Porter’s, a bar on Bute Terrace close to the Motorpoint Arena, on a barren stretch of road encased within Cardiff’s transport links, (the beer garden is almost sheltered by the concrete pillars that hold up the railway) is a stylish venue with an understated film/theatre aesthetic. It often screens films and theatre productions in The Other Room; a tiny back room of 20 or so seats. Insomnia is Porter’s current theatre season, starting with a double bill: Play by Samuel Beckett and Silence by Harold Pinter, which runs until the 5th of February.
Both plays are about a love affair. Beckett, an avant-garde novelist, poet and playwright, wrote Play around 1962-3. Here with Kate Wasserberg’s direction, Peta Cornish plays woman 1, Victoria John woman 2, and Matthew Bulgo plays the man. It begins with a powerful atmosphere built by bass sounds in the darkness, and then the curtain opens on to the three characters, the man in the centre and the women on the left and right. All that is visible is their faces inside giant grey urns, and in a ghostly spotlight they murmur incomprehensibly. Then at high speed they each individually recount monologues of the break down of a relationship, cut together with the spotlight shifting between them focusing only on the individual speaking and leaving the other two in darkness.
It is a highly paced play and the actors do an excellent job of narrating their monologues, whilst still managing to convey character and emotion purely through their voices and facial movements. The tone is darkly comic. But through the fragmented structure and the moments of comedy, poignant words and phrases stand out that relate to the complexities of a love affair. It is a short one act play, and in Beckett’s text close it it’s end it is stated ‘play repeats’. Through this there is a new interpretation as the actual narrative begins to be pieced together into a visible narrative in the same way as a real memory.
Lighting and set design are stripped down but perfectly suited, and in such an intimate setting the play does an excellent job of drawing the audience into the play. One detail that slightly effected the performance was the sound of the change in lighting, controlled from the back of the room, but this is possible to ignore as an infrequent and minor interruption. It is a sign of the performance and the creative design that after the 15 minute interval in which you go back out into the bar or the beer garden as they change the sets, two of the actors, Cornish and Bulgo, were not recognisable in their performances as Rumsey and Ellen in the second performance, Harold Pinter’s 1969 play Silence.
Once again the play is about a love affair, but here the performance is more conventional in style, with an open stage with greater depth and an excellent minimal geometric design. Here Cornish’s female character is at the centre of a love triangle with an older (Bulgo) and a younger (Neal McWilliams). The play is fragmented in many ways, with many of similarities between itself and Beckett’s, and each play expertly compliments the other. Silence ranges across time, with similar personal monologues in which the characters are almost always narrating rather than participating in conversation with each other. Even with a very small stage there is expert blocking, organising the characters around each other and making a very clear and highly watchable performance.
Pinter’s play also shows the decline of a love affair, as the character’s recount their experiences and their emotions towards each other as distance builds between them. There are many excellent moments in the performance. Far more serious than Play it has the same sadness, capturing the way that relationships break apart only leaving single moments and memories.
The play’s at Porter’s are definitely worth going to see. It is an excellent small space for theatre with a very close connection between the actors and audience. It is theatre in a basic but highly effective form, and the later performances in the Insomnia season – Sand by Nick Gill, St. Nicholas by Conor McPherson, and Constellation St. by Matthew Bulgo (a new play by the actor in these two performances), would be a good place to start for theatre in Cardiff.
The double bill of Play and Silence, are currently being performed at Porter’s The Other Room until the 5th of February 2016.