What does it mean to be Welsh? And what does it mean to be Welsh when everything you know and love about Wales is under threat? These are the questions asked by Ffion Jones, playing herself in a hilarious one-woman show at the Vault Festival.
In a dystopian near-future, Wales has become “Walesland” – a stifling theme park of itself cynically controlled by tycoons Bevan, Bevan, Bevan and Co. (The choice of name is presumably a cheeky nod to Rhys Bevan, the show’s director.) Jones works as a tour guide and finds herself faced with a horrible moral dilemma when the Bevans offer her an opportunity that puts her trade – and that of her colleagues – at risk. To complicate matters further, she is becoming the face of a rebellion against their corporate values. Will she abandon her principles? Or will she put Wales before her own interests and lead the revolution?
In telling the story, Ffion brilliantly embodies its various characters, flitting between them with remarkable wit and invention. It’s quite some feat to hold up both ends of a conversation, using different voices and poised in different positions to bring alive diverse personalities, but she conjures up three-dimensional scenarios with a winning blend of physical agility and comic flair.
The humour is surreal and sophisticated. While there are inevitably jokes about Tom Jones, Richard Burton and sheep, they are never obvious. With a lightness of touch that prevents it ever becoming worthy or self-important, the show goes way further than mere wisecracks to make profound observations about capitalism and national pride. The clever use of projected home-video footage of Ffion as a young child adds emotional depth and introduces some visual variety. There’s real subtlety at work here, making it a refreshing and stimulating 55 minutes.
Ffion oozes charm, from the moment she steps on the stage waving a leek to seeming completely taken aback at the well-deserved standing ovation at the end. The quick-wittedness of her delivery – possibly honed through stand-up or improv comedy – is astonishing. In fact, if there’s a criticism it’s that it’s occasionally a little too fast. There’s so much going on, so rapidly, that you can’t always catch every visual or verbal gag. This makes it tricky to keep up with certain moments in the narrative. When she slows things down a little, such as for her amusing and oddly touching cover version of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler, you can really savour the dazzling range of her gifts.
The staging is minimal, with just three chairs, a microphone stand and a screen. But nothing else is needed: Ffion Jones creates an entire world.
REVIEWED FOR THE SPY IN THE STALLS AND ORIGINALLY POSTED HERE.