Review: A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Kate Griffin visits Chapter Arts Centre to review A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death, a play focusing on the life of Welsh writer Dorothy Edwards, written by Gary Raymond and directed by Chris Durnall.

I am killing myself because I have never sincerely loved any human being all my life.” Welsh writer Dorothy Edwards has spent a long time in undeserved obscurity, and the attention she has received revolves too much around her untimely death in 1934 and arresting suicide note. New drama A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death aims to shift the focus from the end of her life to the life itself. This means resisting the temptation to tell the story chronologically. Instead, we have the framing device of Meg (Angharad Matthews), an actor feeling uncertain about taking on the role of Dorothy.

Jâms Thomas is the counterbalancing force in this two-hander, sparking off Meg as writer Byron as the two try to flesh out Dorothy’s story. Playing multiple parts shows off his impressive range as an actor. He is David Garnett, the Bloomsbury author who acted as mentor to Dorothy but had a complex relationship with her. He is a patronising toff at a party in one of the play’s most amusing scenes. And he is Glyn Jones, the dazzled student who meets Dorothy at her glittering best and later became one of her closest friends.  

A beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death comes to Chapter Arts Centre from May 30th to June 3rd 2023.

The piano music is another important force driving the drama here. One audience member commented that composer and pianist Stacey Blythe is effectively a third actor, bringing out Dorothy’s unspoken thoughts and feelings.

But there are flaws in this production from Company of Sirens. Because, as writer Gary Raymond admits, “99% of people haven’t heard of Dorothy Edwards”, there is a lot of information to convey, and the play doesn’t always achieve this. The decision to jump around in time makes sense for many reasons, but may leave the audience feeling lost about what actually happened when.

However, there is plenty to admire, not least the incredibly well-designed set which serves to convey so many locations and moods with minimal physical items. The clothes and shoes are a highlight too, either period originals or spot-on copies.

A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death was developed with a degree of collaboration and improvisation, and perhaps there is further evolution for this piece in the future. It seems likely that the current run at Chapter is just the beginning for this tribute to a marginalised but important Welsh writer.

A Beautiful Rhythm of Life and Death continues at Chapter Arts Centre until June 3. For ticket availability visit the website.

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