New writing – good new writing – has always been at the forefront of Sherman Cymru’s work, and the charming Play-Pie-Pint concept is a great example of this. Come for the meal, stay for the drama. It doesn’t get any simpler and, as evidenced from Mr and Mrs Laughton, it doesn’t get any better.
Telling the story of Charles and Elsa Laughton, one of the most famous Hollywood couples of the 1930s, this short one-act play is a beautifully realised study on relationships and the human condition. As much as it is about their turbulent marriage, the play also seeks to understand what keeps people in a state of unhappiness – he as a closet homosexual, she as the repressed and neglected wife.
While the subject matter is of course rather sombre, Michael-Alan Read’s excellent decision to tell the story in flashback gives the play the tenderness and humour it may otherwise have lacked. Expressing nostalgia on paper is no easy feat, but Read does it brilliantly. Just as difficult is expressing it convincingly on stage, but the play benefits from two incredible performances. Both Abigail McGibbon and Steven McNicoll have great presence and a wonderful chemistry. McGibbon, in particular, demonstrates a superb grasp of the text – while Charles may be the big Hollywood actor with the big booming voice, Elsa is the one in control with her measured tone.
The piece is held together by an excellent directorial effort from Gethin Evans. The Sherman’s Associate Director shows great proficiency in his role, not over-complicating things and letting the actors take centre-stage. Tension is built up with an ominous background score, but it never overshadows what is happening on the stage. A good director knows when not to interfere, and Evans is a very good director.
A Play, A Pie and a Pint is, of course, great marketing. If the promise of a pie and a beer helps gets people into the theatre, it can only be a good thing. But the fact of the matter is that, as long as they continue to produce pieces like Mr and Mrs Laughton, those people will continue to come and stay. This is a wonderful piece of theatre that leaves the audience wanting more, a clear sign of success for Sherman Cymru.