Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru- Yn Debyg iawn i Ti a Fi , Clwyd Theatre Cymru, Mold , April 30, 2004
[this review first appeared in the Western Mail]

The announcement that the first director of the Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru (the Welsh National Theatre company) was to be Cefin Roberts was greeted by the sounds of quite a few critical knives being sharpened.

For, over a decade, he has become known as the pre-eminent director of youth theatre in Wales, and has served as an international ambassador for young Welsh talent.

But such success can breed enmity, and there exists a legion of lesser teachers and disappointed parents who, nursing perceived slights, cherish the hope that he will not be able to replicate his success while working with adults.

Considering the poisonous attitude of many of his critics, it is of little surprise then that Cefin has decided to tread carefully during his first outing with the new theatre, staging a proven work, and using an experienced cast.

Yn debyg iawn i ti a fi is a revival of a play that was first staged by Theatr Bara Caws in 1995, a darkly comic look at the way in which a small, isolated family deal with bereavement and loss.

A brother and sister come together on the day of their mother's funeral, to discuss the fate of a third sibling, their mentally ill brother, Derec.

As a study of a crumbling family, the play works exceptionally well.

Meic Povey, the author, can lay claim to being one of Wales' most prolific living playwrights, and has a keen understanding of the forces that prod and poke us into being who we are.

But sadly his insight into the world of the mentally ill does not compare with his sharp perceptions of the more ordinary members of society. Despite the glowing testimonial to the play's medical truth that is included in the programme, the torments that guide Derec do not ring true. They seem to conform to a traditionally artistic notion of the idiot savant, rather than those of a real man suffering from a specific mental illness. Nominally a schizophrenic, he also seems to display the symptoms of a more general long-term mental disability, marked by a low mental age. Throw a good dose of Rain Man-esque autism, a touch of Tourette's Syndrome, and some compulsive masturbation into the mix, and you have a character which skips from illness to illness with a little too much ease.

Presumably the author - like many others before him - would claim a certain amount of creative licence, but it is curious that this is only something that extends to physical, and not mental, illness.

Would we tolerate a character in a play that was said to have fractured his skull, only to have him appear on stage in the first scene with his arm in a sling, and then go on to develop a pronounced limp by the second act?

Unrealistic as it is, the nature of Derec's illness isn't as central to the action as it may sound, and the artificial conceit of a character that is "mad" is largely a plot device, and one that serves its function well. Derec is a pivot on which the sibling rivalries of Olwen and Glyn can turn, and it is this relationship, and the clash of values that comes with it, that essentially drives the play.

Deciding to cast four mature and talented actors has ensured that the material gets the best possible airing, and Cefin has managed to wring great performances from all of them. Given that all the characters are present on stage for the majority of the play, it is a testament to their ability that no one actor draws the focus away from the others.

Anyone who witnesses this performance - and the audience numbers at the opening night suggests that this has the potential to draw in a considerable crowd - will be left in no doubt that Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru is already demonstrating its considerable potential

Reviewed by: Dyfrig Jones

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