THEATRE: Break, My Heart / A Slag's Gig Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

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The Independent Culture
The major attraction in the Sherman Theatre's volley of lunch- time plays was the premiere of Break, My Heart by Arnold Wesker, directed by Michael Bogdanov. And, in a move to bring new theatre even to those who will not abandon their sofas, HTV Wales will be broadcasting this and the other plays in July.

Break, My Heart deals with a conflict between a man and his wife over her love of literature. Unfortunately, the fact that the play is "based on a true story" merely bears out the universal truth that while great drama must draw from real life, not everything drawn from real life makes great drama. The play offers no development either within or beyond the characters' stereotypes. Wife lingers longingly over Shakespeare, wife uses long words, husband is intimidated by her implied aspirations, gets angry, beats her up, repents, and is comforted by suckling at her breast. Repeat with slight variations, as if the author - worried that we might have missed something first time round - decided to send it round another lap. The End.

This might be perfectly acceptable if the play were an original and sharply- drawn study. Instead, it is a two-dimensional tale encrusted with cliche, a fragment from Educating Rita without the humour, the pathos or the depth. It seems to promise a lot but delivers nothing other than trite voyeurism on a kitchen-sink theme, as if Wesker has forgotten the practice of his own drama, producing a stultifying pastiche of himself. What poetry there is comes either from cribbed Shakespeare or from the Welsh accents of the actors (Maxine Evans and Dorien Thomas), which lend rolling melody both to Maeve's enflaming polysyllabic eloquence and Michael's brutish obscenity.

This kind of hackneyed material calls for little in the way of directorial flair, and Bogdanov's world-famous skills are hardly displayed on the best canvas, in a production that could have been staged by any half-competent student director.

Sera Moore-Williams's A Slag's Gig ventures into the same territory - women held back by the archaic attitudes of their menfolk - but casts the woman as the firebrand revolutionary in a liberationist parable, rather than as the eternal victim in a domestic perpetual motion machine.

Three musicians - Tap, Slag and Throwback (courtesy of the Jack Rosenthal School of Character Naming) - are preparing for an audition in the squalor, high spirits and higher tensions of the rehearsal room. As the riffs of snap-crackle-pop dialogue intersperse with lengthy (and often angry) silences, Slag (Lowri Mae) - repressed by the others' expectations and love of past musical styles - denounces her fellow band members and sets out to blaze her own path.

It makes for a very full half-hour. While balancing somewhere between Huis Clos and Spinal Tap, and launching an all-out assault on the male attitudes that Break, My Heart merely portrays without comment, A Slag's Gig also manages to cram in a fierce critique of the "heritage-isation" of Wales. It may not be quite as well articulated as one would like, but it both entertains and provokes. Which is, unfortunately, more than can be said for Break, My Heart. Toby O'Connor Morse

Broadcast dates for the Sherman's HTV Lunch-time plays: 27 June: `The Colour of Light' by Sheila Yeger 4 July: `Deathwrite' by Labi Siffre 11 July: `Learning the Language' by Geoff Moore 18 July: `Break, My Heart' by Arnold Wesker 25 July: `A Slag's Gig' by Sera Moore-Williams 1 August: `Sweet BA' by Anwen Huws