sexual adventure. His fellow-signatory at Versailles Clemenceau is nick-named “the tiger.” Lloyd George, one more isolated parliamentarian marooned in London, gets to be called “the goat.”

D J Britton’s script does what theatre can do and journalism cannot. That is to depict complexity and paradox. The firebrand young politician displays personal courage in denouncing war in South Africa. A generation later he is supporting, if not encouraging, the Greek Prime Minister in his imperial invasion of Turkey. But in words with a modern ring to them “They must expect complexity.”

Nor does the play shirk the underside. Questionable share purchases are explained away on a technicality. The accusation that honours are up for auction to the highest bidder is declared to be false. A peerage or a knighthood comes at a fixed price. Besides, in an argument of some sophistry, the fact that exposure led to reform meant that in the end the whole seamy thing should be viewed as a piece of public service.

One-actor plays come in two types. There are those that are the brainchild of an actor and there are those that are written, by a writer. “The Wizard, the Goat and the Man who Won the War” has a writer behind it. That craft shows in three obvious dimensions.

The first is truth to human psychology. Richard Elfyn makes himself available for a short post-show discussion. Surely, asks a questioner, an old man would reflect on the great political battles. That is the perspective of the historian. The artist knows that a life is marked out by the contours of love, and its failures. The lack of sexual connection matters. Nothing is worse than the death of a child. The script is true to the centrality of the emotional self.

Second, texture. A few props generate stage action. Richard Elfyn takes on, with utter conviction, the voices of women and children. There is remembered song, touches of the music hall, humour. On becoming Minister for War, experience of the curtain-twitchers of Criccieth’s multiplicity of chapels is a great aid in directing Britain’s spy network. There is many a sharp detail of history. In the War Cabinet the Prime Ministers of Great Britain and Australia speak confidentially to each other via their common language of Welsh.

Thirdly, a writer creates metaphor, that flows effortlessly from action. Lloyd George is on the beach at Antibes. An imagined stone provides a metaphor for political power. Power is just the skimming of a pebble across the water’s surface. It is less strength than skill that keeps it skimming, but sink it will, and sooner than later.

The one-person show that revives an important cultural figure is not theatre’s epicentre but it is an important strand. Many in Aberystwyth’s audience were also at Gwynne Edwards’ version of Richard Burton. Dave Ainsworth resurrects Rachel Roberts in 2012. “The Wizard, the Goat and the Man who Won the War”, a remarkable fusion of writer and actor, has aspects of particular significance. It was conceived in Lloyd George’s home, now Ty Newydd. Its tour this year is the centenary of the great Parliament Act of 1911. It brings a political titan to the stage. Lloyd George was not just one of the greatest reforming prime ministers. As war leader he was the civilian ready to regain power back from the military. The play follows other recent works of re-evaluation. In the view of historians Ffion Hague (2008) is stronger than Roy Hattersley (2010).

Lloyd George makes a slighting reference to Neville Chamberlain. In his ascendancy over elder brother Austen the script has a line about the younger brother leap-frogging to the top job. “Who would do that?” makes a knowing nod to the audience. But it happens the whole time. In fiction Michael Corleone. The Chair of Sky TV, much in the news this season, is the younger brother. Artistry is as much about using the knife, and knowing where to use it. The lines you love are the hardest of all to delete. The line flatters the audience, but it is not that of the character.

At Y Galeri, in Lloyd George's heartland, the audience stood. The audience in Aberystwyth includes a Lloyd George scholar with thirty years of research and publication behind him. The verdict of the professional on D J Britton's representation? “I couldn't fault it.”

“The Wizard, the Goat and the Man Who Won the War” tours again in 2012 and plays Singapore and Australia in 2012.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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