The Other Room has launched its second year with a season of work entitled ‘Insomnia’.
Their first offering is a double bill of Beckett and Pinter, two plays brought together for the first time, but remarkably entwined in similarity and contrast.
Bringing these giants together, two of the most influential playwrights of the 20th century, demonstrates the ambition of The Other Room. Decisively pairing two pieces not previously staged together before to fantastic success. In introducing its audience to obscure theatre, The Other Room ensures Cardiff’s first pub theatre continues to create a broad cultural tapestry to add an additional dimension to the South Wales arts scene.
In contrast to any previous visit to The Other Room, the theatre is in darkness with an intense soundscape by Dyfan Jones. The space is compounded to a point of intensity and then into silence as the minimal lighting reveals the three urns. And so ‘Play’ by Samuel Beckett opens with three characters, W2 (Victoria John); M(Matthew Bulgo); and W1 (Peta Cornish) immersed in this gothic darkness, seemingly at one with their urn.
The dialogue begins, first in whispers, then revealing through the spotlight interrogation the story of the three, of wife, of husband, and of lover. And with absolutely breathtaking timing and tone, so the actors spoke with pace, focus and somehow created the characters and a story for us to absorb.
As the pace is accepted, so the humour tiptoes in, and with it the understanding that each character is seemingly in purgatory, as each talks through their experience, a version of their truth, where no party wins, the details of the affair come first, and then the impact, as at least W2 acknowledges she maybe unhinged, whilst M manages to convince himself of wife and mistress drinking tea together.
As the repeat takes hold, so it seems, cleverly somehow, the humour is underplayed, and yet the focus and pace remain as exquisite as the first loop. This time the audience seemed more engaged with the words, absorbing the text in order to interpret.
‘Play’ is cleverly directed- the precision of light, sound and set coming together to maximise the effectiveness of the script, seemingly simple, but the timing of spotlight and of script, the characters seemingly one dimensional, create so much with so little.
Following an interval, the theatre is transformed for ‘Silence’ by Harold Pinter. It seems in a straw poll of three, I am in the minority for preferring this piece, but I loved the serenity created in Amy Jane Cook’s second design of the evening, and of Titas Halder’s direction in creating silence through movement and dialogue.
Matthew Bulgo and Peta Cornish contrast their first performance in the roles of Rumsey and Ellen, joined by Neal McWilliams as Bates. They each stand on a stage together, but seemingly in their own space, recounting their memories, constrained by unrealised potential.
Monologues are cross-cut, each recalling their part in a triangular relationship, each inconsistent- disjointed, as memories come to the fore.
And as the memories unfold, so the characteristics of each are unpicked. The fragility of Ellen is beautifully captured by Cornish, a strength is revealed as dialogue is directed to the audience, but seemingly it is not enough, to cope with relationships. Of Rumsey there is a poetry to his seclusion contrasted with Bates, and the rough and readiness, of dirt and violence.
The seeming containment of each to their own recollection is delicately broken with physical contact during the monologues and this cleverly adds to the characterisation without breaking the reminiscent mood and melancholy.
The two pieces work cleverly together, both leave the observer with the sense of the unanswered, and the need to reflect. The presentation is brave, and for the first of four pieces making up this season, The Other Room has successfully created expectation around Insomnia.
Play / Silence runs until the 5th February 2016 with tickets available online.
Disclosure: I was invited to the performance for the purpose of this review. All opinions and views contained are my own.