A play about the stories we tell ourselves
It’s been 13 years since Gary Owen’s breakthrough hit, Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco, premiered at Chapter Cardiff. It was met with high acclaim and launched Gary Owen on an award littered trajectory that would spawn such theatrical hits as The Shadow of a Boy and The Drowned World. Now picked up by Waking Exploits theatre company, Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco returns to Wales, where it all began.
From the offset, it’s clear that director Matt Ball has put his stamp on this with a minimalist stage design stripped of all unnecessary props. As the audience’s murmurs hush into silence, the stage lights turn on and three men stare out at us; Gary, Mathew and Russell. One after the other, each character recalls their story, rarely relying on anything other than their words to portray their circumstances. Without the influence of backdrops and full sets we are forced to see the world through the character’s eyes. When Gary marches towards us, screaming about karaoke, we have nothing else to look at- it’s just him and us- and that’s how it begins.
Gary is a bully who brags about the violent deeds he enacts on other men. His victims are defined- in Gary’s terms- as weak, posh and four-eyed; everything he is not. When he refers to school his eyes glaze over with nostalgia for the good old days. Gary is the worst type of bully, he understands the psychology of dominance and he loves watching men squirm under his gaze of masculinity. But Gary’s story is a façade. His self-constructed world bursts at the seams with Gary’s real problems. He wants to be loved; a clichéd trope which could possibly have led the play into all-to familiar territory, but in the able performance of Jordan Bernade, it becomes an engaging feature, always present underneath his words but never explicitly stated. A chance encounter with the girl of his dreams thrusts Gary into a verbal frenzy as he wrestles with the vocabulary he has to hand to recollect the incident. Here we see deep universal feelings burst through in analogies of cold pints and fist fights. But Gary only lets his guard down for a few fleeting minutes. In a move that is perhaps slightly heavy handed, it is revealed that Gary has a fear of crying; a character defining flaw which is maybe too conveniently symbolic for an otherwise organic character.
From Gary we move onto Mathew; a soft-spoken man whose unnerving story is punctuated by karaoke(think‘Only God Forgives’ but with Frank Spencer instead of Ryan Gosling). For all his niceties Mathew is just as deluded as Gary. His sole purpose is to serve God and sing Karaoke. He is talentless and yet remains stunned by the fact he hasn’t yet “made it”. Yet there is a deeper level of delusion operating in Mathew; his naïve outlook is stretched to its limit as he recalls his sinister story of dark deeds and confrontations. Visual cues spill out onto screens in the foreground (tellingly out of view of the character), adding a menacing shadow to Mathew’s sugar-coated words. These projected images, of mouthfuls of blood and milk spilling down chins, were there during Gary’s explosive outbursts. The same repressed emotion that defines Gary lies bubbling under Matthew.
The final act is for Russell, a man stuck in a rut of a loveless relationship in a town that he despises. Beneath the banality of Russell’s life lies a secret that has come to define him; a dark secret that anchors him to his hometown. Sion Pritchard deserves a special mention for his performance as Russell. His character arc dramatically shifts from a relatable man who wants desperately to move out of the valleys, to something altogether unrecognizable. This transition is fairly rapid but Russell remains the most believable character out of the three. Again, recurring phrases and projections drill home the quite clear message, at this stage, that all three characters are fuelled by the same thing. The fact they are all male is no accident. Questions of masculinity plague all three characters. All three live in the same Welsh valleys town, a place stripped of its industry and influence over the world; what better place to ask questions of perceived male impotence.
Gary Owen’s script ties together the three stories with just the right amount of serendipity. Each story complements the other without it ever seeming contrived. There is perhaps an interesting social message to Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco. All three characters have been left on their own for too long and are in desperate need of help. Their delusions serve to blanket them from the harsh realities of the world. Whether they are outrunning commitment, love or a particular traumatic experience, it all ends the same. The worlds of Gary, Mathew and Russell are testament to the fact that while we inevitably make stories about ourselves, we ultimately have no say in what happens.
Images: Farrows Creative