Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage**** (Arcola Theatre)

Posted: May 24, 2015 in Theatre

crouch, touch, pause, engage

The Welsh town Bridgend has gained an unenviable reputation for being the UK’s capital of suicide, reporting extraordinarily high figures which have led to suspicions of a cult, particularly amongst teenagers. Robin Soans’ new play, examines that fractured former mining community by looking at three of the town’s inhabitants: two schoolgirls – the self-harming Darcy (Lauren Roberts) and Meryl (Katie Elin-Salt), a budding writer whose abusive father commits suicide – and the local celebrity, Welsh International Rugby player Gareth “Alfie” Thomas, tortured and near suicidal through the process of admitting his homosexuality to the World. Soans politicises his play with an appearance by Neil Kinnock (Patrick Brennan) who says: “Scargill and Thatcher between them killed the mining industry…what was particularly sickening was the way Thatcher claimed ownership of a change that was inevitable while at the same time blaming the mining communities, but what it meant was that no social cushioning had been put in place nor was it going to be.” It is not clear whether Kinnock has himself articulated such views, but perhaps, if he and other figures on the left of politics had possessed the courage to acknowledge these obvious truths at the time, the healing process for Bridgend and similar communities could have been speedier. Soans seems to be telling us that his three central characters and Bridgend as a whole now have to face up to reality, re-group and move on. The boldest feature in Max Stafford-Clark’s production is having Thomas played, more or less equally, by all six members of the cast (the others are Rhys ap William, Daniel Hawksford and Bethan Whitcomb), only one of which is both male and in the correct age group. The actor who is to be Thomas dons a red Rugby shirt and receives a ball passed by his/her predecessor. This device has the remarkable effect of showing Thomas as belonging to the community, the well publicised trials and torments of a celebrity being of no greater or lesser significance than those of others, his denial of the truth reflecting the plight of his town. However, the effect comes at a cost, as scenes dramatising Thomas’s personal crisis are robbed of authenticity and power. Soans touches on the dilemmas facing gay sports personalities and on intrusions of prurient media into private lives, but such concerns are made to seem secondary. Hearteningly, Soans sees a bright future for all of his three central characters. He tells us that Bridgend embraces its gay son once he has come out – we have seen in Ireland this very weekend how ordinary people can prove to be much wiser than moral guardians such as media hypocrites or religious leaders – and, as in a Rugby scrum (the metaphor in the play’s title) they huddle together and prepare to advance. Beautifully acted and gripping throughout, this is, notwithstanding its flaws, a brave and imaginative piece of theatre.

Performance date: 23 May 2015

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