Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

At the Sherman

The Sherman- Flesh and Blood , Sherman Theatre, Cardiff , November 1, 2000
Hidden behind the fašade of Cool Cymru lies a real Wales ravaged by unemployment, racial tensions and fear for the future. Helen Griffin's first full-length play wrestles with all these ideas in this bittersweet black comedy, using one Swansea family as a metaphor for a nation.

Vernon, the man of the house, has been unemployed for years. As his wife, Marge, and daughter, Serena, escape to work each day he broods on the sofa with only Pingu to keep him amused. His scattergun bitterness is directed at a "Wendy house of an assembly", "unions with the strength of amoeba", and above all "them".

"Them" are the darkies, pakis or brownies he believes have robbed him of work and his country of a national identity. His feelings are mirrored by his teenage son, Steve, who, disturbingly, looks no older than 16. But Steve's shaved head, botherboots, and omnipresent Welsh rugby shirt paint an exaggerated picture of Welsh nationalism.

Although billed as a comedy, the humour is hardly fresh or original. There were some slapstick situations which did seem out of place. There were some quick one-liners, and putting The Queen on Prozac certainly caught my imagination. So too the ideas of mashing racoons, Dolly Parton sleeping on her front and the bigoted Vernon kept awake at night by the passionate screams of the two Gay lovers next-door.

When Serena becomes pregnant by and engaged to an affluent Bangladeshi shopkeeper Vernon and Steve's rage is all too predictable. Yet predictability is one of the essences of tragedy. As the plot progress, strung along by a battalion of racist jokes the audience seemed guilty to laugh at, the audience can't help but think they've been here before - with Arthur Miller's 'A View From A Bridge'.

In both plays the family are shown constraining the individuals freedom. Being 'Flesh and Blood' becomes a burden. When Vernon shouts "If you haven't got your family you've got nothing," the audience can't help thinking they would be better to having nothing.

But Miller's play was a masterpiece of subtlety, Helen Griffin's paints this delicate, complex scenario with too thick a brush. Young Steve has a fixation with his revolver, the videocassettes he watches are branded with swastikas, and he even absurdly dons a Ku Klux Klan costume.

The true sadness of racism is that it exists in a multitude of shades. The distinction between patriotism, nationalism, and racism is blurred, and especially in a country where the nation's rugby is a religion, not a sport. A glance at the programme confirms Griffin's racial agenda. "We cannot afford to narrow the definition of what it means to be Welsh," she writes. "If we want to move forward we should be proud of multicultural Wales." Agreed.

In dumbing down the racial issues of Wales Griffin has produced a compelling, even amusing play, but Flesh and Blood does not do justice to Wales' muddled national identity. On leaving the theatre I wasn't convinced Griffin appreciated the difference between patriotism and Nazism. Extremists were few and far between in Nazi Germany.

The people who voted for Hitler time and time again during the 1930s were the university-educated, theatre-going chattering middleclasses... and therein lies the true danger of racism.

Reviewed by: Robert Watts

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