Sunday, 10 February 2013

Theatre review: Saer Doliau

It's unusual to see a play in London performed entirely in Welsh but not, as it turns out, quite as unusual as the play itself. Gwenlyn Parry's 1966 play Saer Doliau (Doll Mender) plays the Sunday-Tuesday slot at the Finborough, and Alex Marker's 1930s office set for London Wall changes convincingly into an isolated workshop by replacing the legal documents on the shelves with broken dolls and tools, and covering the floor with wood shavings. Here Ifans (Seiriol Tomos) works mending broken dolls, all of which he's named. The workshop doesn't have electricity, but it does have a phone from which Ifans often calls his boss to complain about his working conditions. There's also a mysterious "Him" in the basement, whom Ifans suspects of invisibly walking through walls at night and stealing things. The only time the basement door is unlocked is if a black doll arrives - refusing to mend them, he throws them down to Him.

Into this creepy fairytale comes a leather-clad, iPad-wielding girl (Catherine Ayers) who claims to be auditing the doll mender, alternating between flirtation and intimidation. She insists he take on a coke-snorting apprentice (Steffan Donnelly) and soon electricity, new tools and an end to Ifans' cosily isolated existence loom too.

Saer Doliau seems to fit somewhere between Tales of the Unexpected and theatre of the absurd, a sinister modern fable that possibly has a point to make about racism and modernisation, but refuses to be pinned down in its meaning. It's certainly enjoyable in Aled Pedrick's atmospheric production, that Tom Recknell's music and sound design gives the feel sometimes of a slasher movie, sometimes of a fairytale. Perhaps some subtleties were lost in translation (the English surtitles were frustratingly inconsistent - words that are the same in both languages, like "right," got displayed on the screen every time, only for huge swathes of Welsh dialogue to then go by without the caption changing.) Saer Doliau is worth seeing, but it's not just the fact that it's performed in Welsh that makes it a mystery.

Saer Doliau by Gwenlyn Parry is booking in repertory until the 19th of February at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes straight through.

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