Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘Pavilion’, which runs at Theatre Clywd in Mold until Saturday 12th October
This is a most exciting stage debut by writer Emily White; blessed with an uber-full-on, loud and proud, epic-proportions treatment by Clywd’s artistic director Tamara Harvey. The teenagers beside me were ecstatic about it. And so they should be, because the play is largely about them.
It’s a Friday night in a deadbeat Victorian spa town somewhere in Central Wales. The local dance hall (once a plush theatre, but now shorn of seats) is the only place for the kids to go to relieve the tedium. The ‘beery, leery lads’ (as Emily calls them (with more than a nod to Dylan Thomas) are hunting in packs. The girls in their ‘sky-high heels’ and little else are ‘looking for love in all the wrong places’. It’s a painfully perfect description of the kind of alcohol-fuelled boredom and lust that leads to punch-ups and pregnancy.
But this is their last night in their local dive. ‘The Pavilion’ is folding, as is most of the rest of the town…which is suffering from closures, mergers, job losses and the advent of the brand-new Tesco’s – which is wiping out all the family run shops. Emily presents us with her vision of a universal ‘Doomsville’. And it all rings so terribly true. No wonder the kids who live there get ratted.
But she also paints some fabulous cameos of humanity. There’s the secondary school student (poignantly portrayed by Lowri Hamer) who is hoping the arrival of her baby will solve her sense of pointlessness. The chip van girl (Caitlin Drake) who offers more than a quick cod and yet has a soft spot for a young admirer. He is played by Ellis Duffy as the delicate lad who can’t fit in and dreams of being an astronaut. Harvey’s young cast is universally spot on; loutish and lively and incredibly energetic on the dance floor.
They are backed by some Clwyd stalwarts. It’s wonderful to see Ifan Huw Dafydd back in Mold again as the retired miner propping up the bar. There is some chilling physical theatre as he remembers his first descent into the pit as a lad…scared as hell and desperate to hold his dad’s hand. The mine shaft cage is made up entirely of the limbs of the same young people who feel so caged in this terminal town. The allegory is undeniable.
Tim Treloar puts in a fine performance as a pressurised teacher, loved by the kids but radicalised by the way his school is being starved. He’s been suspended for encouraging his pupils to protest and stands up for his socialist principles, even though he knows it’s the accountants who now rule the land. Like a discarded miner, he paints a portrait of a man desperate to maintain his pride in the face of impossible odds.
But the star turn for me is Victoria John as ‘Big Nell’. She’s fat and forty ‘with buttocks like a bouncy castle’ but, like a wild west barmaid, she tames the rowdy regulars. It’s a great portrayal of one of the heavy-duty women who keep Wales going on a Friday night. Her description of the dance floor rutting ritual is pure Attenborough.
It’s a play that is painfully funny and wickedly well observed, though it does have a degree of first-play-itis about it. Emily scatterguns as many issues as she can – like buckshot on a target – perhaps fearful she won’t get another chance. (Don’t worry, she will). And whilst I admired the way she weaves icons of Welsh tradition into her play, they seem sometimes to be regarded as writer’s commodities rather than ideals to be revered. Having said that, the day-glow Welsh red dragon is a hoot.
The whole show is a bright and brilliant injection of teenage reality. No wonder my young companions were cheering at the curtain call. I was just glad of the opportunity to initiate them into the theatrical tradition of the standing ovation.
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