The road trip
Up the A4058 from for the latest National Theatre Wales production. Tickets £8. Bargain. Drive through Ponty along a route through never-ending valley villages, all look the same – where’s the join, why do they have different names? A relentless ribbon of squat miner’s homes, grey pebble-dashed terraces.
The austere homes contrast sharply, clash even, with the conifer forests and bare, smooth, ginger slopes of the Rhondda. Park up by the library. Eat at the chippy – A Fish Called Rhondda. Small chips £1.45, tomato sauce 20p. Best chips all year.
For Cardiff metropolitan types, Treorci might as well be on the moon as many of us lot down on the coast less than an hour away are just as likely to tour outer space. None of my friends has ever visited.
My dad says he ‘may have been’ in the audience when Max Boyce recorded his Live at Treorchy LP in the early 70s – a record that sprouted a thousand Welsh cliches from its grooves and somehow put somewhere nobody goes to on the map.
No frills in this town. Saw mod band Secret Affair here several years ago and they looked slightly frightened of their audience – almost uniformly short, middle-aged, pot-bellied, skinheaded blokes in Ben Shermans and Fred Perrys – until a rapturous reception of the first two songs visibly relaxed the band. They were going to get out alive!
For my money, it has the most glorious cricket ground in Wales – the voluptuous views down the verdant valley from the outfield have stayed with me even though it’s 25 years since I last played here.
As for Park and Dare, it’s extraordinary to find a theatre flourishing up here at the end of the valley where roads just peter out halfway up hills. Faded brothel-red and cream colours dominate the auditorium, the paintwork is peeling, but you get the feeling this old badger of a building will never be culled.
Max Boyce is still coming back – he’s here next month. Labi Siffre too. Remember him? Paul Robeson’s godson will be gigging in November.
Dramas with clever-clever pun titles had better work. Not having read Rachel Trezise, a Dylan Thomas prize winner for her novels, this title evokes, say, a sub-Ray Cooney bedroom farce for a middle-class audience – does Tonypandy have a middle class? – with tired punchlines you can see hurtling at you from as far away as Andromeda and cami-knickered titillation, featuring Fiona Fullerton. But I needn’t have worried.
It was coarse to the core. So coarse I can’t ever remember so much swearing crammed into 90 minutes. Not even at a Cardiff City match. A lot of it by teenage girls who are still at local schools and look like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths but cuss like drunken dockers. Robert de Niro and Rab C Nesbitt would have walked out. Bottomless crudity was piled on relentless misery.
It was great. Not the swearing so much, that was irritating at first – as though it was just for effect – and took a little while to get used to (Trezise doesn’t use the ‘c’ word, presumably deciding that would have stretched the audience too far). But it was truthful, authentically of Wales, in depicting the profanity and the peculiar small-mindedness we’re good at.
Then there was the crudity.
Example – Danielle is told of an admirer: “He gets a semi on every time he sees you.”
She replies: “Just a semi?”
The best line, Danielle’s dad of Deb’s sexual allure: “My nutsack was in a knot for a fortnight.”
It starts clunkily. Alcoholic Valleys vamp Debs is played throughout by Siwan Morris. Her daughter Danielle by several young women who occasionally interact with even-younger versions of themselves and it is confusing and takes a while to tune in to who’s who and how they relate to each other.
Amid all this several schoolgirls loll with dolls on sofas among audience, one felt tips a tattoo on her legs and another, dressed as Wonder Woman, sits on a fridge.
Action swirls around the arena, we are pummelled by profanities and when the fog of foul language lifts a little the storyline emerges.
Nymphomaniac mum Debs – all pink skirts and leopardskin accessories – drinks and neglects daughter Danielle all the way to her cirrhosis-induced end. Danielle hates her mother and scene after scene pile on the dysfunctional horror.
Definitely no resemblance to Ray Cooney. If it sounds relentlessly miserable and as bleak as Bwlch then the story is.
But Siwan Morris isn’t. She puts in a fantastic performance as Debs – a Welsh archetype so common that I even know a woman with the same name just as manipulative and selfish. Has Rachel Trezise met the same female warder in a male prison I know who has the same flirtatious manner – a screw who screwed the cons?
And even though she’s utterly detestable in her monstrous treatment of her daughter, Morris manages to milk laughs out of nothing – she gets a great slapstick gag out of putting on her hairspray. Genius.
National Theatre Wales have put on some wonderful stuff these past couple of years but this has to be one of the best performances of all. Morris wrings the most she can out of the comic scenes to make the bleak bearable.
There’s no lyricism here among all the lilting Roy Noble accents but it works because it’s true to life – these unfortunates litter Wales. I have literally met or worked with a Debs character every day for the last four years.
Tonypandemonium is on at the Park and Dare Theatre until Saturday, October 19.
As the cast would say: go and fucking see it!