Writer & Performer: Rhys Slade-Jones
Reviewer: Becca Savory Fuller
The Land of My Fathers… is presented as a work-in-progress production at Exeter’s newest performance space, The Bike Shed Theatre’s pop-up summer venue, The Boat Shed. So, how to review a piece that’s so clearly in an early stage of development? Lead-artist Rhys Slade-Jones forgets what’s coming next, trips over his props, loses his microphone and laughs in surprise at his own performance. It is far from polished. But, the Land of My Fathers… shows some warm moments of humour, striking imagery and appealing promise.
The year is 1977. An era of brown leather trousers and soft-focus camera angles. Boy meets girl, they walk together, they fall in love. Him: a handsome cowboy in cream jacket, arriving in a hazy cloud. Her: a giggly teenager, mad for horses. This is the Welsh Valleys as you’ve never seen them before. A fairy tale of simpler times, where boy-meets-girl-meets-horse; told in full polyester, with a menagerie of inflatable props.
Slade-Jones’ style is nearly impossible to pin down. It’s a deconstructed drag show, drawing on Vaudeville, autobiographical theatre and stand-up comedy. It is energetic, bold, with a high physical energy. There are some richly visual moments, and Slade-Jones certainly has the eye for an image on stage. The piece incorporates audio recordings and photos from his hometown too, and here the performance starts to tell a bigger story, bringing to life the sounds of the Rugby Club and voices of characters in this small Welsh valley community.
There is a lot more that Slade-Jones might explore in his own relationship to these characters – particularly since he tells us the story of his parents’ early courtship, but leaves himself mostly on the sidelines of the story, looking in. Themes of masculinity, femininity, and a strongly-gendered experience of life at the Rugby Club start to emerge but aren’t yet fully developed. Some moments verge on becoming poignant, even touching, but Slade-Jones is quick to undermine them with an ironic gaze that risks becoming mocking at points. There is a tension in this piece, which is still working out what it is and what it wants to say. But, with further development The Land of My Fathers… the production has the potential to become a striking, funny piece of autobiographical-drag-comedy-vaudeville-theatre. And, to carve out its unique genre at the same time.
Reviewed on 29 June 2017 | Image: Contributed