The Welsh Boy, Ustinov Studio, Bath
Well, is he the ultimate cad or is she the heartless whore?
This is the moral issue at the end of this engaging drama that opens the Ustinov’s autumn Transformation Season.
The Welsh Boy explores love, betrayal and revenge in writer Julian Mitchell’s adaptation of a 1741 kiss-and-tell book published by a jilted music master.
Matters of class, social standing and the lively sport of heiress hunting would have been highly familiar to 18th-century readers, and Mitchell interweaves these strands through his updated tale of manners and morals.
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The jilted organist spills all - including love letters - in bawdy detail that would have shocked and thrilled his readers in equal measure.
Sion Daniel Young is superb as the young music master Jem Parry whose fine treble voice has delighted audiences in Bath and Bristol – and, indeed, delights in this production.
He perfectly portrays the ‘mere music master’s’ descent from talented, romantic young lover to whining, bitter drunkard whose voice is no longer lifted in song but instead carps in self pity.
Jem expects that love will lead to marriage, but his pupil Mary (Peta Cornish), the beautiful heiress with whom he has a passionate affair, is a woman of independent means and mind.
She takes her pleasure with abandon and, when her mother catches them in flagrante, moves on without a backward glance.
Mitchell has the lovers narrate the tale, initially in harmony, but it is a story that becomes increasingly divergent as they voice their different desires and expectations. There’s a nice touch where Jem interrupts Mary to ask: “Who’s telling this story anyway?”
There are excellent performances from Peta Cornish as Mary and from Geraldine Alexander as her vengeful mother Elizabeth.
Rhiannon Oliver is by turns feisty, shrewish and submissive in her roles, and Ed Birch is unfailingly humorous, particularly as the snobbish Oxford man Doomsday and as the ghastly drunken brother Matthew.
Ti Green’s glimmering, shimmering, golden set is beautiful and provides the perfect backdrop to this elegant production directed by Matthew Lloyd.
The Welsh Boy runs until October 13.