Brighton Fringe 2018
Steve Elias directs Christine Kempell in a revival of the 2004 solo play about Dylan Thomas’ fiery relationship with his wife as told from her perspective. This is a meticulously choreographed and committed performance depicting an ugly marriage fuelled by booze and littered with infidelity – a driven and polished performance that grabs the audience and drags them through the mire of an ugly, booze-fuelled and abusive marriage offering an insight into the indulgent self destructive genius of Dylan Thomas and the frustration and anger of Caitlin Thomas as her own ambitions are thwarted.
Caitlin Thomas (nee Macnamara) said of herself “chances are that if you’ve heard of me, it’s because I married him” – her own career as a dancer abandoned to support Dylan Thomas and produce three children. A drunk and a letch, he died at the age of 39, the doctor recording on the death certificate that he died of “an insult to the brain”… Described by his biographer as “The finest lyric poet since Keats”, Thomas “created a legend and then lived up to it”, ultimately destroyed by his self-indulgence. But not Caitlin. A survivor, she moved on, out and away to Rome, living a full life, finally dying in Sicily at the age of 80. But his hold on her remained – after living half her life in Italy, she chose to be buried next to Dylan in Laugharme, the village she described as a “permanently festering wound”.
Finally sober, in an interview in 1977 Caitlin described life without “booze and men” as “dull”. Perhaps this is why Mike Kenny’s play only deals with the years she spent with Dylan, but it seems ironic that a central character bemoans an existence entirely owed to her famous husband for the play to then ignore the life that she lived beyond. That said, this performance is far from dull. Both partners come across as unsympathetic in the bohemian debauchery and alcoholic brawling and the actor is seriously challenged to make us care enough to stay to the end, but performer Christine Kempell gives her all. A highly charged, hugely energized and utterly committed performance with no stone left unturned. Her vocal range, characterisation and movement are impeccable. As she glides across the stage with grace that denies the booze, Caitlin’s former life as a dancer is entirely believable. Combatting an expositional text, director Steve Elias uses the small stage at the Rialto imaginatively. Every corner is utilised as Kempell roams, strides, crawls and dances across the stage, over chairs and tables, using a simple shawl to represent multiple props. At times, this meticulously choreographed movement can be distracting, but maybe, as the show settles, actor and director will feel less need to show and tell. But nothing should distract from the assurance, detail and sheer hard work of a composite professional performer giving everything to a role.
No need for knowledge of the subject matter is required to appreciate the work here, and it is always great to leave the theatre feeling you have learned something and to appreciate the lives of those less celebrated than their more famous partners. They have a story to tell too. Highly Recommended.