Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Peeling

Graeae Theatre , Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff , September-18-03
One moment I was in the rather undistinguished corridor of the Chapter Theatre, in the next my breath was taken away by the still somewhat strange beauty of the breathing picture that spread itself before me. Three enormous white crinoline dresses took up most of the stage. Two were ‘occupied’. A blonde haired, somewhat distracted, actress in one and a small red head in the slightly smaller dress in the centre of the stage, the third dress had yet to find its wearer. Projected onto a screen at the back of the stage was a, well-defined, large illustration of a front page of a theatre programme for the play ‘The Trojan Women’

The wonder and all embracing emotion and near perfect creativity of the piece held me tightly until the end when I exploded with humility and exhilaration!

The third actress, with dark hair, takes up her place in the last dress. They are three actresses appearing as members of the chorus in a production of The Trojan Women. We join in their back-stage gossip, share their interval soup and we see them performing their roles in the play. They explain that they have been cast to fulfil equal opportunities requirements! This is a ‘modern’ production of the Greek play linking the historic wars with today’s futile killing in Iraq. The women focus on the sacrifice of children in both centuries.

‘Off stage’ they quickly move from superficial banter to exploring their own, sometimes painfully impossible aspirations and on to their desperately moving experiences in childbirth, and in past relationships and reveal there has been little love or understanding in any of their lives. But they are three very feisty girls, in no way is there any seeking of sympathy. They draw and give strength to each other even as they slag each other off.

There are so many moments of tenderness, great humanity and delicacy. Towards the end of the play, when the girls are packing away their great costumes, Beaty played with beauty and magnificence by Lizzie Smoczkiewicz takes some fairy lights that have been hanging on the metal frame under Coral’s dress. She drapes them across the three dress frames, empties Coral’s bag of knitting and pegs out the small, white clothes that she has knitted for the baby she can never have.

Sophie Partridge brings a high degree of daring, conviction and chutzpah to the part of Coral and Ali Briggs as Alfa is unequivocally magnificent. This commanding actor may have just a very small body and head and the most basic hands and feet but she has the greatest strength of character imaginable and yes, she is inspirational to watch but then so are her colleagues.

Yes it’s the war again; it’s been on the Tele forever! Patrick Jones’ Play was a wonderful poetic and emotional out pouring. Here writer Katie O’Reilly with Graeae’s artistic director, Jenny Sealey take a slightly different approach. I have never previously seen the crafts of theatricality so effectively used to strengthen and underpin the overall statement of the play. Working with such, a now so familiar, theme, it is their choice of phrase and rhythms that give this work its strength and uniqueness.

At times their words are underlined with sign language at others they use slightly stylised voices for ‘audio description’. Along with all the dialogue being projected on to the screen at the back of the stage, these devises though benefiting a greater understanding of the play to sense deprived members of the audience are also skilfully employed to heighten the terror and triumph that lie at the core of this remarkable play.

The phrase “Everyone must see this play” has been overworked and exaggerated but it will never, ever be truer and after ‘Peeling’ it has become redundant!

Further performances will take place in: Nottingham, Warwick, Plymouth, Liverpool, Lancaster, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Bristol, Leicester, Tunbridge Wells and Mold.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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