Walking out of Camden People’s Theatre into the frenzy that is London after spending almost 2 hours in Bridgend leaves you feeling displaced. Capturing the authenticity of this place in Wales is immediate the moment you enter the theatre – credit to designer Emma Bailey. The Welsh language is evident everywhere and is complemented with bunting using the Welsh flag, regional snacks and adverts for Spillers Records (a local record store) posters on the walls. The Tom Jones soundtrack and a sign from the local chip shop reinforces the mood.
The audience is thrown into the local pub’s karaoke night immediately warming to Scott (Rys Warrington) belting out The Animals “Don’t let me be Misunderstood”. His rendition gives an insight into his character in a sympathetic way. It is a perfect song for the storyline that is to follow.
Sophie Pollard’s costumes for Halloween are typical of those chosen by many teenagers for this occasion. The audience’s first sight of Catrin (Evelyn Campbell) attempts as a sexy witch suggests a playful character. Scott’s feeble attempt at dressing up by wearing a white lab coat irritates Catrin. She is however delighted by the contents of his suitcase. The test tubes and their contents reflect teenage humour and quest for a good night out on their terms. However Gary Owen’s script reveals their rather commonplace circumstances, which are neither glamorous nor enviable.
Owen’s witty yet hard hitting script and Campbell’s portrayal of Catrin as a drunken love guru dispel any myths of romantic liaisons. Most of Act One is set in the local graveyard where teenagers Scott and Catrin express their frustrations and give explicit relationship advice to each other. This setting although macabre is lightened by the sparkling flowers and full moon and the fast paced dialogue. Their interaction paints a picture of Lee, Catrin’s boyfriend and Scott’s best friend, who is somewhat unusual in that he seems to have a way out of Bridgend by planning to go to university.
The impression of Scott, as a innocent romantic, is rather refreshing in comparison to Catrin’s honest if not bleak attitude about her relationship. But as the dialogue progresses, there is a shift in the power relationship and vulnerability displayed. Scott carefully teases out her real feelings about Lee and how relationships work in general. It is hard to imagine these characters are only 17, with their world-weary views on life. Catrin claims that “Halloween isn’t what it used to be’’ as the audience gets glimpses of the binge-drinking and seemingly casual sex lifestyle they have been living from their early teens. As their in-depth conversation continues, their friendship, perhaps due to being under the influence of alcohol or their subject matter, develops into something more romantic. The language starts to soften from the initial crude and harsh tone.
When the audience re-enter for Act Two, five characters are dotted across the stage contrasting with the intimacy of Act One. The set is transformed into an empty space with remnants of the pub scattered about in disarray suggesting that time has past and something meaningful yet solemn has happened. Snapshots of conversations and emotionally charged monologues from each character reveal what has happened. The methods used allow the audience to work out the series of events leading up to the suggested tragedy. The subtle use of technology, such as reading text messages from a mobile is very powerful and maintains Lee’s presence, as – though he is never seen on stage – he is noticeably absent in the second act. The audience begins to learn that Lee has died, and his death is not dissimilar to that of many other young peoples’ deaths in that area. Nevertheless, the script manages to personalise this unexplained phenomenon which occurs on a regular basis.
Each of the five characters operate as individuals, giving the audience snapshots of information, yet need each other to exist on stage in order for it to hang together. This approach is very successful due to the powerful acting from everyone in their interweaving tableaus. Mags (Emma-Jane Goodwin) is almost shakespearean with her displays of emotion as the grieving mother. The explanation of the intervening years is told in a very engaging honest way, though we are not always sympathetic to the characters as they display very human foibles such as anger and frustration. The realism of the approach is painful yet familiar so much so that many of the audience left in tears. This is testament to the script, direction and clever casting of very talented creative members of the ensemble.
Love Steals Us From Loneliness is playing at Camden People’s Theatre until 31 July. For more information and tickets, see Camden People’s Theatre website.