“All we’ve got is Swansea. You haven’t got nowhere else.” Dylan Thomas described his home town of Swansea as “an ugly, lovely town, crawling, sprawling, by the side of a long and splendid curving shore”. Taking Thomas’s words for the title, Ffion Jones’s play shows us a darker side of life by the seaside, closer to the “pretty sh*tty city” presented in the 1997 film, Twin Town.
Velvet Trumpet Theatre Company was formed in 2012 with the aim of producing comedies from the humour of unexamined lives. We certainly get that here. Shell and Tash are friends from school, now in their twenties; they party hard while trying to figure out their lives. On the surface, they are the hard drinking, fun loving girls seen in bars and clubs around the country. Jones peers behind the façade to show the reality of the lives hidden by vodka shots and fake tan, challenging the ‘loveable’ Welsh characters so often presented in the media.
We first meet Shell and Tash falling into a fast food shop on a Tuesday night, soaking wet from a storm, wondering why they didn’t bring coats. Following the two friends as they move from noisy bars and clubs to Shell’s flat, and back again, we learn the reasons Tash doesn’t want to go home and why Shell clings to the urn containing her grandmother’s ashes while her three year old son is living with her mother.
The play centres on the relationship between Shell, played by playwright Ffion Jones, and Tash, played by Sophie Hughes. Oliver Morgan-Thomas as Robyn is very much the token male in this show, necessary for the plot but very much on the side lines. Jones and Hughes make a convincing pair, veering from the warmth of old friends with shared history to the harsh truths only these friends can tell.
This is very much a Welsh play but take away the accents and this is a tale of small town life and friendship that could be set anywhere. Ffion Jones is very clear that she’s not presenting the whole of Swansea here, rather some of the unheard voices. She has written a witty, bittersweet, laugh out loud funny play that doesn’t shy away from coarse language and is certainly not one for the kids. If you’re easily offended then stay away but if you like the sound of a night out with Shell and Tash then you won’t be disappointed.
Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans
Photo: Velvet Trumpet
Ugly Lovely plays at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 16 July 2016