Arts: Theatre: Clap if you believe in fairies

GAS STATION ANGEL ROYAL COURT THEATRE UPSTAIRS LONDON
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The Independent Culture
Ed Thomas, leading light of the Welsh theatre scene, believes in fairies and angels. And he's not ashamed to admit it. Thomas is no fool, though: he knows that a modern audience - especially an audience at a hip joint like the Royal Court - would scoff at any literal-minded attempt to represent a sprite, winged or otherwise, on stage.

Evocative though the title of his new play maybe, Gas Station Angel isn't about the life and times of Robin Goodfellow, elf pump attendant. A quartet of very 20th century-looking seraphs flit in and out, dressed in business suits with tiny blue wing markings etched on their shoulders, solemnly holding up black umbrellas.

But like the throbbing soundtrack they're more for decorative affect than anything. Thomas tries to suggest another world by abstract means, on an empty stage, a world which may be solely a figment of the human imagination, or simply a convenient metaphor, or even a joke.

Unfortunately, he overburdens both his able cast and his audience with the task of making sense of the play's all-pervading ambiguities. The piece probably contains more references to fairies and angels than Shakespeare's entire canon. The very first line is "I saw an angel" uttered by Ace, a young man with his head in the clouds and his heart set on the ethereal Bron. It's a perfect match (as Ace's constantly spooked-out, doddery mother, excellent Valmai Jones, informs him: "You were a baby made by fairies." ) together they are going to leave the dreariness of Small Town behind them and drive "a blue tinted glass Marina 1800 TC into the heart of Saturday night". The only obstacle is the past - the two come with some heavy emotional baggage, which we watch being stacked up, and finally jettisoned as the narrative loops back and forth in time.

Ace and his folks, have been driven over the edge by the imminent destruction of their cliff-top home through the combined forces of "a tantrum sea" and the local council. Bron meanwhile is missing her brother, Bri, the black sheep of the family that has not got over the shame of being blamed for the senseless slaughter of 24 new-born lambs.

The play's main problem is that for all their dreams of flight, Ace and Bron never stand out from the rest of the crazy-talking town. Simon Gregor steals the show as both a gruff pub landlord (a sort of Welsh Begbie) and a frustrated checkout assistant who wails "Let me get pregnant by the spunk of a fairy!".

Thomas can write dialogue that is sometimes as excruciating in its whimsy as that of another Thomas, Dylan. But there are times when you hear something funny, stirring, and original. Better luck next time.

Royal Court Theatre upstairs, at the Ambassadors. (0171-565 5000) to 27 June. This review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper

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