Gary Owen’s “Violence And Son”, in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre, tells the story of a crucial evening and morning in the life of Liam, a sixth-former from somewhere in Northern England. He has been forced, following the death of his mother, to move to a small town in the South Wales Valleys, to live with Rick, his thuggish father (nicknamed “Vile”, abbreviated from “Violence”).
Liam is a proud nerd, and Doctor Who obsessive. When we first meet him, he is returning from a Who convention with college friend Jen. She is attired in the fetishistic policewoman’s uniform which will be familiar to fans of the programme. He is in a fez and tweed jacket, a la Matt Smith’s Doctor. We are given the impression that, unlike Jen, he habitually dresses in such a manner.
Lonely misfit Liam is in love with Jen. She is, however, dating a musclebound rugby hero. Alpha male Rick offers Liam advice on how to proceed. What ensues is a series of events of the kind which occur every day in every town in the world. As in “Iphigenia”, though, Owen explores their ramifications in merciless detail.
Director Hamish Pirie makes the most of the Doctor Who motif – a Tardis control panel descends from the ceiling on occasion; and during the scene changes, David Moorst’s Liam acts out Whovian vignettes. Whilst amusing at first, these take on a darker tone as tensions rise in his real world, and it becomes clear that the control over his environment which he craves is increasingly illusory.
Unusually for Owen, there are no monologues here; the story progresses via brutally amusing exchanges between cleverly drawn, intelligent (if not necessarily wise), and instantly recognisable working-class characters.
Moorst is note-perfect as the waspishly witty Liam, still afflicted by grief and guilt. Morfydd Clark is equally appealing as Jen, not quite as sexually forward as she appears to be, and sending out the inevitable mixed messages.
I suspect that the full house in the small performance space came courtesy of Jason Hughes (of “This Life” and “Midsomer Murders” fame), who is a magnetic presence as the unlikely father figure, making up in drunken swagger for his lack of physical bulk.
The most problematic character is Rick’s girlfriend, Suze. Obviously his intellectual superior, she is in thrall to his physical prowess, not only in the bedroom, but also when it comes to defending her honour in rough pubs. She uses near-legalistic precision to defend Rick when Liam accuses him of a violent act, but employs this same acuity in attacking Liam when it appears that he may have crossed the line in relation to Jen. It is a tribute to the skills of Siwan Morris that Suze’s contrariness is entirely credible.
“Violence and Son” is funny and troubling in equal measure. The sexual politics might be seen as a little reductive :– women are complex and contradictory, men are simple and ruled by base impulses. And the conclusion appears to suggest that we live in a world where, to misquote Homer Simpson, violence is both the cause of and solution to all our problems.
Building on the recent success of Gary Owen’s “Iphigenia In Splott”, Sherman 5, a scheme designed to promote the theatre-going experience amongst residents of Sherman Cymru’s central Cardiff catchment area, gave members he opportunity to take the trip to London to see his latest piece, “Violence And Son”, in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre. I took advantage of the offer to hitch a ride on the bus.
Sherman 5 members were given a tour of the historic theatre, and got to meet the cast. The impression I gained from the chatter on the protracted journey home was that even without such treats, they would have found the piece compellingly relatable.
The play is running in London until July 11, but a Welsh production is surely inevitable.