Review: Blood Sugar is a tightly wrought play that packs a haymaker punch
An invitation to potentially the saddest party of all might be a crisp way of summing up the situation in Simon Howells’ new audio play. It revolves around a 75 year man, Vic (played by Marc Lewis Jones) who is very belatedly attempting some kind of reconciliation with his long-estranged children, Sion (Huw Rhys) and Jayne (Shelley Rees.)
Vic is no longer the man – powerful as an ox – he claims to be, as he is now reduced to needing help to do his cufflinks or pop a bottle of Moet. But any champagne moments in the celebration he has himself organised are soon soured by familial vinegar as sunny recollections morph into dark recriminations.
A shared memory of a seaside trip to Ogmore-on-Sea, for instance, when Vic stole a horse, soon sours as the participants remember the sand that got into the sandwiches on that day. Everything seems tainted by the past, so it’s little wonder the grown-up kids are uncertain whether they should even enter the room, or shake dad’s hands when they do.
Vic is a large character, whose life energy pulses through despite the age and the arthritis which has crept into his ‘useless old fingers.’ If a pint of Guinness had a voice it would be Mark Lewis Jones’s as he plays Vic with a gruff, world-weariness: defeat an undertow to his words even when he’s forcing himself to be upbeat. But he’s not quite broken, yet.
As he describes himself, ‘There might be snow on the roof, but there’s plenty of fire in the boiler still.’ He has vim enough to dance with Jayne to the accompaniment of some rock and roll 45s but each and every attempt to introduce a party atmosphere soon runs onto the rocks.
Simon Howells has a gift for humour and a surefire sense of Valleys’ life and the drama is shot through with funny one liners. The workingmen’s club where this fractious trio convene is summed up in funereal terms by Sion. ‘These places creep me out,’ he avers, ‘they’re death’s waiting room, only with bitter and darts.’ Sion, who has left the valleys and now lives in Cardiff, dresses up for the occasion, even if his sartorial taste leaves something to desire, as he’s ‘done up like an explosion at Ted Baker.’ He had probably found the suggestion that ‘the narrower the valley, the narrower the mind’ had the ring of truth about it and so had to hightail it out of there.
Over the course of a fractious, edgy hour in the trio’s company we piece together just how bad things were when Vic walked out of the ‘carnage that was our marriage’ which had itself been based on a shotgun wedding in the first place.
Sundered marriages leave the children shipwrecked. Jayne, in turn, went off the rails and the mother became ill for a long time. As recriminations and accusations of the father’s infidelity multiply, tempers fray and anger is torched: it almost comes to fisticuffs between the son and his father. The fizz has by now most certainbly gone out of the champagne.
An ingenious answer to lockdown, and to the real challenges facing theatre and the acting community, this hour long audio drama was funded by the Arts Council of Wales. It represents an interesting way of encouraging new writing and finding a new way to deliver it to an audience, in this case via YouTube.
Directed with crispness and clarity by Gareth John Bale he underlined the taut tension of the lines and signalled the segues into the past from the present so that each fed into the other seamlessly. The tension grows and grows and finally a dark, brooding secret that has been suppurating all this while is finally revealed to incendiary effect. It’s a tightly wrought play that packs a haymaker punch, that’s for sure.