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Theatre | Dirty Duets @ Blue Sky Festival

The Other Room, Cardiff

Blue Sky’s secret is out and it’s ‘Dirty’.

Poor puns aside, the ‘Blue Sky Secret’ event in the ‘Blue Sky Festival’ was revealed to be a co-production between The Other Room and Dirty Protest. Cardiff-based Dirty Protest were formed in 2007 and since have worked with over 200 Welsh writers staging sell-out performances in a variety of venues which have ranged from pubs and clubs to kebab shops, bus shelters and the great outdoors. Dirty Protest have also developed collaborations with theatre companies inside and outside of Wales, from National Theatre Wales to the Soho theatre and the Royal court.

For their first collaboration with The Other Room, Dirty Protest staged ‘Dirty Duets’ a series of 20 minute pieces, featuring two actors, written by two writers. The theme of relationships ran through the pieces, but each taking a very different style, tone and approach.

Firstly, The Morse Code for Love is Beep Beep Beep Beep by Rhiannon Boyle and Alan Harris (directed by Matthew Bulgo) took a young couple trying to present a ‘perfect’ proposal to the world of social media. Watching them re-create their staged proposal over and over for the benefit of a camera phone offered a hilarious look at familiar narcissistic social media approaches. The couple played by Catrin Mai and Rhys Warrington while ridiculous and exaggerated also managed to remain sweet and endearing. The writing was though exaggerated in style, was perceptive and thoughtful in relation to how we present our relationships to the outside world, and how we attempt to filter our own perception of love through that also.

The second piece Reluctant Love by Kit Lambert and Lisa Parry takes a darker tone. The couple Ellie and Sion (Louise Collins and Neal McWilliams) who over a series of scenes, months apart, take us through their falling apart as a couple, towards hope of a resolution. The darker tone to this piece comes from the revelation that their daughter has been sent to jail for the murder of a homeless man in the park where they meet. In analysing their parenting and their relationship things fall apart for Ellie and Sion over the months their daughter is in prison. As time goes by their relationship shifts, and they part. In their final meeting, originally to go together to visit their still imprisoned daughter, they make the decision to try and reconcile their relationship. Dark, and often sad this piece looks at the disintegration of a relationship through trauma, but also shows that it isn’t the trauma itself that necessarily pulls the two apart, it’s all the little things that go with it. The piece is also humorous – the characters feel very real, very familiar, and there’s a charming funny familiarity to Sion’s rant about being too old to go out and having nowhere to put his coat, or that Glastonbury is great because nobody expects you to shower. And although we only spend 20 minutes with the couple, the writing cleverly makes it feel longer, and the audience becomes invested in their story.

The final piece Love Will Tear Us Apart by Sam Bees and Marged Parry returns to technology and love, but with a futuristic twist. Dot and Alex are moving into a new flat together, and beginning a new start. What they have both also done is have a computer chip implanted to make them a better spouse. Cleverly written the piece takes its time revealing what is really going on, and allows for a few twists and turns along the way. Despite the futuristic element the couple themselves are very real, with Alex refusing to back down and call someone to install his software, to Dot complaining about his lack of technical ability. The impact of the chips is at times outright hilarious, with the ‘settings’ ranging from quiet acquiescent spouse, to raging sexual beings. The actors (Heledd Gwynn and Sion Pritchard) embraced these moments fully, with some excellent physical comedy-in particular a moment involving whipped cream- and witty line delivery. There is a more serious side to the piece, and again questions about technology in our lives and relationships, as well as our aspirations of perfection.

The three pieces were very different, but complimented each other well. There are ideas about relationships, modern living and how we engaged with one another. The balance of humour and a darker edge balanced within each piece and across the evening. The idea of two voices in terms of writing, as well as two voices in the actors’ performance is a clever and effective one, and makes for an interesting tool for the director to play with.

There was an exciting element about ‘Blue Sky Secret’ although, due to the small, well-connected theatre community in Cardiff, who was involved was something of an open secret by the time the show happened. However, what Blue Sky Secret did do was remove any expectations from the audience. There is something to be said for going into a theatre and watching stories unfold with no preconceptions. It makes for a more honest reaction from an audience also – something valuable for new work. It also makes audiences more adventurous, instead of rejecting a play based on a short blurb (or review!) and preconceived ideas about what they do or do not want to see, they engage with the work as it’s presented. While it’s not a model that works for every theatre or every piece of work it’s an interesting and innovative approach to take on occasion.

The ‘secret’ to Dirty Protest and Blue Sky’s ‘secret’ evening is much more simple, and something that has been a theme across the festival-quality writing, performance and directing. Although simple in form and format given the time and space constraints, the ideas continue to be big. The strength of the writing and performance brings audiences in and engages them with new ideas as well as new writing.