Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
Whether Carlo Francisco Franco Lloyd Hughes is really the demon child of El Caudillo or not, the title of Dic Edwards new play, Francos Bastard, fits him perfectly. Carlo is one nasty bastard, and he owes the makeup of his mind and soul, if not his DNA, to the tyrant of Fascist Spain.
Staged by Sgript Cymru and currently running at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, this play continues some of the ideas about language, fascism, national and individual self-determination and revisionism which Edwards explored in Wittgensteins Daughter (1988) but with a more streamlined and riveting plotline and more attention-grabbing and recognizably human characters. Edwards has definitely reached a new level, and I anticipate seeing the next product of his imagination.
Francos Bastard will not be liked by everyone, and I understand that some spectators were disgusted by some of the characters interpretations of Welsh nationalism. Its true that Edwards opinions are strong, that he does not seem to care if he makes his listeners uneasy, and that no ideology escapes his criticism, which is about as subtle as an electric shock. In fact, ideology in general and nationalist/nativist/cultural separatist ideologies in particular are under attack in this play.
In Francos Bastard Edwards, director Simon Harris and the cast create a macabre, sometimes farcical, but always unbelievably horrifying scenario. Carlo (played maniacally by James Coombes) invites three wandering souls from Cardiff (Shane Attwool, Karin Diamond, and Adam Randall) to his West Wales estate to implement the Project - a violent extremist Welsh nationalist movement with a lot of mottoes, myths, mascots and metaphors but no concrete plans, objectives, or demands.
Throughout the play, direct references and less explicit allusions to Israeli and Palestianian extremism, the IRA, Tacitus atrocity-drenched, pageant-riddled Roman histories, Spanish, Italian, and German fascism, the death penalty in the USA, violent colonial expansion everywhere, Cortes, Nietzche, and Byron remind us that killing for idealism isnt exclusive to any time or place.
At one point, Carlo argues that Casanova was the ideal fascist because in the act of love the lover keeps nothing for himself He has subsumed his existence within a greater thing You negate yourself! Keats called it negative capability! Art through love through death the politician is always self-obsessive while the lover must always be selfless and giving. The moment when this stream of recognizable, sentimental love-poetry platitudes dissolved into the rhetoric used by self-murdering bombers and guerrilla soldiers the world over, Carlo presented a hard challenge to conventional thinking. Does this mean Shakespeares Romeo is a suicide fanatic?
This may sound heavy, but the play is often very funny, and it doesnt have a solitary slow moment. Its caustic depictions of Cardiff are (in the opinion of one amused spectator, after the show) not inaccurate, and the cast acts well, individually and as a unit.
My one reservation would be that the role of Serena (Diamond) a part-Guianaian girl whom Carlo picks up at a pub to play the role of his exotic mistress, and who struggles to hang onto her reason as Carlo tries to seduce her into complying with his delusional world-view, functions as a device more than a character, in Act I, anyway. In order to belong in Carlos dominion more than she has belonged in Cardiff, she allows him to make numerous insulting, exploitative comments about her ethnic background, and drops most of her challenges to his Fascist proclamations after offering only lukewarm resistance. These seem written baldly to break up what otherwise would have been vast polemical monologues by Carlo, but her character is developed more engagingly in the second act.
The set was understated but appropriate. Designer Max Jones dressed up the Casa Carlo with a heavy, Medieval-looking iron chandelier and a serpentine staircase instead of the mosaic dragon-flag floor specified in the scripts stage directions, and Serenas blood-red and black lace Flamenco dress, in which Carlo believes his mother dolled herself up for Franco, was exquisitely overdone.
Youre shocked by the word, Carlo reassures Serena as he plunges her nearly upside down in a disorienting tango while they discuss his use of the term fascism. Dont be. We make of words what we need to make of them. That is what is so powerful, beautiful, exciting and dangerous about language. That is why this play needs to be seen, and talked about, whether you agree with Edwards political views or not. As Edwards shows, the Carlos and Francos out there will only be empowered to realize their nightmare fantasies if the rest of us listen to their words and repeat them without questioning their meaning.
This review is reproduced by kind permission of the Theatre in Wales website.
Reviewer: Rebecca Nesvet