Omnibus Theatre – until 2 Oct
First presented at the Royal Court in 1976 and last seen in London in a starry 2008 revival directed by the author, Peter Gill’s knotty, elegiac text is a dense, tense jumble of memory play, kitchen sink drama, poetry and gay love story. Dipping back and forth in time between the mid 1950s and the mid 1970s in working class Cardiff, it still packs a powerful punch as it raises questions of where do you come from versus where you are now, and what it emotionally cost you to get there. In it’s uncomfortable meditations on the holds mothers have over their sons, Small Change is sometimes redolent of a Welsh accented take on D H Lawrence’s Sons And Lovers, while the intriguing device of replaying the same scenes with different emphases and perspectives presages Nick Payne’s work on the internationally acclaimed Constellations.
The simultaneous sense of claustrophobia while longing for the wider world informs much of the play, and the casual cruelty that occasionally breaks through innocuous family exchanges rings true and painful. Much of the writing is extraordinary, although a late scene lurch into psychobabble and gay longing between the two men, boyhood friends now reunited after a long absence from a city they now barely recognise, feels clumsy and a little implausible, despite the brilliance of the acting.
It is hard to imagine a better version than George Richmond-Scott’s delicate but muscular revival, which, perhaps surprisingly, manages a more vivid theatricality and sense of time and place than Gill’s own Donmar staging thirteen years ago which, despite a higher profile cast, wasn’t as well acted as this one. As the two boys, then young men, in thrall to their surroundings, their mothers and each other, Andy Rush and Toby Gordon deliver beautifully detailed, vital, moving work. Sioned Jones is terrific -warm but steely- as a Welsh matriarch as capable of implacable stubbornness as she is of great kindness. Tameka Mortimer is very affecting as another working class mother suffering in not-quite silence at a time when mental health wasn’t as openly talked about as it is now.
The quartet of actors seldom leave the stage, as though bearing witness or silently commenting on the intimate action unfolding within Liam Bunster’s endlessly flexible set of rust coloured beams, which evokes at times a gladiatorial combat ring, at others an art installation, even a climbing frame. The near constant use of movement (Rachel Wise, excellent work) is outstanding and makes the moments of stillness all the more potent. The contributions of Ali Hunter (lighting) and especially Lex Kosanke (sound) are also invaluable to this hugely accomplished, atmospheric rendering that brings clarity and passion to what can be a tricky text. Highly recommended.