Building Jerusalem the Welsh way

THEATRE; Song from a Forgotten City Royal Court, London
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The Independent Culture
"Inside my head," proclaims the hero of Song from a Forgotten City (a head also often awash with chemicals), "there's a city of 2 or 3 million people. A Welsh city of opportunity." Outside his head, in so far as such a place can be said to exist in this work, there is Cardiff, capital of a country that only has 2 or 3 million people in toto, whose idea of a national tradition is the Eisteddfod and whose pantheon of heroes would be sorely reduced were Tom Jones and Harry Secombe ever to cop it in the same air crash. No letters, please: I'm merely reporting the view implied in Edward Thomas's zanily imaginative, often very funny play which takes us, via a spoof thriller premise, into its protagonist's weird, violent mental scenarios on a day when Wales has lost to England at rugby.

One of the refreshing things about this drama is its wild freedom from the kind of parochial humbuggery brilliantly satirised in Kingsley Amis's Swansea-set Old Devils. A character in the Amis remarks: "Do you know they have wrestling in Welsh now on that new channel? Same as in English oddly except the bugger counts un-dau-tri etc. Then the idiots can go round saying the viewing figures for Welsh language programmes have gone up. To four thousand and eleven." In Thomas's play, such satire collides with surrealism, as in the hero's account of the pub after the match, where the barman, freaked out by the first no-singing silence he's heard in 40 years on an international day, breaks all the glasses, slashes his wrists and dies, whereupon the customers calmly turn on the TV "to see the highlights in a language we didn't understand".

Beginning and ending with the sight of the bald, smiling corpse of the protagonist Carlyle (Dorien Thomas) standing upright like a statue with a gun in one hand and a row of faxed manuscript in the other, the play shows both his desperate need to make "connections" (a word much harped on) and his compulsion to blast them apart, a tendency that climaxes in his suicide. Thomas to a degree shares Carlyle's cultural aspirations. The fact that he makes this semi-surrogate a deluded smackhead whose garbled writings spew from a fax and who winds up topping himself is a measure of the self-debunking irony that aerates Song.

The loopy, dark humour is projected with tremendous chutzpah by the cast of three, with Richard Lynch and Russell Gomer versatilely playing the bell boy and night porter of the cod Hotel Angel where Carlyle fetches up, and all the other figments in his fantasy. Often the chaotic verbal comedy seems radio-inspired and it gets side-tracked into riffs of exuberant, eccentric irrelevance, as when the night porter talks of never sitting on toilet seats since the day he sat on one as a child and heard a cat purring down the bog. But in a work obsessed by "connecting", there is also a strange lattice-work of correspondences that seem too private for an assured interpretation. What's the link, say, between theepisode when a drug-confused Carlyle sodomises a friend who happens to be wearing his deceased lover's miniskirt, and the climactic account of his father falling down dead when discovered wearing his mother's clothes?

Search me. What you can say with certainty is that here is an arresting voice and that a more accurate title for this piece would be Songs for a Not Yet Invented City.

n To 10 June (box-office: 0171- 730 1745)

Paul Taylor