Theatre in Wales

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Powerful Probing Individual Theatre

Land of My Fathers

Lurking Truth , Castle Theatre, Aberystwyth , May-12-18
Land of My Fathers by Lurking Truth Lurking Truth's production was set to perform in the first weekend of March. In the event road and rail routes into Aberystwyth were blocked by snow. Its intended venue, the Arts Centre, in a rare occurrence was obliged to close. A hundred miles away the cast was blockaded by the Siberian blast in the home of producer Ceriann Williams. It is the kind of event that reads well in a memoir. At the time, most of all for an independent company without public subsidy, cancellation is a calamity.

In the spirit of the play's three characters “Land of My Fathers” is back. For an audience ironically the Castle Theatre makes a stronger venue, Theatre y Werin being out of action for some months due to refurbishment. It is a darker, starker space for a play that leads us to new dark places. The title has a irony to it in that the bulk of the action is played out in the front-line purgatories of Kandahar and Baghdad.

The play has been some years in the making. It goes back to a time when there was concern over the role of non-state actors in conflict areas. Russell Gomer's Iestyn has been bloodied in service in Northern Ireland. His natural route is into the world of shadows, where security operations blend with contracted out-sourcing. Early on, mention is made of a CIA manual for interrogation. Iestyn and his two companions are in proximity to conflict, expert at it, but beyond the rules and limitations for regular soldiery.

The lighting is low level to either side of the three actors. It frequently throws Russell Gomer, Huw Blainey and Oliver Morgan-Thomas into shadow. They are first seen in black balaclavas in powerful physical theatre moving to a rock score. With the hoods removed the dress that remains is combat boots and black t-shirts. David Ian Rabey's subject is masculinity under small restraint. An early episode plays out in Afghanistan where the trio are protectors for a group of English exporters. Intervention has restored the country to its pole position in the heroin trade and Britain is supplier of equipment for the narcotics laboratories. It ends bloodily, but the trio are also bonded by an earthy humour.

The next assignment is the indigenisation of Iraqis for security functions. Music, it is decided, is a good bonding mechanism. Russell Gomer launches into a rousing if irreverent variation on “Hen Wlad...” for his Baghdad choir. The experience of Wales permeates the lives of the three. Cwmgiedd, Tregaron, Dolgellau get their mention. The Dyfed-Powys police counter-terrorism work, says one of the three in the know, is about tracking potential eco-warriors in the badlands of the Dyfi Valley. In a South Wales pub a drinker has the nickname the Beast of Bedwas.

The writing is driven by a potent sense of venture. The programme notes a source of inspiration in Karl Francis' film “Milwr Bychan” of 1986. In conversation afterwards Rabey points to David Rudkin's “the Sons of Light.” But an original work is its own self. The story culminates in a strange, unnerving scene in a cavern. As a setting a cave is rich in mythic resonance. Art in darkness in a cave was crucial for Anthony Minghella in “the English Patient”. That too was about a group of Britons in a desert setting engaged in covert purpose. That script merged eros and thanatos. So too does “Land of My Father” reach its unexpected and satisfying resolution.

The potent physical presence of three men is only half of what Rabey as director has made. The foreground screen plays out in front of a large screen. Piotr Woycicki has assembled a rich flow of imagery for his digital scenography. Some of it is original artwork and some documentary photography. A giant heart throbs in all its raw anatomical substance. The eye of the lens circles around a Minotaur. Woycicki has, he explains, drawn on the figure that obsessed Picasso. Like all technical resource digital imagery can be used well or used slackly. Here it imparts a quality of epic.

If “Land of My Fathers” has a line to encapsulate it is “if you don't know what you stand for how do you defend it?” “Land of My Fathers” eschews strict naturalism but also avoids a soup of symbolism. Its textual allusions are spare, Piotr Woycicki taking up the role. Russell Gomer doubles up briefly as the Chief. Literally in the shadows he delivers a briefing for a shadowy mission. On the screen behind a ceiling fan turns. The most famous ceiling fan in cinema also precedes a man to be sent on a covert mission where the rules are disposable. Coppola's Captain Willard was instructed to proceed with extreme prejudice. So too do Iestyn, Cai and Owain make their own journey into the twenty-first century hearts of darkness. Of course, as Rabey's script demonstrates, the dark hearts are not spatially and geographically limited. They beat, universally, within every human ribcage.

This is a powerful and individual production. Acknowledgements for “Land of My Fathers” are made to many contributors. Izzy Rabey is associate director, Emily Dyble-Kitchin programme designer, Keith Morris photographer, Maisie Baynham stage manager. Lurking Truth has what must be a unique credit for Charmian Savill and Roger Owen who are billed as “company direction nucleus.”

The Little Man Cafe Co of Cardiff's Bridge Street plays the crucial role of production sponsor.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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