Theatre in Wales

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Innocent as Strawberries

Arad Goch , Gregynog Gallery National Library of Wales , November-11-14
Innocent as Strawberries by Arad Goch “Innocent as Strawberries” is about what matters in this year of commemoration, the poetry. But a company does not pass a twenty-five year milestone without knowing its audience. The production, devised by cast and director Angharad Lee, surges with physical action, music and the crafted rhythm of performance. It is a touring show heading, after its public unveiling next to the National Library’s own Dylan Thomas exhibition, for the schools of Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. It travels lightly with three wooden boxes and a couple of oil drums, put to various and inventive use.

The format is a fictionalised variation on the life. Morgan Thomas, Chris Hoskins and Jack Quick are three schoolboys in the same place and time as Dylan Thomas. The script makes mention of a father who has served in Salonika. The adolescents have the crisply cut hair, the white shorts, grey shorts and sleeveless pullovers of the era. The design looks good; the jerseys look as if they come less from a factory in Dacca but, as they were, in hand-knitted form from the hand of mum or aunty.

Their world is geographically restricted but imaginatively wide-ranging. They make a bone-rattling trip by lorry for a camping excursion at Rhossili- a teenage audience member on enquiry volunteered this as his most-enjoyed moment in the show. When one of the three is walloped he declares with pride to have “the best black eye in Europe.” Adolescence brings allure and awkwardness in equal measure. Peggy, Gwyneth and Jean are met with a gauche discomfort. At school danger hovers with two bullies ever-present.

The bullies have a justified target in their sight. Morgan Thomas’ George is a poet, “a freak user of words”, possessed of the same youthful precociousness as the real teenager of Cwmdonkin Drive. He has the same exercise books stuffed with poems. “What’s it mean?” enquires friend Dan.

Arad Goch has earned its attention to the poetry via a trail of vivacity and rambunctious action. When a race is simulated those metre-high oil canisters are brought into use to provide a ferocious drumming rhythm. The script draws on five principal Thomas works, leading with “the Extraordinary Little Cough” and “the Hunchback in the Park.” The characters from “Under Milk Wood” are addressed with awe. The title itself, in the makers’ view, is an encapsulation. “Innocent” talks of youth of seeing life through eager and hopeful eyes..” while strawberries are “red and sensual…their shape is suggestive and their pleasure short.”

Just a couple of years before, 1912, another writer of genius, Thomas Mann, had also made use of the strawberry for an encounter with his protagonist. But in his case it was as a carrier of lethal cholera. Poetry is not just an entity to itself, but in conversation with words and images that have gone before and are yet to come. “Innocent as Strawberries” uses the means of theatre to draw in its watchers but ends on the power of poetry. “I can hear the dew falling” echoes fictional poet George “Time passes. Listen. Time passes.”

This day of performance marries the two centenaries that have marked the year both publicly and for the arts. Company and audience, year nines from Llandeilo, join in marking the Armistice with two minutes of silence. Two great commemorations for 2014; Arad Goch does honour to both.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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