Theatre in Wales

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Critical Survey of a Hit

The Other Room: the First Five Years

All But Gone , The Other Room , April-12-18
The Other Room: the First Five Years by All But Gone “Bruised” was the best playwright debut in recent years. “A kind of “Usual Suspects” for the stage”, ran my view in 2012, “everything clicks in the last five minutes.” It is a hard grind trying to be a dramatist of Wales. “A new voice is uncommon in Welsh theatre”, ran the last paragraph back then, “Some writers have only one play within them, some have a few, some a career’s worth. Matthew Trevannion deserves to know. It is not acceptable that he should wait three, four years to find out.” He has the staying power. If it has taken six years, play number three has pleased a lot of people.

It is a mark of the status of the Other Room in the theatre culture- teeny but crucial and central- that so many reviewers have made their way to Porter's. Roger Barrington was there for Get the Chance and unstinting in his response: “if this astonishing show is anything to go by, it will make this venue not only one of the most exciting in Cardiff but in Wales as a whole. For a fringe venue to put on a new play by established playwright Matthew Trevannion of this quality is an outstanding achievement.” After picking out plot, theme, acting and design he ends: “this is a flawless production.”

Jane Laljee, reviewer for Arts Scene in Wales, homed in on the acting: “Kai, played beautifully by Callum Hymers...Wyn Bowen Harries plays Owen with a sense of pathos from the start...Daniel Graham as Howell brings a sensitive and moving portrayal of a man torn between love and loss... there is also comedy in the work with Nicola Reynolds providing some light relief to proceedings in her comic portrayal of Olwyn.”

Othniel Smith, Cardiff's reliable voice for the British Theatre Guide, looks to the quality of the writing. “Matthew Trevannion gives us something equally complex in “All But very short order, though, the author throws us a curveball as another young man appears, in his underwear, and recites some well-wrought verse. It quickly become clear that the action of “All But Gone” takes place in two time periods, with Owen, who is steadily succumbing to dementia, having difficulty separating them in his mind...Trevannion’s dialogue is full of humour and compassion, and his plotting constantly surprising, with past and present often presented simultaneously, in a manner reflecting Owen’s growing confusion."

The Other Room has a tradition of stand-out design work. “As so often in this venue, the set tells much of the story”, writes Smith, “Carl Davies’s design combining a kitchen and living-room, its cosy familiarity not quite preparing us for what is a tale of betrayal, abandonment and forbidden passions.” He sums up: “As in his previous works, “Bruised” and “Leviathan”, Trevannion displays great skill and empathy in his portraits of small-town lives disrupted by big emotions. This is a beautifully realised production of an unashamedly poignant play.”

The critical scene in Cardiff is on the up and Jafar Iqbal is one of its most lucid and valuable new voices. For Wales Arts Review he first looked to locate “All But Gone” in its larger context. “Dementia has dominated Welsh theatre”, he writes, “in the early part of this year, with at least four plays tackling the subject so far. Thematic links between all of them are obvious and inevitable but, tonally, this Valleys-set drama sits alone from the pack.”

Good critics cut to the centre. “The illness does have a significant role in Matthew Trevannion’s narrative but, crucially, this is not a play about disease. Rather, “All But Gone” is a love story playing in repeat.” There is courage in the writing. “Trevannion dares to push that boundary, successfully fashioning a script that treats the illness as a theatrical device rather than the focal point. Owen’s deteriorating mind is merely a gateway into what is an achingly tragic love triangle. Completing that triangle are Howell and Bev, themselves trapped and looking to Owen for escape. The beauty of Trevannion’s writing lies in his character development.”

More praise for the actors, and then Iqbal turns to Dan Jones. Succession is a challenge for every organisation. “Inheriting The Other Room meant filling some extremely big shoes..”All But Gone” shows that, if nothing else, the quality shows no signs of falling. Unlike its central character, the play shows that The Other Room has both a clear understanding of its past, and a clearer understanding of its future.”

Postscript: this digest has been made considerably easier by the marketing communications policy of the Other Room. From day one the company has had the habit of collating audience response and incorporating it into a marketing message.

This conveys two things. First it is a signifier from Wales' youngest theatre of a robust self-confidence. Bit it also declares that audience response is a part of the matrix, that theatre is not solipsism. An email of its kind requires ten or fifteen minutes' work. There is no good reason why companies endowed with vastly greater public resource should not emulate the practice.

Thanks to the authors for selections. Copyright held by the following where the reviews may be read in full:

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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