It would be easy to create off this revival of Emlyn Williams’ semi-autobiographical drama as an instance of submit-lockdown “comfort theatre”. Initial executed in the West Stop in 1938, this tale of a proficient Welsh miner’s son and his inspirational trainer is laced with sentimentality and tweeness. There is even a lilting choir of singing miners whose presence seems orchestrated to tug at our thoughts. But if it is comfort and ease viewing, it is undeniably artful, affecting and massively entertaining.
At its centre is the impoverished, illiterate Morgan Evans (Iwan Davies), whose trainer, Pass up Moffat (Nicola Walker) gets him “over the wall” of his minimal horizons and all the way to Oxford College. Evans is a Billy Elliot of the Valleys, of kinds, even though the indomitable Pass up Moffat offers him classes in Greek and Latin alternatively of dance.
Williams’ story may perhaps be sentimentalised but is truly worth remembering as a social historical past of the much more unbendable days of British class privilege, and also of how generations of operating-class university small children broke by way of course obstacles thanks to a grammar-faculty education.
Dominic Cooke’s revival deploys a quirky theatrical unit in which the playwright, Williams (Gareth David-Lloyd), is a character on phase who is developing his tale before the audience. This product are not able to quite disguise the previous-fashioned nature of the story or dampen its sentimentality, but it provides intelligent humour and is beguiling in its have correct.
The drama begins with an initially empty phase in a self-acutely aware recreation of make-think, nevertheless Ultz’s set design and style little by little gathers its playfulness. There are Christopher Shutt’s crisp, hammy seem effects in lieu of props or set at the starting – creaking for nonexistent doors that open up as characters stage on to the stage the seem of a spoon in a china cup when a character drinks an invisible cup of tea. Actors in no way go away when they exit a scene but sit with their backs to the viewers on the phase floor.
Cooke’s route is supremely properly-paced and all of the performers have impeccable comic timing. Walker is pleasant to observe, both of those in her offended exchanges with the supercilious Squire (Rufus Wright, excellently doltish), which deliver sparky satire, and in her in the beginning brusque frame of mind to Davies’s sweet, laconic Evans.
Miss Moffat is a bold, bossy, self-proclaimed spinster with oodles of no-nonsense charm. “I have never ever spoken to any gentleman without having wanting to box his ears,” she suggests. She’s a Henry Higgins determine, but develops darker shades. There is a zealous target on the star student (she calls him “my little pit pony”) she is teaching for Oxford, but she sends the frustrated younger Bessie (Saffron Coomber, broodingly chic) to a lifetime of assistance, crafting her off as “one of my failures” simply because she does not excel in lessons.
Pass up Moffat has created a prospective for tyranny by the time a drunk Evans confronts her about her autocratic, unfeeling design of pedagogy. It is a shame that the participate in does not acquire this further, but promptly irons out the tension concerning them and returns to the very clear, basic narrative that Evans wishes to greater himself. Their bust-up has shown or else, and he speaks poignantly of his motivation not to be a bookish oddity in his muscular, functioning-class pit city, but to healthy in.
Our hearts do soar and soften, even though, as the gifted Evans navigates his way to a delighted ending, and there are charming, heat laughs along the way. This revival is a reminder that old stories, when they are good, remain that way, nonetheless riddled they are with nostalgia.