Theatre in Wales

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Theatre Writer on Upward Ascent

The Other Room: the First Five Years

Constellation Street , The Other Room , May-12-16
The Other Room: the First Five Years by Constellation Street The viewers, and reviewers, who have been at the Other Room since blast-off are in concert that it has yet to make a false step. Season three “Insomnia “has continued with acclaim for “Constellation Street.” The company’s programming is so designed to allow for a production’s extension should audience demand warrant it. Thus Matthew Bulgo’s play earned its extra week, in the event running straight up against the next production. It may well be a small marker in theatre’s history that Nicola Reynolds acts in one production while juggling writer and director roles in another production that is imminent.

New writing is uncommon in the theatre of Wales. Matthew Bulgo is a regular on this site. The oldest advice to a writer “get a good day job” is turned around in his case. He has a good night job, one that flows straight into “Constellation Street.” Formally it comprises four monologues. The language has the vibrancy, stop-start sheen and vivacity of speech of spontaneous formation in the mind’s making. Vocabulary and characterisation blend. When that classic autodidact figure, the taxi driver, reaches out for an uncommon word he adds “Feral. Is that what I mean? Yeah. Feral.”

“Last Christmas” did as well as a script for single actor could do. Performances from Chapter to Clwyd, a nice Edinburgh gig, capped by a real Christmas slot at a grade A London fringe venue. Its characters were child, partner, parent and daft pals, its theme the path to maturity. “Constellation Street” is a step on and up, its principal virtues after linguistic vitality two in number.

It has an intrinsic dynamism. Characters start in apparent conditions of stability and move to an edge where their worlds are shredded. There is a nice touch of modernity. An infidelity no longer needs a cache of letters to be discovered. Those omnipresent machines sync their content of betrayal autonomously.

Theatre is there to take its audience to new places but it is an act of fine balance. The zones of psychological extremity must be outside quotidian experience but convincing nonetheless. Writing of conviction was never done by invention behind shuttered windows.

It lacks dogma. There is a posture of writing that deems itself political and isn’t, declamation its mode and priority. “Constellation Street” is made for an audience. It has secrets and connections between the narratives that urge attention. The writerly instincts are correct. But monologues are still monologues; the jump from narrative to drama the next challenge. .

The nature of “Constellation Street” lends itself to co-direction. Chelsey Gillard and Dan Jones have shaped performances where actor, character and speech are seamless. Neil McWilliams, Gwenllian Higginson and Roger Evans are Stephen, Alex and Frank, the two men performing in settings of extraordinary intimacy. Amy Jane Cook is again designer, her approach to “Constellation Street” brilliantly counter-intuitive. The set is now firewood- or rather chiminea fuel in this season- but to reveal too much would be a spoiler, should it be re-created elsewhere. The most intimate space in the theatre of Wales has been split up and made more so. Nonetheless the design works on contrasts of light and dark, space and enclosedness.

The Other Room’s invitation to Amy Jane Cook has been a great decision. True to form not a single London broadsheet has noticed.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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