Set in 1950s and 1970s Cardiff, it tells the story of Gerard and Vincent, two boys growing to manhood and their search for reasons to explain how their lives have turned out.
Their relationships to each other and to their mothers, amidst the struggles to survive in post war Wales, are complex and difficult. Whether as carefree adolescents, loving but troublesome sons, bored, angry or frustrated young men, their story is one of lost opportunities and heartfelt, if ultimately, pointless rage.
Sioned Jones and Tameka Mortimer turn in fine performances as fierce Mrs Harte and frail Mrs Driscoll – capturing the claustrophobia, stoic resilience and the lurking tragedy of their lives. Their husbands never appear, but male power and violence – that “heavy big dark thing” – are never far away, as they cope every day with poverty, childcare and the drudgery of working class life in the 1950s. Religion is another part of their world, and a factor in the unfolding drama – but more of a problem than a comfort.
Andy Rush and Toby Gordon as Gerard and Vincent have a harder job to make sense of the characters and convey the passage of time. But they make the best of a script which can take off and land in unexpected places. And they give a convincing portrayal of how the energy and optimism of youth give way to the disappointments of adulthood. An added complication is the late reveal of their tentative sexual relationship as adolescents. Of course nothing came of it – perhaps the most telling expression of their unfulfilled lives.
The language is rich but the set is minimal. The cast make a little go a long way as large rectangles serve as windows and doors, pieces of furniture, playground swings, paths, trains and railways, and maybe even a crane. It works well because it does not distract from the text which requires close attention.
‘Small Change’ was written in 1976 and reflects the preoccupations of a time when class struggle was in the spotlight, masculinity and gender roles were becoming hot topics of discussion and homosexuality was largely hidden. That makes it an interesting historical piece. But these issues are as relevant today as they were then, so this a a timely revival of a play which has important things to say.
‘Small Change’ runs until 2 October in the Omnibus Theatre, 1 Clapham Common Northside, SW4 0QW
Tickets £16, £13 Concessions
For further information go to www.omnibus-clapham.org or call 0207 498 4699