Some People Talk About Violence

Lulu Raczka and the Company

Barrel Organ Theatre Company

The Other Room at Porters, Cardiff

From 21 November 2016 to 25 November 2016

Review by Othniel Smith

The latest production in the curated autumn/winter season at The Other Room is a week-long stop on a tour by adventurous West Midlands-based Barrel Organ.

The publicity materials suggest that Some People Talk About Violence touches on issues such as globalisation and zero-hours contracts; what transpires, however, is something rather less blatantly political and more intimate (and not notably violent).

An atmosphere of unpredictability is created from the moment we enter the performance space. The actors, already on-stage, communicate casually with the audience; the programme informs us that “before starting today’s show, the four performers you saw did not know which part they would play or which sections of the show they would perform”; the stage is bare, but for four chairs, a rubbish bin, and sundry food items.

They introduce us to the dramatic premise: a young woman has been found in the bathroom of a well-to-do couple, having broken in and made herself at home. While this could provide a promising scenario for a conventional play in any number of genres, from the farcial to the horrific, Barrel Organ takes us on a more internalised journey.

Following this introduction, audience members are prompted to hand the actors envelopes which they have been given, each containing the identity of the characters they are to assume. Thus, on the night I attended, the girl was Ellice Stevens, her brother Joe Boylan, their mother Bryony Davies, and the narrator Craig Hamilton (unfortunately we weren’t treated to any cross-gender playing).

We quickly learn that the girl has mental health issues. Unable to hold down a job, she is a slave to her love/hate obsessions, primarily TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory (itself a show which plays on psychological dysfunction). Having been arrested in the strangers’ home, the girl has telephoned her brother, who leaves his boyfriend in Thailand to come and look after her. Meanwhile, their mother bemoans the fact that she feels excluded from the siblings’ close relationship.

In terms of narrative, we don’t progress much further beyond this. The script delves into the girl’s psychological state and the brother-sister bond, Ali Pidsley’s direction taking advantage of the carefully authored elements of the script whilst maintaining an improvisatory tone.

Interspersed between these monologues, there is much playfulness, of the kind which seemingly has its roots in the rehearsal room. There are character-based games, some paint-daubing, the reckless abuse of a packet of cream crackers and a couple of disco-dancing interludes, one of which serves the purpose of masking one of the girl’s heart-breaking screams.

The performers are all highly proficient and committed, easily building up a rapport with the audience (necessary, since there is a degree of participation). It is in the moments at which we become deeply involved in their characters' personal issues that that piece is most involving.

While the staging is impressive, and deceptively simple (technical management is by Kieran Lucas, with lighting design by Joe Price) the lack of a narrative resolution is somewhat frustrating; we are treated to compelling fragments of storytelling, showing lives in flux and crisis, but, after about an hour, it all comes to a full stop, leaving us, like the characters, mired in the untidiness of life.

Nevertheless, Some People Talk About Violence engrosses throughout, the company’s apparently freewheeling style providing much serious entertainment.