Poverty grinds you down. It blights the future, limits the space you occupy in the world and condemns you to a monotonous existence. In a new production of Welsh writer and director Sean Mathias’ 1985 play, A Prayer for Wings, he ensures these themes are drummed into the viewer by its two female protagonists who appeal directly to the audience to bear witness to their wretched plight.
A Prayer for Wings exposes the unfortunate existence of a mother and daughter housed in a disused church in Swansea. As the drama begins both characters are lying prone on creaky cots positioned at opposite ends of the stage. The thin bedclothes that cover them bear the stench of poverty, faded, frayed and not unlike the worn duvets homeless people wrap up in through a brutal winter.
A feisty 20-year old Welsh lass, Rita, (magnificently realised by Alis Wyn Davies), lies in one bed while her self-pitying mother, Mam (deliciously ruthless Llinos Daniel), lies in another. Mam, a 40-year-old single mum and multiple sclerosis sufferer, is no longer able to walk. Mam hates the world and all the men in it, finding a sliver of enjoyment in tunes from the Sixties as a lament to her lost youth. Her daughter, Rita, as primary carer, is near slave to Mam’s relentless demands for tea, toast, fish and chips and frequent hoists from her wheelchair to the toilet.
The voluptuous Rita has an unquenchable thirst for life, realised in daydreams where she is a woman of high social standing, basking in the accoutrements of wealth. In Rita’s imagination, she voyages to New York on stately ocean liners, breezes into posh Manhattan hotels and demands of hotel staff ‘two dover soles and send them up to my suite with a half-magnum of champagne‘.
In reality, she hand manipulates the sexual needs of the boyos outside a corner shop for 50 pence. Later in the play she will demand five pounds for a full complement of erotic services to be performed in the abandoned church she calls home – and in the presence of the paralysed Mam – services Rita only partially delivers to ensure her virginity remains intact. She welshes on the bargain but keeps the change.
And what of the three young men who Rita brings home for a brief and unsatisfactory frolic. Their characters were all played by Luke Rhodri. Truly a credit to his talent as he was able to transform himself through subtle shifts in gait, posture and vocal subtleties. I was somewhat surprised at the play’s end when I expected to see three male actors and only Rhodri came out to take a bow.
A Prayer for Wings also flirts with the master/slave dialectic, turning the nurse/slave Rita into the master who antagonises her paralysed mum, even as she ensures her survival, while Mam, although slave to a bed, ensures her daughter is always in shouting distance to indulge her every need.
If the play’s message is that poverty perverts the course of human relationships, it presents a valid argument, but if there is a problem with A Prayer for Wings, it is in the repetition of complaints that do not shift. Like a neighbour who continually whines each time we meet her on the street, we become fidgety and look to flee from the relentless wail of Rita and Mam.
However, see A Prayer for Wings for its fine actors, but especially Alis Wyn Davies’ depiction of a young Welsh lass with so much fire and ice she just won’t quit.
Review by Loretta Monaco
Bill Kenwright Ltd, Swansea Grand and Alex Turner Productions present the London transfer of A PRAYER FOR WINGS, the award-winning play by internationally acclaimed director Sean Mathias.
Starring an all-Welsh cast, comprising Llinos Daniel, Alis Wyn Davies and Luke Rhodri, London audiences will now have a rare chance to see Sean Mathias direct his own work. This compelling production plays at the King’s Head Theatre for a strictly limited season from 30 October to 23 November 2019.
A PRAYER FOR WINGS tells the story of a mother and daughter, Mam and Rita, who have no other family and live in a disused church in central Swansea. Mam suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS) and Rita is her daughter, minder and keeper. She’s been caring for her mother since she was ten years old. Weary of the responsibility, Rita dreams of a better life, with a wonderful man, in another country, so she sells sexual favours for cash. Alarmingly relevant, Sean Mathias’ debut play explores the conflict and burden of caring responsibilities, interdependence and family, set against an individual’s hopes and dreams.
Bill Kenwright Ltd, Swansea Grand and Alex Turner Productions present
the Swansea Grand Production of
A Prayer for Wings
30 October – 23 November 2019, King’s Head Theatre