Sherman Theatre Studio, Cardiff
Get It While It's Hot is the Sherman's sporadic take on the A Play, A Pie and A Pint idea: shortish plays presented in the early evening, with a drink and a pastry-based comestible included in the price of the ticket. They have conceptualised it as a means of giving young companies a leg-up—providing technical assistance, rehearsal space and a week-long run of a new play in the studio space, enabling them to build an audience via word-of-mouth.
The latest company to benefit from this support is Nova, who have brought a rugby-based piece to the theatre, in the midst of the Six Nations tournament. Winners is written by company co-founder Lowri Jenkins, who also stars, alongside Oliver Morgan-Thomas.
The set is simple: two chairs side by side. As the actors enter the space, they greet the audience warmly, if a tad apprehensively. It soon become evident that this is a therapy session—a marriage MOT—and that the apparently affectionate young couple are having some issues.
Dafydd is a rubgy-player—a scrum-half, who is useful, but not quite in the top rank; not international standard. Having been injured, he hasn't played for a few months. Cassie, an interior designer from a rugby-loving family, has noticed that he seems depressed—not sleeping, spending long hours in coffee-shops, not attending to his rehab, growing a "sadness beard". And, needless to say, things aren't going swimmingly in the bedroom department.
Hence, this visit to a counsellor, to try and ascertain what the root of the problem might be. Over the next hour, issues are skirted, memories indulged, and at least one ugly secret revealed.
Under the direction of Samantha Alice Jones, Jenkins and Morgan-Thomas display a sparky rapport, believably inhabiting two characters who have known one another from childhood. The occasional flashback, signalled via Garrin Clarke's lighting design, makes it clear that their relationship has developed organically; and it becomes evident that their problems stem from slowly diverging interests, rather than outside interference.
It is perhaps surprising that a female writer has produced a play which not only has the love of rugby at its core, but also seems to place the bulk of the blame for the couple's marital issues at the woman's door. While Cassie's employees may refer to her (apparently with affection) as the "boss bitch", however, she does not display stereotypical bitchy wife characteristics (shrewishness, shallowness, acquisitiveness etc.). She has simply invested in her partner's sporting prowess to an extent which is perhaps unhealthy.
Dafydd, by contrast, is perhaps a little too good to be true—loving, supportive of Cassie's career, and despite his initial evasiveness (and despite being from Kidwelly) not overly laddish. He is even willing to forgive when Cassie drops a bombshell.
If the resolution of the couple's story seems a little pat, it is perhaps because we see the obvious solution to their problem before they do. Still, the journey towards this destination is a highly entertaining one, provoking much laughter, until it shocks us into tense silence.
Deservedly, the play was very warmly received by the capacity first night audience which seemed, as far as I could discern, to include an unusually high proportion of male attendees, suggesting that Jenkins has hit upon a successful combination of elements. I can very easily see Winners enjoying a life beyond the current, brief run.
Reviewer: Othniel Smith