Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Millwalk and Spouse

Educactus Theatre Company , Arad Goch, Aberystwyth , July-03-14
Millwalk and Spouse by Educactus Theatre Company In the intimate setting of Arad Goch, the view is that of a rather messy flat with peeling wallpaper and a selection of clutter that creates a very 'studenty' ambience from the outset. This is no coincidence as Millwalk and Spouse is the second collaboration between Aberystwyth University alumni James Lawbuary and Paul Ditch. However, we soon gather that our lead characters are not students in the true sense of the word, but (so it initially seems) students of the board treading variety as they lament a damning review of their latest ailing play, The Squatting Monarch.

Two hours and a labyrinth of twists and turns later the 50 or so members of the audience are applauding a thoroughly entertaining show having
just learnt that the three (and only) characters are all, in fact, spies who have each failed in their respective missions and so, with the
impending likelihood that the powers that be will hunt each of them down to a gruesome death, they decide that instead of handing themselves into their superiors they will dine at the Savoy and live the rest of their short lives to the absolute max. (At this point there was actually a further twist in the tale but as I felt at the time that this was a meander too far, I am going to use a small dose of artistic licence and pretend it never happened!).

Anyway, to set the scene, this is director Ditch's third show under the guises of Educactus Theatre Company following Macbeth and then "Strip the Halls", the latter being Lawbury's debut script. I was lucky enough to watch both previous productions and consequently, the development of Paul Ditch as a director with a rapidly growing CV. He has already taken 'the Scottish Play' to Stratford and Strip the Halls was undoubtedly a riotous success, but Millwalk and Spouse is the best of the three as far as I'm concerned.

As farces go, Strip the Halls was more, well, farcical than Millwark and Spouse with the birth of a frozen turkey and a room full of Father Christmases being two of many unlikely scenarios. That being said, the crescendo of nonsense that we are served up here does not disappoint and, as in Strip the Halls, the dialogue positively canters along at a relentless pace. The key difference between the two performances is that whereas Strip the Halls had a much larger cast of varying abilities, ALL of the cast in this production have the necessary skills to cope with the incessant speed of proceedings from the outset and as a result, very few lines are thrown away which makes the plot easier to follow and ensures that every punch line is delivered naturally rather than being forced down the audience's throat.

Joe Blunt plays the initially flustered Jonathan Spouse but by the end of the show we see him metamorphose into a debonair spy in a smoking-jacket, via a couple of cameos masquerading as a fruity French ambassador. His performance is energetic and accomplished and his delivery is not dissimilar to that of high-octane comedian Russell Howard. The good news for Joe is that he has secured a place at Mountview, one of England's premier drama colleges. The bad news for theatre goers in Aberystwyth is that he is departing the area just as we have had a taste of his blossoming potential.

The play's femme fatale is portrayed by Laura Hunt who I am pleased to say has at least another 12 months in Aberystwyth ahead of her. She plays Maria Vlonkevlov who (as you will have guessed) is not all she seems and after 90% of the play as an icy one-eyed German, she becomes, in an instant, two eyed Sandra from Essex. Hunt does not put a high-heeled foot wrong throughout the whole play and her demonic laughter and eye twitching in her opening scene is so brilliantly executed, it is actually uncomfortable to watch.

The final member of this terrific trio is David Blumfield, interestingly one of Ditch's former University lecturers! Imagine (if you can) the voice of Gruff Rhys Jones, the delivery of Ronnie Corbett and the costume of Ricky Tomlinson as Jim Royle and you won't be far off Blumfield's default character, Nathan Millwalk. Perhaps best known in Aber as a Panto baddie, Blumfield has decades of experience behind him both as a director and an actor and his depths of acting 'knowledge' pay dividends here as we are treated to an imaginative journey through his range of accents, mannerisms and characterisations and he can't have been far off hitting double figures in the number of weird and wacky secret society members that he portrays (in rapid succession) with consummate ease.

In summary, I think the important thing to remember here is that this is a brand new script being performed and directed for the very first time. There is the occasional tumbleweed, the odd scene that needs some tweaking and the ending is one twist too far but I very much doubt anyone out there can name me a play in history that wasn't modified after its first few performances and no doubt, if and when the play is reprised by Lawbuary and Ditch in the future, our dynamic duo will have made a few minor adjustments to the production generally. However, given time, both this and Strip the Halls must have a chance of one day being fare for a much wider audience.

The fact that two young men can put on a show like this literally from scratch is enough to warm the cockles of anyone with even a modicum of interest in the future of theatre generally and if their first two productions are anything to go by, that future is going to involve lashings of Ditch and Lawbuary. Whether they continue as a partnership or go their separate ways, their respective yellow brick roads will have begun with two farces in Aberystwyth and I predict that in years to come, this is a fact of which Aberystwyth and its University will be very proud.

Reviewed by: Alan Rock

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