The Other Room at Porter’s is the ideal venue for the dramatic monologue where the constrictions of the space and the lack of barrier between performer and audience increases the intensity and intimacy of the experience.
Double winner of the Best Playwright at the Wales Theatre Awards, there was much anticipation of this latest work from Matthew Bulgo who has previously demonstrated his ability to use the theatrical form and this theatre space for sharply written stories of individual crisis and transformative situation. While his play Last Christmas dealt with a chap coming to terms with life The Awkward Years considers a young person reluctant to start that adult road at all.
Here the person is crisis is a 27-year-old woman, post university but not really post students, in that odd limbo land where she is still living with a mate, in an unstimulating job, drinking and partying and shagging into oblivion and avoiding the transition into, well, who knows what. The crisis that hits our lost soul is more like a series of car crashes that come one after another and they are all self-inflicted.
The writing is extremely realistic and the accounts of dialogue with other non-appearing characters was beautifully observed with witty comments as asides to the audience peppering these scenes. To be honest, I rather disliked her and identified more with her friends, family and employer but then we are seeing the struggling character at her worst. But it isn’t necessary to like a character to sympathise with them or what they represent.
The visceral heart of the work is the gut-wrenching night out where she forces her friend to go out with her; in the club where she humiliates a chap she has picked up just for free drinks and then trashes him when he thinks she actually likes him, the drunken staggering around town flicking vomit from her lips (which she thinks she gets away with as being sexy), the out-of-her-head yelling to the band playing The Awkward Years, and then the grovelling around in the street trying to get home. It is almost too real, too painful to watch.
Comparisons are inevitable and I would argue this was a far more natural and convincing manifestation of a character’s life than another rightly much-acclaimed recent monologue of a Cardiff woman’s grim life. What they do have in common is stunning performances by the actresses.
This was a powerful, hugely entertaining, at times funny, at times excruciating performance from Lauren O’Leary as Lily as she slickly delivers this very honest piece of writing, throws herself around the stage space as Dan Jones and his creative team ( Hilary Statts, Krista Vuori, Tic Ashfield and Angharad Evans) use the device of sound, light and movement “explosions” to cut between scenes, episodes, states, emotions and Lily’s wrecked brain.
I am not too sure what I think of men writing insightful work concerning women’s lives, particularly sex, pregnancy, their relationship to men and society. But from some of the rather ribald laughter from women in the audience they had problems with this so Bulgo seems to have hit the spot.
The Awkward Years is 55 minutes of hard-hitting drama, maybe not pleasant or easy, but then it doesn’t mean to be.
The Awkward Years, The Other Room, until September 29.
Images: Kirsten McTernan
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