DISCLAIMER: This review does contain some spoilers and strong language.
Powerful, vivid and familiar. These are just three of the words I would use to describe Gary Owen’s: Love Steals Us from Loneliness which was brought to the Chapter Arts Centre by Cardiff-based company, Chippy Lane Productions this December. This incredibly sincere performance; directed by Kim Pearce, explores love, youth, loss and growing up in a small, Welsh town in a funny, sharp and emotive way.
The story begins with a drunk and frustrated Catrin (Evelyn Campbell) running off to a graveyard following a heated off-stage argument with her boyfriend Lee. Fellow protagonist and Lee’s best friend, Scott (Rhys Warrington), follows her and we as the audience are left wondering whether he does so out of concern, for illicit purposes, or whether it is on Lee’s request out of concern for his girlfriend. As the story unfolds we come to learn more about each character, their dysfunctional interactions, and the tension between “townies” and “valley commandos”.
The whole first act reminded me of many, many conversations I’ve had with drunken girls in smoking areas; you know, the ones where they would be really intimidating if only they could stand up straight without swaying! The stand-out line in Act One being: “Stop taking the words I say, and thinking about them, and saying them back to me, it makes you sound like a ****!” Word for word, I think a friend has said that to me before.
As the dialogue between the two unfolds, it’s clear that they are not huge fans of each other and they continue to throw increasingly sharp criticisms from their respective headstones. They critique each other’s Halloween costumes – Catrin teases Scott that he must be “gay” because he is a “virgin”, and this escalates to a full-on assault on Catrin’s feelings for Lee. Throughout all of this; as an audience member, I could never choose a side and I found myself rooting for Catrin; but then she would do something crude and unnecessary, so I would shift to Scott. But then his brash, intellectual advantage over her would sometimes present him as a tedious and unlikeable character.
On that note, I have to say that after years in and out of theatre groups, I really appreciate the work that goes into a production, and a strong cast is an essential ingredient to any successful story-telling. I believed each of the actors were actually their characters and actually experiencing the events of the story. Due to the nature of Scott’s monologues it was hard to imagine that Warrington wasn’t reciting lines, but I am not diminishing his talent as an actor in anyway – in Act Two there is a moment where he wasn’t exactly crying, but he looked as if he had been for hours; his voice cracks, his eyes are puffy, and even the way he holds his fingers suggest a level of emotional pain – it’s captivating. While Campbell (Catrin) executed the role of a drunk, naïve, headstrong girl so well, in such a believable and unedited manner, that I felt I was on stage with her looking directly into her eyes, sort of like I was the brunt of her jokes (in the nicest, possible way).
Personally, I initially struggled with the set design in Act One – long streams of glitzy, foil banners and light-up potted plants were distracting and cheapened the narrative – but in Act Two it made more sense. As the set was stripped back to reveal a messy, back stage area with wires and boxes, and empty cups in sight with actors dotted around, It dawned on me that two teenagers drinking vodka shots from Halloween test tubes in a graveyard while talking about mis-shapen body parts is cheap, but more importantly it is a distraction for a lost, under-developed, young adult. But, as life seeps in and tragedy becomes a tangible part of your experiences, all the glitzy, distractions come down to reveal something desperately incoherent and in need of sorting.
The second act keeps to this incoherent and disjointed feel as we slowly learn about 17 year old Lee’s death in a car crash. Just as young adults scramble through the world trying to figure out themselves and how they fit into the world around them, the story stops following a linear, chronological pattern and enters flashbacks where we learn the details of his death from each character. His younger sister Becks (Rebecca Jade Hammond) reads the last text messages that he sent, in a random order, and the confusion builds and builds until the emotions become uncomfortable and resolution is needed. Did I mention intermittent karaoke? Or that Becks is absolutely hilarious! She’s more than that, Becks is the girl who could easily be your friend. Much like Andrew David’s character – the easy-on-the-eyes, confident, wise-cracking, come-and-have-a-pint kind of lad we all know and like – both David and Hammond made me believe I was part of the group.
Finally, there’s Emma-Jane Goodwin who gave a breath-taking performance as Lee’s grieving mother, struggling to put her life back together. “I told him it was O.K to fall asleep, that I would be here when he woke up, and I am… but he’s not.” Her performance made me want to go home and throw my arms around my mum, to thank her for all she has done, and to apologise for all the times I acted on impulse in a reckless manner. I should clarify that we never meet Lee, we just hear about him from all the other characters and the reason for that is because Lee could be anyone, and what happens to him could happen to any of us.
The moral I took from this story is that you need to live your life while you have the chance to because: “the fact you’re sitting here and that this hurts means someone cared about you a lot.”
“Love Steals Us from Loneliness” ran from December 8th – 10th 2017 in Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff. For more information on up-and-coming shows from Chippy Lane Productions please visit their website.