venue Sherman Theatre, Cardiff June 27, 2002
Families, South Walian rivalry, popular music and the ghosts of the past are usually to be found in Laurence Allan’s plays and his latest, specially written to celebrate the 21st birthday of Hijinx Theatre, is no exception.
Here skeletons in the cupboard, secrets and lies and the opposing worlds of Cardiff and Merthyr (penned by a lad from Ponty, midway between the two industrial giants) are woven into a complex mystery as two girls with a 21st birthday find they both have a father called Benny. Add the Platters and Metallica. a dead brother, an alternative Benny and a whole ghost family and you have a heady mix of music, guilt, generational misunderstanding and a philosophical questioning of where we come from.
I’m not sure Chris Morgan and Gaynor Lougher (there are two directors and a 25-strong cast) quite cracked the problems involved in this overlong script. More importantly, I don’t feel they really managed to integrate the different elements, especially the contribution of Odyssey Theatre, Hijinx’s offshoot company made up partly of people with learning disabilities, which seemed too sidelined.
But when you have getting on for a dozen main characters the challenge is quite something. Given more rehearsal time and a longer run it could have worked, but as it was the Sherman audience loved it and there were some gems, like the sisters act from Christine Pritchard and Sharon Morgan, and a strong central role from the playwright himself as the guilt-ridden Benny. Hijinx favourites from over the years like Richard Berry, Erica Eirian, Helen Gwyn and Rhodri Hugh and relative newcomer Nathan Sussex were joined by young talents including an impressive Sian McDowall.
I suspect the nature of the event – a celebration of one of Wales’s longest-running and highly-regarded companies – overshadowed the production itself and the small space of the Sherman’s Venue Two was just too crowded to do justice to a thoughtful and multi-layered play. But, then, we wouldn’t be offering Hijinx 21st congratulations if they were a company that never took risks.