Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Theatre Returns. With Joy.

At Theatr Clwyd

For The Grace Of You Go I , Emlyn Williams Theatre, Mold , June 28, 2021
At Theatr Clwyd by For The Grace Of You Go I Three actors perform for an hour and a quarter. A sparky script with an effervescent mischievousness has the tell-tale signature of Alan Harris to it. A director offstage, in the form of Paines Plough veteran James Grieve, pumps in visual flair and a whip-crack exchange of dialogue.

This ought to be just a review. And it isn't. The last review of a event- a live event playing out before eyes and ears- to be written for this site was on 20th March 2020.

So it is more than a review. It is a remembering of everything that contributes to make an event. Most of all it is a view from a public, re-entering a space made for the public. So many lessons- their degrees of bitterness varying- will be taken from the last fifteen months. But overarching it all is a human truth: life without a refuge of private intimacy is bereft but life lived with only private intimacy is incomplete. The physiological impacts of prolonged asocial existence have been widespread and near-universal.

The first sight of Theatr Clwyd then is small but ringing. For the weekend of June 19th-20th ten thousand travelled to Castle Donington for the Download Festival. We are not ten thousand, not even ten hundred, but the impulse is the same, to experience humans in performance in spatial proximity. So the first indicator of a world part-given-back is no more than a door.

But it is a door that is wide open.

Covid-19-era theatre is different, first stop a desk with a tracker-and-tracer. But then this era has revealed the truth of the human face. A face may be masked from chin to bridge of the nose but it cannot mask a smile. All those muscles around the eyes are rich in expressiveness. Everyone in the theatre, tracers-trackers to ushers, is happy, happy to be back. It was the same on 21st June when Aberystwyth's Arts Centre opened its doors to its exhibition of lock-down art. Presumably the same manifest happiness is everywhere to be seen and felt where public venues are being unlocked.

There has been no shortage of fiction these last months. Book sales, for the lucky, have been buoyant. A thousand channels have brightened the enforced stay-at-home regime. But the smallness of the sitting-room palls and the first impression of the Emlyn Williams theatre interior is its scale, the height that is not that of a home. There are other people too, admittedly at a remove, in seats clustered in twos and threes. But there is a sense of a common anticipation; no click-into-action but the calmness of pleasure in waiting, eyes resting on the pink and lime-green of Jacob Hughes' set and Katharine Williams' lighting.

It has taken a while to get to the show, but then theatre is also all that precludes it and survives it, the impress it leaves behind. All of a sudden Rhodri Meilir is there, his character Jim, greasy-haired and big-eyed, relating his doleful tale. At times, projected onto a large screen, he might be a martyr from an El Greco canvas.

Alan Harris is a dramatist. He knows the facts of the assessments-for-work for those with conditions of mental unhealth. He knows we know them too and they do not need to be preached. It is a fact of the world. He lets rip a play not a sermon. An ill-placed worker in a pizza factory re-arranges the pepperoni to spell out messages like “Help me, I'm trapped” and “If Not Know When.” First-line manager Remy Beasley's Irena spies a marketing opportunity. Darren Jeffries' smartly-suited Mark is a writer with military interests, author of articles for websites on weaponry. Or purportedly. The stage has large screens and six household-size screens. Onstage action is intercut with excerpts from the 1990 film “I Hired a Contract Killer.”

Onstage action is the phrase. “For The Grace Of You Go I” is a joy. It is also a reminder. To act for an audience and to act for a camera have their over-lap but it is not great. Actors in corporeal form are much as they were when the first impulses to perform, to chant, to recite, manifested themselves. Their voices are waves of sound going through air that joins us. The action is propelled by kinetic energy. So it is not just staff and volunteers who feel the delight to be had in being back in their public space. We do too.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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