by Meredydd Barker
Clwyd Theatr Cymru
1 – 17 November 2007
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Gwynfor – John Atterbury
Ronnie / Ianto – Jordan Bernarde
Howard / Welder – Brendan Charleson
Hopper – Richard Elis
Bronwen – Gillian Elisa
Peter Harris – Steven Elliott
Nia Roberts – Siân Howard
Roz – Rachel Isaac
Vince / Bedwyr – Ciaran Joyce
Cullen / Prince – Simon Nehan
Eurig – Dean Rehman
Thomas Donk / Fin – Tom Silburn
Directed by Phillip Breen
Designed by Max Jones
Composer – Matilda Brown
Sound – Matthew Williams
Lighting – Tina MacHugh
Fight Director Daniel – Llewellyn-Williams
Assistant Director – Mared Swain
EXHILARATING AND RICHLY
by Victor Hallett
Meredydd Barker’s new play Two Princes, receives its premier in Clwyd Theatr Cymru’s Emlyn Williams Theatre as part of their New Plays Initiative. O.K. so how often have you been to see a new play that’s proved to be ill-formed or unfinished or not thought through or so new that you’ve only seen the same ideas and concepts 57 times before?
See this one however – and anyone seriously interested in theatre should see it – and you will find a new play that surprises, shocks, makes you laugh and packs a powerful emotional impact. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s being staged in a studio theatre – this is a big play and it gets a big production.
It starts out with the only bit of history that’s ever happened in Treianto, a nothing town in West Wales. In the 12th Century a rebel Prince was hunted to his death by his brother. This historical episode segues into the town’s attempt to raise a statue to celebrate the incident. But what sort of statue and what sort of artist? And what about the indifference or outright hostility shown to public art by the locals?
Ideally of course you need a foreign artist with an international reputation, gives you the chance to go on an overseas jolly at the ratepayers’ expense after all. Or maybe a couple of local, debt-ridden, bloody-minded sculptors would be the answer.
So from a pageant-like historical opening we are soon embroiled in the wildly funny in-fighting of local government arts policy. Just before the interval comes a moving, wordless passage featuring a local family which points the way to the emotional upheavals of the second half and a climax which resonates back to the historical encounter of the opening.
The writing throughout breathes with truth, sometimes in what is said, often in what is left unsaid. Phillip Breen’s direction is a miracle of clarity, especially given the large number of characters and the frequent changes of mood, often within a single scene. He and his designer Max Jones provide plenty of startling surprises throughout on a set that at first seems fairly bare apart from some tables, some chairs and an incomplete panoramic photograph.
As for the acting, and how often do you see a cast of 12 in a new play, it simply can’t be faulted. Everyone is so convincing that you’ve met all the characters in real life, no one more so than Gillian Elisa as a dragon of a councilor. Richard Elis and Simon Nehan have ferocious energy and are utterly believable as the two sculptors. Rachel Isaac is outstanding as a local mother who gets involved and so too is Ciaran Joyce, taking sullen silence to a high art as one of her sons. When he finally boils over the consequences are devastating. The whole cast is exceptional; their body language alone is worth the price of admission.
This is an exhilarating and richly enjoyable play in a stunning production that must have a longer life than this short run. It should also be seen right across Wales and over the border too.
Meredydd Barker’s Two Princes, also directed by Philip Breen, felt as if it needed a lasso to rein it into a single evening’s drama.
After the visual stasis of A Toy Epic Meredydd Barker fired off a visual coup in scene five that elicited a gasp from the audience. You would have to travel a long way these days to find a theatre management backing a young playwright with a cast of twelve. In the scale of Two Princes, however, Barker showed that he had earned his cast; this was a big play, a big step on from his last production Aqua Nero, and emphatically a big pleasure to watch.
The plot centred on the selection of a mountain sculpture to commemorate the one historic event that had occurred in the West Wales village of Treianto. No plot is ever entirely new. Memorialising a historic event was used by Alan Ayckbourn in his 1977 play Ten Times Table. Sir Alan’s play, as expected, is tight in form, humorous in tone, wrily observed, mildly ironic in its treatment of character. Meredydd Barker’s by contrast was discursive and open-ended, aburst with themes- history, 'deeds and names misremembered, half-remembered or forgotten completely', civic politicking, art and heritage.
It boldly opened with a scene set in the twelfth century and switched to a public meeting. Writer Barker and director Philip Breen mounted the best scene of its kind since David Edgar did it in Destiny. With the cast size it looked impeccable, the exact picture of a thinly attended public meeting, and crackled with politics, sharp asides and jokes. If anything it had a verve that the rest of the play found hard to match up to.
The script continued to be interlaced with jokes. A sculptor fills his vacant time between commissions by churning out hideous four kilogram steel ashtrays. 'Ashtrays... after a blanket smoking ban' mutters his business partner.
The play was a commission, with a deadline, and inevitably had some roughnesses at its fringes. The character Fin was hazy and the dead girlfriend, Cassie, not really integrated into the whole; but far better for a young playwright and, for drama in Wales, the ambition of a giant canvas over the perfection of a miniature.
I came away with that rarest of thoughts, that Two Princes could easily have carried an extra thirty or forty minutes. When Peter Flannery composed his big plays Singer or Our Friends in the North they lasted three hours. Meredydd Barker has the compositional skill, and Two Princes the scale, to be permitted the same.A play like Two Princes shows that local writers are manifestly there, and waiting. By coincidence on leaving Mold I tuned into a radio discussion of Kwame Kwei-Armah’s latest play. 'Too much packed in it,' said one reviewer. Better that any day than the reverse; there is a lot of substance to Two Princes.
It took fifteen years for Our Friends in the North to make it, past a sequence of management and political convulsions, from RSC stage to being the best television series of its decade. Over that time its core plot remained but its emphasis altered. If anything, media timescales have lengthened even more, but I look forward to seeing Two Princes, in some form but still big and bold, up on the screen sometime around 2020.
Richard Elis as Hopper. Photo © Geraint Lewis
Sian Howard as Nia. Photo © Geraint Lewis
Brendan Charleson as Howard, Jordan Bernarde as Ronnie, Ciaran Joyce as Vince,
Rachel Isaac as Roz. Photo © Geraint Lewis
Sian Howard as Nia, Steven Elliot as Peter. Photo © Geraint Lewis
Simon Nehan as Cullen, Tom Silburn as Fin, Richard Elis as Hopper, Sian Howard as Reporter.
Photo © Geraint Lewis
Sian Howard as Nia, Rachel Isaac as Roz, Steven Elliot as Peter, Dean Rehman as Eurig.
Photo © Geraint Lewis
Dean Rehmann as Eurig, Steven Elliot as Peter. Photo © Geraint Lewis
Jordan Bernarde as Ronnie, Ciaran Joyce as Vince. Photo © Geraint Lewis
Rachel Isaac as Roz, Sian Howard as Nia, Ciaran Joyce as Vince. Photo © Geraint Lewis
Richard Elis as Hopper, Simon Nehan as Cullen. Photo © Geraint Lewis
Simon Nehan as Prince. Photo © Geraint Lewis
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