Posts Tagged ‘Gary Owen’

I can’t remember the last time I was so emotionally engaged in a play. It isn’t a reworking of Shakespeare’s play, it’s a modern love story – moving, tragic and beautiful. Simply staged, with stunning performances, I adored every minute of it.

Romeo is a single dad from Splott, a working class area of Cardiff. He got a girl pregnant on a one-night stand which she at first decided to terminate but then changed her mind. After the birth she didn’t want the child, so Romeo is left, literally, holding the baby. His alcoholic mother tries to get him to put her in care and when she fails refuses to play a part in her granddaughter’s upbringing. He’s on his own, but he’s a loving dad.

There’s a chance meeting with Julie in the library. He’s killing time and she’s trying to study. She’s destined to read Physics at Cambridge, spurred on by her dad and step-mother who live nearby, but in a better part of town. Their relationship develops and history repeats itself, which results in a period of agony for them both as they weigh up their options. Julie’s parents won’t support her, Romeo’s mother is incapable of support though they do take refuge with her. Not only are they in love with one another, but both with Romeo’s daughter.

Playwright Gary Owen showed he had an affinity with stories like these in three previous plays in the last eight years – Violence and Son, Killology and Iphigenia in Splott. He has an ear for the dialogue of such characters – authentic and sparkling with humour, accompanied by sincere emotionality and pathos. You can’t fail to have empathy with all of these people, not just the lovers. There is a sense of both hope and hopelessness. I was captivated by it.

All five performances are pitch perfect. Callum Scott Howells invests Romeo with a nervous energy, physicality and vulnerability that is extraordinary. Rosie Sheehy brings the intelligence and logic of a budding scientist to Julie, but also her profound love for Romeo and his daughter Neve. Catrin Aaron as Romeo’s mum Barb shows the scars of being a single mum, her support for her son tempered by realism. Paul Brennen as Julie’s dad Col conveys the desperation he has for her to realise her potential and frustration with anything that might get in her way. Anita Reynolds as step-mum Kath shares these, but in a more detached way. Rachel O’Riordan has directed two of the other three Owen plays I’ve seen and she clearly has a strong connection with the material.

It’s great to see the NT hosting and co-producing the best of regional theatre, with Sheffield’s Standing at the Sky’s Edge in the Olivier next door, and this really is the best. Don’t miss this little gem.

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Every now and again you witness a performance so extraordinary you’re bursting to recommend it to others, and you know you’ll still be talking about it in years to come. Astonishingly, that has happened to me three times in the last six months – Jodie Comer in Prima Facie, Mark Rylance in Jerusalem and now Sophie Melville, the latter two reprising roles they’ve played before that I’ve already seen.

I first saw this play at the Edinburgh fringe seven years ago. It was the highlight that year. The play resonates as much, if not more, it survives the move to a bigger stage and the performance has grown. It’s a mesmerising 75 minutes. Loosely based on the Greek story but set in present day Cardiff, in the working class area of Splott, Effie commands the stage and our attention, breaking the fourth wall even before she’s begun telling her story, goading us to react to her loud, brash, frank, honest tale.

She drinks, a lot, the hangovers as low as the boozing sessions are high. She has a boyfriend, well sort of, but remains promiscuous. Always up for an argument or a fight, she seems to have no fear. She meets a soldier, makes her move, continues even when she discovers his disability and falls for him. He subsequently blanks her, she discovers she’s been used, but it’s too late. Things turn tragic.

Effie prowls around the stage, her eye contact with the audience maintained, spitting her ripe dialogue without a care for anyone and everyone. She draws you into her story, and her life, and you can’t take your eyes off her. You neither like nor dislike her, you’re just spellbound by her.

Though it’s based on the Greek character, Gary Owen’s monodrama is its own thing, as modern as its source is old. Rachel O’Riordan’s staging, with a few chairs, occasional blinding fluorescent light and a quiet brooding soundscape in the background makes sure Effie is in your face, and stays there.

I’m so glad I got another chance to see this again. Both the play and the performance seem to have grown and it had even more impact this time around. Do not miss this!!!

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Killology is a computer game, a rather nasty computer game where the more vicious the killing, the more points you accumulate, and it’s made Paul a fortune. He’s one character in this play; the other two are Davey, the victim of a crime which may be inspired by it, and Davey’s estranged dad.

I loved playwright Gary Owen’s last two plays Violence & Son and Iphigenia in Splott, but I struggled with this at first, largely because of the non-linear narrative and the lack of interaction between the characters, but it drew me in. This is partly because it is unpredictable, and you have to work to piece it together, and partly because of the three brilliant performances.

It’s an excellent debate about how computer games may influence behaviour, but it’s much more than that. It covers issues of guilt, revenge and retribution, parental accountability, but above all father and son relationships, which seem to be indestructible, whatever is thrown at them. It becomes very moving at times, particularly when Davey ends up looking after his dad, which he never did for him.

I was impressed by Sion Daniel Young when he played the lead in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time on my second visit and I was just as impressed by his performance here as Davey, particularly how he matures from boy to man. Sean Gleeson plays his dad, Alan, with great conviction and passion. Richard Mylan does very well conveying the somewhat unsympathetic character of Paul.

It may not be up to the previous two, but it does confirm Owen as a major playwright and it’s well worth catching.

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What I loved most about this brilliant but harrowing play was its unpredictability. And the terrific performances. Oh, and the superb design. In fact I liked just about everything about it.

When his mum dies of cancer, seventeen year old Liam has to move from the north to the South Wales valleys to live with his biological father Rick who he never knew and who doesn’t really want him. They are like chalk and cheese. Liam is intelligent, sensitive and quick-witted. Rick’s nickname is Viol, for Violence, which tells you all you need to know about him. He rules by fear and he’d like his son to be as tough as he is. Liam wants to grieve, Rick wants him to toughen up and get laid. Liam is obsessed with Dr Who. Rick is obsessed with alcohol and sex.

The action takes place in an evening and the following morning in Rick’s living room. Liam has been to a Dr Who convention with his school friend Jen, who’s now finding it impossible to get home in the rain. Rick has been in bed with his lover Suze. The play explores this father and son relationship as it takes some extraordinary turns, with Jen and Suze well and truly caught up in it. It’s a brilliant piece of writing from Gary Owen. The room is circular, wall waist high, with two gated entrances. We’re sat in grubby white plastic seats or on the usual ‘upstairs’ benches on ‘concrete’ behind. Cai Dyfan’s clever design felt like a bullring, which came to seem ever so appropriate given the amount of testosterone on display.

It’s a bit disconcerting when it seems like yesterday you first encountered Jason Hughes as the 20-something gay lawyer on TV in This Life and now he’s old enough to play a 40-something dad – and he’s terrific, cast against type, scaring the life out of me. This appears to be David Moorst’s second stage outing as Liam and it’s a stunning, delicate performance that squeezes every ounce of wit and sarcasm from his lines. Jen’s transition from innocent to a little bit predatory to aggrieved is beautifully handled by Morfydd Clark. Siwan Morris has her own journey from compliant to apologetic to outraged, also navigated brilliantly. It’s a fine set of performances indeed.

The play reminded me a bit of David Mamet’s Oleanna, where people left the theatre with different takes on it. It’s inconclusive, which means it continues to play in your head for some time. Great theatre. Go!

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