Five Green Bottles
Joe Wiltshire Smith and Kristy Philipps
Spilt Milk Theatre
Little Man Coffee Company
The Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival—something of a misnomer since most theatre in Cardiff is on the “fringe” (i.e. not provided by the large funded companies, or commercial touring operations)—is actually a clever marketing exercise developed by a group of theatre professionals operating as a not-for-profit Community Interest Company to which small companies can submit proposals for new work. Thus, over a two-week period, several productions have very short runs in non-traditional venues, in the hope that interested parties will take them further.
One such production is Five Green Bottles, a new play by actor-writers Joe Wiltshire Smith and Kristy Philipps, taking place in the downstairs area of a city-centre coffee-bar. Unfortunately, the understandable need to maximise attendance and the floor-level performance area meant unsatisfactory sight-lines for any audience-members not in the front two rows.
The music, costume and décor place us in the 1960s. The action begins with a young couple, Aly Cruickshank’s Ned and Angharad Berrow’s Ess, indulging in a law-and-order-themed role-playing game designed to enhance their sex life. Her half-heartedness and his bad-tempered control-freakery, however, conspire to ensure that things don’t go according to plan.
Over the next few hours and days (the timescale isn’t exactly clear), they are joined, in Ess’s inherited family home somewhere in the North of England, by her sister Maureen and Maureen’s husband Dave—Olivia Martin and Tobias Weatherburn. Relations between the sisters are testy, but Ned and Dave seem strangely fascinated by one another.
Just as it appears that the play is shaping up to be a depiction of the changing mores which characterised the sexual revolution, with talk of threesomes and other carnal unusualness, it becomes clear that Ned’s sensation-seeking and playful threats of violence speak to his activities outside as well as within the home. We suddenly find ourselves in the midst of a tale of real-life horror.
The action unfolds over a number of short, tense scenes, interspersed with blackouts and dance interludes (one of them soundtracked by a Hitlerian speech). The writing is sharp and chilling, with the occasional surreal moments and uncertainty within the relationships well handled by the talented cast and director Becca Lidstone. BSL interpreter Liz May also deserves a round of applause, especially since her animatedness made up for the action which many of us were unable to see.
It could be argued that, ironically, the play sacrifices some credibility once we realise that we are witnessing an interpretation of historic fact rather than a commentary on the broader societal implications of toxic personal relationships. Nevertheless, Spilt Milk Theatre is to be applauded for its adventurousness in bringing us such a bold, disturbing piece.
Reviewer: Othniel Smith