"Wales? I thought that was a town in England"
Raise your hand if you're from Wales and an American has said that to you...
One of Chris Harris' spot on observations about being Welsh, and the world and Welsh in the world in 'Golf Course War Machine'. The play follows Pippa, a 24-year-old from Tredegar staging a one woman protest on a roundabout in Newport.
It's 2014 and the eyes of the world are on that roundabout, or at least just up the road from it, as the NATO summit is in Wales, and the leaders of the free world are assembled in the Celtic Manor hotel.
Pippa starts to tell her story. She may be hungover, slightly relying on Wikipedia and waiting for the rest of the protest to join her, but she's not going to let the opportunity to make her voice heard and put Wales on the map. So waving a Welsh flag at Obama's helicopter will be her Tiananmen Square.
Harris expertly weaves his political commentary expertly with storytelling that reveals slowly the events that brought Pippa to this point. From her Mother’s questionable Boyfriend choices, being ‘the first’ to do A Levels, and a sense of wondering where she belongs in the world.
Harris touches on ideas of Welsh identity and Welsh working class experiences. As Pippa describes the streets she walks to get home, a vivid picture of the look and feel of the Valleys and the people who live in them. Pippa is someone tied to her community, but also longing to escape, to be something different. She feels different, but also as if she is nothing special. In being ‘the first’ to get A Levels she’s told she’s something special, but looking out at the world feels anything but. Pippa goes out into the world and feels unique, something different and loves that feeling of specialness she finds elsewhere. And yet she still finds herself back home. Looking to escape perhaps, looking to define herself but not yet finding her way. There is a constant battle at work, something familiar to many young people- being a part of where you’re from, feeling a part of the place that made you, and a longing to break free. For Pippa, the moment NATO descends feels momentous, a point at which the larger world collides with her own, and a chance to make her mark. And this creates a great analogy in Harris’ skilfully woven narrative, the places that make you, and how to make your mark on the wider world.
It’s a big ask of an actor and Melanie Stevens rises to the challenge expertly. A natural storyteller, she weaves the tale of Pippa from Tradegar to China and back again, she also brings to life with ease a plethora of characters who are all individual and yet people we all know- our Welsh Mothers, the dependable friend, the slightly bad influence friend and the boyfriend who breaks a heart. These are brought to life by Stevens while never losing focus on Pippa’s story. She also works the intimate space expertly, locking eyes with audience members, conveying the intensity and urgency of Pippa’s narrative. She also directs the audience fearlessly, from addressing individuals, telling the story personally to them, to getting the entire audience to hold hands or close their eyes. Stevens offers a funny and engaging performance from a skilled and talented actor.
It's an odd thing when the eyes of the world are suddenly on your corner of it. In 2014 for a moment the whole world knew where Wales was and it felt like a moment to have something to say. Watching Chris Harris' politically charged and identity charged piece as voters in America go to the polls in the most important election in living memory, this feels even more pertinent. The idea of standing up, for what you believe in, for yourself, for your country, being a fitting sentiment for yet another moment of political change.
Golf Course War Machine is a skilfully written and performed piece of theatre, that is as fitting and political a work in 2016 as its 2014 setting. Performed in the intimate setting of AJ’s coffee shop, No Boundaries Theatre are giving a voice to new talent and strong ideas. They are a company to wathc in Cardiff and beyond.
No Boundries Theatre can be found on Facebook and Twitter @noboundariescdf
ClockTower Theatre Co continues their season with Secured by Tobais Weatherburn in December.