Theatre in Wales

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“Volcanic energy”: Cardiff's Actor-Writer-Director Company Celebrates 10 Years

At Dirty Protest

Dirty Protest- Sugar Baby , Roundabout @ Summerhall , August 14, 2017
At Dirty Protest by Dirty Protest- Sugar Baby Dirty Protest is ten years old. It is also ten years since its members became gradually known to me. Some came with “the Exquisite Corpse.” In the summer of 2007 Tim Price shared the co-writing credit with Greg Cullen for “Cafe Cariad.” (“He's really funny” said one of the cast of fifty-plus in the bar afterwards- her expression obviously intended a compliment.) “Cafe Cariad” is a strand of performance that I have found lacking over the last decade; theatre that looks to the past of Wales and is conceived on a grand scale but is not soggy or looking for cuddles.

From the publicity for this occasion Dirty Protest sounds like the Royal Court amplified by a factor of two. Alas it is not, but the roll-call is impressive: 300 new plays, 200 writers, Katherine Chandler, Gary Owen, Brad Birch, Alan Harris, Dafydd James, Ed Thomas, Kelly Jones, Tim Price, Meredydd Barker from Wales, Duncan Macmillan, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, James Graham, Joel Horwood, Chloe Moss, Lucy Kirkwood, Jack Thorne from traws-Hafren. The list of partners awes: Royal Court, Almeida, Traverse, Soho, Chapter, NTW, Clwyd, Galeri, Camden Roundhouse, WMC, Latitude Festival, and Festival No.6.

Wales Arts Review has featured a pre-Edinburgh interview with writer and director. Alan Harris was to be heard recently as the dramatist behind a very good radio adaptation of “Metamorphosis”. The interview reveals his ownership of a greyhound and a spoon collection from around the world. Catherine Paskell in her interview reveals that work in Brazil has left her with a knowledge of Portuguese and the ability to identify five different banana types. Dirty Protest has a lean cost base. In Edinburgh, where the prices soar in August, the company knows the place where three curries are to be had for £6.

Critically Speaking is a new reviewer at the Fringe and gave “Sugar Baby” the full five stars.

After finding critical success with his last two plays, Love, Lies and Taxidermy and How My Light is Spent, Alan Harris returns with yet another quality piece of theatre. He sticks to the formula that has served him so well – throwing frighteningly realistic characters into absurd situations, all reined in with an irreverent and sweet sense of humour.

Harris’ ability to create interesting and endearing anti-heroes is one of his greatest strengths, and protagonist Marc follows in that tradition. When he gets mixed up with the local gangster, this small-time drug dealer sets off a chaotic chain of events involving school crushes, murder and even a talking seal.

Harris supplies the voice, but its Alex Griffin-Griffiths who really brings Marc to life. Possessing just the right amount of boyish charm and comic timing, Griffin-Griffiths owns the stage. Marc is an unreliable narrator, which serves the play twofold. Narratively, it excuses the more farcical sequences, and it gives Griffin-Griffiths the liberty to portray supporting characters as genuinely funny caricatures.

Director Catherine Paskell chooses to keep the stage bare but, thanks to superbly shimmering lighting design from Ace McCarron, it never feels empty. McCarron and sound designer Dan Lawrence bring technicolour to a show that could so easily work fine in a black box setting.

At a festival so full of shows, there’s a risk that Sugar Baby could get lost in the shuffle. That would be a real shame, as it’s another Alan Harris success and another feather in Dirty Protest’s ever-filling cap.

From British Theatre Guide

Alan Harris returns to the Roundabout, where he had a big hit with Love, Lies and Taxidermy. For 2017, he has written a manic comic monologue for Dirty Protest, which perfectly showcases the talents of actor Alex Griffin-Griffiths. He plays Marc, a small-scale dealer making a meagre living through membership of a cannabis collective in Cardiff. The story moves into top gear when he approaches Oggy, an old schoolmate, in an attempt to take over a £6,000 debt of his father, a differently spelt Mark. Oggy is far from welcoming and the ensuing hour sees Marc running around madly, often accompanied by the Sugar Baby of the title, indebted Lisa and a seal called Billy.

..A notably enthusiastic and energetic performance takes what would have been a fun tale into a different league, which is all to the credit of the lovable Alex Griffin-Griffiths and his director Catherine Paskell.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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