Theatre in Wales

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A Warm Welcome To A New & Exciting Company

Me And My Friend / The Last Nickel

Monocle Theatre Company , Llanover Arts Centre Cardiff , April-10-18
Me And My Friend / The Last Nickel by Monocle Theatre Company I know from personal experience how hard it is to set up a new theatre company in Cardiff. Ultimately, very rewarding but also very hard work. All credit must therefore go to all concerned for creating Monocle Theatre. In front of a packed audience they made their debut with two one act plays.

We started with Gillian Plowman’s “ Me And My Friend” featuring two characters Bunny and Oz. This started in quite light-hearted fashion with a mock interview process. However, gradually as the play progresses the tone darkens as we understand more about the characters and what has led them into the current predicament. I rather assumed this was a new play as it deals with a lot of current issues about mental health and disconnectedness. However, I was stunned to discover it was written way back in 1988 and has survived the test of time very well. (Interestingly it was originally a 2 act play with each Act dealing with 2 different patients, 2 men and 2 women, released from a psychiatric hospital into the community).

In reality a play is only as good as the quality of the actors and here Monocle Theatre company are well served by Mike Freeman and Trystan Davies. They both show nice comic touches at the start but then impressively bring the audience with them as they take the play into darker more dramatic territory.

After a short break we are back with Jane Shepard’s “ The Last Nickel”. Again, this is not a recent piece being written in 1996 and concerns 2 sisters Jamie and Jo. Poor Jamie is determined to get a decent night’s sleep to prepare her for the following day but lively ( to put it mildly) Jo is determined to ensure this never materialises ( which is probably just as well for dramatic effect).

In contrast to “Me And My Friend” this play starts off in rather dramatic fashion and then becomes lighter in tone (for a while, anyway). Being a play you know that gradually the past of the characters will be revealed so we begin to understand the predicament of the 2 sisters.

To me the role of a reviewer is to provide an overview of a play without revealing exactly what happens so, I won’t reveal the two plot devices that shifted the play up several levels. Impressively, one was extremely funny and one was extremely moving. Again, the triumph of this play ( in both writing and acting) is that the major changes in tone and style feel very naturalistic while in lesser hands it could feel quite forced and clunky. So, massive credit must to go both Sarah Bennington and Kate Howard-Williams who beautifully play the troubled siblings. (Not forgetting Bella Kemble and Helen Power who make an unexpected and unforgettable appearance). I also have to say I thought the American accents were absolutely spot-on leading me to assume the cast were American!

Having praised both pieces it would be wrong of me to neglect the effort of both directors Juliet Lake and Fred Skilton who ensured the pace never flagged throughout the evening and used a big stage very well. I had never previously been to Llanover Arts centre and was really impressed with the theatre space. A real find.

I would happily return to the venue and am very interested in what Monocle Theatre company does next. These pieces only performed for one night but have been entered into The One Act Festival so let’s hope they are successful as they deserve a wider audience.

An unexpected delight.

Reviewed by: David Cox

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