There is going to be a long, slow, golden sunset in North Wales every night this month. And the events that occur as dusk falls will make you glad to be a theatregoer.
As the sun goes down, Colin Grenfell bathes designer Janine Bird’s huge, open plan apartment in imperceptibly changing washes of glowing light, which shine through an invisible wall onto the vast, mirrored river beyond. It really is a masterly setting, crowned by a four-poster double bed … that is tragically unemployed. It is sat upon by a succession of wonderfully performed characters who, one after the other, command centre stage. But a lack of love leaves its springs untested. And that’s the rub.
Bedtime is also truth time…and in Tennessee Williams’ taunt, family thriller all sorts of beans will be spilled and dreams dashed before lights out.
Desmond Barrit’s ‘Big Daddy’ looks like a sack of beans. How fabulous it is to see this RSC stalwart possessing the Clwyd stage. Savagely aged, he ambles in, dumps himself in a chair and wisecracks his way into the plot. For ‘Big Daddy’, read ‘Big Grump’.
It’s his 65th birthday and there are doubts about his health which lead to the ‘Big Question’. Who might inherit his millions? One son and daughter-in-law have produced as whole posse of children, running around and around. But the unoccupied bed tells us that his other son, ‘Brick’ (Gareth David-Lloyd), and his stunning wife Maggie, haven’t.
This is a fascinating stage relationship between a neurotic, sensual, self-obsessed woman and the broken husband she’s silenced with her incessant monologues. Dressed in the bright red party frock in which Theatr Clwyd habitually clothes its Tennessee dames, Catrin Stewart (pictured) is quite amazing at Maggie. The first quarter of the play is entirely hers and her perfection makes it flash by. She’s captured both the devastatingly attractive and vivacious kookiness of her character, as well as the taunting torment she can’t help dishing out. She barely stops for breath. Image Lucile Ball on heat. No wonder her hunk is permanently drunk. In his stupor he’s broken an ankle…and his crutch is as much metaphorical as medical.
When father and son finally sit side by side on the end of the bed, the night gets even darker. Both reveal the bitterness of their marriages. Apparently relieved of his death sentence, Big Daddy sets about reasserting himself on his wife and family. Desmond Barrit relentlessly uncoils Big Daddy’s old, patriarchal power as he makes, and demands, intimate confessions. Once more the play is picking painfully through the past …. with devastating effect.
Guest director Robert Hastie has done a marvellous job with this captivating classic…exhuming hidden humour to leaven the familiar angst. The casting is superb throughout. It’s a measure of the absolute quality of the production that an actress of the calibre of Catrin Aaron is quite content to play a (high-impact) minor role… and that I don’t even get to mention her excellence until my final words.
Visit www.clwyd-theatr-cymru.co.uk for bookings & information about Theatr Clwyd.
Photograph: Johan Persson