This isn’t the first time Parallel Lines has played in front of an audience in Cardiff. Katherine Chandler’s first iteration of the play was a critical success back in 2013, winning her the inaugural Wales Drama Award and putting Dirty Protest on the map. This updated version, rewritten by Chandler, doesn’t just build over an existing foundation, though. Director Catherine Paskell has torn it all down, started over and rebuilt it in the Dirty Protest image.
Scale is the key difference. Set design was a crucial part of the 2013 production, but it’s almost non-existent here. In what is fast becoming a Dirty Protest trademark, only a desk and several chairs sit on the stage, moved and manipulated by the actors for their needs. To leave the stage so empty is a courageous decision from Paskell, but she pulls it off. With nowhere else to look, the focus remains on what is a superbly written, superbly performed play.
Sadly, the story is as relevant now as it was two years ago – working-class schoolgirl Steph accuses her middle-class teacher Simon of sexual assault, leaving both families in disarray and exposing the extent to which class and power affect truth. Chandler’s script is scathingly funny but the play is best when at its most intense, with the four actors giving exceptional performances.
Top of that list is Lowri Palfrey as Steph. Playing the character at the centre of this emotional four-hander comes with a lot of responsibility, and she handles it sensationally. Palfrey has tremendous stage presence, occupying the space with confidence and gravitas. Her three co-stars are excellent too, of course, but Parallel Lines works only if Steph works. And, thanks to Paskell’s direction, the young actress makes sure of that.
In 2013, Parallel Lines was Dirty Protest announcing that it was as capable of producing a full-length play as it was of producing stripped-back scratch nights. In 2015, Dirty Protest have proven they can tell a ninety-minute story in that stripped-back style. It’s the assured decisions of a company at the top of its game.