For The Grace Of You Go I by Alan Harris – Theatr Clwyd
📅 Sat 12th June – Fri 25th June
Running time 1hr 15 mins
Jim’s life is going nowhere. He spends his days topping pizzas with pepperoni. He thinks he has found the answer to his problems whilst watching the film “I Hired a Contract Killer.”All he has to do is get someone to kill him. What on earth could go wrong with that?
This is my second post-Covid show at Theatr Clwyd and on first sight the stage is an assault on the eyeballs, all acid green, bubble gum pink and sunshine yellow. But don’t let the Crayola crayon set fool you, Welsh writer Alan Harris has delivered a darkly comic play with a poignant message running through it.
The tale is a three-hander, focusing on Jim, excellently played by the haunting Rhodri Meilir (Hidden/My family) who, following the death of his mother, has been suffering from the mental health condition, depersonalisation disorder.
As part of a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) pilot scheme, Jim has been selected to work on the production line of an artisan pizza company. His job is to ensure that he puts the requisite pieces of pepperoni on a pizza, in the manner of a handcrafted pizza, not as though a robot had done it. Despite his best efforts, Jim never quite manages to hit his productivity quota, causing his manager Irina (Remy Beasley – Stella/The Salisbury Poisonings) to intervene which gives the audience an insight into the pressures she is being put under by her boss. Rather than Irina’s pep-talk buoying Jim on, he instead arranges the meat on his pizzas into messages, desperate cries for help in meat form.
Jim meets Mark (Darren Jeffries – Hollyoaks) at a film club for people suffering with their mental health. Unbeknown to Jim, Mark is married to his boss Irina. Following a viewing of Aki Kaurismäki’s film “I Hired a Contract Killer” Jim asks Mark to kill him – it’s the only way he believes he can find peace from the banality of everyday life.
The narrative of the film begins to weave into their lives, and this is echoed by partly staging the show via video. As the film is shown on several screens peppered across the stage, Jim mirrors the words and movement of the film. There’s an almost balletic quality in his movements which are mesmerising. Here is a man completely on the edge of society, failed by the state which should be there to protect him and provide him with some dignity, but instead is exploiting him in a work scheme which he is set to fail at from the very beginning.
The play was originally due to premiere at Theatr Clwyd in 2020, and it was great to finally be able to sit inside a theatre and watch real people on a real stage. During lockdown, Theatr Clwyd staged an online reading of another play by Alan Harris – Love, Lies and Taxidermy; an offbeat tale of the son of a Polish taxidermist going on a first date with the daughter of a failing ice-cream salesman in a Tesco in Merthyr Tydfil. Both plays showed Harris’s compassion for his characters, and whilst I was in awe of the staging, the acting and the sensitivity in the writing, I couldn’t help but find myself thinking it was lacking in something I couldn’t put my finger on.
It was an ambitious production taking on the subject of mental health in a dark but comedic way, showing how society thinks that with a catchy self-care slogan people’s conditions will miraculously fade away. However, as a piece of metatheatre, where the audience is both laughing and feeling empathy to a character, I think the farcical or more ludicrous elements of the show were lost because they faded into the characters’ normal lives and so elements of the play became a little confused.
All in all, I thought it was an enjoyable drama and I hope that when theatres get back on their feet, that this play is given the opportunity to tour as it’s well worth watching. For those who have been unable to watch, the script is available from Nick Hern Books and other good retailers.
(Viewed Saturday 19th June 2021)
If you missed watching this fabulous production, you can watch online until Wednesday 14th July. If you're a Theatr Clwyd member you can watch for free. Head to the website for full details.