EVERYTHING MUST GO
Sherman Theatre, Cardiff/touring
Opened 1 March, 2000

I had prepared a clutch of Manic Street Preachers puns, but author Patrick Jones elder brother of that band's prime mover Nicky Wire anticipated matters by incorporating a raft of titles and lyrics himself; in fact, one of the principal characters converses entirely, except for a couple of scenes, in quotations from lyrics. The play itself, first seen at the Sherman last year and now embarking on a national tour, is credited to Jones "in association with" the Manics.

Jones's writing contains something to irritate almost everyone, but this play is principally an articulate, insightful portrait of the dispossessed youth of the Welsh valleys, and is given a vibrant production by Phil Clark and his cast that irons out many of the minor irks in the script. It would be nice, though, if every so often Jones turned the Celtic fire control down to a mere twelve or so. These two and a half hours are full of tirades, both in character and straight to the audience, about how "They" and/or "You" (with audible capital letters) alternately betray and ignore the youth, so that they have nothing left to them but theft, joyriding and smack. In the second half of the play, lead character A (an assured, magnetic performance by Russell Gomer, although one can't help suspecting that "A" may stand for "Authorial Surrogate" or "Alter Ego") finally takes his revenge by confronting the factory manager who sacked his father; by this stage, one of A's quartet of friends has already turned blue and another mutilated herself into a coma.

The shade of Aneurin Bevan looms large over the proceedings, with a scene set by the hilltop monument to him and a series of monologues about the "five great evils": Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. Unfortunately for Jones, this was the coinage not of the Welsh Socialist Bevan, but of the Scots Liberal Beveridge; however, this fact does not interfere with his and his characters' rhetoric. Indeed, it becomes apparent that Jones prefers polemic to drama as each of his characters steps out of persona to deliver their set-piece (most jarring in the case of Andrew Lennon's simple-minded Jim). But Clark keeps the energy of both performance and presentation high, with sudden klaxon-cued scene changes and a soundtrack by the usual Welsh suspects the Manics, Catatonia, Stereophonics and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. Jones's play is far from perfect, but at a time when regional theatres are being heavied to increase the "accessibility" of their bills, Everything Must Go does the job admirably whilst rightly spurning the kind of vapid spectacle which seems to be implicitly being encouraged towards this end.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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