THE WELSH BOY
by Julian Mitchell adapted from The True Anti-Pamela by James Parry.
Ustinov Studio To 13 October 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 27 Sept 7.30pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 01225 448844.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 September.
You don’t have not to be a Pamela to enjoy this sparkling show.
Over the last year, under artistic director Laurence Boswell, Bath’s Ustinov Studio (part of the Theatre Royal operation) has seen a rare wealth of unfamiliar classical and modern plays, this autumn bringing three ‘transformations’ of non-dramatic originals.
Julian Mitchell’s wry piece has old and obscure origins in James Parry’s 18th-century memoir, its title referring to Samuel Richardson’s 1740 Pamela: or Virtue Rewarded, a sensationally successful novel mocked by many, including Henry Fielding (in Shamela and Joseph Andrews) and Eliza Haywood in The Anti-Pamela. Parry’s 1741 memoir recounts his life as a young organist and music-teacher in Ross-on-Wye who falls in love with local heiress Mary Powell, a passion reciprocated in a clandestine relationship under the eyes of Mary’s pipe-smoking, money-lending mother.
It’s a fascinating picture of youthful emotions thanks to the skill of writing, production and acting. Mitchell early on suggests Mary is 15 (Pamela’s age), focusing on her mix of childhood emotional naivety with growing adulthood caution, awareness of social position and fear of pregnancy – all admirably caught by Peta Cornish.
Until the interval, Parry has his way as narrator, addressing us and presenting various minor characters, finely delineated by Rhiannon Oliver, and, especially, Ed Birch as an intellectual snob, drunken bully and outright booby.
Then Mary begins adding her perspective to the commentary, while Sion Daniel Young’s Parry, with cherubic voice and optimistic features, faces setbacks. Mitchell gives just enough space to each aspect of the relationship, while rounding-out the story of Mary’s mother (Geraldine Alexander staring quizzically at everything outside her immediate understanding, before building a sense of authority).
Matthew Lloyd’s production has a lightness matching the humour without detracting from the serious impact of events on the young people, while Ti Green’s set allows fluid action and gives a sense of space to the Ustinov stage.
James Parry: Sion Daniel Young.
Mary Powell: Peta Cornish.
Elizabeth Powell: Geraldine Alexander.
Doomsday/Matthew Powell/Dicky Jeffries/Ambrose/Seys: Ed Birch.
Mrs Jefferies/Betty Fisher/Dolly Dew: Rhiannon Oliver.
Director: Matthew Lloyd.
Designer/Costume: Tri Green.
Lighting: Ben Ormerod.
Sound/Composer: Jon Nicholls.
Associate costume: Katie Lias.