Sunday, February 16, 2014

Number 5 Cwmdonkin Drive

Number 5 Cwmdonkin Drive by Liz Wride

This wonderfully fresh one-act play, as presented as part of On the Edge, Michael Kelligan's script-held performances of new drama from Welsh and Wales-based writers, was given a fantastic interpretation by the Welsh Fargo Stage Company. I saw it (appropriately) at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, directed by D.J. Britton. Despite a distinct lack of cooperation from the weather, the actors did justice to a very funny and very original script which must be one of the highlights of 2014, the centenary year of the birth of Dylan Thomas. We've had innumerable biopics on Dylan Thomas, innumerable reworkings of his dramas, verse, and aspects of his life; Number 5 Cwmdonkin Drive is a witty and affectionate look at his influence on people.

Number 5 Cwmdonkin Drive is a play about Dylan Thomas fans, but not exclusively for Dylan Thomas fans. I stress the word “fans” rather than scholars, for the triumvirate at the centre—Mam, Dad, and the long-suffering Tom Dylan—are a warm, humorous, and humane depiction of real people. Number 5 Cwmdonkin Drive is a comedy, but it doesn't offer easy answers. It interrogates the admittedly odd but pervasive cult of location—as if essence de Thomas could be absorbed by a night's stay at his birthplace and childhood home, 5 Cwmdonkin Drive in the Uplands in Swansea. Most any Swansea resident will know that you can stay at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, returned to its 1914 facilities, as Mam (Lynn Hunter), Dad (Anthony Leader), and Tom (Sam Harding) do, and one supposes that the mystique of literary tourism draws us there.

However, as Tom Dylan makes clear, he isn't Dylan Thomas—he's an ordinary Welsh 18-year-old, though perhaps driven a bit neurotic by his well-meaning but overenthusiastic parents. Like Dylan Thomas and Swansea, Tom enacts the dichotomous—in one of many familiar, cleverly invoked lines in the play, Swansea is “an ugly, lovely town.” Dylan Thomas' legacy on Tom's life is also ugly and lovely, but it's the loveliness that comes to life with a rather Dickensian magic—a visitation. Pentre Ifan, the Neolithic dolmen in the Preseli Hills of south Wales, is said by local lore to show you your future mate if you walk around it three times clockwise, but I can't remember which sacred Welsh stone bestows madness or poetic genius on whoever sleeps by it. In Number 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, the birthplace has an equal gift (or curse) embedded in its walls. Dylan Thomas, of course, is not completely absent from the work—but as ever, a facet, an aspect of the poet, just as some of his most famous poems are embodied in the play—but the fact that Tom Dylan is the focus is quite refreshing.

The cast were all great in the script-held reading (Charlotte Griffiths and Christopher Morgan play other parts), and the audience responded wonderfully to the humour and clever knowingness of the piece. I had read beforehand that Number 5 Cwmdonkin Drive is about Dylan Thomas' birthday party, and that is one way to sum up this play, a perfect introduction for those who know nothing about Dylan Thomas, and an equally enjoyable fantasy for those who know him well (or think they do).

No comments: