BLOG Stanzi Collier-Qureshy NWR Issue 110
Constellation Street at Porter’s Other Room
Porter’s pub is a rare and hidden gem with lots going on, from new music and open mic to quizzes, comedy and the odd bit of art. On top of these is the understated and yet incredibly ambitious The Other Room which takes place in – you guessed it – another room to the side of the main bar and puts on experimental and modern dramas from 1950 onwards. On Tuesday 12 April I went to see their most adventurous play yet, ‘Constellation Street’ by Matthew Bulgo, set in the city.
‘One night under Cardiff skies, four lost souls go looking for answers.’
Attempting a modern style of theatre (semi-promenade), the play involved more standing up than the traditional experience. On entry into The Other Room, we were all given a key card with a street name on it and this dictated where we were to start our evening performance. With the card ‘Penarth Road’, I ended up in a crowded hotel room, complete with working lamp and a bed. Awkwardly, we all huddled against the walls, trying to figure out what was about to happen. Having chosen a particularly bad spot in one corner, I was confused when a man came towards me and sort of ushered me out of the way, throwing his coat on the chair. Then he began to talk, clearly very agitated, and addressing different members of the audience as if already in the middle of a conversation. Meeting our eyes, he tells a tragic tale of how his family fell apart, his desperation for his lost daughter, how he only wants to tuck us into bed and turn out the light.
‘After dark, when the world is quiet, their paths weave and collide as they all go in search of salvation.’
We were all silent as we filed out, swallowing back shock and sadness. Showing our key cards again like some sort of secret society, we were separated and urged into another room, this one even stranger. There was a small bench with a man sat in front of it, his back to us while he read a newspaper. The only light came from in front of him, a large screen with blurring rivulets of raindrops trickling down it; echoing all around was the same patter. Then the man began to talk. It became clear we were in a taxi as the driver used a rear-view mirror to peer at us as if hypnotised. We reminded him of his son, he said, the spitting image. This time the tale, equally as tragic, was of the death of his son, the tragedy of the youthful generation’s violence and disrespect. And we learn that the two stories we have seen so far are heartbreakingly and yet only tenuously intertwined.
Again, we are led from the room, this time everybody together, stumbling down a dark hallway and into the cool night air, following the music. The music turns out to be a girl on a stage, singing through a microphone, asking for money. When everyone is gathered, she begins to talk, looking at each of us in turn. Though she is only young, she has lived a lifetime, her father walking out, her mother drinking and dying. She tells of how she went in search of her father and how, when she found him, he didn’t even know her, to the point of flirting with her, more. It is difficult to listen to, but somehow we are held captive, rapt.
In this ambitious drama, we almost seem to become characters in the play and, like the characters, not everything is revealed to us, not all the scenes are ours. It is only when the actors come out to our applause that we realise we have not been witness to all of the play; there was a room we did not get to enter, a story we did not hear. As one audience member said, ‘It really made me want more of the puzzle, to know how that other tale was to intersect’.
Porter’s The Other Room upcoming programme & tickets (£12 standard)
is a New Welsh Review blogger-in-residence as part of her work placement via Cardiff University’s School of English, Communication & Philosophy
Matthew Bulgo’s ‘Constellation Street’ will be showing at The Other Room, Porters pub
(Harlech Court next to the Big Sleep hotel) until Saturday 30 April
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