Theatre in Wales

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Reviewer Praise All Round

Emlyn Williams

The Light of Heart , Theatr Clwyd , May 18, 2015
Emlyn Williams by The Light of Heart Reviews this season have come from Volcano in Swansea, RWCMD in Cardiff, Buddug James Jones in Felinfach.

Mold was a trip too far. The reviewers who were there liked the Emlyn Williams revival a lot.
From the British Theatre Guide:

"The Light of Heart", Emlyn Williams’s light hearted yet profoundly moving study of family bonds, is the headline production of Clwyd Theatr Cymru’s Celtic Festival 2015.

"Emlyn Williams, actor, director and playwright, was born locally in Mostyn, Flintshire in 1905 and this production takes place in the theatre named in his honour. It is directed by Lora Davies who has previously directed Taking Steps by Alan Ayckbourn and serving as assistant director with Terry Hands on lat year’s outstanding Under Milk Wood.

"...Simon Kenney has captured the tone of austerity perfectly with a stage transformed into a gloomy bedsit with paper peeling off the walls. However, Nick Beadle’s lighting evokes the changing times of the day, and the changing mood portrayed onstage with a subtle brilliance.

"The story revolves around the relationship between an aging Shakespearean actor, sensitively played by Gwyn Vaughan Jones, and his disabled daughter Cattrin with a welcome return after the successful Under Milk Wood by Charlotte Gray. Vaughan Jones presents a character now almost totally lost to drink but with memories of a great career and, crucially, a dependence on his daughter. Cattrin, for her part, seems resigned to looking after her father but unexpectedly finds love in the shape of neighbour Robert played by Richard Atwill.

"Ever the perfect gentleman, Atwill is superb, particularly during some heated exchanges with Cattrin during the second half of the performance. The character of Maddoc positively bristles in the hands of Gwyn Vaughan Jones, none more so than when the opportunity to play King Lear presents itself and the challenge of proving that the role is not ‘unplayable’ is one he takes on with relish.

"...However, despite the tragic undertones of the story, comedy is reassuringly often never far away and some of the best moments involve the supporting characters. Sara Harris-Davies (another returning from Under Milk Wood and many more triumphs) is hilarious as Mrs Banner while Michael Geary portrays Barty, the loveable drinking partner of Maddoc who seems destined to wait indefinitely for his grandmother to die and enable his inheritance."

Extracts from the full review, with thanks, at:

* * * *

From the Daily Post:

"The Light of Heart" is revived in the theatre named after the author. The play by Emlyn Williams was first produced in London in 1940 and evokes a very different aspect of showbiz glamour....tells the story of Maddoc Thomas, a once great Shakespearean actor now living in a boarding house and drinking his days away.

"Thomas, an excellent performance by the versatile Gwyn Vaughan Jones, first appears as Father Christmas when he returns to his dingy and squalid room in the heart of London’s Theatreland accompanied by Bevan, a young policeman who it turns out is from Treuddyn. There are many references in the play to Williams’ home area which suggests the Light of Heart may have more than just a touch of autobiography.

"It soon emerges he has been sacked by Selfridges for “breathing whisky” on the children and Cattrin, a wonderful portrayal by Charlotte Gray, despairs as it places them in even greater debt.
The house is split into rooms and one is taken by Robert, a composer and at his heels Mrs Lothian (Victoria John), a former fan of Thomas’ who had since become a wealthy businesswoman and who is keen to start him on a new stage career. Thomas is offered a small part in a musical play and succeeds in it and their fortunes mend.

"The second act ends with Maddoc about to play the lead in King Lear at Covent Garden, a production directed by (Sir) John Gielgud with whom Williams had a brief relationship.
But we expect misfortune and it duly turns up. Cattrin has fallen in love with the forthright and frank Robert (Richard Atwill) and have arranged to marry before setting sail for New York. Thomas is to be told only after his Covent Garden debut. However, just hours before the play starts Thomas hears of the plans from Fan, one of his drinking pals Fan (Catrin Aaron), and proceeds to get drunk and losing his great and last chance of theatrical success.

"Cattrin convinces herself that she must again devote herself to him and dismisses her lover.
Thomas who has heard what was not meant for his ears then leaves the stage and steps under the heavy London traffic so “that the young people may take their happiness”.

Extracts from the full review, with thanks, at::

* * * *
Chris Eldon:

"For his last piece of programming at Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Terry Hands has turned to the work of the grand old Welsh writer and actor, Emlyn Williams. Williams not only kindly consented to Clwyd naming their studio theatre after him 30 years ago, he even came to the Christening, probably aware he was already dying of cancer. It was a fitting and memorable day…and this is an equally appropriate farewell in his eponymous space.

"...Elements of Emlyn’s own life are wrapped up in the story. The central character Maddoc is an aging Welsh actor – still living in crumbling theatrical digs – who believes his best days are over. He’s become dependent on someone much younger (and the bottle) to see him through, and a spell as Selfridges Father Christmas to pay the rent. Sadly he’s too generous with the presents and his whiskey fumes – and is at his lowest when he’s suddenly called upon by John Gielgud to play Lear in the West End. The big question is ‘can he hack it’? His eagerness and self doubt march into battle against each other. Sobriety is fickle.

"The dependency relationship with his disabled daughter Cattrin is perfectly weighted. Charlotte Gray hobbles around the stage, shackled by the needs of her father, till she finds love and the desire to fly away. Gray’s portrayal of a persuasive young woman who is determined to push her father on, but refuses to be torn in two by him, is beautifully balanced. And there are some endearing ensemble scenes of artistic types whiling away their days between engagements, snuggled innocently in bed together to keep warm, sharing a newspaper and playing roulette with the football results; all doubtless written from deep personal experience."

Extracts from the full review, with thanks, at:

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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