Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Light of Heart

Emlyn Williams
Clwyd Theatr Cymru
Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold

Gwyn Vaughan Jones as Maddoc Thomas and Charlotte Gray as Cattrin Credit: Catherine Ashmore
Bevan - Joshua McCord, Barty - Michael Geary, Fan - Catrin Aaron and Mrs Banner - Sara Harris-Davies Credit: Catherine Ashmore
Cattrin - Charlotte Gray and Robert - Richard Atwill Credit: Catherine Ashmore

The Light of Heart, Emlyn Williams’s light hearted yet profoundly moving study of family bonds, is the headline production of Clwyd Theatr Cymru’s Celtic Festival 2015.

Emlyn Williams, actor, director and playwright, was born locally in Mostyn, Flintshire in 1905 and this production takes place in the theatre named in his honour. It is directed by Lora Davies who has previously directed Taking Steps by Alan Ayckbourn and serving as assistant director with Terry Hands on last year’s outstanding Under Milk Wood.

The play is set in 1930s London, a good time for some, not so for others. Simon Kenney has captured the tone of austerity perfectly with a stage transformed into a gloomy bedsit with paper peeling off the walls. However, Nick Beadle’s lighting evokes the changing times of the day, and the changing mood portrayed onstage with a subtle brilliance.

The story revolves around the relationship between an aging Shakespearean actor, sensitively played by Gwyn Vaughan Jones, and his disabled daughter Cattrin with a welcome return after the successful Under Milk Wood by Charlotte Gray.

Vaughan Jones presents a character now almost totally lost to drink but with memories of a great career and, crucially, a dependence on his daughter. Cattrin, for her part, seems resigned to looking after her father but unexpectedly finds love in the shape of neighbour Robert played by Richard Atwill.

Ever the perfect gentleman, Atwill is superb, particularly during some heated exchanges with Cattrin during the second half of the performance.

The character of Maddoc positively bristles in the hands of Gwyn Vaughan Jones, none more so than when the opportunity to play King Lear presents itself and the challenge of proving that the role is not ‘unplayable’ is one he takes on with relish.

However, we are also presented with a thoroughly convincing, drink-sodden alter-ego, who is capable of self-destruction and takes the storyline through some harrowing twists. This is particularly so when he discovers the secret plans for marriage between Robert and Cattrin after neighbour Fan, who is given a breezy sparkle by Catrin Aaron, inadvertently reveals the plans.

After this point, we see a whole new depth of character from Cattrin as she displays a steely resolve to seek a life for herself despite the obvious needs of her father and Charlotte Gray is particularly impressive during these tense moments.

However, despite the tragic undertones of the story, comedy is reassuringly often never far away and some of the best moments involve the supporting characters. Sara Harris-Davies (another returning from Under Milk Wood and many more triumphs) is hilarious as Mrs Banner while Michael Geary portrays Barty, the loveable drinking partner of Maddoc who seems destined to wait indefinitely for his grandmother to die and enable his inheritance.

Fellow Welshman, policeman Bevan, played by Joshua McCord, delivers some delicious lines, not least when he asks Maddoc whether waiting to go on stage is similar to waiting to be hanged. Finally, Victoria John gives a splendidly controlled performance as Mrs Lothian, who has the belief and vision to tempt Maddoc out of retirement and personifies the value of belief and persistence, alongside a long-standing love for him.

The Light of Heart is a very well-staged and deftly performed consideration of love, need and the intricacies of human relationships that never fails to remind us of how close tears are to laughter at any time.

Further details of Clwyd Theatr Cymru’s Celtic Festival can be found on the theatre's web site.

Reviewer: Dave Jennings