Nazareth Community Centre, Abertirdwr
Tue 8 Nov
words: AMELIA FORSBROOK
Those who were less than fond of A Good Night Out in the Valleys will find irritating parallels in the latest production from National Theatre Wales. Setting up their second year of theatre in a similar tone to their first, the Company are again touring smaller venues across the country. Once more, out-of-city audiences have been targeted by a work which patronisingly uses their familiar social club as a starting point for a tale built around toilet humour, forced audience involvement and cringe-worthy puns. As textile slogan banners form the backdrop to your average village gathering, the director Ben Lewis seems to have gone to a lot of effort to echo a mediocre village affair.
Silliness is the defining characteristic of this work. There’s an air of game show kitsch as puns burst from the stage. If you want double entendre, it’s certainly there for the taking as prim and proper Jean responds to a visiting clairvoyant’s offer of communication, passionately exclaiming ‘Yes, I can take a Roger’. Thankfully, these irritating vulgarities serve a greater purpose, unraveling subtle insights into the repressed and snarling animalistic forces behind a neatly buttoned up and hair-pinned exterior.
In bringing deliciously Freudian stirrings and the sounds of fairground organs and gypsy folk to a very proper community, writers Dafydd James and Ben Lewis shed new light on a theme that has fascinated theatre audiences for centuries. The timing is key in igniting Pagan themes; the village social is held on Halloween where, like in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the boundaries between the worlds are at their most permeable. Through subtle details in design, the Company have humorously exploited this fragile barrier between civilisation and wilderness: the design concept behind the night is ‘Autumn Glamour’, the characters tread on a carpet patterned with a floral design and the artificial scent of woodland glade hangs heavy in the air.
Sue Roderick’s Jean, a dowdy and responsible heath and safety coordinator who communicates through whisper, makes the most thrilling transformation into her bestial alter ego. Behind thick prescription glasses she nods and happily mimes along as other characters sing macabre nursery rhymes. When Roderick next appears on stage, she is blood-stained and wearing the head of a large toy dog as a hat. As crocheted guts spill over back-combed hair, Jean becomes a WI re-interpretation of a character cut from one of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s more obscure films. Similarly, restrained Lisa-Jen and businesslike Lawrence become sexually ravenous beings, their erogenous zones boldly highlighted in blood red on top of their white underwear. Lawrence’s tie, symbolic of order, is unraveled to a comically long length, becoming a tool of bondage. Again, the power lies in the small details.
After a thorough interrogation of the multiple, gruesome meanings of catharsis, the characters return back to their ordered selves. For this village, it’s back to normality and the show prepares to head onwards to its next location. Touring The Village Social is clearly a wise move; not only does a circuit extend the reach of the production, it also enriches the narrative by underlining the universality of its themes. Indeed, translated as ‘small field’, the fictional setting of Cae Bach could represent any small settlement in Wales or, indeed, any place that needs a lesson in letting it all hang out.