Chapter Arts Stiwdio, Cardiff
Acqua Nero is Sgript Cymru's final production prior to merging with the Sherman Theatre, and is directed by the company's Artistic Director Simon Harris. It is an artful and intriguing examination of how one man's lie plays out upon the subsequent generations of his family and it's a fascinating piece of theatre.
Meredydd Barker's story centres upon a war crime, committed in the closing moments of the Second World War, and he shifts its focus from two SS Officers and their Italian captive in 1945, to the home and family and failing mind of a Welsh-Italian grandfather living in Cardiff in the modern day. Switching between the two time frames, layer upon layer of complex deception begins to unravel.
That so complex a plot is here made the backbone for a riveting piece of theatre is yet another testament to Sgript Cymru's talent for nurturing their writers.
The design makes an impression from the start. Designer Sean Crowley transforms the studio into a bright, lime-washed space, in which the audience are made to feel integral to the set, with the action unfolding around them. With strong lighting design by Elanor Higgins, the whole ensures that indoors and outdoors, past and present merge seamlessly, as much as they do in the mind of Old Dario Murazzo, authoritatively played by Mike Hayward. Hayward has all the command and strength of character needed to be compellingly dangerous when so called upon, and yet it is clear his Murazzo is complex, care-worn and troubled by years of living a lie.
The opening scenes could benefit from a tighter pace, but Simon Nehan as the ruthless Meer of the SS, with his "natural talent" for "unorthodox" and extreme assassinations, and Richard Ellis as young Dario Murazzo are every bit the captor and captive. However, as Meer's predicament develops, Nehan's characterisation gains substance so that by his final scene, he has an emotional depth and sensitivity that stands in stark contrast to his earlier brutality.
Dean Rehman brings an energy and life to his brief cameo as the Russian soldier, so that his violent demise is all the more affecting. Likewise Daniel Hawksford's Speigal: his is a cool, classy, and self-assured characterisation.
Eiry Hughes as Isabel gives the strongest performance of the night. Isabel has a fascinating, quiet strength beneath an apparently nervy, over-worked and insecure exterior. Her scenes with her father, Philip Ralph, are utterly compelling. The two struggle to work out their place in life, albeit in different ways, each one suspecting Murazzo, their father/grandfather, may not be who he says he is, and therefore both are left struggling with their own identities.
The complexities of the opening scenes may take a while to draw the audience in, but by the second Act the plot, the characters and the world they have created are entirely mesmeric, and early shortcomings are largely forgiven.
"Acqua Nero" runs at the Chapter Arts Stiwdio until March 17.
Reviewer: Allison Vale