by Jeremy Kingston
The Times , March 18, 1997
This year's Four Corners season at the Donmar Warehouse has dropped a corner, but its three visiting companies are being given twice the amount of time, so that each production will run for two weeks, give or take a few previews. Number two in the threesome, a Declan Hughes play from Ireland, is an obvious candidate for inclusion, although the same cannot be said for the final one, David Eldridge's new play set in E13. West Enders may feel Barking to be just this side of the Siberian wastes, but the choice smacks of parochialism to me.
Nothing eccentric about the opening production, however: Badfinger is a blisteringly funny account of dreamers struggling for the big time, set in a junk shop in Wales. All right, this setting suggests Mamet's American Buffalo, as author Simon Harris is probably sick of hearing, and the bombast mouthed by some of his no-hopers adds to the similarity. But, in his first full-length play, Harris finds a subtle way of rooting his characters in their small-town environment, the Welshness emerging through rhythms of speech just occasionally emphasised by wild repetition. "We'll be lacerated! Gashed! Smashed to smithereens!" one cries when a moneylender's vengeance looms.
The programme notes include a luminous quotation from Paul Eluard: "There is another world, and it is in this one," the motto of every reformer, social or personal. Meyrick (Robert Blythe) dreams of turning the street-singer he finds outside a shopping mall into a star, but has to fend off the claims of would-be partners, a ludicrously deranged youth who will fling himself through the shop's window as a quick way in, and a Bible-chanting goon come to reclaim a debt.
This sinister villain (Rhodri Hugh) enters to a fortissimo burst of satanic music, in a red light, and a measure of Michael Sheen's assured staging is that the production accommodates such operatic touches. In scene changes, and to enhance the thrill of critical moments, the music growls, stutters and shrieks, so that the mood switchbacks between comedy and menace, just as Meyrick's self-confidence hurtles from peak to trough, with stretches of panicky misjudgment in between. He, Hugh and the rest of the cast play expertly together, with Rhys Ifans as a languidly desperate cadger, Richard Mylan the anxious window-burster and Jason Hughes the sweet-voiced but slow-witted waif.
Harris and Sheen are directors of Thin Language, the producing company working in association with Chepstow Films, their ambition being to develop the quantity of quality Welsh playwriting. Wales has always produced good actors, as Badfinger vividly demonstrates, and if Harris can build on this first work Thin Language could find itself enjoying a rich future.