Seanmhair, The Other Room, Cardiff

March 18, 2017 by

This play was one of the most unforgettable I have seen, one that has stayed with me for days and has spurred me to think about its central messages. This does not happen very often in theatre.

Set against the backdrop of the streets of Edinburgh, we learn about the blossoming romance between Jenny and Tommy as childhood sweethearts, which culminates in an unhappy relationship later in life. As the story unfolds, we realise that a terrible fate has ensured that this connection is unbroken forever. This is no ordinary relationship, as it develops from an innocent encounter to a violent partnership that is full of anger and resentment. It managed to show how time can blur the boundaries between love and hate, and also how Jenny was disempowered to change her situation due to one life-changing event when she was ten years old.

The narrative was presented beautifully by three female performers, Sian Howard, Hannah McPake and Molly Vevers, consisting of an older woman and two younger girls. All of them portrayed Jenny at different times in her life, and I found it exceptional that they consistently switched between different characters, even male characters.

Hywel John’s raw and poignant script explored themes such as childhood innocence and society’s values thoroughly, but also comprised poetic nuances. This was mainly achieved by repetition and describing images, which worked well in raising questions and bringing us back to the main tenets of the play throughout. However, I would have liked more indication of the title’s significance as the meaning is ‘grandmother’ in Scottish Gaelic, and this linguistic element could have been explored further. The language is now largely in a minority, and therefore the conflict between the modern age and old-fashioned attitudes could have been underlined. I wondered why he chose to adopt the Gaelic name for the play, even though most Scots speak English in their everyday lives.

Imagery was the most compelling element of the performance for me, especially the quartz, as its significance kept us guessing throughout the play. The lighting was especially dazzling, both complementing the stage and its cracks as well as the eerie atmosphere of blue light. The contrast between light and darkness also enhanced the darker aspects of the narrative, adding a supernatural feel to the setting. Sound effects such as children laughing and throwing stones against a window sent a shiver down my spine, but the lighting was the strength in terms of staging in my opinion.



Molly Vevers and Hannah McPake


Seanmhair - Molly Vevers, Hannah McPake, Sian Howard (photo credit Aenne Pallasca)

Molly Vevers, Hannah McPake and Sian-Howard

photos  Aenne Pallasca


The limitations of the set meant that the space was used sparingly, and the actors intricately managed to weave through each other in a very physically-demanding performance that relied heavily on eye-contact with the audience. At times, this element was piercing, and the connection between the performers and audience was electrifying. For me, the narrowness of the walls symbolized Jenny’s captivity in the way circled around the small space relentlessly, and epitomized the size of her world. She had only known Tommy since a young age. Underneath a seemingly linear story, currents of a dark underworld were suggested through this highly restrictive sense of space. Events from the past and other people’s lives continued to plague Jenny’s reality. The movement director Laura Jeffs did wonders with this aspect. The fast-moving pace greatly highlighted the tension of the slower scenes, but served mostly to convey different parts of Jenny’s life in a short and snappy manner. I felt like I had been introduced to every trajectory of Jenny’s life by the end, along with detailed accounts of some moments, enabled mostly by the tightly-woven script.

The synchronicity of the actors as they spoke could have been more crisp at times, as this contributed to the poetic flavour of the script. I also felt that there could have been more of an age span between the three actors in order to portray Jenny at different milestones in her life. However, despite a strong Scottish accent that is unfamiliar to me, the voice projection to the audience was very clear and commanded attention. The grandmother showed tenderness and wisdom, but also expressed how history can repeat itself within generations.

The ending was harrowing, and special effects were used to their utmost potential. This is a play that will stay with me for some time as a thought-provoking and innovative production.


Until April 1








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