Clwyd Theatr Cymru

Aristocrats
Aristocrats
© Clwyd Theatr Cymru

Brian Friel returns yet again to the small town of Ballybeg, and as his characters talk and talk, the past and the present collide as reminiscences, which may or may not be true, will affect the future lives of the O'Donnell family.

Friel's writing is at times lyrical but can equally be spare and tough and he knows how to switch from pathos to comedy in a matter of words. He is a master storyteller and a fine playwright who can draw you into the complex lives of his characters, which can haunt you long after the curtain has come down.

He has been likened to Chekhov and in this tale of the old order crumbling, a group of people descending on the decaying family home and the examination of all these people whose lives have not turned out as expected, the ghost of the Russian dramatist stalks the stage.

The audience sits on three sides of a huge grassy mound scattered with furniture and a panorama of blue skies and white fluffy clouds. The set perhaps reflects the oddity of the family and suits the fantastical tales of all the famous people who have literally left their mark on the furniture, but ultimately the quirkiness of the setting becomes a distraction and an irritation.

The director Kate Wasserberg fills the stage with an array of vivid characters and constantly changing visual pictures. This is an ensemble piece and whilst all the performances are not of the same level, the director orchestrates the changes of mood with a good ear to the dialogue - both spoken and unspoken.

The company fields a strong cast of male actors, with Simon Holland Roberts in fiery form, Brendan Charleson observing the vagaries of the family with tact and compassion, and Kai Owen giving a warm performance as the good and likeable Willie Diver.

Christian Patterson gives a terrific performance as the son, Casimir, who is still an overgrown schoolboy; talkative, gullible and kindly, but with an underlying sadness.

At times the play is wordy and a couple of the performances fail to match the best. With some alarming wandering of accent in one instance, the play loses focus.

You need to listen and concentrate, but it is worth it as we come to know these flawed, moving, funny and real people. But when the acting and production are at their best, Aristocrats is a riveting piece of drama.

- Richard Woodward