BLOG Liza Penn-Thomas

NWR Issue 107

Crouch Touch Pause Engage

Crouch Touch Pause Engage
Sherman Theatre (National Theatre Wales)
23 February 2015


‘I fucking breathe the fact I’m from Bridgen,’ spits the rugby player ‘It’s what forged me… made me what I’ve become…’ Alfie bursts onto the stage in the opening seconds to declare his defiant pride in his hometown of Bridgend. This is where the play begins and ends - with deep connection to the people held dear and to the place where he is rooted. This surety is one of the aspects of his life that international rugby star Gareth ‘Alfie’ Thomas had to risk losing when forced to publicly acknowledge the gay identity so long kept hidden. This is not just his story though. Alfie’s celebrity is the vehicle for wider explorations of identity - the stealing of it, the concealing of it. The confusion of what is real with what is imagined. The voices in our head that lie to us and the lies we tell. When who we are, and who we can become, hangs in the balance between sanity and insanity.

This co-production brings together National Theatre Wales, Out of Joint, Arcola Theatre, and Sherman Cymru to create a thought-provoking documentary play with writer Robin Soans, one of the UK’s leading exponents of verbatim theatre. The words that are spoken are the words of real people skillfully shaped into a piece of drama. Working with Gareth Thomas and family, and the students at Bridgend College, Soans interweaves interviews that tell authentic accounts of desire, solitude and despair. By sharing the part across the company of six actors, Alfie takes on the role of ‘every(wo)man’ confounding gendered identities, offering his own intimate tale to become the shared secret troubles of any one of us. Teenager Darcey takes center stage with Alfie, and is superbly actualized by Lauren Roberts. Her energy, comic timing and sensitivity make a complex character sympathetic but never pitiful. There is added pathos to the story of Darcey and her friend Meryl when we remember this is not dramatic fiction but personal experience.

It is impossible to deny that this is a worthy play. When society talks about the experience of gay men, teenagers, or the mentally ill there is a habitual tendency to refer to the imagined mass, losing the individual struggles. When Bridgend hit the headlines as a seeming hotspot for teenage and male suicides, a lot of the media responded with a mix of insensitivity and sensationalism. Struggling to be heard above the clamor of headlines is the truth of Darcey’s undiagnosed mental illness that isolated her from friends and family, driving her to self-harm before several mercifully unsuccessful suicide attempts. Within the statistics we find the truth of Meryl’s father whose sudden unemployment led to crisis, mental breakdown, and eventually the taking of his own life. And desperately entangled in lies we hear the heartbreaking truth of a man so fearful of rejection by those he loved, so torn by self-hatred for his own dishonesty, that he stands on a cliff edge wishing for the ground to crumble beneath him.

With such weighty subjects to explore the atmosphere created by this production was surprisingly light. Though admittedly playing to a home crowd on this occasion, the raucous laughter and final ovation are testament to the humanity of the script. Even Alfie’s accounts of homophobic abuse are so beautifully paced that we empathize with the anger only to be released by the humor. It is right that we come away from this show feeling hope for the future. But it is a hope hard fought for and still being fought for. As Meryl says, 'There’s no forgetting… the scars are only covered over, not healed.'

Sherman Theatre host Crouch Touch Pause Engage until 7 March before the company embarks on a nationwide tour. Tour dates are available via National Theatre Wales.

Photos: NTW

Liza Penn-Thomas writes for New Welsh Review in print and online


       


previous blog: This Last Tempest, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, 17 February
next blog: Dirty Aberystwyth



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