Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘Not The Worst Place’ which is at Clwyd Theatr Cymru till Saturday 3rd May 2014.
Swans are mysterious and contradictory creatures. Like a radio presenter they appear serene and calm on the surface, whilst paddling like heck below it. They are gracious and haughty. Ferocity bathed in beauty. They mate for life yet they all belong to the Queen. And they have a city named after them. Swansea. Which, I gather, Dylan Thomas once described as ‘not the worst place’.
This is the conclusion 17-year-old Emma and 20-something Rhys come to after a play-long discussion about trying to get away from it. All Rhys’s classmates got out of town ages ago and Emma has bought the Lonely Planet guide to Borneo. But then she gets pregnant. And there’s more than a slight suggestion that she’s done it on purpose so she can stay in Swansea and commune with its swans.
This clever new play by Sam Burns – co-produced with Paines Plough Theatre Company as part of Clwyd’s intriguing Celtic writing festival – really does get to the heart of what it must be like to be a teetering teenager. The script is spiky, pugnacious and revealing, whilst also sympathetic to young peoples’ accentuated inner contradictions – in an amusingly tongue-in-cheek kind of way.
RADA graduate Rachel Redford plays Emma as a headstrong, surly, self-obsessed adolescent. She’s moany, taciturn, sarcastic and dismissive – and she delivers her lines in a quick-fire minor key, which, in conversation, is unfortunately hard to follow. Her enthusiasm has allowed characterisation to overwhelm clarity – which is shame considering how well crafted her lines are. But we still get a clear image of a restless mind having to sacrifice its fantasies and settle for reality.
Her steady foil is played by Scott Arthur (a graduate from Bennett’s “The History Boys”) who is more ponderous (especially when playing Scrabble) and, we discover, actually loves Swansea really (even the DVLA). So the nearest they get to leaving is two nights camped on the marina beach…within binocular sight of Emma’s quivering mother (played by Kirsten Clark) who’s made most of Emma’s mistakes before her.
The star turn comes from the more minor character of Emma’s highly hypochondriac younger brother Jordan, played by Rhys Isaac-Jones – the most convincing portrayal of a 13-year-old I’ve ever scene. Armed with some unconsciously witty words, he expertly sends up his phobia whilst completely believing in it himself. His constant fear is that his collection of medical books will become obsolete and he will be condemned to being the family’s pet survivalist.
Burns threads her script with clever concepts and secret jokes. And, to expand her horizons, she gives the family a fascination with Greek mythology – particularly Homer’s Odyssey, which really only rubs in their home-bird tendencies.
As a slice-of-life play, it could well become a modern classic even though, like people failing to leave Swansea, it doesn’t quite go anywhere. But it did leave me wondering how different our literary heritage would be if Homer’s hero had stayed at home.
Visit www.clwyd-theatr-cymru.co.uk for bookings & information about Clwyd Theatr Cymru.