MY LIFE IN CIA | STAGE REVIEW
Wed 23 June
words: JEN THORNTON
After an initial talk given by the author Harry Matthews, My Life In CIA, based on Matthews’ autobiographical novel of the same title, took us straight into the world of 1970s Paris. Walking from place to place, with the audience split into groups to follow different routes, we were escorted by several different characters in Harry’s life and heard about the intrigue, confusion, double crossing and his lovers from a number of different voices.
The production made very creative use of Cardiff’s streets and locations and turned them into the streets of Paris, landmarks and places from which to spy on the action from afar. “Has anyone been to Notre Dame Cathedral before?” our guide asked before leading us carefully past ‘worshippers’ in the Prince of Wales pub.
Spying from afar was a theme that ran throughout, and the production made use of devices from speakers in a car boot to personal headsets to allow the audience to hear conversations whilst watching action several storeys below us on the streets. We switched between very close performances, in a bar or around a table, with the character speaking conversationally with us, and back to this distant observation when the characters would have no idea they were even being watched.
In addition to the various venues, we were treated to some outdoor ballet, followed by a slightly surreal walk up The Hayes to the soundtrack of solo singers situated on benches. As with any pervasive experience, it was always difficult to know what was real and what wasn’t. Everywhere we looked we wondered if someone was a plant, if they were supposed to be there, if we needed to watch them. We were confidantes in a spy game, after all. This did make the production all the more exciting as we were thrown between interacting directly with the characters and a slight confusion about who to believe.
There were some wonderful performances – notably from John Norton, Katy Owen and Joanna Simpkins – but the entire cast performed well together and were completely convincing whether leading a tour, confiding secrets in the audience group or interacting with one another.
The detailed route planning must have been complex to create, but it was achieved exceptionally well. Timed to precision, we ran into other groups at carefully calculated narrative points, and discovered more back stairs and alleyways than I ever thought Cardiff had. Walking between places was a good way to create excitement and really involve the audience in the world, although a number of them were so well timed that we were forced to walk much more quickly than was comfortable.
Overall it was a really engaging evening. The direct interaction with the characters was in equal part thrilling and completely unnerving. I don’t think this is a show for the faint hearted but if you like to get involved and really dig in to a story, this is definitely something to check out. Just make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes and a coat!
My Life in CIA is a co-production by Give It A Name Theatre and Chapter Arts Centre, with support from Arts Council Wales, St David’s Hall, Sherman Cymru and Le Monde. My Life In CIA continues until Sun 3 June.
Tickets: £12-£14. Info: 029 2030 4400 / www.giveitaname.net