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101 Nights to Remember

Thirteen Years a Reviewer , Theatre of Wales , May 20, 2020
101 Nights to Remember by Thirteen Years a Reviewer These three are united by three things.

All were grass-roots organisations. All had the freshness of new writing. All made me, and those around me, laugh.

From “Strip the Halls”, Educactus Theatre, Bellevue Hotel Aberystwyth, 2013

“The front reception room of Aberystwyth’s Bellevue Hotel with its thick carpet, richly swagged curtains and deep armchairs is a well-chosen setting for a racy Christmas comedy. It has the level of audience intimacy a new play needs. “Strip the Halls” is farce, faithful to the genre but composed with a wicked modernity and a freshly youthful eye. Greg (David Dixon) returns to his Bedfordshire home from his bar job, with its more than colourful clientele, to find housemate Mandy (Marianne Hayes) in black stockings and red negligee. Mandy is a self-declared artist specialising in a particular kind of work, that may not be elaborated on an open-to-all-eyes website. Turning the gender tables the script has made its male lead a quiet “Mr Single McSingle” and its female rich in libidinous excess. Mandy in Greg’s absence has cheered her Christmas Eve by dialling up a rent-a-date.

“Inevitably, when the doorbell rings, it turns out to be Greg’s sober sister Jen (Kate Littlewort)- or not quite sister- and Mandy embarks on a classic farce cover-up story. Paul Ditch keeps the pace up as James Lawbuary embraces every element of classic farce. Marcus Dobson as hormonally-deprived teenager Adam loses his trousers at speed. Late arrival Oz (Sam Sherlock) also loses his trousers and a whole lot more. A vicar, in the form of Owen Watts’ Father Flynn, tries to calm things down. The weather outside has closed roads so that unexpected mum and dad (Norma Izon and Guy Taylor) pile in mid-way to complicate matters. Christmas drink is swilled and presents wrapped. A wrong medication is applied to embarrassing effect. At the end Lawbuary manages to contrive, with impeccable logic, the appearance of no fewer than four Santas on stage. And for all the startling revelations of parenthood, sexual orientation and kleptomania, he even provides a happy ending with a quiet moment of shared intimacy... And it is fun. The first night of “Strip the Halls” has its audience cheering and whooping. It is the first frosty night of the year and Educactus theatre company has delivered an ebullient early Christmas cheerer.”

From “Sugar Baby”, Dirty Protest, Soho Theatre, 2018

“It is a good writing ploy to start with an ending and work backwards. Alan Harris provides a conclusion that is not just unexpected but completely logical. That it is joyous as well is an added audience bonus. An audience needs an anchor... Hero Marc belongs to a co-operative, the nature of which has consequences of hazard. Something serious is at stake. There has to be something at stake to make theatre work. The plot may then take some picaresque byways but we know that something lies in wait. A one-actor show is still a drama and Harris populates his story with eight characters. Dialogue is enacted by a technique of simplicity. Alex Griffin-Griffiths jumps one hundred and eighty degrees to represent each part. Lastly, a stage is a place of sound and vision. Harris' writing is consistently visual. Even an act of retribution on the hero's father is accompanied by a unique visual image. The craft here runs deep. It may not be noticed but that is the nature of craft that builds art.

“Sugar Baby” is the antithesis of government-capture theatre. As such it is set to run and run... The difference from goody-theatre can be seen. Look just to the scene in a park that involves an icecream. It needs courage to conceive and to enact. Most of all it could not exist in any other medium other than on a stage... In January 2011 I reviewed David Grieg's similar long-runner “Midsummer” and lamented that his love-song to Edinburgh had no equivalent in Cardiff. “Sugar Baby” is not “Midsummer” although Oggy is not so far from “Big” Tiny Tam Callaghan. Alan Harris is more absurd, in its precisely critical not colloquial usage, less ruminative. But to be even mentioned in the orbit of Greig is accolade, evidence that “Sugar Baby” is simply tremendous theatre.”

From “Supertramp, Sickert and Jack the Ripper”, Equinox Theatre, Venue 13 Edinburgh, 2010

“The Supertramp is Newport-born, one-legged hobo and literary celebrity W H Davies. Actor Chris, in a play within a play, wants him for a dramatic subject. “Any money in it?” asks writer Lewis (Richard Tunley) in a rich Cwmbran accent. “Nothing” is the inevitable reply. Lewis is down on his luck, suffering relationship angst and sexual starvation. As for his writing career “the Court is going to get back to him” and he is in contact with “Alison from the BBC.” Chris meanwhile wants a play about “life and art, a fractal comment on contemporary society.” It does not matter too much how or even whether Davies and Walter Sickert met. As Chris says, Alan Bennett has shoved W H Auden and Benjamin Britten together for the sake of a play and they barely met.

“The acting in Lewis Davies’ two-hander sparkles from line one... Chris Morgan speaks a line of eighteen syllables on one effortless single breath and it is a reminder of the craft of the accomplished actor. When Richard Tunley makes his first entry as a stiff-legged Davies he takes on the accent of a comic Oscar Wilde. A plot like this runs the danger of collapsing inward on its own references. But Lewis Davies has achieved in his writing a light musicality in which motifs and riffs occur and re-occur. Sickert claims he wants an art dealing with “gross material facts” yet he has a distaste for “close up wetness and the sharing of fluids.” He amends the title of his famous canvas from “What we shall we do about the rent?” to “the Camden Town Murder.” The work itself does not change but the words chosen to describe it change the interpretation completely. The image in paint, pure material substance, is subordinate to language, which is pure concept... Sickert’s Mornington Crescent Studio is simply but effectively rendered in Cordelia Ashwell's design. The opening scene necessarily involves some exposition. The timing and cross-rhythms of the lines are beautifully modulated. Rebecca Gould is that model of directors, totally present while completely invisible. “What about the ending?” asks Chris of his writer. “I shall write it when I get to it” is the reply. Lewis Davies provides a fine last line but it does arrive as a jolt... Lewis Davies’ play is a sharp corrective, a zesty, refreshing sorbet of a show. Paul Theroux once signed off a travel piece with the line “It raised my heart.” “Supertramp, Sickert and Jack the Ripper” did the same for mine.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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