Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Theatre Royal Bath opened their 'Transformation Season' of productions adapted from literary text to dramatic script with Julian Mitchell's reworking of an 18th Century autobiography The Welsh Boy. These 'transformed' pieces, as the programme notes point out, are not traditional plays but a new form with actors as story-tellers as well as characters within the action. "Three hundred years on, here I am in a book" is Jem Parry's opening announcement, and that book holds the tale he now reveals, demanding our sympathy and taunting our voyeurism, as the real 'Welsh boy' did when he published his passionate affair with upper-class Mary Powell. A strong cast is led by Sion Daniel Young as the importunate young music teacher with Peta Cornish as his besotted student and Geraldine Alexander, Ed Birch and Rhiannon Oliver taking on nine support roles. Dalliance and intrigue, more bawdy than erotic, builds to a powerful climax in the moment when the lovers are discovered in flagrante, and farce turns abruptly to tragedy. It's a great show, beautifully dressed and lit, which goes beyond Jem's dubious memoirs to engage with a significant historical reality ~ the lack of protection for women, both financially and physically, whatever their social status. The end brings us back to the start: they are gone, aye ages long ago, not like Keats' lovers into timeless romance but the fading squalour of scandal and out-of-print oblivion. Was this love? As with every reality show, the last call is to the audience: you decide. (image © Jane Hobson)

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