sat 18/11/2017

Tonypandemonium, National Theatre Wales | reviews, news & interviews

Tonypandemonium, National Theatre Wales

Tonypandemonium, National Theatre Wales

Theatrical debut of novelist Rachel Tresize feels under-developed

Party girl: Siwan Morris stars in 'Tonypandemonium'Marc Douet

Henry James said, “Realism is what in some shape or form we might encounter, whereas Romanticism is something we will never encounter.” The 19th-century Realists believed that “ordinary people” were “fit to be endowed” with the greatness of imaginative writing. Rachel Trezise’s first stage play, Tonypandemonium, an attempt at kitchen sink par excellence, understands James’ definition; unfortunately it does not seem to understand the second part; that realism is different from mere replication, and that it must belong to artistry.

Trezise’s play seems intent only on replicating. Indeed the title is the only moment that anything interesting happens with language. It is a play that seems intent on pulling every aspect of its story to the centre ground, and so expunges any threat of derring-do, it flattens any potential for “real” characters, and, perhaps most importantly, any romanticism at all.

Centred on Debs, the alcoholic “party-girl” mother to Dani (based on Trezise’s relationship with her own mother), the story seems oddly to forget that Trezise herself rose from such a difficult upbringing to become an award-winning writer, who bases all of her best work on the Rhondda valley in which she grew up, and the richness of life therein. There is little suggesting such an emotive and powerful success story here, not in the narrative and not in the artistry. Trezise is much better at this subject than this play, which in the end is not much more than a sequence of domestic arguments culminating in the inevitable demise of Debs, and with a half-hearted stab at redemption.  

Part of the problem lies in the staging. As a company, NTW has shown yet again that they find it very difficult to keep still. Trezise’s story may have benefited greatly from a less exhausting presentation, and perhaps the energies put into the largely unnecessary and distracting physicality of the production would have been better spent on pulling the potential out of the script. NTW has come under criticism in certain circles of late, accused of not spending enough time cultivating its country’s playwrights. Tonypandemonium, I’m afraid, is ammunition for those voices. Siwan Morris, Molly Elson and Adam Redmore (Elson and Redmore pictured above right) are good in the leads, but they are let down by characters skimming the surface of their own stories. Elson’s performance in particular begins to feel pinned back after an hour as it becomes apparent the narrative arc will not be quite complete. A number of back stories are left hanging conspicuously, tantalisingly, as the play goes off on one of its frustrating and often confusing visual tangents.

The frustration is that there is very little in this play to suggest the talent that Trezise has for words, for telling a story, for structure, for narrative, and, most importantly, for character. It seems odd to have to say it (particularly in regards to a national theatre company), but theatre should teach us something, should shine a light into dark corners. A character describes another as “like an onion: you have to peel back the layers". But the play does not attempt to do either of those things. It may be how people talk in the places being talked about, but theatre is supposed to elevate, not only the audience, but the subject matter. NTW has sold this show on the strength of Trezise’s considerable talents, and then seem to have neglected them.

  • Tonypandemonium at the Park and Dare, Treorchy until 19 October

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