Margaret and the Tapeworm is Triongl Theatr’s latest production which touches on some real issues of loneliness during the holidays.
Two years have passed since Triongl Theatr first appeared on Welsh stages. Its debut production, Miramar, was a darkly funny treatise on what it means to call something home. Margaret and the Tapeworm, its latest production, touches on those some themes while exploring the very real issue of loneliness during the holiday period. And, if it wasn’t obvious from the title, there is also the presence of a tapeworm. Sitting at the heart of this Aberdeen-set festive play is Amber, whose unwavering ability to see the best in everyone is matched only by her unwavering love for Christmas. When newbie Margaret arrives at the work party, Amber takes it upon herself to help her settle in, whether Margaret wants the help or not. Things are further complicated when, at that Christmas party, Margaret ingests a tapeworm with its own agenda.
As Christmas stories go, Margaret and the Tapeworm is certainly on the bonkers end of the scale. Dropping the darkness of their first production, Triongl instead opts to go down a far more surreal route. Valmai Jones is the tapeworm, clad in white and shouldering the responsibility of the play’s most outrageous moments. Pantomime is a major influence on her performance, namely with the ambiguity-laden one-liners and asides to the audience, but Jones feels restricted at times. The tapeworm’s sentience is inherently funny and the audience is waiting for Jones to go all-out filthy and profane, but it never comes.
This probably would not be such an issue had the other plot points not been so rooted in reality. The story of Amber, so wonderfully played by Rebecca Knowles, is genuinely heartbreaking. Still reeling from the death of her mother but unwilling to unburden it on anyone, her positivity is both endearing and overbearing. It’s a trait that exists in all of us and Knowles expresses it with real sensitivity and heart. Tonally it’s at complete odds to the tapeworm storyline, and the team are unable to mesh them together. Rebecca Smith-Williams is the one tasked with glueing them together but, as great as she is as the physically and emotionally distraught Margaret, that character isn’t enough. The collaborative writing process certainly has its positives, but perhaps the presence of an outright scriptwriter may have given the play the shape it needs. Without that shape, it feels like two isolated stories rather than two running parallel.
Sean Tuan John doesn’t try to do too much with the direction, which is to the betterment of the play. Angharad Matthew’s set design is appropriately Christmassy, complete with tree and decorations, but it’s probably Amber’s costume design that stands out. Knowles is constantly changing into new Christmas jumpers, and it never stops being funny. An opportunity was probably missed by the designers during the sequence where the tapeworm enters Margaret’s body but, other than that, Dan Young (lighting) and Josh Bowles (sound) do a solid job.
Yes, Margaret and the Tapeworm has structural flaws, but it’s still thoroughly enjoyable. Festive shows should make you smile, laugh and feel joy; Triongl’s production ticks all those boxes and provides a sobering look into the subject of loneliness at the same time. There is definitely still room for script development here, but there are far worse ways to spend your Christmas than in the company of a sentient tapeworm.
For more info on the Triongl Theatr, check out their website.
Jafar Iqbal is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.