Omnibus Theatre, London – until 2 October 2021
Guest review: Diana Miranda
Both Barrels Theatre’s revival of Peter Gill’s 1976 Small Change looks back to postwar Cardiff through the eyes of two Catholic, working-class families. Gill’s narrative provides a layer of evocative lyricism scattered throughout the memories of two men, giving a poetic undertone to a realistic play.
We follow the story mainly through the eyes of Gerard (Andy Rush), who conjures the boyhood friendship between himself and next-door neighbour Vincent (Toby Gordon), and their fractured and fleeting sexual desire. The narration broadens the lens to focus on the boy’s relationship with their mothers, who take on the upbringing of the children as the father figures are an unseen force in the story. The men are crushing in their absence.
The cast contrast and balance each other. Rush’s strong performance leads the way, painting portraits of the two neighbouring families whose actions move between boyhood events and adult present. Occasionally, time shifts lack precision, but the transitions gain clarity thanks to Gerard’s delicate alternation between a sneaky kid to a withdrawn adult. Gerard is shy and even-tempered, whereas Vincent has a rough and slightly sour temper.
Tameka Mortimer, as Vincent’s mother, conveys the fidgety distress of an over-burdened young parent. She finds occasional comfort is conversations with Gerard’s mother (Sioned Jones), who doesn’t fail to offer cups of tea and incites an uplifting scene in which they both dance merrily. Jones, as Gerard’s mother, leads a resigned, insuffering life. She provides a comic display of whiny responses to Gerard’s stubbornness. However, when she comes face to face with her neighbour’s tragedy, her body language fills the room with heart-wrenching anguish.
Directed by George Richmond-Scott, the cast enhances the text’s rhetoric by manipulating two large benches and hollow doorways. Thanks to Liam Bunster’s abstract set and Rachel Wise’s movement direction, the actors’ broad movements give dynamism to a wordy play. The sound design provides a delicate but palpable uplift. Meanwhile, the lighting choices contribute to heightening the scenes, but feel somewhat odd in the shifts between evocative and realistic moments.
While the text lays out the characters’ frustration following a lost passion, the scenes avoid melodramatic grievances. Moments of emotional intensity – such as when both friends meet decades after their infant tragedy and are now leading new, somewhat unfulfilling lives – unfold as a raw yet sincere depiction of repressed emotions.
Both Barrels Theatre aims to produce work that reflects on what it means to be human and how we become the people we are. As such, this revival takes that journey, showing how images in the past are not entirely isolated, but intertwined in a maze of religion, family, work and obedience in a post-war community.
Small Change runs through 2nd October 2021.