Small Change, Donmar Warehouse, London
Adapting a Mary McCarthy title, Gill's 1976 play could be dubbed Memoirs of a Catholic Boyhood: it looks back, with some anger, to the destruction of a close-knit, postwar Cardiff community and to the fracture of a boyhood relationship. At first, much of the action, seen through the mature eyes of sickly, sensitive Gerard, focuses on sons and mothers. Gerard and his mum exist in a state of prickly, emotional dependence that instantly recalls DH Lawrence. Next door, Vincent has an equally problematic time with a slightly posher mother who, cut off from this Catholic Labour world, is always close to breakdown. But, as we eventually discover, the lasting hurt derives from something unfulfilled in the intense companionship between the two boys.
Gill's most radical device is to apply the kind of temporal fluidity we associate with the cinema of Resnais and Antonioni to Welsh working-class life: the action moves between adult present and boyhood past with seamless ease. And, even though Gill is dealing with a tribal culture, his gift of total recall taps into collective memory. As Gerard described a "bowling green fielding old men with flannels and cream jackets and rubber overshoes", I was back in my own small-town Midlands world. Occasionally, Gerard's narrative links lapse into self-conscious lyricism, but throughout there is a sense that the broken sexual bond between himself and Vincent is echoed in the fragmentation of the community.
With only four actors, four chairs and a raked platform, Gill's production beautifully conjures up a world of lost passion. Matt Ryan's Gerard is neatly contrasted with Luke Evans's more solidly rooted Vincent; it is significant, however, that the latter's solitary tattoo, as a merchant seaman, bore the imprint "Mum". Sue Johnston also lends Gerard's mother a wonderful beaky, querulous resilience that leads her to proclaim, in her final years, "I don't want to die, I want to take part", while Lindsey Coulson conveys all the quiet, pinafored despair of her child-ridden neighbour, tethered to an unseen brute. Fathers are, however, peripheral in this bruising, poignant play filled with the remembered pain of sons and lovers.