Y Tŵr (The Tower)

Gwenlyn Parry
Chapter, Cardiff

Y Tŵr Credit: Invertigo

It is regrettably rare for a play written and performed in Welsh to be presented in a manner which is accessible to those who don’t speak the language. Invertigo is to be commended, therefore, for bringing us Y Tŵr with English dialogue displayed on a video monitor to the side of the stage.

Author Gwenlyn Parry, who died in 1991, was responsible for a number of noted plays, largely in an absurdist vein, as well as being a major figure in the development in television drama in Wales. He is probably best known for his work on the broadly comic rugby-themed TV-movie Grand Slam, once a seemingly permanent fixture on Welsh screens.

While Y Tŵr has its moments of interpersonal comedy, it is basically an allegorical work.

The tower of the title is rendered, on Charley Fone’s marvellously adaptable set, as a number of moveable blocks, which also do service as storage spaces for the multiplicity of props; and indeed, for the actors themselves, who are first encountered climbing out of one, into uncharted territory—some way up the mysterious, symbolic structure.

They are the unnamed Man and Woman, played by Steffan Donnelly and Catherine Ayers. Over the next hour and a half, we watch the couple play out critical episodes in their life-long relationship, from intrepid youth, via cynical middle age, to spirited decrepitude.

The Man is the more innocent of the two, naïve at first, but with a clear sense of his prosaic destiny. The Woman, more sexually adventurous, but damaged by grief, has the less straightforward journey.

At crucial points during their adventure together, the characters are drawn to climb up the tower and through a window which takes them to the next level—an upper room. The drama which they play out in the interim is, however, of the kitchen-sink variety; small-town careerism, suspicions of adultery, neglectful grown-up children, the infirmities of old age.

This combination of metaphor and naturalism works well, I think, forcing the audience to adjust its thinking when it looks as though predictability is setting in. Director Aled Pedrick ensures that the changes of tone are seamless; greatly aided by Tom Recknell’s score which calls to mind Sigur Ros or the Cocteau Twins at their most ambient.

The performances are fine, although Donnelly seems unable to throw off his boyishness as he ages; whether or not this is a conscious choice, it seems to jar. And there are interludes of balletic movement which seem awkward rather than evocative.

On the whole, however I was charmed and moved, along with the rest of the audience—a rare full house.

Following the Cardiff run, Y Tŵr plays Carmarthen, Caernarfon and Mold; the tour ending with a date at the Arcola in London.

Reviewer: Othniel Smith

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