Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Lightspeed in the Slow Lane

Lightspeed From Pembroke Dock

Dirty Protest , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , May-14-18
Lightspeed From Pembroke Dock by Dirty Protest “30 is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia” is a dippy film, common for the time, made in the 1960s. Companies age at a faster rate than humans and ten years is a dangerous time for a company. It cannot pretend to be the new kid any more while the passage to maturity can be scary and elusive. Dirty Protest at ten is enjoying a high-profile season. Alan Harris' “Sugar Baby” is in Dresden and London. Back home a thirteen-venue tour is the biggest so far of 2018. The result is disappointing.

This is a dissenting view from the reviewers of Cardiff. Chiara Strazzulla for Arts Scene in Wales 8th April: “a fast-paced, quick-witted piece...cleverly defies the boundaries between genres by managing to be at the same time a light-hearted comedy and a piece of serious drama...never obvious, never preachy, showing in-depth investigation without offering easy answers..a clever and ambitious production.”

Danille Fahiya, also for Arts Scene in Wales 7th April, saw much emotion in the play: “young Sam played by Jack Hammett and Dick Bradnum created tender and also fraught moments of two grieving people trying to mend in different ways. Hammett was also able to capture the vulnerability and childlike ambition to see the Millennium...we saw the vulnerabilities and fears of all characters come to the fore...this play captures the beauty of childhood dreams and ambitions and how we lose that sense of play.”

Jafar Iqbal, for Wales Arts Review 7th April, homed in on the actors: “Hammett brings a spirit and a warmth to his performance that is delightfully infectious, while Self delivers the type of assured and confident turn we’ve come to expect from him. Self is one of Wales’ best comic actors, but there are fleeting moments of something much deeper here.” He found faults in the pacing but concluded it be “a charming and well-made piece of family theatre.”

His critique is right. It is animated by pacey and energetic acting. “Lightspeed From Pembroke Dock” is good enough but with the name of Dirty Protest behind it ought to have been better.

It had four strong points in its favour. It had a theme worth writing about. Its scenes were well-wrought and the author knew how to craft a closure. It was without speeches where actors declaimed the author's own opinions. It reached a good and emotionally satisfying climax.

Its demerits equally were fourfold. An audience needs an anchor within ten or fifteen minutes. It needs to be clear what it is all about. Make the comparison with “Belonging” with which it criss-crossed on tour. It declares what it is about: love will endure over adversity. Whether it is true or not does not matter. (To my view it gave priority to the propagation of government policy over human truth.) “Lightspeed...” offered too much activity over formal control.

The plotting was ambitious but let down by use of time and space. Parallel stories are a staple now. The device in performance debuted in 1991 with Tom Stoppard and “Indian Ink.” “Lightspeed...” takes it a stage further in that the stories featured one character separated in age by several decades. This required a dramatic internal architecture in which continuity of personality was played against the discontinuity of time. Instead a peripatetic plot descended into a series of micro-scenes and a plethora of a dozen characters.

This reflected the influence of television in place of attention to how to command a live space. The cited influences- Bradbury, Chabon, Gaiman, Spielberg, Lucas- are all without relevance to theatre-writing. The film prop itself was not deployed as a stage object for multiple meaning. Again the contrast with “Belonging” where the placing of a jacket over a shoulder carries a depth of emotion. The use of an effeminate receptionist is retro-sitcom.

Lastly, action on stage is powered by the gap between what is said and not said. That is what actors are for. So a line, repeated, by a widower of four months “I wish I could bring her back but I can't” is not dialogue. It is second-hand. When a parent says to a 16 year old “it's not up to you to decide how I live my life” it has no life. For a masterclass in how to create action between parent and teenager see, for instance, the Don and Sally sequence in “Mad Men” series 7, scene 3. There is a big speech of explanation here which does not convince. A lost child is an event of horror but it does not relate to turning down a good job

As for the company this dissenting review is written only out of admiration. Dirty Protest was founded by practitioner-comrades at a dim time for new theatre. But much has changed in ten years. The Sherman did not have the mojo it has got back. There was no Other Room when it was launched. The Torch with Owen Thomas is doing well with theatre on national themes. A viewer from afar, or at least 100 miles, can speculate on the causes for dramaturgical weakness. Perhaps it is friendship; friendship is an absolute value but is a wrecker for a company. It raises too high the avoidance of friction. But heat is generated from friction. Dramaturgy is astringent, needing to be applied without favour or mercy. For Dirty Protest to live up to itself that should have been the case for this production. Meanwhile “Sugar Baby” awaits.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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