Venue: West Yorkshire Playhouse, 31st March – 8th April 2015
Rugby. As a Welshman, it flows through your veins. If it’s not there when you’re born, it’s pumped in when they give you the meningitis jab with a good helping of poetry and song and in recent years, something else has started to find its way into the Welsh arteries: theatre. The Welsh theatre scene has exploded recently, and Cardiff is buzzing with new companies to see and new venues to visit.
I think it’s got something to do with the establishment of National Theatre Wales in 2009. The company is Wales’ national theatre company in the English language. Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru is our other national theatre company, but they present work in the Welsh language only.
National Theatre Wales has opened up theatre to our largely English speaking population, taking theatre up and down Wales from the birthplace of Dylan Thomas to our highest mountain in the past year alone. In doing so, they’ve engaged audiences not only in the work that’s presented, but in the processes behind that work. Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage is the result of such engagement.
The project started three years ago as verbatim playwright Robin Soans, veteran director Max Stafford-Clark, and rugby legend Gareth ‘Alfie’ Thomas visited a college in Alfie’s home town of Bridgend to lead a series of workshops with students. The result of those workshops, four re-writes and many months of rehearsal is a performance that’s charming, humorous and at times very challenging for the audience to watch.
Soans’s clever script takes us through Alfie’s life from the beginning and is engaging (that word again) despite being full of monologues. This is due in no small part to the pithy asides from this ensemble cast, which features strong performances from Patrick Brennan (expert multi-roler) and a great début from Lauren Roberts, who had the audience eating from the palm of her hands from the off.
Remember that poetry and song I mentioned earlier? That weaves its way really nicely into the text and rugby does too: the stage is partially lit by floodlights, and by setting the show in a rugby changing room we can draw parallels between rugby and the theatre. The changing room is a place of privacy, but also of magnified scrutiny from those who you work closest with. Your team mates become your ensemble, tactics become direction, the chants of the crowd becomes the applause of the audience.
I was slightly disappointed to see all the plots in the show neatly tied up at the end of the performance. After all, the stories of Gareth and other characters in the play are ongoing. Nevertheless, this strong company manage to convey how Gareth’s story, like the Welsh story, is one of overcoming adversity while taking great pride both in nation and community.
This pride is so important to the social history that’s referenced in the play, is so important to every Welsh person and is what makes Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage a genuine insight into modern Welsh life.