John Gross reviewJohn Gross of the Sunday Telegraph reviews Cardiff East, Cottesloe. 22 February 1997
The subject of Peter Gill's Cardiff East, at the Cottesloe Theatre, is the community of the title — a community (as he presents it) assailed by unemployment and other contemporary ills, marooned by motorways and urban blight, increasingly cut off from its own traditions and inner strengths.
In the first half characters scurry across an open space like figures in an L. S. Lowry painting; then we focus first on this group, then on that, sometimes on two groups simultaneously, while the rest of the cast sit listening on chairs lined up at the back of the stage. It takes time to work out all the various interrelationships, but there is a good deal of racy, colloquial energy in the dialogue, and the individual mini-dramas are often moving and affecting — the angry married couple heading for disaster, for instance (Melanie Hill and Mark Lewis Jones), or the bereaved mother (June Watson) agonising over her mixed-up surviving son (Andrew Howard).
In the second half we get more of the same, but there is also a shift of emphasis. First there's a round of general conversation, which starts sounding less and less like real talk between neighbours and more and more like a sociology seminar. Then the character of Michael (Kenneth Cranham) begins to take over, and treats us to what are much the longest speeches in the play.
Michael is an ex-Catholic priest who has lost his faith and who is sick at heart with the world as he sees it. As the portrait of a depressive who happens to be clear-sighted about some things and profoundly wrong about others, the character would have its interest, even its appeal; but as it is, there is nothing to suggest that Gill (who also directs) doesn't share Michael's "anger and grief" and endorse the general tenor of his speeches - speeches which are fairly summed up by a poisonous little phrase about millions of Russians in the Second World War dying in order to bring about the "thousand-year Reich of American consumerism". Even by the standards of the National Theatre, that is surely pushing things a bit far.
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