EFR - Reviews of CHILDREN OF MINE

CHILDREN OF MINE

Sat 3rd – Sun 11th August 2013

reviews

James Cetkovski

at 09:01 on 5th Aug 2013

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At the end of ‘Children of Mine,’ with echoes of keening lamentations still ringing in the rafters and the impression of nine cherubic sixteen-year-old faces covered in coal dust muddied with fifty minutes worth of tears no doubt still fresh in her mind, the woman in front of me swiveled in her seat and asked if I was reviewing the play. I said I was. ‘I thought those children were phenomenal,’ she said. ‘Just phenomenal.’ She scrutinised my reaction. ‘But you don’t agree.’ Pause. ‘Interesting.’ I knew what she meant by ‘interesting’. By ‘interesting’ she meant ‘This callous and revolting husk of a human is going to poke holes in a drama about the death of 116 children because he thinks he’s clever.’

Well, not entirely—I do have some pretty positive things to say. There was nothing wrong with the execution of this play, and this was not an easy play to execute. The young cast had to deliver many of its lines in unison, to chant, to inhabit multiple characters of vastly different ages, to dance, to sing, and most of all to grieve and rage. To grieve and rage a lot. How difficult it must be for a teenager to portray the anguish of a single mother at the sudden death of her wayward son, to whom her last words were spoken in anger. My admiration for these actors is enormous.

But.

There are serious problems here, and they have to do with structure and the script. There’s a lot of narration in ‘Children of Mine,’ much of it delivered by the cast in eerie chorus, and much of it, sadly, is banal. In a play in which a primary school is cataclysmically buried in an avalanche of coal slurry it’s not really necessary to say: ‘No one was laughing in Aberfan that day. No one.’ Similarly: ‘It seemed to go on for hours.’ Surely a tragedy of this magnitude deserves better artistic justice than clichés? One nicely crafted scene had the actors, as children, evoking the ordinariness of the fateful day through a repetitive, rhythmic intoning of their mundane preparations for school: brush teeth, eat breakfast, kiss Ma, bag over the shoulder, & c. But playwright Mark Jermin didn’t trust his audience: ‘It was just an ordinary day in an ordinary village,’ he made his poor narrator, Captain Obvious, declare.

Banality extended to characterisation, which was in every case stock—the drunken coal miner and his suffering woman, the domineering mother and her craven husband, the enraptured newlyweds. Never did any of Jermin’s characters live as individuals; they existed solely as vehicles for the expression of the same grief and rage that suffused every moment of this drama. The sameness is the fundamental problem: there is no sense that that this catastrophe has affected a variety of individual experiences. The woman sitting in front of me wasn’t wrong—the actors were phenomenal—but in their performances, through no fault of their own, we lose the truth that everyone suffers differently.

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Shirley Halse

at 09:04 on 5th Aug 2013

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The question of how to tackle the tragedy of October 21st 1966 is difficult in any context. Creating a piece of theatre about what happened in Aberfan is a particularly hard task. As you enter the theatre, the sparse staging already helps set up a sombre mood. There are seven metal ladders, which, we are later told, represent the seven piles of colliery debris that fell on the school. This is an overwhelmingly sad show.

The opening of the play was very information heavy. The ensemble presented a kind of Wikipedia article about the Aberfan disaster in unison, which gave details about the event so those who don’t remember it, or much about it, were brought up to date. This was interspersed with sudden bursts of cheerful song to illustrate the clichéd version of Wales that everyone imagines – “we talk to our sheep”. This choice of contrasting elements – the cold, hard facts versus the idealised Wales – had a hugely unsettling effect. However, I did feel that this technique was somewhat overused and its power soon diminished. From time to time it seemed like the play was trying to tick all of the ‘theatre technique’ boxes in order to give itself some structure in which to narrate the disaster.

After the very factual beginning there was much effort to ‘humanise’ the disaster by showing the families of those involved before and after. Before the collapse, in a similar vein to the Porter in Macbeth or the Fool in King Lear, there was an attempt at humour (a trick used to make the worst parts seem even more tragic). Introducing the characters of the town revealed some potentially funny material, particularly the heightened physicality of a buxom woman and her hen-pecked husband who seemed a little bit like Roald Dahl characters. However, the subject matter was so bleak from the offset that it seemed painful to even try.

Much time was taken to depict the grief of the parents whose children had died. Especially considering that the cast were sixteen year olds, the portrayal of maternal and paternal suffering seemed surprisingly truthful. Abbey Roderick gave a particularly powerful performance as a mother of one of the dead children, a child who had been confidently sticking his middle finger up at the audience earlier in the show.

This is a play that, I think, is self-consciously aware of it’s own failure to articulate. The writer, Mark Jermin, tries to convey the struggle to put voice to sorrow but, as Tennyson wrote “words, like Nature, half reveal / And half conceal the Soul within”. The actual collapse and death is powerfully presented not in language, but as a dance.

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Comments

Fringe Newbie; 5th Aug 2013; 15:58:07

From the moment I entered the theatre and saw just 7 sets of ladders on the stage it was clear this was going to be a no frills production, something I was quite relieved about knowing the subject matter.

The opening of the play made me realise how little I knew about an event that occurred in the year I was born and that I found informative.

It must be said the play is unnerving to say the least but in view of the subject matter it was much prefered to trying to sugar coat it, that said there were some comedic parts to the play whilst intruduced to the 'locals' by the Postman, The 'Buxom' Mother and her Hen Pecked Husband reminded me of a couple I met on a holiday to Wales many years ago and the miner who liked a drink I am sure resonates with many who worked in that profession at the time.

We are however soon brought back to earth with a series of events depicted by the performers portraying the children singing hymns, followed by the rescuers and then as the grieving parents.

There were times that I was a little confused by the dance but then again that is not my forte and will never pretend to be a choreographer. It was clear from the review above that Shirley 'Got It'

The ages of the young actors must not be judged when deciding whether to see this play as their performances far exceeded expectations. There are many performers twice the age in the fringe who will aspire to reach the levels already achieved by these young actors. At times they performed in unison at others showed grief and emotion that I am sure they have not actually experienced yet in life, they clearly trust and believe in each other, there were no prima donnas here just a group of friends doing what they love and making the most of the opportunity in front of them.

For a change from the usual comedy and mayhem of the fringe I suggest taking in this production to bring you back to earth, I can understand some of the negativity of the above comments but would urge you to go and make your own mind up, had I seen the above reviews first I might not have gone to see this piece, however I am so glad I did. I am now off to Google Aberfan 1966 and learn more about an event I should know as much about as I do 9/11.

I feel the ratings above a little harsh and would be giving it a definate 4.

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