Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A gritty, absorbing play

Kaite O'Reilly

The Almond and the Seahorse , Sherman Theatre , March 9, 2008
Kaite O'Reilly by The Almond and the Seahorse Award winning, Birmingham-Irish, Wales-based writer Kaite O’Reilly has a passionate up-beat belief in human nature and its ability to endure. More than that she has a marvellous and subtle skill to express this feeling through her writing with such sensitive beauty and delicate understanding that we are almost overwhelmed by the poetry in her words as she unveils, once again, a world of damaged people fighting to find some kind of reality in their existence.

The Almond and the Seahorse are colloquial terms for the parts of the brain responsible for memory, emotion and personality traits. Both Gwennan and Joe have suffered Traumatic Brain Injury. All Gwennan’s recent memories have been obliterated. She remains, to herself, an attractive young twenty year old cello player, her husband Tom she sees looking old and unattractive, she has cut him out of her life. No one should let the misfortune in the play deter them. The clarity in the writing and the wonderful way in which the actors are able to enter so completely into their characters is what real theatre is all about.

Ian Saynor lets us know that Tom was once a strong character, he excels in the way he lets us observe all that strength crumbling away from him, “It’s a kind of dying”. Olwen Rees, as his wife lets us peer into her damaged mind and fills the air with a sort of awkward nostalgia. She paints a picture of her young life and beguiles us with stories as she lapses into her native Welsh Language.

In some ways Joe’s partner, Sarah seems to be getting a better deal. Joe has a reduced short term memory and can no longer gather any new memories. There are moments when he can be quite lucid, their love for each other shows but moments are not a life time. Celyn Jones gives a masterly and captivating performance. The precision he brings to a very difficult scene where, alone on the stage he tries to control his cigarettes, several mobile phones, his pills, a clock, as well as Rita on the home phone trying to sell him cheap electricity is quite remarkable.

Nia Gwynne, as Sarah perfectly captures the complex emotions of caring, of frustration and love, at one point she yearns to bear his children. Nevertheless there is no hint of sentimentality in this gritty, absorbing play. There is a fifth character, a thrusting neurophysiologist who has care of Gwennan and Joe, she keeps her distance and finds it difficult to properly empathise with Tom and Sarah. This is a very detailed and keenly observed study from Mojisola Adebayo.

Director Phillip Zarrilli at times brings a frustrating slow pace to the storytelling, in doing this he cleverly puts us all into the position of the struggling partners trying to cope not with their victims but with their survivors.

The play tours to Brecon 2 April, Mold 4-5 April, Aberystwyth 8 April, Manchester 11-12 April

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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