Grace Patrick reviews, Home, a double bill at the RADA Studios in London as part of the Wales Week in London.
It’s quite easy to make sense of why the two short plays that make up Home at RADA studios, Salt and Fly Half, would be paired together, and one might even go so far as to say they work better as two halves of a whole than they would if performed in isolation. Both of them hone in on attempting to understand what we mean when we talk about identity, and how those identities are formed. Ultimately, both seem to conclude that we cannot develop any real sense of self without the people around us and the memories that they hold. With this in mind, where better to perform either piece than next to another with the same philosophy?
The first of the two plays is Salt, written by Bethan Cullinane and performed by Lowri Izzard. Following a young woman as she returns to her small, Welsh, barely-changed home, Salt faces the challenges of coming to terms with the past in the face of grief and pain which belongs in the present. The emotions which she connects to the experience of the return from London to a small town are deeply universal; Cullinane’s writing is perceptive, starting from the small details and expanding out into the personal and then into the societal. It’s an exposé of sorts, giving light to the experience of realising that, if you’re going to be who you want to be, you’re going to have to leave your home. It’s particularly telling that the narrator at no point manages to give name to her growing attraction towards her best friend, instead jumping straight to the conclusion that a fulfilled future cannot and will not happen here.
Given that Izzard spends virtually an hour standing alone on a stage, her presence and physicality is brilliant. There’s definitely a vulnerability in how isolated she seems in the space, leaving her with nothing but her thoughts and memories to fall back on.
Despite existing in the same isolated space, the feelings invoked by Gary Lagden’s Fly Half couldn’t be more different. Whereas Salt focuses on a young woman who could hardly be more isolated from her past, Fly Half’s narrator is clearly immersed with the ghosts of his younger years. At the heart of this piece, there’s a question about how we should and how we do look at heritage. What is it to pass something on, and to form a culture around these acts of sharing with a younger generation?
The message feels very clear: that commercialisation of rugby is damaging to the culture it represents, and that the soul of the game can and will be crushed by the forces of a rule-based, formulaic attitude towards it. On the other hand, it’s impossible to ignore the love and pride that the narrator expresses towards the mining history of his town, a tradition of work leaving men with brutal and life-shortening health conditions. This commercialisation of land and resources is treated as inextricable from the land itself, suggesting an inconsistency in how the question of how the exploitation of land and culture for profit is approached.
Through all of this, there were moments in which Fly Half became undeniably sad. It’s a story about those who are left behind, and about trying to keep something going when it’s only you left.
Home is an excellent exploration of the various experiences of being Welsh, whether you moved away at the earliest opportunity or would never dream of leaving. The pairing acknowledges the complexity of an identity which can take so many different shapes, bouncing off one another to delve into their many facets.
You can find out more about everything that’s going on for the Wales Week in London here.
(header image by Matt Cardy)
Grace Patrick contributes regularly to Wales Arts Review.