Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Director Works Hard

At National Theatre

Before I Leave- National Theatre of Wales & Wales Millennium Centre , Sherman Theatre , June 1, 2016
At National Theatre by Before I Leave- National Theatre of Wales & Wales Millennium Centre Dementia has taken the place of cancer as the most feared disease. Its one-in-four incidence in old age, in the forms of Alzheimer's or vascular dementia, makes it probable that most children will have to live with its consequences. Artists naturally have taken to the subject. Kate O'Reilly's “the Almond and the Seahorse” was seen widely and addressed a range of conditions of the brain under assault. Florian Zeller's “the Father” has had a large audience with its honed and crafted picture of the wreckage of relationships. Sarah Polley's film “Away from Her” plumbed the bottomless sadness of loss.

“Before I leave” sadly is lamentable in comparison. It has a grade-A director who commendably does what he can with a good cast. But the material is craftless. There are six skills required for a dramatist. A play can get away with skipping one or two but they are all absent here. There is no grasp of structure. The form is of a myriad micro-scenes, that come and slip away. There is no aptitude for a closing line. There is an expected climax, that does not happen. It has events but no dramatic action. It is without visual depth, rhythm or metaphor. It closes with a happy, clappy group song.

It displays the padding that substitutes for an ability to write dialogue. Instead it has ballast- "there comes a time in your life when your memories are better than dreams." Mobile phones interrupt the action for no dramatic purpose. The roll-call of names and identifiers is constant: Tesco, Gary Lineker, Ralph Fiennes, Ken Barlow, Kardashian. A joke is made in slight of Mumford and Sons. A cheap joke is provided by an older person using the word “twat” instead of “tweet.” This is tripe. A person may not know a piece of vocabulary but its mangling for a laugh is false. “I still have orgasms” declares a fifty-five year old in interview with a social services employee. A choir leader opens a session with his afflicted singers with a quotation from Nietzsche written on his flipchart.

Characterisation is fixed. Nothing is dynamic, unfurled over time and space for an audience to experience. It is sitcom rather than theatre with characters possessed of a single identifying attribute. Children are plain harsh. There is no engagement with the terible distancing and ther erosion of love. It also has the snobbery of stereotypy. Thus a gnarled miner is unfamiliar with the most famous music of Puccini. In the real world the former mining communities were famed for the depth of their culture. Similarly a soprano by default comes with a different accent. The most renowned soprano from the West comes from a family of butchers and puts her butchery skills proudly on her website. "Write against expectation" is a first lesson in a writing class.

The promo for this sad production includes a line “wears its politics on its sleeve.” It has no politics. Most of the servants of the state are depicted as brusque and insensitive. This is a sour and unrepresentative depiction. History stops in the 1980s. It is the same old story, Wales a victim. An unfinished sub-plot concerns a library under threat. If the WMC, the co-producers, looked out of the window they would see an adjoining building. Local government has been the domain of the Government of Wales for seventeen years. The Assembly gets no mention.

“No jobs, no dignity, no communities” bewails the figure at the centre. A picture of Farage is flashed up. Outside little theatre-land real women and men of Wales have with pleasure sent Gill, Hamilton and gang to be their representatives. This is theatre of timidity; it is not for me, and I do wonder who it is for.

The usual pattern will follow. The critics in London will give it their usual three and four stars. Audience numbers are a state secret in the theatre of Wales. It will get through its short run. I recommend “Before I Leave.” Those companies who have had their tours for 2017 across Wales turned down should take a sniff of what kind of theatre the establishment really likes.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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