Tag Archives: Peter Gill

“Small Change” at the Omnibus Theatre

Peter Gill’s exceptional play isn’t easy. But, with the aid of this excellent revival from Both Barrels Theatre, it is an experience worth every effort. 

Even at its simplest Small Change is a play about memory as much as about the particular memories of a young man called Gerard. His life story shows us working-class Cardiff from the 1950s and 1970s that is interesting enough. But it is the telling of the tale that makes mind-blowing theatre.

Gill’s dense, poetic writing is beautiful, if demanding. This is a long play, but at times I wanted it to pause to appreciate the language more. As Gerard, Andy Rush’s delivery of the script – verse, really – is a marvel. The linguistic acrobatics are matched by a fantastic physicality to the whole production.

Gill’s subject is memory in general

As well as Gerard, we have his mother, his neighbour, her son Vincent, and their memories, too. Gill’s detail is so great – and the performances so good –that you might argue that the play is about any one of them.

Small-Change-at-the-Omnibus-Theatre
Sioned Jones and Tameka Mortimer

Certainly, Gerard’s relationship with his mother is extraordinary and leads to a magnificent performance from Sioned Jones. For all her frustrations about her “swine of a kid”, their closeness shines through. From supportive to claustrophobic, the changing dynamics are riveting. 

The next-door neighbour’s mental health problems are explored by Gill with sensitivity and depth: qualities reflected in the performance from Tameka Mortimer. Small Change‘s angle on the lives of working-class women is authentic and inspiring.

Small-Change-at-the-Omnibus-Theatre
Toby Gordon

Meanwhile Gerard’s best friend Vincent is as fully formed a character you could wish for. Toby Gordon’s wonderful depiction brings out a fascinating intelligence and independence. 

So maybe I’ve got it wrong? Small Change is about so much more that Gerard’s soul-searching reminiscences.  Because the memories recounted are brilliantly interwoven and seen from many angles. The life choices and trauma of each character are revealed from individual perspectives. 

The scraps of memories, conversations, observations (from different times of life) flow with dizzying speed. Wrongs and sufferings are circular as the give and take of personal relationships creates a web that’s powerful, but let’s be frank – hard to follow. Gerard is the vector of the “hard slog” of memory: working out the past and how it impacts the future isn’t easy for him or the audience.

“The hard slog”


Director George Richmond-Scott revels in the play’s complexity and his work is, as a result, bold and brave. It’s easy to imagine how static Small Change could be (it’s one of those plays that you want to read). But Richmond-Scott injects an energy into the production that matches the verse. Rush is eye-catching, but I became obsessed with the way Jones used her cardigan to show her character ageing. Wonderful stuff.

There’s guidance about what is going from Lex Kosanke’s excellent sound design. But it is the sculptural set from Liam Bunster that proves a revelation. The rust-coloured benches and a box look as if Donald Judd’s artwork has found a practical application. The set becomes a beach and a playground as well as a door or a window. Thanks to movement director Rachel Wise, it’s creatively negotiated around, jumped and balanced on, with images vivid enough to match the script. And, with this script, you can’t praise higher than that.

Until 2 October 2021

www.omnibus-clapham.org

Photos by Lidia Crisafulli

“The York Realist” at the Donmar Warehouse

The clue is in the title. Peter Gill’s romantic drama shows us a Yorkshire farming family, in the early 1960s, with daring verisimilitude. The love affair between a visiting theatre director, working on a production of the Mystery Plays, and a local amateur actor in his cast, opens up a time and place with startling particularity. Every lyrical line rings true – many will raise a smile, other are heart breaking – with a tone that is bravely quiet. It is in understanding this understatement that director Robert Hastie shows his appreciation and secures a superb revival for the piece.

The two well-written lead roles result in wonderful performances. Jonathan Bailey is the arty thespian, out of place in the countryside, carefully controlling the character’s urbane sophistication to make sure he is vulnerable and hugely likeable. Ben Batt is local farmer, George. It’s hard not to see him as heroic, a fantasy figure, so Batt does well to reveal depth: an amount of arrogance, some selfishness, a little fear behind the confidence all make him as intriguing as he is believable. The erotic tension between the men is palpable – this is a sexy play, and it’s remarkable to note we only see the two men touch once.

Being so low-key places particular demands on a cast. It’s an achievement from the whole ensembles to embrace the nuances in Gill’s writing, and conveying that restraint isn’t the same thing as repression. Lesley Nicol gives a stand-out performance as George’s mother, only hinting at her ill health in a fashion that strikes a chord with anyone who has had older relatives who are sick. The relationship with her son is a second love story in the play, equally rich in detail and resonance. And Lucy Black and Katie West give strong performances as two other women in George’s life, his sister and potential fiancée, both fully realised and offering yet more insight into the time and community.

The York Realist is a nostalgic piece, and whether this is good or bad is a matter of taste. Inspired by Gill’s own time working in York, a look back at his youth and a bygone age is bound to have a rosy tint. And there’s the period detail in Peter McKintosh’s meticulous set. Seeing the production at the Donmar (it transfers to Sheffield) the north-south divide often alluded too gets a few too many middle-class laughs. But the play itself is refreshingly free of condescension towards working-class life. There is a sense of calm that shows the steely determination in the writing: only one reference to the police indicates the illegality of the men’s acts, and George is comfortable with his sexuality so any angst is minimalised. What happens to the romance is sad, no doubt, as it’s the distance in class that separates them. But there’s little trace of the victim about either man, making the play an empowering, memorable pleasure.

Until 24 March 2018

www.donmarwarehouse.com

The production then transfers to Sheffield Theatres until the 7 April

Photo by Craig Fleming