There is chaos around Christmas, of too much food, too much alcohol, too many parties, financial strain and forceful cheer mixing in the same spin as winter illnesses, loneliness and the missing of someone, somewhere. This is the spirit of Margaret and the Tapeworm, and framed not only with social relevance, but also a glowing kindness.
The welcome is warm – a cheery hello, glass of sherry and a mince pie in the foyer outside the studio. And so we meet Amber, the ebulliently smiley member of the office determined to have a joyful time in a Christmas jumper few can outdo. The single piece of tinsel adorning the ‘Merry Christmas’ message board sets the scene before we enter it.
Triongl is a theatre company based in Cardiff consisting of three women producing original work. They are Rebecca Smith-Williams, Valmai Jones and Rebecca Knowles, each as varied in experience as in age, appearance and theatrical background. That is perhaps their very spark. There is a very visible connection and chemistry between the actors that immediately adds to the tenderness of the performance.
The staging is simple and effective: it manages very convincingly to encompass six to seven different places with no changes other than lighting. Sean Tuan John’s direction is astutely adept in its mingling of dark humour and compassion. ‘I hope it won’t be like it was in Victoria Beckham – all stress and miso soup,’ proclaims Valmai Jones, the pasty, hopeful tapeworm. Never has a parasite been more endearing. The choreography of interaction between Valmai Jones and Rebecca Smith-Williams, the glamorous, heartbroken Margaret, is delicate and dance-like at times in terms of how the two inhabit closeness of space. This physicality between Margaret and her tapeworm is an outstanding feature of the performance, and one that resonates. The clamping of an angry stomach in contractions or the release of an adrenalinised body all impact on Margaret and the tapeworm within as they do on the audience without.
Played by Rebecca Knowles, Amber, in all her enthusiasm and misguided but well-directed kindness, is full of loss, sadness and pathos, but never pathetic. Her over-zealousness is hugely funny and her vulnerability is as familiar as it is recognisable. Her determination to carry on and have a merry time – albeit on a canny budget – is a commitment most of us know.
Less familiar are tapeworms – flatworms that anchor themselves to the inside of the intestine absorbing nutrients directly from the host’s gut. As far as parasites go, the way to a tapeworm’s heart is definitely through the stomach. Here, both Margaret and the anthropomorphised tapeworm, delighted to experience the only night of its leeching life that it’s had any conversation, are no less lonely than Amber. The contrast of the family eating together through the window and a drunk, ill Margaret standing with the tapeworm in the cold starkly mirrors the classic greeting-card Yule-tide through a curtained frame on the one hand, and the bleakness of an isolated Christmas on the other.
The only inexplicable part of the script is the focus on a well-known Welsh chain of frozen foods. As the repeatedly cited source of the guilty sausage, it takes a targeted hit. Needless to say, a corporate chain can certainly take it on the chin, but it remains unnecessary. A minor point, however, and far from it that this in any way affects the overall glee of this heartening, touching, wonderfully charming performance.
Triongl are touring across Wales with Margaret and the Tapeworm throughout December. ‘We are laughing and we are crying,’ says the tapeworm, and indeed that is precisely it. ‘Merry Sodding Christmas!’ to us all.
Rajvi Glasbrook Griffiths is a deputy headteacher and organiser for Literature Caerleon. She is currently writing her first book. @RGlasbrook
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