Sunday, 29 September 2019

Pavilion by Emily White, Theatr Clwyd


Woo hoo, it’s Friday night and I’m down at the Pavilion. The drinks are flowing and “Omen” by The Prodigy is pounding out of the speakers at full blast…my feet and body moving to the beat of the music. As the disco lights flash, the pace slows down and Big Nell steps out from all the dancers gyrating on the dance floor to introduce us to the locals. “The girls are out: no coat, no tights and not much of anything else either.”

Oh, don’t worry, I’ve not completely lost the plot, I know my clubbing days are well and truly over thank goodness! No, I’m sat on the front row watching the second night performance of Emily White’s brand-new play. Set in the crumbling old hall of a once grand theatre in an old Victorian Welsh spa town, Pavilion tells the story of the locals who are gathering together for one last night at the Pavilion before it finally closes down.  

“Dance.Drink.Fight.Snog”

Oh I’m definitely feel like I am back in the early 90s! Tunes playing so loud you think your head will explode, whilst girls are trying to make out with the inept DJ who think’s he’s a God because the teenagers are flocking after him (in desperation!) Booze flowing as though it was going out of fashion (bottles of vodka hidden in handbags, sneaked in so you only had to buy a coke at the bar.) The inevitable fights breaking out on the dancefloor, guys punching each other whilst their girlfriends run off to the loo in close knit groups bawling their eyes out. I never really understood why girls would go and gather in a stinking toilet cubicle to put the world to rights, but here in the Pavilion, and other clubs up and down the land the following conversation can be heard:

Jess: But I loves him…
Bethan: I know, Jess, I know.
Jess: I just loves him so much.
Bethan: I know you do.
Jess: I really, really –
Bethan: Loves him. Believe me, I know.
Mary: It’s disgusting.
Jess: He’s gorgeous and handsome and gorgeous!”

Observing those druken, heartfelt, agonising conversations taking place in the loo, one thought struck me…how come they had a full loo roll? There’s never a loo roll handy in a club toilet when you need one.

As I viewed the play, I couldn’t help but notice the chap sitting next to me being a wee bit uncomfortable with the language being used...and I don't mean the songs in Welsh. The “F” word is used throughout the play A LOT. But you know what, it didn’t bother me in the slightest. It has become part of society and it gave the play a natural, authentic edge. You don’t see many gentleman on a Saturday night, sloshed out of their minds saying “excuse me sir, you have offended me. Prepare to meet at dawn over pistols or swords.” No, these days it’s someone (male or female) screaming “I’m gonna F’in kill ya” as they chase someone down the street. Oh yes, I’ve frequented some very desirable places in my time.

The Pavilion isn’t the only thing closing in this forgotten community. Earlier that day a protest had been held about the imminent closure of the High School which is about to be merged with another school in a nearby town. A teacher, who all the kids love because he is passionate about history and sharing knowledge of Welsh history in particular, is currently suspended because he has dared to stray from the curriculum, filling the children’s heads with stories about this great nation – making them question who they are and where they come from.  Governments don’t want a nation of children asking questions and taking an interest in what surrounds them…they want a nation of “yes men” individuals who will listen to what is presented to them without any thought for the other side of the argument. So tempers are frayed and the locals are a bit edgy as they make their way out for a night of drinking, dancing, and whatever other opportunities come their way.

Big Nell (a “Bet Lynch leopard print” attired barmaid) appears throughout the play to offer an aside about the town and introduce us to the characters. The use of the character reminded me of Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood.” It therefore seemed rather appropriate that Emily White chose to incorporate “Fern Hill” towards the end of the play. It was in stark contrast to what had come before in the night’s proceedings, and it added a foreboding as to what was yet to come.

(As a slight aside, Fern Hill was written by Dylan Thomas in 1944, and published two years later in a book called “Deaths and Entrances.” It is a long narrative poem influenced by nature and describes in vivid detail the innocence and naivety of childhood and its loss.)

Fern Hill – Dylan Thomas

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.


Sitting in the theatre watching Pavilion took me back in time to the late 1980’s, when I would spend a Friday night at The Mersey View, a nightclub atop of Frodsham Hill in Cheshire (where I grew up.) Affectionately known as “the View,” with hindsight it was a bit of a dive, but it was a place where The Beatles and Shawaddywaddy performed. The building was about 120 years old, and after the Second World War, its promise of live music and dancing for half a crown made it a popular place to go. I can remember in the 80s dancing to Duran Duran and trying to get into the “blue bar” with my friends…all underage of course, but if you got in there you felt like the bees knees!

The View had a history, it was a place where people met their husbands and wives, and for many it was a place for the locals to meet and mix with some “out of towners”, but its lack of use meant its closure in favour of housing planning applications. I’ve not been back there for a long time, I don’t know what has happened to the place, but over the summer I found myself back in Frodsham. I took a quick trip down memory lane and visited my old High School. It’s no longer there. Demolished to make way for a new health centre…part of the grounds looked loved and cared for, whilst the remainder was a blur of weeds and rubbish. I traced the outline of the ROSLA, the sixth form block I spent many a happy hour in avoiding lessons. 

I remember one of my friends appearing on the ITV quiz show Blockbusters, and suddenly our 6th form common room had acquired a load of Blockbuster mugs. Even Ken Dodd popped in to visit once and left some signed tickling sticks for us! It was a place of community and memories. (Why was the building called the ROSLA…it was built due to the Raising Of School Leaving Age.) Only the red clay floor tiles served as a reminder of where the Physics labs had been. There were no longer any remnants of where the garage had stood, a place where future mechanics had tinkered away their lunch hours, or the forge where we were let loose with red hot steel and a hammer and anvil! The music rooms Gary Barlow practiced in were gone…the drama studio where Emma Cunniffe honed her acting talents (and where I nearly fell head-first off the gantry) no more than a distant memory now...like the memory of when the stars of the film Robin Hood "borrowed" the school to get changed in between takes! All just ghostly pictures at the back of the mind in amongst the weeds and rusting railings of a desolate landscape.



Watching a play about the closure of the High School, the library and the social centre of the community truly resonated with me. But this isn’t a gloomy play, it is a play full of life. It’s full of infectious tunes, singing, dancing, local people getting together and singing (as only the Welsh can) anthemic songs full of heart. This is where the young and old mix and share their stories. Everyone knows everyone; there are no secrets here.

Nineteen-year-old Myfanwy has dreams of a career singing on stage. She knows it’s a pipe dream, she works on a chippy van, there’s nothing else here for her to do, so she sings along to the radio as she fries chips for the drunks falling out of the Pavilion after they’ve consumed far too much lager. What will happen to her now the club is no more? She still has her dreams, and it is often those dreams that keep us going through this often-boring journey called Life. Myfanwy reminded me of the character Nessa Jenkins in Gavin & Stacey, an acerbic tongue, but full of wit and charm and kind hearted.

Pavilion thoroughly deserved the standing ovation it received on Friday. It was such a joy to see such a plethora of young Welsh talent on stage. In seems unfair to single out anyone, but Caitlin Drake as Myfanwy was outstanding, her solo rendition of “Laura” by Bat for Lashes was spellbinding and deserved the round of applause it received from the audience. The play was such an emotional rollercoaster. It was the perfect dark comedy, combining laugh out loud moments, moments of introspection, and a joyous feeling of what community life is like and what happens when it is ripped apart.

It was lovely for me, English born and bred, but living in Wales for the last 20 years, to see a modern play about Wales. It’s a country with a fascinating history (the theatre will soon be doing a play about the Mold riots of which I knew nothing about despite only living 7 miles away) and a language which currently courts controversy as to whether there is any point in learning it. It’s fabulous to have a production with some regionality about it, to learn about another culture, away from that London centric bubble which seems to pervade new theatre productions.

Once again, Theatr Clwyd and Tamara Harvey (their artistic director) have proved that they can take on London theatre and beat them at their own game. I am passionate about my little theatre in the middle of nowhere in NE Wales and I am thrilled to keep seeing it produce these amazing theatrical experiences. I hope that Pavilion can become as big a hit as “Home I’m Darling” which also came from the Theatr Clwyd stable. There is no reason why it shouldn’t…the issues that face smaller Welsh communities rage across the entirety of the UK – there is something in Pavilion that we can all associate with…and learn from.

Pavilion is currently playing at Theatr Clwyd until 12th October. It is then moving to The Riverfront Theatre, Newport 22nd to 25th October.

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