This evening of short plays by new playwrights presented by Chippy Lane Productions is to be commended for giving comparably new authors a voice. Even though the company works beyond Wales, it brings Welsh writing and Welsh stories to the fore. Tuesday evening provided us with four short plays that lasted around 20 minutes each, comprising four out of the eight plays shortlisted within a scheme designed to encourage developing voices. The winner was presented with a prize at the end, which was nice to see as usually the playwright is not seen on the evening of staging a play. All the tickets were sold out, which attests to the popularity of this kind of event.
Poppy Corbett wrote and directed the first play ‘You gotta go there to come back’, whose short plays has already won acclaim across the UK with various prizes and productions. Michelle Luther presented the monologue about a girl living in Cardiff, which gave us a humorous insight into life in the Welsh capital city. She managed to make the audience break out laughing regularly, and her accent was convincing. She feels trapped in the city as she went to university there, and feels like she meets the same people continuously, men in particular. She desires to leave Cardiff for the bright lights of London, and finds numerous stereotypes and perspectives about Welsh people there. Through a very physical and energetic performance, she questions hallmarks of our Welsh identity and how we are perceived by London in an attempt to combat well-established notions of being Welsh. By speaking to her grandmother, we also see the generational gap and how Welshness has developed in just two generations, for instance she doesn’t speak Welsh whereas it’s her grandmother’s native tongue. Michelle moved in and out of the audience intricately, which really involved them in the narrative. She communicated well with the audience and maintained a good relationship with them, which made us feel the relevance of her statements.
‘Tiny Mad Animals’ by Neil Bebber slowly unravelled the burgeoning relationship between two men, and explored the issue of lack of communication between people. Although the two lives were intertwined, there were also unexpected turns here. Despite a good degree of humour and more intense moments, it did not sustain my attention in the same way as the first play – even though the acting by Tobias Weatherburn and Joseph Tweedale was more understated.
The third play aptly titled ‘Outside Blisters’ by Ruth Majeed had the audience in stitches by depicting the world of three young girls out on the town in the Valleys. They fight, quarrel, love and hug, posting online and are glued to their mobiles. In the hilarious exchanges between them outside a nightclub, we come to learn about their hopes and dreams as well as their relationship with Cardiff. One of them wanted to go to college, but she was scorned by the other two for deserting the valleys and trying to improve herself by getting work there, which represents a wealth of realistic attitudes towards progress and bettering yourself. They also fought amongst each other about one of their boyfriends, which highlighted the dynamics and connection between them. As I work in the Valleys and live in Cardiff, I thought this was a very true portrayal of young people in this part of Wales by Roanna Lewis, Rebecca Ormrod and Mica Williams, and their mannerisms added a lot to the script. Developing this play further would unearth a stronger narrative and really grapple with issues of identity.
‘Cardiff Boy’ secured the winning prize, written by Kevin Jones. This was a very simple and understated exploration into the identity of a young individual and his journey into adulthood growing up in Cardiff, which is also the author’s hometown. We learnt about his relationship with contemporaries and how he found his place in the world in a macho society. Using cassettes and songs from the early nineties to evoke a sense of time, it resonated with authors such as Ian Rankin and Nick Hornby. It provided a very honest account of how we get to know ourselves and our differences, but also how we are ultimately like everyone else in the end. For me, the actor Jack Hammett was not dynamic enough, and sometimes the significant elements of the story was lost on me because of this. The finale was not unexpected, but well-plotted and signposted.
The set was quite bare and props used sparingly, and more could have been achieved in terms of special effects, but we need to remember that these short plays are works in progress. It was nice to see something quite raw and undeveloped in its early stages, and I look forward to seeing the finished product when they have reached their full potential as plays in their own right. They all demonstrated originality, good ideas and a healthy dose of probing by questioning our national identity. We truly need much more encouragement for our up and coming playwrights.