The Points of View Challenge – Patricia, Edith and Arnold – Dylan Thomas

Dylan ThomasDylan Marlais Thomas (1914 – 1953)

Welsh poet and writer of short stories and screenplays.

Patricia, Edith and Arnold, first published in the collection Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog in 1940.

Available to read online here.

This is the first of eight stories in the volume Points of View to be given the style classification by Moffett and McElheny of Biography, or Anonymous Narration – Single Character Point of View. From their introduction: “The authors of the next stories do not refer to themselves or tell us how they know what they know. But, of course, there is no narrative without a narrator. True, he does not identify himself, but the materials, the way they are put together, and the choice of words are all his.”

Spoiler alert – if you haven’t read the story yet and want to before you read the summary of it below, stop now!

Patricia, Edith and Arnold


Portrait of the Artist as a Young DogOur narrator is fully preoccupied with the playing and games of a young boy, backing his invisible engine into the coal hole, saluting a fireman, being King of the Castle; whereas the boy is occupied with the secret conversations between Patricia, who is looking after him, and Edith, the maid who lives next door. They’re both anxiously planning about how to meet Arnold. Arnold is a young man who has been stringing them both along, seeing Edith on Fridays and Patricia on Wednesdays, writing them both love letters without having any idea that they knew of each other’s existence.

They take the boy to the park – it’s snowing and he’s excited to make a snowman. He’s also quietly curious about meeting Arnold. And while the two women confront the man about his duplicity, the boy runs around teasing, playing and calling out names. Much to Edith’s remorse, Patricia forces Arnold to confirm that it’s she whom he really likes. But when the boy later realises he has left his cap behind, he quietly discovers Arnold reading Edith’s letters, turning them over in his hands; he doesn’t see the boy, and the boy doesn’t tell Patricia what he saw.

This is a subtle, introverted little tale, where the substance of what actually goes on is related to the reader at a tangent to the boy’s games. He doesn’t fully appreciate the truth behind the meeting between Arnold and the two women, and he doesn’t understand why it appears to have such a profound effect on them. It’s just one of those little moments in childhood when you get swept up in an adult activity that you know is important and significant, without having the experience or insight to grasp it fully.

Delicately written and occasionally deliberately obscure, it’s a curious, satisfying read about a domestic, romantic crisis seen through the opaque understanding of the boy. Perhaps it’s even more curious that Dylan chose to not to have the boy narrate the story himself; the presence of the unnamed narrator adds a further dimension of distancing from the nub of the action.

The next story in the anthology is the second to be classified by Moffett and McElheny as Biography, or Anonymous Narration – Single Character Point of View, Horses – One Dash by Stephen Crane.

Review – The Box of Delights, RSC at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 20th November 2023

Box of DelightsThere’s no escaping it – Christmas is coming. The streets of Stratford-upon-Avon are glittering with sparkly lights, snowflakes are projected onto the side of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and, inside, the RSC’s Christmas production of John Masefield’s much loved children’s book, The Box of Delights, adapted by Piers Torday, is well underway. I say “much loved”; I believe that to be the case, but the book never crossed my path during my childhood or indeed the intervening years. So I went to this production without a preconceived notion of what my ideal Box of Delights would look like.

Kay HarkerKay Harker (funny name for a boy?) is entrusted with this magical box that can basically allow him to do anything. Time travel, flight, shrinking – you name it, the box can do it. Unsurprisingly there are villains out there who would do anything to get their hands on it. But Kay is not the kind of lad to let them get away with anything so unscrupulous as box theft. Cue a lot of sinister looking and sounding baddies wreaking havoc with the great and the good of Tatchester, leading to the big question: will Kay be able to save Christmas? (Spoiler – yes, he does.)

CastI get the feeling that criticising the book and the tale told within it would be committing a cardinal sin – like picking a fight with Moses because you weren’t happy with all ten commandments. It has such a high reputation that you’re on a losing streak if you don’t appreciate it. I have to say that for me personally the story and structure weren’t really my cup of tea; but I know I am in a minority.

PhoenixSo what kind of box of delights is it? It’s a fair mix of scrummy caramels and hazelnut whirls but also with a few uneaten strawberry cremes left behind when the rest of the box has long been scoffed. Production-wise, it’s got a lot going for it. Ben McQuigg and his merry band play Ed Lewis’ score with affection and crispness, contributing significantly towards creating a Christmas vibe. Tom Piper’s set is one of the busiest you’ll ever see on stage, with more nooks and crannies than you can shake a stick at. But it works very well to emphasise the magical elements of the story, with unexpected hideaways for scrobbled individuals (see the show and you’ll understand), and it blends with Prema Mehta’s lighting perfectly, as mood after mood is innovatively suggested against the architectural or domestic backdrop.

BarneyAll the puppetry is excellent, including a very ethereal and proud phoenix; but Barney takes the biscuit for endearing puppet doggies. Accompanied by Rhiannon Skerritt, Barney is perhaps the most lifelike dog (who isn’t really a dog) I’ve ever seen on stage. Not overplayed, not stupidly exhibitionist, but just a lovely, cuddly, friendly dog whom you want to take home with you. He really should have his own TikTok account.

ColeMy main problem with the show was that I found it surprisingly hard to follow. It’s rather stodgy and heavy going at times and the use of English and the accents employed are often stilted and tiresome. Many of the characters are the most exhaustingly posh specimens to be found on a stage, and I did wonder quite how relatable they, and their story, are to modern day audiences. If only the Five Go Mad in Dorset team had seen this first, they would have had a field day! The second act drove the story along a little more clearly but even then, it still got bogged down at times.

PouncerThat said, Stephen Boxer is very impressive as Cole Hawlings/Grandad, full of kindly care and wise words, and a splendid stubborn resistance against the baddies. Nia Gwynne makes for a lively and sparky Pouncer the thieving “Witch”, Callum Balmforth a suitably heroic Kay and Jack Humphrey a delightfully self-aware silly ass of a Peter. There’s excellent support throughout the cast including Timothy Speyer’s nicely pompous Bishop, Melody Brown’s over-enthusiastic Mayor, and Tom Kanji’s snidely sneering Charles.

KidsIf 1930s children’s nostalgia is your thing, then all your wants will be met. It’s a highly competent production and full of Masefieldesque charm; it would have been nice if it had all been just a little more fun.


Production photos by Manuel Harlan

3-starsThree-sy Does It!

Review – British Comedian of the Year Semi Final, The Comedy Crate at the Charles Bradlaugh, Northampton, 19th November 2023

Comedy CrateOnce again the Comedy Crate put the laugh into Bradlaugh with another fun-filled evening of top quality comedy. And once again they host a round in the British Comedian of the Year – progressing from a heat last year to a semifinal this year – next year, surely, they’ve got to host the Final! There’s always a great vibe at the Bradlaugh for Comedy Crate nights, but for this show there was a tangible sense of occasion too; everyone was really up for a great night of comedy – and the eight contestant comedians rose to the challenge.

Jake SteersOur host, new to us, as were all but one of the acts, was Jake Steers, Hemel Hempstead’s finest export, and he had plenty to contend with; second-row Lee sending him a series of curveballs and the accountants’ night out in the front row not being the easiest bunch from whom to coax comedy gold. He explained the set up would be three comics then an interval, then another three, and an interval, and finally the last two comics and the voting. We could all download a QR code which would take us to an online voting form, where we could select our favourite two performers. Northampton’s comedy scene is nothing if not high tech.

Currer BallThe winner receives the numerically palindromic sum of £10,001, which I note hasn’t gone up with inflation. If I were this year’s winner, I’d complain. Each contestant gets approximately ten minutes to deliver their best short sharp routine, and despite the lineup being a little short on diversity (eight white men, but that’s no one’s fault) the variety of material and styles was truly impressive.

Dean-CoughlinFirst up – and in a change to the advertised billing – was Currer Ball, a genial Glaswegian with a likeable personality and a confident manner, who based his routine on his girlfriend who doesn’t exist, and on the consequences of playing games, including an agonising round of Twister. Very good delivery, although some of his material didn’t quite land properly. Act Number 2 was Dean Coughlin, a Liverpudlian with a deceptively laid-back manner and presentation, who had the audience in fits of laughter many times during his short set, with a combination of excellent material and spot-on delivery. michael_shafarAct 3 was Michael Shafar, who has a more sophisticated and cosmopolitan air to him, and whose set revolved around his survival from testicular cancer and being Jewish. Some fairly hard-hitting jokes there, and you have to be right on top of your material to get away with holocaust humour, but he went down well with the audience and nailed most of it.

Mike CoxAct 4, and the only comedian we had seen before, was Mike Cox, who delivered a great, confident set about his domestic relationships; some fairly familiar subject matter but spun in a completely different direction which was absolutely brilliant. Stephen CooksonAct 5 was Stephen Cookson, a slightly more mature kind of guy who has a stock of one-liners and tends towards the absurd. He has a very warm approach to the audience though, and the one-liners that worked were fantastic. We won’t mention the ones that didn’t. Fred FerencziAct 6 was Fred Ferenczi, a quietly spoken, dour chap whose humour is based on the difference between the persona he presents and his subject matter. He laments that he is from Aylesbury and slags it off mercilessly. It makes a change from comedians coming to Northampton and slagging our town off. However, I lived in and around Aylesbury for decades and it really isn’t that bad.

Garrie GrubbAct 7 was Garrie Grubb who has an excellent presence but never quite hit his stride; and when he suggested that some of the audience might be homophobic that was a bit of a turn-off for all of us. Northampton audiences are all sorts of things but homophobic is not one of them. Our final act was Dane Buckley, a fascinating mix of Indian, Irish and gay, with a sprightly delivery and some excellent and inventive material, including possibly the best joke of the night involving his coming out to his Indian grandmother.

Dane BuckleyWe had five minutes to vote and the runner-up was Dean Coughlin and the winner Mike Cox. It was a fabulously entertaining evening and the audience clearly loved every minute of it. Good luck for Messrs Cox and Coughlin for the rest of the competition and commiserations to everyone else. Normally if you were to see a mixed bill of eight comedians you might expect to see at least one dud amongst them – but not last night. The standard was very high. If I were to choose a third placed comic it would be Dane Buckley – I think he was unlucky to have such high quality competition.

Our next Comedy Crate gig will be back at V&B’s bar on Tuesday 5th December. Should be another great night!

Review – Do I Love You? John Godber Company at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 14th November 2023

Do I Love YouJohn Godber’s Do I Love You?, currently touring until early next year, is primarily a love letter to Northern Soul. Confession time: I don’t know much (anything, really) about Northern Soul. I can’t say it ever permeated to the Chiltern village where I was brought up. I knew Skiing in the Snow by Wigan’s Ovation and Footsee by Wigan’s Chosen Few, but that’s it; unless you count The Goodies’ Black Pudding Bertha (she’s the queen of Northern Soul) – but I don’t think you can. It’s a musical subculture that is clearly deeply loved, and maybe its general secretiveness is a major part of its appeal. Certainly, the very full audience at the Royal last night was packed with Northern Soul admirers who swung along to the various tracks that are scattered through the show.

DILYIt’s a deceptively simple play; three twenty-somethings who all grew up together in Hull find their chosen career paths halted by Covid and end up all working at the same fast food drive-through. Sally and Kyle have been besties since playschool, and Nat joined them not much later. One night, they chanced upon a club – the Beachcomber – Cleethorpes for an all-nighter of Northern Soul music, only £3 to get in, where they were amazed to find they were the youngest people there. In a beautiful realisation of the arrogance of youth, they ask themselves how the heck did all these old people learn these dance routines? Their aim is to take their Northern Soul dance act to the Tower Ballroom Blackpool, but only if Sally thinks they’re good enough; it’s as though she’s her own Craig Revel-Horwood. I had no idea that Northern Soul had its own dance style by the way, apparently a kind of sliding gliding that relies on talc and balance.

DILYAt the interval, I was feeling this was a modest, underachieving little play. It has a very in-house feel about it, being the John Godber Company production of a John Godber play, directed by John Godber and with John Godber’s daughter among the cast of three. Rather than using a Paul Mathew style pantechnicon, you can imagine them transporting the set and props from venue to venue using a local man with a van. There was no programme – at least not at last night’s performance – so I can’t name and shame whoever was responsible for the totally inadequate lighting, with members of the cast performing in shadow during some scenes.

I was also underwhelmed by the script which I found repetitive, rather dull and lacking that usual John Godber wit. There should be a legal limit on the number of times the phrase do you want fries with that can be repeated in a play. Yes, we get the drift that it’s designed to show that their jobs were repetitive and dull but is it fair to subject the audience to the same level of repetition with such diligence?!

DILYHowever, the scene just before the interval started to show some promise. Our trio have discovered the Cleethorpes club and have felt its vigour and emotion coursing through their veins for the first time. And it was also the first time that the characters truly came to life. And after the interval, the drive and power of the play continued to burst through the writing. Despite the rather heavy-handed speech by an old-timer (67 years old) at the club about the tradition, heritage, and true meaning of Northern Soul, you begin to realise that this is a celebration of the purity of one’s art. Sally is caught up in an artistic stasis – she can’t dance to it, she can’t sing along, all she can do is watch in awe at the effect the music has on her and others. She realises this thing is bigger than any of them.

DILYThe play also takes on other social issues; not only the devastation caused by Covid, but the general austerity and lack of opportunity in the north that determines one’s complete lifetime. It highlights a problem that’s rarely considered – what happens when a younger person lives with an older person as their carer, and then they die. In an affluent society that means they inherit the property. But in Sally’s world that renders you homeless.

DILYThe three likeable young actors are all superb in their roles and work together as a brilliant ensemble. Chloe Mcdonald accurately portrays Nat, that character who is the third member of a group of three, knowing she can never quite achieve the same bond as the other two. Emilio Encinoso-Gil has an excellent sense for the comedy in some of the best lines as wannabe musical theatre performer Kyle, whose lofty ambitions led to two years dressed as a crocodile. But it is Martha Godber’s Sally who is the lynchpin, and through whom we see the progress of the trio; funny, bossy, caring but also at times completely unreasonable, she gives a terrific performance of a very credible and well-rounded personality.

DILYI was at times reminded of the Victoria Wood sketch where Jim Broadbent is the long-suffering playwright who lives and breathes the pain and misery of the north and is motivated to create his epics to reflect the douleur of the dockers, the railway workers and the steel workers – but lives comfortably in Chiswick. I’m not saying Mr Godber is that person, but the play does have a huge I love the north and all its pain atmosphere about it. Its romanticised and sentimental view of the affection for Northern Soul and its roots is both its strength and its weakness. Mrs Chrisparkle thought they missed a trick by not including a whippet. Clearly she has no heart.

The Northampton audience – mainly made up of people of a certain age who could easily have been at that Cleethorpes club – absolutely loved it. If you’re an aficionado of Northern Soul, you will too. As for the rest of us, there is plenty to admire, but also a little to be cynical about.

Production photos by Ian Hodgson3-starsThree-sy Does It!