Theatre in Wales

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Pleasure and Repentance

At Theatr Clwyd

Clwyd Theatr Cymru , Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold , December 26, 2003
Terry Hands has come up with an elegant antidote to the tinsel, turkey and emotional indigestion of Christmas in the Emlyn Williams Theatre this year.

The artistic director of CTC has revived Pleasure and Repentance, his celebration of the art of the storyteller in prose, poetry and song which looks at love from the cradle to the grave.

The production is in complete contrast to the raucous, vulgar, and rocking panto Aladdin in the main auditorium and offers an enjoyable alternative.

Pleasure and Repentance was first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company when Hands was directing at Stratford and was inspired by The Hollow Crown, which recently visited Mold.

But on the whole I much preferred Pleasure and Repentance, perhaps because its four performers worked better as an ensemble.

When The Hollow Crown visited, Donald Sinden and Susannah York's undoubted starriness changed the balance of the evening. It became a "luvvie fest."

But in Pleasure and Repentance the performers - Gwyn Vaughan Jones, Steffan Rhodri, Carolyn Backhouse and musician Martin Best - worked in perfect harmony together to create a marvellous mood.

Such evenings are very much in the medieval tradition in which bards and poets entertained at midwinter Christmas feasts.

But Hands and designer Mark Bailey have sensibly avoided any fake frills or fripperies. The cast are in simple black and white, and only the berry-red set owes anything to the season.

The effect is intimate, warm, and enjoyable. It is rather like an Edwardian soiree at which talented friends take turns at presenting their party pieces, much as Christmas must have been before TV took over the entertainment.

The title, Pleasure and Repentance, is from Sir Walter Raleigh's poem about love, as " that fountain and that well/Where pleasure and repentance dwell." Raleigh is quoted at the start and the end of the evening, neatly encompassing the search for a definition of the elusive and slippery nature of the great emotion.

Hands has balanced the evening nicely, with contrasting pieces that make the audience laugh and fall silent, remember their own experiences and sigh for youth and their own lost loves.

There are delicious cameos from famous writers. Dickens's Mr Tupman and Miss Wardle from The Pickwick Papers play out a love scene fraught with emotion but strangled by convention. Oscar Wilde's Earnest/Jack woos his heart's desire who insists on marrying a man called Earnest.

My favourite, though, was Myfanwy Price and Mog Edwards from Under Milk Wood, dreaming of desire in the haberdashery shop, played with relish by the three actors.

John Donne's poem to The Flea, in which the mingling of the lovers' blood in the parasite is given a strong sexual charge, is superb. Another Donne poem, To His Mistress Going To Bed, is wonderfully erotic.

Moving into the 20th Century, the trio are nicely ironic in a piece of writing from Mickey Spillane that would qualify for a "bad sex in books" award. And Carolyn Backhouse delivers The Rolling Stones' song Satisfaction hilariously, spoken and totally deadpan.

Martin Best, an acknowledged world-class performer of ancient songs and ballads, plays the guitar and lute, and is by turns funny and moving.

Gwyn Vaughan Jones, Carolyn Backhouse and Steffan Rhodri are experienced and sensitive performers who make the most of the material.

Altogether it is an evening that is an acquired adult taste: rather like dark, bitter chocolate after a surfeit, over the festive season, of lush, creamy milk chocolate

Reviewed by: Gail Cooper

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