Three Cities

Raimondo Cortese, Desmond Barry and Rafeal Spregelburd
Ranters Theatre (Australia), El Patrón Vázquez (Argentina), Chapter Stiwdio (Cardiff)
Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
(2006)

The Chapter Arts Centre has added another piece of cutting edge theatre to their play list. Three Cities was the inspired idea of leading Welsh novelist Desmond Barry (author of A Chivalry of Crime and A Bloody Good Friday), and actor Clare Isaac. Three one act plays, linking the themes of migration and dislocation in the multi-cultural, off-beat ports of Cardiff, Melbourne and Buenos Aires. As an ensemble, the three pieces masterfully highlight those aspects of human nature that cross boundaries: particularly our misuse of that peculiar gift of communication.

First, and by far the most affecting, is Raimondo Cortese's Affection, produced by Ranters Theatre and Full Tilt at the Melbourne Arts Centre. Three characters, partners Barry (Patrick Moffatt) and Mara (Heather Bolton) and their guest, Simon (Paul Lunn), create cavernous and excruciating silences, as the couple, boasting some of the poorest conversational skills known to mankind, try to get to know a middle-aged wanderer, who by his own admission would generally rather not talk. The three sit centre stage, in a barren set, for almost the entire duration of the play. Director Adriano Cortese and writer Raimondo Cortese have created a brutal naturalism, which feels more like great improvisation than the scripted piece it is. For all this, it is as refreshing and as unmannered a piece of theatre as I have seen, which leaves the audience squirming and self-scrutinising, even as they laugh. And by the interval, you sense everyone in the bar working really hard at their listening skills

Chapter Stiwdio's own piece is Jet Lag, written by Desmond Barry and directed by James Tyson. Husband and wife Jeff (Gareth Potter) and Angela (Clare Issac) are visited by Angela's brother Steve (Nathan Sussex), a restless traveller, on a stop-over in his home town of Cardiff. Old taboos are re-kindled between the sister, stuck in a rut now that her daughter has left for uni, and her passionate brother, with all the untethered glamour of his life. The conversation is fast-flowing, but the status games and the under-current of suppressed resentment, envy and aggression between the three fuel every line, creating an uncomfortable and castrated sense of confrontation. Issac and Sussex have a fascinating and complex relationship: they spar and flirt by turns, and word games are their weapon of choice. And Potter, emotionally isolated by his wife's feelings for her brother, has built a career writing in Welsh, his second language, thereby distancing himself further from his family of non-Welsh speakers. It is a visceral and hard-hitting piece with solid performances from all three actors.

Buenos Aires by Rafael Spregelburd, is an idiosyncratic piece which artfully uses its Spanish delivery to predominantly English speaking audiences as a focal point. Andrea Garrote's quirky Clara is a captivating, if inadequate 'translator', for Rafael Spregelburd's Jiri, a Czech who has come to Argentina from Cardiff on a one way ticket and who speaks no Spanish. Alberto Suárez plays Martin Dominighini, a physics teacher with bizarre plans to convince NATO that he holds the secret to the artificial manufacture of water, and who concocts an unlikely plan to prove these theories lie behind the theft of Munch's The Scream. He wants to use Jiri as part of his plan, and his elaborate explanations, brilliantly under-translated by Garrote, are bizarre in the extreme, and had members of the audience around me (from all three cities), helpless with laughter. None of the characters actually use conversation to learn from each other. None of them seem genuinely moved to listen, so that, although the piece would have benefited from being tighter and paceier at times, the whole is as captivating and thought-provoking as it is entertaining. As Patrick Moffatt said of the piece in the bar later, "It's great. It's bizarre. Within the first ten minutes it makes you want to go visit Argentina!"

The three free-standing plays work well together and leave you with a great sense of the contrasting traditions of native writing and performance. But they create a far more over-riding and reassuring sense of the common ground we share, regardless of our cultural heritage.

All that, and a great evening's entertainment.

"Three Cities" tours to Buenos Aires and Melbourne, venues and dates to be confirmed.

Reviewer: Allison Vale