THEATRE / Lunar sea: Jeffrey Wainwright on Theatr Clwyd's Full Moon

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The Independent Culture
The scene is Bethesda, and above the slate quarry, angels are ascending and descending. A young boy spitting blood into a piss-pot rises from his death-bed to climb upwards until his snowy nightshirt is enfolded in an angel's massive wings. Like Jacob, the hero wrestles all night with an angel. But he is not blessed.

There are indeed few blessings in the sublunary world of Caradog Prichard's Full Moon. His 1961 novel, translated from the Welsh by Philip Mitchell and adapted for this premiere production by the directors Helena Kaut-Howson and John A Owen, recalls the North Wales town in the early part of the century. It is marked by the labour of the quarry, by the Great War, fierce religion, its isolation and the personal torments and repressions these produce. However the play can be funny, too, in its glimpses of juvenile sexuality and in a wittily-staged boxing match between the local hero and a South Walian champion - an oblique parody of Jacob's epic encounter.

But the fond recollections of pastoral are only a fleeting feature. There is none of the whimsy of Dylan Thomas' Captain Cat and Polly Garter here, nor the controlled bitter- sweetness of Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa. Like the latter piece, Full Moon has an adult narrator revisiting his childhood, but the unnamed Man, hauntingly played by Jon Strickland, is not reminiscing so much as suffering the criminal's agonised revisitation, physically racked with the pain of recall as he shadows his boyhood self.

Hearth and table are places where men and women draw knives against each other and then plunge into pumping, mechanical sex. The dark extension of the boys' voyeuristic glimpsing of girls' drawers is the upright schoolmaster's abuse of his pupils. There is suicide and there is madness.

Madness is what comes to dominate the action. The moon of the title, reflected in the black lake, is a presence which promises the hero surer transcendence and oblivion than the suffering but threatening figure of Christ on the cross which also looms above. But as the Boy's widowed mother descends into insanity and is consigned to an asylum, the moon assumes harrowing connotations. These scenes, where the Boy pulls his mother from the lake and leaves the asylum with her clothes and ring, are powerfully played by Simon Gregor and Betsan Llwyd.

This second half is distinctly stronger. Earlier, the depiction of this world and the diffused narrative are not always clearly carried as the novel's stream of consciousness is translated to the stage. For instance, the crucial significance of the split between church and chapel and the immediate history of labour conflict are obscure and the swirl of action somewhat repetitive until the main plot takes proper hold.

Nevertheless the shift between scenes and characters is skilfully contrived by the direction and by Nick Beadle's interpretative lighting. Glyn Pritchard, a sinewy, mettlesome actor, animates several roles from the boxer to the invalid boy with memorable force.

This is another adventurous production from Theatr Clwyd. Clearly Prichard's novel is a major work in which the stony angels of graveyards take wing over the stark town. Its resurrection on this stage is hugely welcome.

'Full Moon': at Theatr Clwyd, Mold, North Wales, until 4 December (Box office: 0352 755114)