Dominic Cooke's production is the first time Emlyn Williams' semi-autobiographical play has been seen in London for 35 years. The story of an inspirational teacher, Miss Lily Moffat, who arrives in rural North Wales, determined to help young local miners out of poverty by teaching them to read and write, much to the annoyance of the local squire. Lily soon spots talent in the unruly Morgan Evans and, despite the odds being stacked against her, she strives to give him the future his talent deserves.
The play is interesting, if not exceptional, but Dominic Cooke's production and Nicola Walker's central performance as Lily lift this show out of the ordinary. In place of a straight drama, Dominic Cooke's production presents us with Emlyn Williams himself trying to write the play, recalling events, acting as puppet master, re-winding and rewriting pieces of plot and teasing the story out of the characters and events he is creating, as if in real time. The ULTZ designed set follows this style, moving from an almost radio play starkness to full box set almost imperceptibly as the play progresses. The whole has a backdrop chorus of Welsh miners and Welsh songs which provide a beautiful underpinning to the dialogue in the way that only miners' voices can.
Whilst this thoughtful and innovative production style helps to lift the story off the page, the amount of intervention from the author/narrator can be a bit tiresome in the first half being slightly overplayed. None the less, this is clever theatre that really pulled me in.
Nicola Walker's central performance is delightful, providing us with an utterly credible central character on which to hand the story - which in this production is quite important so we don't lose ourselves in the production mechanics. This is not one of the angst-ridden characters tat Nicola's TV followers may be more used to - this is a driven, clever, thoughtful woman caught up in the success of others. I very much enjoyed watching this performance. Saffron Coomber's Bessie and Iwan Davies' Morgan are also extremely well drawn characters, both transforming over the play to honest adults. A large cast keep the play moving well, pace is always good and never overdone.
A really great evening of theatre