Oddly enough, North by Northamptonshire doesn't spell 'bugger all' backwards, although that is roughly the message emitted by playwright Katherine Jakeways about small-town life. With a narrator helicoptering above the characters, whose innermost impulses are purportedly revealed, the drama is clearly begging to be compared to Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood, set in Llareggub with its famously mischievous spelling... in its dreams.
For while Thomas' dramatis personae, in all their disappointed, perverted, mixed-up reality are revealed in subliminal flashes and dreams, Jakeways' people bare all in daylight. Vomit, infertility, yawn-inducing pubescent fantasies and the loneliness of the middle-aged divorcee contemplating a Jane Austen box-set and a bag of chocolate raisins are variously presented for our consumption. It is at once too much information and not enough. Everything is regurgitated 9 to 5, leaving these characters with all the backstory of Teletubbies.
While Thomas had two narrators, one delineating conscious activity, the other overseeing the subterranean world of the psyche, here there is just one, the estimable Sheila Hancock. Poor Sheila Hancock, she sounds as if she doesn't know where to look. Her magisterial yet subtle inflexions are completely wasted as she introduces the supermarket manager (Mackenzie Crook), who jokes over the tannoy about vomit in the aisles, so she settles for a faintly reproving note. Penelope Wilton's wonderfully dolorous tones are also underemployed as the producer of a talent contest, gently prodding the posh teenager, whose interest in history is entirely based on the amount of cleavage on show in portraits.
Jakeways has another role beyond that of author. She plays Esther, the most obnoxious character of all, who indulges in public humiliation of her husband (Kevin Eldon) for his failure to make her pregnant. If Esther was a finely-crafted suburban gorgon, a creature at once excessive and yet explicable, a Lady Macbeth or Miss Havisham of the boot-making shire, this would make sense. Actually this was another case of a woman diminishing a man, because that has become as acceptable as the opposite is unacceptable.Moira Petty, The Stage, 14th June 2010
Ruth Jones of Gavin & Stacey fame is the obvious draw in this adaptation of Dylan Thomas's look back at Christmases past, but perhaps just as interesting is that it is written by Mark Watson, the stand-up comedian who's also popped up as host on Never Mind the Buzzcocks and been something of a regular on Mock the Week. Thomas's nostalgic take on Christmas has been refashioned by Watson for 1980s south Wales, creating a comedic tale about ways in which Yuletide brings out the best and worst in a family.The Guardian, 17th December 2009
Inspired by Dylan Thomas's nostalgic anecdotal tale, Mark Watson's observant comedy is set in the household of young Owen Rhys (Oliver Bunyan/Mark Williams) over a series of Christmases in 1980s South Wales. Every year, the peace of the family home, where Owen lives with his gloomy father (Mark Lewis Jones) and obsessive mother (Ruth Jones), is disturbed by the yuletide arrival of Owen's two uncles (Steve Speirs and Paul Kaye) and nephew (Jamie Burch/Rhys McLellan). In a glimpse of three of these gatherings, while Owen and Maurice are seen maturing into young men, their male elders merely engage in ever-more puerile bouts of sibling rivalry.Simon Horsford, The Telegraph, 17th December 2009
A play by the poet, writer, performer and genial host of Radio 3's fruitful literary magazine The Verb, Ian McMillan. Frank, like his father before him, grows rhubarb but business isn't as good as it once was. So Frank has to go on the dole but, as he still wants to go on working, he invents a parallel identity, one inspired by the slightly sinister forcing shed where rhubarb (audibly) grows by night. In other words, this piece is fruity, deliciously tart, with hints of Dylan Thomas and Mary Shelley and just bursting with vitamin enhanced quizzicalities.Gillian Reynolds, The Telegraph, 31st October 2008