Georgia Winstone-Cooper reviews the debut production from Nova Theatre, Winners, which forms part of Sherman Theatre’s Get It While It’s Hot season of new plays.
The inclusion of a pie and a drink in the ticket price for a play may be a ploy to draw in an audience, but it’s a ploy for which Winners has absolutely no need. Indeed, it becomes apparent quickly that the informal, pub-like atmosphere which a pie and a pint sets up is starkly in contrast with this production as it unfolds. Lowri Jenkins and Oliver Morgan-Thomas playing Cassie and Dafydd, take the stage and the audience is suddenly cast in the role of a couples’ therapist. Jenkins and Morgan-Thomas portray a young couple in their early thirties, trying to find their way in a relationship which has seen little change since it began seventeen years prior. The script, also written by Jenkins, is quick and genuinely funny, with unexpected jokes that twist suddenly to expose deep truths and explosive emotions.
Jenkins and Morgan-Thomas’ characters were primarily drawn together by their love of rugby, and it is this love that underpins their own love for each other, their community, their social life, and even their sex life. Five months on from an injury which has rendered Dafydd unable to play, the audience sits in on a therapy session for the apparently perfect couple. Rugby has always been considered an intensely aggressive and masculine sport, yet it is the one thing that makes Cassie passionate more than anything else, and so when Dafydd’s injury takes it from her life, their relationship becomes strained. Jenkins’ script is excellently paced and gradually reveals the struggles of two people constrained by their bodies and their genders; as a man Dafydd is expected to wish for excellence and excel in his sport, whereas Cassie is expected to temper her ego and ambition, and simply enjoy her mildly fulfilling career and long to become a mother. Jenkins’ script excellently explores the inner conflict of an ambitious and driven woman who might be considered a “boss” were she a man yet is instead labelled a “bitch”. Jenkins and Morgan-Thomas portray a couple facing an acutely contemporary issue: Dafydd is continually described as a “modern man” who owns moisturiser and truly supports his partner’s need for success and excellence, whilst Cassie is torn between her ambitious personality and what she believes is expected of her as a loving female partner.
Winners maintains an excellent balance of comedy and drama. Jenkins’ dialogue is fast-paced and the cast play off each other expertly. The comic timing of Morgan-Thomas is especially enjoyable. Jenkins and Morgan-Thomas are believable as a couple and by giving the audience such a role of authority and responsibility, invites a feeling of deep intimacy and even discomfort. The script builds toward moments of dramatic honesty naturally and without force; the twists are unexpected yet they don’t jar with the overall plot. Jenkins’ script is carefully crafted and every aspect feels genuine and honest; the play succeeds in being both thoroughly entertaining as well as a piece of thoughtful social commentary.
Although set primarily within the therapy session, director Samantha Alice Jones employs flashbacks to the beginnings of Dafydd and Cassie’s young romance. Scenes of the pair at ages nine and thirteen are incorporated through deft movement and the actors’ ability to portray the sweet and awkward innocence of two young people unsure of why exactly they are drawn to each other. The flashbacks serve to ground the narrative as a specifically South Walian experience, as their romance blossoms at rugby matches and during school trips to Techniquest and St Fagan’s. Winners manages to portray issues of gender and relationships which stretch far beyond the confines of that geography, however, whilst also including cultural references which make it a thoroughly enjoyable Welsh play.
Winners is on at the Sherman in Cardiff until Feb 15th