This was the first play to make me cry. Not because it was so awful, of course; but because its story, characters and premise would bring tears to even the most cynical of eyes. In fact, the work of Patrick Jones has always been intensely emotional. His poetry is especially controversial and visceral, tackling subjects as taboo as male sufferers of domestic violence. Even the most fearless of playwrights, Harold Pinter, called his work “very strong stuff.” In November 2008, bookselling giant Waterstones cancelled an appearance from Jones at one of their stores after a pious religious group protested outside due to alleged blasphemy.
However, in Dandelion, Jones considers a gentler yet equally anguished subject – old age. Four characters – three women and one man – recount their lives through a crescendo of remember-whens slumped in armchairs awaiting imminent death. Written from actual encounters when Jones served as writer-in-residence at a hospice, this makes the stories in Dandelion all the more distressing. Death has now become a comfort to these dwindling flames; something to look forward to as the days drag on. They are the dandelions withering away in a garden already blossoming new life. It’s a truly heartbreaking premise, made even more so by the intermittent poetic monologues, showcasing Patrick Jones’ scintillating talent for poignant lyricism. Alongside the grief are some outright hilarious scenes played with as much adroitness and dexterity as the more sombre moments.
The acting is simply exceptional. Anthony Leader plays Ernest with the vitality and energy of a young boy, determined to show that his age isn’t getting him down. Sharon Morgan’s deeply moving portrayal of Rachel puts on a brave face despite the inner turmoil brought on by her tragic past. Olwen Rees wrenches the heart strings as Mary, playing her with wide-eyed innocence, and Lynn Hunter gets the audience cackling with her sour, acerbic comments.
The writing, the lighting, the acting, the set – it’s, quite frankly, flawless. It is rare that a play produces as much tears from laughter as it does from grief. As hackneyed a phrase as this may be: this play will make you live a better life. It’s a drama of universal empathy that beats any amount of dreary soap operas. Get off your settee and bag yourself a ticket before you end up like them.
Dandelion is at Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea on September 20; Y Galeri, Caernarfon on September 24; Torch Theatre, Milford Haven on September 26; Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan on October 2; Neuadd Dwyfor, Pwllheli on October 3 and Y Ffwrnes, Llanelli on October 5.