I was really looking forward to seeing the play by Gary Owen as I was mesmerised by his smash hit and award-winning production Iphigenia in Splott. I was therefore eager to see how he had developed as a playwright, as Love Steals us from Loneliness was his first play.
Some commented that he hadn’t quite developed his craft previously, or that it didn’t quite hit the mark, even though they recognised what he intended to achieve. For me, his first production is in the same league as his more notorious work on stage.
The opening scene showed a young drunken girl trying to urinate, which definitely demanded the audience’s attention immediately! She then engages in a conversation with a boy of the same age, gradually unveiling their views on love and relationships, exploring how young people view their bodies. This theme was especially strong as it would resonate with a lot of people and normalised how we think about our insecurities.
Catrin, who is in a relationship with Lee, is shocked to find that her friend Scott is in love with her.
The first half provided open and honest sexual accounts in a crude manner, which worked well in order to establish the characters and eliminate any inhibitions straight away! The development of the relationship between both was enthralling and revealing, and both the punchy dialogue and fast pace ensured our attention.
The second half changed direction completely, introducing four new characters and zooming in and out of the present and past to unfold the gripping story of Lee’s death from a fatal car accident. At first, I didn’t understand the connection between the first and second half, but similarly to Iphigenia in Splott, the narrative culminates in a poignant ending with a striking blow. This is when the whole narrative makes sense.
In both plays, I admire Owen’s technique in encouraging the audience to guess the significance of the plot, guiding them through the story in order to maximise the effect of the finishing note. Gradually we realise that the declaration of love by Scott and following kiss coincided with Lee’s involvement in an accident, and the second half deals with how his mother and friends coped with the loss. I particularly like how Owen focuses on one microscopic point in time to convey a life-changing event, as the death of young boys on the road is especially relevant today.
Without a doubt, the play’s main strength is the humour that is peppered skilfully throughout the script. In the second half, it was added purposefully in order to allow the audience to calibrate during the narrative.
Owen manages to capture the essence of the characters, giving voice to people in the South Wales Valleys who are usually sidelined in our culture. His definitions of this society reminded me of the work of the author Rachel Trezise, who also manages to challenge the audience with modern themes, adopting a style that is both innovative and authentic. The definitions of Valley people and ‘townies’ was truthful and made me laugh! I believed in the characters due to the originality of the script, even though the bold style is not for the faint-hearted!
The dialogue contained some memorable lines such as ‘He might be in my body, but he’s not inside me’. Similar lines were thought-provoking and made the audience gasp.
The performances were all convincing, especially the emotional and heartfelt interpretation by Lee’s mother. However, I missed some of Catrin’s lines as she was acting a drunk person, and sometimes the accent was not maintained. I wasn’t sure about the significance of the karaoke setting, but felt it might possibly suggest how people express their emotions through different songs.
Resurrecting a play is no easy task, but I think the production by Chippy Lane succeeded on many levels. The directing by Kim Pearce is to be commended, and I think the play may have benefited from returning to it, especially after considering the approaches taken with Owen’s highly acclaimed following production.
The theatre at Chapter in Cardiff was full, something we don’t often see in the context of Welsh theatre. The response of the audience was also clearly positive as I heard hearty laughter throughout, which also testifies to Gary Owen’s popularity as a playwright.