Originally due to be staged in spring 2020, Alan Harris’s bleak comedy For the Grace of You Go I is the first production to be performed inside Theatr Clwyd’s building for 15 months. As often in Harris’s work, it is formally playful and deeply compassionate towards its characters.
Working as part of a DWP pilot scheme, Jim sits on a production line adding pepperoni to Mazio’s handcrafted artisanal pizzas. Never quite hitting his productivity targets, he instead spends time signalling cries for help through the arrangement of meat, and dreaming of trips to Rome. At a film club for those suffering poor mental health, he meets Mark, and inspired by that’s night’s viewing – Aki Kaurismäki’s I Hired a Contract Killer – they hatch a plot to end Jim’s crushing disaffection with everyday existence. Both in speech and action, the film’s narrative begins to bleed into their lives.
As Jim, Rhodri Meilir’s performance is extraordinary, shifting from tortuously hermetic to wondrously joyful in the flash of an eye; there is a subtle ballet to his most minor of movements, particularly when mirroring the shots of Kaurismäki’s film. Both Darren Jeffries as Mark and Remy Beasley as Irina (Mark’s wife and Jim’s line manager) are also excellent, especially when volleying Harris’s shrewd dialogues back and forth.
Tonally ambitious, James Grieve’s slick multimedia staging weaves cool auteurish objectivity with the inescapable sadness of lived experience. At its core, it is a furious denouncement of the state’s failure to treat its most marginalised with dignity: they are pressured into exploitative work schemes and serious mental health conditions are treated with vacuous self-care slogans. In the play, cures make things worse and artisanal foodstuffs make us sick – sardonically echoed in Jacob Hughes’s set, which looks like a nauseating slab of fluorescent Neapolitan ice-cream.
And yet, despite the tenderness in the writing and the deftness of the staging, the comedy and tragedy never feel truly reconciled. There is a wry detachment to this metatheatrical production, but the absurdity is never quite grotesque enough to be sufficiently removed from these characters’ all-too-real lives.
At Theatr Clwyd until 25 June.