According to Fluellen Theatre’s Artistic Director Peter Richards about Kate Bowman’s plays, “Audiences always need to keep their wits about them in case an unexpected twist lies around the corner.” And that was certainly the case in Swansea-based Bowman’s latest production To Jinx or Not to Jinx at the city’s Grand Theatre Arts Wing.
This is the fifth play of Bowman’s to be staged by Fluellen and is one of five specially commissioned Lunchtime Theatre productions as part of Fluellen’s Shakespeare 400 events to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.
Each of the five plays is loosely based on one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, with To Jinx taking its inspiration from Hamlet.
The action starts with Arthur Jinks, curiously dressed in a brown fur coat, recovering from a night on the tiles. All credit to actor Ankur Sengupta for lying perfectly (or maybe that should be purrfectly) still on stage for at least 15 minutes while the audience took their seats, which were almost all filled. It was encouraging to see a local production on a Saturday lunchtime so well attended.
What followed was a fast-moving, at times farcical, sometimes hard to follow (complicated relationships à la Hamlet), occasionally difficult to hear, enjoyable hour of entertainment.
Claud (Claudius) is a counsellor whose friend Peter, a private detective, wants him to profile a serial killer who he believes has killed several women who resemble his (Peter’s) dead wife, Rosemary. Comically played by Rob Stradling, Claud reminds Peter that he is a bereavement and marriage counsellor and not a criminal psychologist.
Off the phone, Claud receives a visit from Thomas (Hamlet) his stepson; it appears that the two do not get on. Exit Thomas and enter Emily (Ophelia), the daughter of Peter the private detective who has sent her for therapy as he fears she is not coping with her mother’s death and cannot form relationships with men. On the way home, she bumps into Thomas, who she’s previously seen in the library; they like each other and he invites her to his house for tea.
Chez Hamlet, I mean Thomas, she sees a photo of his mother but doesn’t appear to recognise her as the wife of old family friend Claud. Nor does she seem to know that Thomas is Claud’s stepson; both of which I found puzzling. Emily told Claud that she likes Chinese takeaways but she tells Thomas that she doesn’t. She seems to want to please, and maybe take on the characteristics of, whoever she is with. Still following?
The scenes between Thomas, Emily and his mysterious, lazy, n’er-do-well lodger Arthur provide the funniest moments of the play. Whether he’s rolling around on the floor (“Are you tripping?” asks Thomas) or resting his head in Emily’s lap, Thomas’s eccentric friend is undoubtedly the star of the show. What we are clear about is that a) he rules the roost and b) dislikes and distrusts Emily.
Emily goes to see Claud again to tell him about her new boyfriend and that she knows that Thomas is his stepson. From here we ascend to the play’s climax. What’s happened to Emily’s father? How did Thomas’s father die? What was Claud’s relationship to Emily’s mother? Who exactly is Arthur? Which character is the serial killer and why? I’m still not sure about the latter, actually. You’ll have to go to the Grand Pavilion in Porthcawl at 1pm on 6 April to find out.
In true Shakespeare style, this was an ambitious bit of theatre. I did have trouble following the plot at times but then again Hamlet is no easy watch either. It demands attention from the audience. Thanks to an engaging and capable cast, this succeeded in doing so.
To find out about the rest of Fluellen’s Lunchtime Theatre productions, which take place at Swansea’s Grand Theatre on the last Saturday of each month, see www.fluellentheatre.co.uk and www.swanseagrand.co.uk.