Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

One-Year Birthday Visit to Cardiff’s Youngest Venue

Theatre in Wales: Comment

Play/ Silence , The Other Room , February-03-16
Theatre in Wales: Comment by Play/ Silence The Other Room was in London on 29th January for the award of Best Fringe Venue of the Year. The organising body, the Stage, had already delivered its verdict on the first production of 2016. It is the first time that a theatre company has combined these clenched, darkly comic short pieces from theatre’s two Nobel Prize-winners of the last century. With their pairing of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter “Directors Kate Wasserberg and Titas Halder”, wrote the Stage, “have done something magnificent here with cast and creative team coming together to produce a sublime hour of theatre.”

This reviewer comes to the production late in its run, the visit to Porter’s timed to coincide with the evening of the Wales Theatre Awards. As such, and as a first-time viewer of an Other Room, some broader comments are appropriate. Close attention to the plays themselves has been given by Jacqui Onions in the Reviews Hub. Emily Garside, writing for Wales Arts Review, was similarly mesmerised by the language of giants- “precision writing from such masters, words that are deceptively simple but powerfully effective, combined with similar simple staging that lets the words shine, is a brilliant and engaging combination. Precision of language and the uneasiness of love combine for a disquieting experience.”

For this first time visitor the most salient quality is the finish to the work. The best role of pub theatre, long-time crucial in London’s theatre ecology, is to let new dramatists learn, in the only way that counts, how to compose for performance. It lets them see and feel how the cluster of strangers that is an audience reacts to the work. The totality of production values in pub theatre is not necessarily as consistent.

Not so with “Play/ Silence”. Dyfan Jones’ composition and sound design haunt the action, deepening and augmenting the action without seeking to upstage it. Amy Jane Cook’s design- three great urns for the Beckett, a strange Ames-type room for the Pinter- works in the impossibly small space for the same reason. Design is an art in itself but it is also an art in harness to others. January being a thin month for theatre in Wales my most recent memory was a London production, completely joyous, with a company of twenty-nine actors. The design had one great flourish of wonder to it but whether it added and deepened the action over two hours is less certain. Cranes and chains, screens or film loops of Jamie Oliver doing his stuff are tools for the designer, not ends in themselves. If it is to be a choice then between the Other Room and the Olivier for more rounded artistry of design then Amy Jane Cook has it.

Care too in the casting. Matthew Bulgo is at the stage where actors begin to get interesting. His Rumsey, with his tiepin, braces and suit of brown, is a locus of cerebral gravity who stands in relief against the turbulent energy of Neil McWilliams’ Bates. Pinter’s trio is completed by the porcelain presence of Peta Cornish’s Ellen.

Beckett found that the path of emancipation from his adoration for Joyce lay in reduction and “Play” is its ultimate expression. Three heads- Victoria John joins the cast- issue with utter confidence and precision a stream of language, bereft of the cadence, caesuras or hesitations of conversational rhythm. “Is there anything I should do with my face except utter?” asks one of the grey-dust heads, untramelled by the lines and indentations that are relationship with others.

The aspiration to highest quality reaches out beyond the stage. The quality of advertising is not a standard for art but it is a part of what the customer perceives. Good promotion is better than less-good, decent copy better than hyperbole. “Play/ Silence” comes with a strikingly composed and lit graphic, even if not strictly accurate. That very fine player Catrin Aaron is part of the scene. The Other Room is a minnow in size but its programme is full and informative. The company even makes use of that most useful tool of the digital world, a spell-checker.

It is a century since Saussure and Jakobson. Words both denote and connote and the words “Pub Theatre” have their connotations. At the Sherman on 30th January representatives for Theatr Genedlaethol, the Sherman itself, August 012, the Torch, Bara Caws, Taking Flight and Theatr Clwyd all took to the stage to receive their award of different kinds from the theatre community. The Other Room stood alongside, just one year old, in a commonality of theatre excellence. Porter’s is a venue of flavour and atmosphere. But the Other Room transcends the category of pub theatre. It is a fully fledged theatre.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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