The Bells of Shoreditch
Sherman Cymru, Cardiff
The Bells of Shoreditch is BAFTA Cymru nominee Tim Price's first full-length play, currently in development with Cardiff's non-for-profit artists' co-operative, Dirty Protest. It's the wonderfully off-beat story of Paul (Mark Arends), an angst-ridden, post break-down loner, on extended leave since the morning he felt compelled to pause on Tower Bridge and throw his phone, his keys, his wallet and even his shoes into the Thames. Paul decides to do something about his long, lonely nights: he posts an ad in the paper asking for people to share his bed for the night. A succession of colourful loners step in and out of his life, all beautifully imagined by Price and irresistibly realised by a talented cast and faultless direction from Vicky Jones.
Dirty Protest are not about fully-realised productions. After the show, Tim was quick to point out that only £20 of their Arts Council funding for Shoreditch went into the staging. The lion's share of the funding has been sunk into workshopping and script development; an attempt to provide the "salon culture" for emergent playwrights that Price and the company say is missing in Wales. Naturally, this meant that some of the cast were still on the book, and the set was partly made from cardboard. But, as with previous Dirty Protest productions, none of that detracted from what was without a doubt a slick and hugely entertaining production, with all the polish and energy which has become the watermark of Dirty Protest.
The time devoted to honing their writers certainly pays dividends. Price's text is rich in face-paced comedy, well-observed characterisations and quirky, inventive social commentary. The conclusion to Paul's year of discovery, however, felt a tad disappointing: the sense that Paul moves into a new chapter in his aimless drifting works well, but the dénouement feels a little unremarkable after such a deliciously off-beat plot. Nevertheless, Vicky Jones' 'montage' scene was inspired and heightened the sense of the separate, disconnected lives of these very urban individuals.
The cast (Mark Arends, Crisian Emanuel, Eiry Hughes, Maria Pride, Lee Mengo and Gareth Milton) was without a weak link, although Arends, Hughes and Mengo gave particularly memorable performances.
The development production played to four packed houses over two nights, proving that Dirty Protest remain the company to watch in South Wales.
Reviewer: Allison Vale