By Gary Owen
Chapter Arts Centre
Cast: Jordan Bernarde, Sion Pritchard, Gwydion Rhys
Director: Matt Ball
Billed as ‘a razor sharp portrait of masculinity in crisis’, this reprisal of Gary Owens’ play ticks all the boxes when it comes to male insecurity. First performed in 2001, this examination of male anxiety and vulnerability seems as pertinent today as it did thirteen years ago. Written as a three-hander, three welsh men in their early twenties share their thoughts and feelings through monologue.
Gary, an inadequate karaoke DJ, played by Jordan Bernarde, is the Welsh equivalent of Irvine Welsh’s character Begbie in ‘Trainspotting’. He’s irrationally aggressive and violent yet Bernarde’s portrayal manages to evoke the audience’s sympathy when he’s forced to acknowledge the tears he’s always managed to suppress. Gary introduces us to his seedy world where he regularly questions whether ‘ to glass or not to glass’. He lurches drunkenly through life, shedding girlfriends and offspring, always in search of the perfect girl. When he eventually comes face-to-face with her, a quality chick with Fosters lager running down her chin, he comes face-to-face with his inadequacies as a male. A detailed account of his pulling technique is juxtaposed to the realisation that he is unable to attract or bag his dream woman. Matthew, a psychologically disturbed crooner/singer, is played by Gwydion Rhys. It’s a strong, yet heartbreaking performance. Rhys switches between the lucid, yet hapless job seeker and the crazy, committed religious convert who orders his life to appease his God. His story becomes clear in the final monologue performed by Sion Pritchard as Russell, who brings the story full circle. Both Matthew and Russell are victims of school yard bully, Gary and the consequences of one particular bullying episode still resonate.
All three men are desperate to leave their lives behind for something better. Gary is searching for better through the perfect woman; Matthew through his religion and madness; Russell, by walking out of his relationship. The masculinity of each man is tested by the women they encounter. Although not present on stage, Bernarde, Pritchard and Rhys each manage to evoke the women’s presence through their monologue. It’s a remarkable performance. We can clearly see them through the men’s eyes. Manipulative and mean, the women are a clever foil for shaky masculinity and they leave no enemy standing.
The writing is clever; the dialogue lean. Owen manages to establish an intimacy between character and audience through each monologue and doesn’t succumb to using excessive bad language to capture the underbelly of his characters. Director Matt Ball handles the transition between characters deftly so that the story magic is maintained. As the story comes full circle, the tension in the audience is palpable. The messy set is a good refection of the men’s messy lives and the music supports the narrative, especially at the start of the performance. The only jarring notes are the overhead visuals which are distracting and at times, disturbing. It’s the whole ‘ob skena’ issue about what is best left to the imagination. For my part, I’d prefer to imagine the emission of body fluids. But it’s a minor irritation which doesn’t detract from the strong performance produced from Waking Exploits. They’re developing a reputation for tackling tough material and I’m look forward to their next production.
18 September 2014