As I file into Traverse 2, escaping from the dreary early April chill, an unexpected handshake and warm greeting from actor/playwright Shôn Dale-Jones welcomes me and every other audience member to his show as if we were mates coming round for a blether. It’s a conversational tone that will continue throughout the one-man performance, as Dale-Jones weaves a tale that blurs reality with fantasy, comedy with pathos, touching on subjects both tragic and mundane.
The strands of his storytelling are many and varied. There’s The Duke of the title, of course, here a porcelain sculpture of The Duke of Wellington on horseback, owned by his late father and recently broken by his mother while dusting. Dale-Jones, as the caring son, sets about trying to find a replacement while at the same time finding himself under pressure from a producer to rewrite a screenplay he’s spent the last ten years, and sixty-seven drafts, perfecting. Much of the humour in the play comes from the ridiculous nature of those requests, and Dale-Jones finds a sympathetic audience in recognizing the value of creativity over commercialisation.
Yet there is more to this story than the artist’s struggle to be authentic to his craft, for shot through the play are little slices of reality that remind us of true suffering. Like knife-points they’re driven into the story at seemingly random moments; over the radio waves, on an impromptu visit to the place where the Duke once played tennis. We hear about the Syrian refugee crisis, of the deaths at sea, and just as quickly as the thoughts are raised they are let go. The questions – how can we help, what can we do? – are left hanging.
Dale-Jones is an entertainer who skillfully draws us into his story-world. The impersonations of his Welsh mum are particularly endearing, while the musical accompaniment keeps the mood upbeat. It’s this positivity and privilege enjoyed by Dale-Jones and celebrated by him in his loving wife, the close friends who all chip in to try to find a replacement Duke and the pure exalted joy of driving an Audi coupé, which is then juxtaposed with the tragedy of the refugee crisis, that Ifound difficult to reconcile at first. It was only on reflection, when the shaggy-dog elements of his tale had faded, that I began to think about the truths in his telling. Just like Dale-Jones, every one of us watching the play have our own privilege. And while we don’t yet have an answer to these kinds of crises, it is through kindness – to strangers, to our families and friends, and to ourselves, that we might just make a difference.
For more on what’s on at the Traverse click here.