Thursday 4 November 2010

Love and Loss in Bridgend

Love Steals Us From Loneliness by Gary Owen
National Theatre Wales with Sherman Cymru
Venue: Hobo’s Rock Club, Bridgend
Dates: 7th – 16th Oct 2010
Director: John E McGrath  
Verdict: ***
Review by Chelsey Gillard
Photographs by Toby Farrow
               Being born and bred in Bridgend I was dreading either a depressing, dark and moody look at teenage life in “the Big-End” or a telling off about how the town was so much better back in the day and that kids don’t get outside enough. The teens in this play were of course moody and bordering on depression (what teen isn’t) but they certainly got out enough! Their destination of choice was Bridgend town centre at Halloween; a place that locals know, come midnight, is full of witches and monsters all year round.

              Standing in the bar waiting for the show to start I realised that someone I vaguely recognised was standing next to me looking nervous, a second look revealed Mark Sumner in the part of Scott. He was living the geeky character so thoroughly that even after years of acting alongside him in the Bridgend Youth Theatre it took me a while to figure out his identity. The karaoke microphone on the small stage was soon put to use as Scott began the play with a song interrupted by a rather gobby yet beautiful Catrin (Katie Elin-Salt) storming out of the club.
              We were led into the intimate, double sided, theatre area and the play began proper.  Catrin and Scott were now in a graveyard where Catrin was trying to relieve herself. The awkwardness of the situation soon forced the two- linked by their friendship and love of Lee, Catrin’s boyfriend - to not only talk, but listen. This act of the play was beautifully naturalistic, with a lot of Bridgend’s unique language captured almost perfectly, including very regular F- and C-bombs. Scott’s understated declaration of love for Catrin was realistic, funny and most of all touching. The interval came all too soon as we waited for Catrin’s response. 

Katie Elin-Salt and Mark Sumner drunkenly discuss love.
            In the second act the metal hoops that were earlier used as seats and fences were now decorated in various personal belongings – Lee’s belongings, who we learn has died in a car crash via the brutal text message “Lee’s dead” from his mother to his sister. His shoes, clothes and car accessories constantly give this character a presence on the stage although there is never a physical embodiment of the boy who is to remain forever 17.
            We are joined by three new characters; Lee’s sister Becky, played by Remy Beasley, who was possibly a secondary character but she made the part as important as all the others with a unique combination of brash charm and sensitivity. Catrin’s new boyfriend Mikey, Matthew Trevannion, who reminded me of that friend we all have that we sometimes wish we didn’t know so we don’t have to admit to any connection in public but we love deep down. And Lee’s mother Mags, superbly portrayed by Nia Roberts, who won most, if not all of our sympathy with her descent into grief- stricken meltdown.
A distressed Nia Roberts as Mags.

             This act flipped, sometimes ungracefully, between naturalistic speech and more poetic musings on life, love and mortality. Personally I think these musings were perhaps out of character, but they did serve the purpose of giving us an insight into each person’s journey from the hell of losing a loved one to the need to move on with life. The monologues occasionally seemed to be designed only to tug on the heartstrings and I felt more moved by some of the more underplayed lines. The bittersweet ending gave us Catrin’s much anticipated answer to Scott’s adoration; a brief kiss that had provided the fuel for Lee’s high speed death.       
Having myself acted in one of Gary Owen’s plays “Mary Twice” I must rather brutally admit that I was not expecting much from the script. Although “Love Steals” was an improvement I still feel the success of this production lies in the hands of the director and actors who used everything they were given; script, music, set and venue; to their full advantage.
My main criticism is that on times the effort the actors were making to address both sides of the audience was a bit obvious with big, although probably unintentional, flourishes when turning around and that as they we on stage for the full second half brief lapses in concentration were all too visible. Also if that is what a Bridgend accent truly sounds like I need to get myself some elocution lessons pronto!
Remy Beasley as Becky, with a floral tribute to her brother in the background.
               Hopefully this production will force those with the power to sit up and realise that Bridgend is bursting with talent and a thirst for quality theatre that requires a full time venue in the town centre that will hopefully attract more productions from the fantastic NTW. The time has come for my little ugly-beautiful town to lick its wounds and move on to a bright future whilst also remembering its past, bad times but more so good.

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