Review: The Story / Hela, Theatre503

The Other Room’s The Story and Hela make a delightful and daring double bill of Welsh drama at Theatre503

Do’s dim hawl ’da ti adael,
You don’t get to leave,
Do’s dim hawl ’da ti anghofio pwy wyt ti
You don’t get to forget who you really are”

A brilliant idea this – Cardiff’s OG pub theatre The Other Room has gathered up the three plays that made up their recent The Violence Series and sent them out on tour. They’re mainly visiting Welsh venues but there’s also a stop at Theatre503, allowing London audiences a highly tempting taster of the quality of work available at the other end of the M4.

I caught two of the three – The Story and Hela being presented in a double bill, Matthew Bulgo’s American Nightmare making up the set of dystopian dramas. That said, you have to wonder at what point we stop calling it dystopia and simply call it tomorrow, a pressing sense of disturbing resonance and relevance that is particularly brought out in Tess Berry-Hart’s The Story.

Siwan Morris’ X just wants to go home to her wife and kids but she’s come up against a wall of bureaucracy. For she’s been away helping refugees in a nearby warzone in the ‘occupied territory’ but as Hannah McPake’s V questions her about her activities in the ‘annexed territory’, it is clear that they’re coming at this from very different perspectives. 

What follows is a terrifying slide into being branded ‘an enemy of the people’ as X is subjected to emotional and mental torture by the chillingly protean figure of V. Berry-Hart’s writing draws on her own experiences working in the field and incisively questions society’s willingness to adopt prevailing narratives if they get to call people traitors and David Mercatali’s tighty coiled direction expertly ramps up the tension, even as The Story takes an unexpected turn. 

Mari Izzard’s Hela occupies a similar place of we’re-practically-there realism, a world where one-size-fits-all data-driven justice has been imposed. In a remote Welsh farmhouse, Hugh wakes up to find himself a chained prisoner with only a mysterious young woman called Erin for company. There, a subtly titanic two-hander unfolds as Dan Jones’ production darkens considerably, probing how far is too far when searching for retribution.

Where Hela really excels is in Izzard’s brilliant conception of a fully-fledged integrated bilingual play that displays a real creative ingenuity in the way it examines the role of language(s). Delyth Evans’ design cleverly facilitates this through Myfanwy (Alexa by any other name) as Izzard also explores the implications of Anglicising Welsh cultural identities with real interest and insight. It makes for a highly fascinating hour or so of drama.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Kirsten McTernan
The Story / Hela is booking in rep at Theatre503 until 18th January then tours to Ffwrnes, Llanelli; Arad Goch, Aberystwyth; Theatr Clwyd, Mold & Pontio, Bangor

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