BLOG Liza Penn-Thomas

NWR Issue 105

Dance performance Caitlin in Swansea

Caitlin was performed at 229 High Street (Volcano Theatre's venue) in Swansea, on 3 November, 2014

We sit in a circle of chairs set up for an AA meeting. Caitlin (Eddie Ladd) opens the meeting with ‘My name is Caitlin and I am an alcoholic’. The select audience is disconcertingly placed at the heart of a compelling performance experience. What unfolds is her story – of passion, excess, and abuse. Throughout the production Caitlin repeatedly places her hand over Dylan’s mouth to silence him. It is not his turn to speak. When allowed to open his mouth his efforts are impotent as he recites soundlessly in the goldfish bowl of celebrity. This comes as some relief to me after a year of actors ventriloquizing Dylan. This silenced Dylan (Gwyn Emberton) is emotively eloquent without words.

Commissioned by the National Library of Wales as part of the Dylan Thomas 100 festival, Caitlin brings together three of Wales’ most recognised independent dance and theatre makers. Under the powerful choreographic direction of Deborah Light, Dylan and Caitlin’s chimeric relationship beats with disturbing obsession, breathes with dark oppression and plunges into intimate destruction. Their toxic love is brilliantly realized by the performances of Ladd and Emberton. Light has said that being asked to collaborate on the production was an honour that gave her the opportunity to work with two ‘intelligent, rigorous and extremely talented performers’. The combination of their talent with ‘the vibrant, complex and emotive source material of Caitlin’s biography’ resulted in a tremendously exciting project. Indeed the excitement felt by her transfers to the stage,manifesting through the actors in fierce and tender performances that move the audience.

Intensely driven by the soundtrack of Sion Orgon, the action is unpredictably pushed between frantic and playful, hedonistic and numbed. Most mesmerizing, as Caitlin sinks under grief and alcoholic abuse, the score haunts with deep brass calling like fog horns then aching like the moans of a ship’s hull breaking up under the pressure of a drowning sea. The staging of Caitlin is inspired. Billed as an in-situ piece this description at first seems incongruous with a theatre space. But in this case 229 High Street is a hall for hire for an AA group. We are enclosed in Caitlin’s disclosures or forced to look outside the circle of chairs, sometimes physically unable to take in Dylan and Caitlin at the same time. There is always the possibility for discomfort, and confrontational potential sparks in the air between cast, audience and chairs. Imaginatively utilized, the chairs become part of the dance. Dragged, thrown and intertwined with, they are external embodiments of inner traumas. Dylan builds a tower of chairs and sits at the top, distanced from the grief of the widowed Caitlin. She carries their weight and slowly, painfully, bows under the pressure. Even their empty presence stands in for the absent chorus of players that could occupy a place in that circle.

And here is the real pleasure in the work – it reaches a point where we are not watching a performance about the renowned Caitlin whose husband ‘was a famous poet’. We are watching the sinking into insanity of a woman. It ceases to only tell a specific individual’s story and shifts to the revelation of a spiraling illness, suffering, and tentative painful steps towards recovery. This performance was so much more than a contribution to the centenary celebrations. It was an inspired and consummately delivered insight into mental and emotional breakdown. Even more than for Caitlin, whose story is often silenced in favour of the legend, this piece lends its eloquence to so many other stories that are unspoken, unspeakable.

Photo of Eddie Ladd as Caitlin and Gwyn Pemberton as Dylan, courtesy of Caitlin Project

Liza Penn-Thomas writes for New Welsh Review online.


       


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