Do you remember the end of that summer before you came to university? You leave school behind and with it all the people and friendships you have forged since you don’t know when. Yet you were looking forward to a new chapter and – dare I suggest – you might have even felt like setting off on a journey to find yourself. And amidst all those high thoughts and expectations lies the naked truth that things will change.
In Valuables, Ben Ray picks up on exactly this. Wales, today: four more-or-less close friends are on the verge of what comes after school. And he cuts right to it: what are the valuables? Is it, as Daniel would have it, the beauty and eternity of poetry, for which it is worth getting entangled with research into a supposedly Shakespearean folio he finds in an Oxfam bookstore? Is it, as the insecure but good-hearted Nye discovers, religion? Or is it, as the worse than lay-about Richard has to learn, drugs and all that comes with them? As so often in life, the boys are all wrong, and so it is a girl who supplies the fourth wheel to this wagon of self-doubt. Emma, as she is called, keeps the threads of their friendships somehow together.
It is she who sets the pace of action in this play and so she deserves special attention. Her character is always on the verge of the stubborn nine-year-old while at the same time portraying a forceful realism that pays tribute to the immense advantage of maturity that – let’s face it, boys – girls often still have even at our age. In dialogues of often cunning comedy, she keeps Daniel in check when it comes to his obsession with poetry and it is she who always rebuilds the bridge between the boys when they are about to lose each other.
Yet it was more in the individual scenes rather than in its whole that the play was able to shine the most. Special commendation must go to the brilliant rendering of literary, theological, substantive (yes, as in drugs), and veterinary interests in an enticing quartet that showed how these seemingly contrary struggles with finding oneself all come down to the same risk and pleasure of losing oneself in something you really care for.
The core cast, Leo Danczak as Daniel, Cara Pacitti as Emma, Haniel Whitmore as Nye and Turlough O’Hagan as Rich, must be applauded on a harmonious performance. Particular praise goes to Turlough O’Hagan for walking the fine line between tragedy and comedy on which the character of Richard forced him. Cara Pacitti displayed with passion her very coherent and convincing take on the crucial character of Emma, notwithstanding the occasional slip.
But just as much as individual scenes stand out, credit for which should be given to the direction of Mischa Cornelia Andreski, the evening as a whole couldn’t always live up to them. We witness a real spark of genius in a scene that has Daniel and Emma almost find their love for each other, when Daniel’s real ‘valuable’ – Shakespeare – tragically prevents this. But the enormous dynamic of this scene blows out, not least because of a lacking build up. Similarly, we seem to merely scratch at the surface of theology with Nye and Richard, whose relationship verges on the homoerotic and complicates the play with no particular purpose.
Valuables is not the least afraid to literalise – in a book, a crucifix, a chippie in south Wales – questions that are not easily grasped even in theory. What are we to make of the places we leave behind and what is valuable enough for us to move on with? As we should expect from a good play, we are never given a clear answer to this question. Instead the play ends on the restoration of the tranquilla ultima. It would be foolish to disclose the nature of this, however, because every one of us has their own experience of this ‘calm at last’, the point where we