Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Mon 7 Nov

To those who are less than accustomed to the drama school ritual of rehearsed readings, it may seem like a bit of a cop out when actors keep their scripts in hand. Like a Michelin-starred chef dishing out cookie dough or an estate agent selling you a brick, this style of drama is arguably of little interest to those not involved in the creative development of a work. Indeed, to these doubters, scripts delivered still in flat-pack format can seem like the theatrical equivalent of buying furniture from Ikea.

But in Dumbwise theatre’s reading of Tortoise, the incorporation of this mode of performance didn’t just manage to adequately present the narrative; rather, it actually worked to enhance the themes within Neil Bebber’s play. As a group of young people navigated their relationships following the death of the man who linked them, their throwaway comments were literally thrown away in a dramatic technique which provided new insights into how we treat language.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this work is that it highlighted how the things we say in real life aren’t actually scripted. As a result, surrounding this tale of loss within a family there is a core paradox: here is a show that is shameless about its artifice but which delivers a raw and realistic message centred around the decisions we choose to make. Crucially, this experimental presentation of Tortoise shows us that reality isn’t always best delivered through realism.

And so as the used pages float to the floor, moving away from their characters like the disposable words that precede them, the status of language is visually interrogated. There is a definite freshness here and one gets the sense of finality – that once the lines have been said there is no more rewriting. In bringing a new sense of creativity to a prejudged style of presentation, director John Ward arms us with the refreshing view that bringing a script to life doesn’t necessarily have to mean taking it off the page.


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