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At Theatr Clwyd

Theatr Clwyd- Insignificance , Emlyn Williams Theatre, Theatr Clwyd , October 15, 2016
At Theatr Clwyd by Theatr Clwyd- Insignificance The play in which characters from history meet in possible but unexpected juxtaposition has a pedigree and a tradition. The godfather is “Travesties”, where the founders of literary modernism, Dada and Bolshevism collide. Michael Frayn's contribution was “Balmoral” two years later. From Wales Richard Lewis Davies added “Supertramp, Sickert and Jack the Ripper”- W H Davies meets Walter Sickert. Miles Whittier in “Starboard Home” engineered a meeting of Gandhi, Kipling and Chekhov on a P&O Liner from Bombay to London where they collectively invent the peach melba for the singer of that name also on board- although that was a case of ficion-within-fiction, appearing in Peter Nichols' “A Piece of My Mind.”

The tradition of the genre is that wit interplays with ideas. Thus on this site in 2010 Richard Lewis Davies “achieved in his writing a light musicality in which motifs and riffs occur and re-occur.” In “Hysteria” Terry Johnson put onto the stage Jeffrey Masson's full-throttle assault on the veracity of the foundations of Freudianism. His dramatic mechanism, far from heavy, had Salvador Dali invade the doctor's chambers in brilliant surrealist manner.

“Insignificance” bristles with surface energy. In interview with Wales Arts Review director Kate Wasserberg was asked if she had had advance sight of the Nicholas Roeg film and gave a wise answer. Both the film of "Insignificance" and "Track 29" a couple of years later are laborious. Some material works on stage and stage only, full stop. If relativity is to be proven with a toy and two actors wearing Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck ears it relies on real human presence.

The single setting is Room 614 of a Manhattan hotel. Contrary to Johnson's title his room number is of high significance, being unique in its divisability into numerous square roots. Amy Jane Cook's design gives a nod to Edward Hopper but also takes the neon from the outside streets, wrapping it round her room to give a suggestion of the wrestling ring. Inside the hotel much is to be wrestled over.

Brendan Charleson, in baggy worsted trousers and long grey locks, is the authoritative centre of calm as the Professor- Johnson neatly avoids giving his four protagonists their names from history. Into his room in the small hours of the morning erupts a trio of energetic players from the world beyond science. Christian Slater's Senator is all strutting geniality with threat ever just a whisper away. Sophie Melville, in the pleated dress unmistakable from the nearby filming of "the Seven Year Itch", is pitch perfect in the breathy, nervous energy of the celebrity at bay. Ben Deery's Ballplayer is all coiled-up aggression in the face of perceived marital desertion. Aware that his gifts are strictly sporting he is reduced to arguing that he has any existence beyond the Senator's supposition as to his reality.

Johnson does not do one-liners on a Stoppardian scale but "Insignificance" moves with a tremendous brio. With his affection for comedy traditions Johnson knows how to construct a plot around a single setting. An award-winner in 1984 "Insignificance" plays as if it could have been minted in 2016. If it has a theme that prevails it is epistemological in nature. "You like knowledge" declares the aggressive autodidact Senator to the serene Professor."I like knowing things." "You know too much" is an obvious retort "you understand too little."

There is a case for intuition and the raspy politician-on-the-up is all for it. "What the hell!", he declares, is the best decision. He is on the hunt for disloyalty; call them frankfurters rather than hot dogs and it is a dead give-away. In the sphere of physics space and time may be relative but not so in human affairs. There is cause, states Johnson in his elegant and playful play, and there is effect.

Director Kate Wasserberg and production team spring a couple of visual surprises. "We have to pretend this room is the universe" say the explicators of the General Theory of Relativity. In the flick of a switch the Emlyn Williams space becomes just that in a coup of pure theatre.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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