Jermin Productions Presents: Children of Mine
By Charlie Hammond
At RWCMD, Cardiff, Tuesday 23th July.
The tagline for Children of Mine – ‘You Can’t Bury Sorrow’ – brings with it an implication that the disaster at Aberfan has largely been forgotten in recent cultural memory, and that the story of the 116 children and 28 adults who were suffocated by the collapse of an unstable coaling pit onto Pantglas Junior School needs to re-told. Whilst no one can deny the importance of the disaster the production as a whole does little to question the events of Aberfan; its choice to focus more on the grief and despair of the event falls flat against a missed opportunity to investigate issues of social responsibility, accountability, and whether or not a price can be put upon a child, a figure the National Coal Board placed at £500 per head for each of the deceased.
For youth theatre productions there is obviously a different level of expectations to be considered. But, Jemin Productions clearly bills itself with a high degree of professionalism, using a well-trained and talented cast as well as taking the show up to the Edinburgh Fringe. As such, it is important to consider the show on the professional terms Mark Jermin himself has set, which struggles not in terms of its acting but in its theatrical approach.
The core of the show originally began in 1988 in Mark Jermin’s one-man show Aberfan, and, no doubt, this re-configuration is a very different show than its original. Now staged with a cast of 9 Welsh young actors, Mark Jermin’s script set itself up as being a walkthrough of the 24 hours of the event, but, given the nature of a 50 minute production, the show lacks any real focus and pace. The narrative of the show is very fragmented; the chorus segments and physical sequences used are overhanded and distract the production from the main narrative of the families at the heart of Aberfan. While it is understandable that a show of this kind is important in order to demonstrate the talent of up and coming young actors, it felt a shame to see such potential buffeted by script that could have pushed its performers further by engaging with the issues better, and the production ended up feeling more like a showcase for its performers than a vehicle for an important story.
The performers themselves were exemplary throughout, especially for such young ages, and were at their best when they were acting in smaller scenes rather than a larger whole. Siôn Davies performance as the postman who acts as an intermediary between the audience and the families of Aberfan had some nice moments, and the everyday rapport made a good contrast to the upcoming bleakness. More of the before and after effects of the disaster could have been further developed though the device of the postman, perhaps, as it felt as if the character should have been made more of a centering device throughout the show rather than just in the middle section. Abbey Roderick as the single mother of a delinquent child also gave a strong performance. Her moments of grief were played at the right tone so as not to be too outspoken, giving a far more relatable and truer character representation. All in all, these are certainly a group of young actors to keep an eye on.
The set consisted of towering ladders for each of the coal tips, and these were used very powerfully to demonstrate the claustrophobic feel of being in Aberfan. In the opening of the play they gave a strong sense of the physical connection that the landscape must have had upon the residents of the village, and were transformed later for other uses such as a stretcher, and, if the show continues to progress through another restaging, it would be interesting to see if this could be pushed further.
The production has faced some controversy, with residents of Aberfan accusing the show as having a level of exploitation of the disaster and being disconnected from the village itself. You can see why Jermin has pushed on with the show against calls to have it cancelled, as the performers are talented and deserve recognition for their work. But the show does lack from research – a lot of the emotional outbursts are at odds with the surreal normality and shock that the initial interviews with the residents show. Obviously it is difficult for a young acting group to spend an extended time in development, but, for such a delicate matter such as Aberfan, an in depth and well-informed approach is needed. It is not a case of the events being too raw to be retold but of the manner of the retelling itself, which fails to provoke its audience into re-examining the events of Aberfan. Children of Mine suffers because it doesn’t achieve what is needed for the story of Aberfan, which is not just a display of their anguish but a questioning of why they suffered, of the nature of harsh industries, of corporate responsibility, and of guilt.
Children of Mine is touring to the Edinburgh Fringe festival at Venue 13, Lochend Close, Canongate, 3rd – 24th August (excluding 12th August), at 2.45pm.
Edinburgh Festival info: http://www.venue13.com/production/children-of-mine/
Production info: http://www.markjermin.co.uk/productions/index.htm
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