Love and Money

Dennis Kelly
Waking Exploits
Chapter, Cardiff

Sara Lloyd-Gregory and Will Thorp Credit: Jorge Lizalde / Waking Exploits
Joanna Simpkins and Gareth Milton Credit: Jorge Lizalde / Waking Exploits
Rebecca Harries and Keiron Self Credit: Jorge Lizalde / Waking Exploits

Waking Exploits is a young company which is building its reputation on bringing important drama from the recent UK canon to Wales.

Its inaugural production, in 2011, was Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money; last year it toured with Simon Stephens’s War-on-Terror-inflected Pornography. With its latest offering, Dennis Kelly’s Love and Money, financial concerns are revisited, in a nightmarishly domestic context.

The entertainment begins in the foyer, with the cast trying to sell us loans (presumably at ridiculous interest rates). Once in the house, we are confronted by Declan Randall’s set, comprising a raised platform decorated with bar-codes; the background consists of a number of screens on which scene-setting imagery is projected; a lonely goldfish in a tank is the only ever-present, wittily symbolic element.

The play is structured as a series of intense, densely textual scenes, scabrously funny (with much use of the c-word, which seemed to amuse the audience unduly), presented in broadly reverse-chronological order. Within each, the tone is one of heightened reality tending towards hysteria, an effect aided by Dyfan Jones’s subtly creepy sound design.

The action begins with Will Thorp’s David relaying recent traumatic events via an e-mail courtship with a mysterious Frenchwoman. He is an impressive, magnetic presence; the heart of the piece, however, is Jess, his unfortunate wife, played by Sara Lloyd-Gregory. Since it is her over-spending which precipitates the couple’s terminal predicament, Kelly could easily have made her a tiresome Sex And The City caricature of female acquisitiveness. Instead, she is a fragile, intellectually questing soul who uses retail therapy to fill a spiritual void whose depth she can barely comprehend; Lloyd-Gregory’s performance is heart-breaking.

The other cast-members all impress in multiple roles. Keiron Self and Rebecca Harries give full rein to bitterness as Jess’s unhappy parents. Joanne Simpkins, playing a prospective employer and former girlfriend of the desperate David, paints a highly effective portrait of a woman who, having herself overcome perceived weakness, sees fit to punish it in others (particularly relevant in the week in which we mark the passing of Baroness Thatcher).

Simpkins and Gareth Milton impress in a sweaty, sleazy nightclub scene, one of which is somewhat tangential to the central crisis, but speaks to all manner of (usually) unspoken insecurities. I did find my mind wandering during a five-way exchange about selling, but this probably says more about me than the play.

Ryan Romain’s direction is silky smooth, the scene-changes slickly handled, and the grimly-humorous ambience maintained throughout. Kelly’s drama is a clever, humanistic take on the corrosive effects of materialism; this is a profoundly arresting production.

Following the Cardiff run, the company visits Caernarfon, Pontardarwe, Aberystwyth, Camarthen and Swansea.

Reviewer: Othniel Smith

Are you sure?