In the Pipeline

'In the Pipeline' by Gary Owen, directed by David Horan as part of the International Season at Bewleys Café Theatre. Photo: Leslie Black

'In the Pipeline' by Gary Owen, directed by David Horan as part of the International Season at Bewleys Café Theatre. Photo: Leslie Black

A bare stage of just two chairs positioned across from each other and a vase of flowers is all that greets the audience in Welsh playwright Gary Owen’s In the Pipeline. These three items could be said to represent the trio of characters – Andrew, Dai and Joan – in this warm, understated play about how a huge gas pipeline and its imminent installation affects the lives of our triumvirate of disparate protagonists in a small Welsh village.

The beauty of In the Pipeline, though, lies partly in the way Owen tackles the theme of big business violating the everyday lives of ordinary people. He doesn’t do it through confrontation or polemic. Instead, he opens up the lives of three individuals and shows how their attachment to the area is, in one way and another, severed traumatically and irretrievably. Andrew, Dai and Joan tell their different stories directly, and separately, to the audience. Indirectly, and with subtlety, an anarchistic critique of the ugly stamp of capitalism is woven with gentle humanity.

Andrew (Rhodri Lewis) begins his story by informing us that he’s not a native of the small village port of Milford Haven. Therefore, he’s not too pushed about what happens with the pipeline, especially since he has no friends in the village and drinks by himself nightly after a day’s work pushing the food trolley on British Rail trains. His attitude to his locality changes, however, upon the arrival of a single mother and her six-year-old daughter who befriend Andrew.

Andrew’s story is intercut and alternates with that of Dai (Grahame Fox). Dai sits on his chair listening to Andrew and then gets up and addresses the audience with a surreal account of how the SAS use the power plant where he works as a practice ground and the loss of his job at the same power station. His robust health disappears along with his job but his tale leads him to a coincidental encounter with the head of the new gas line. Andrew’s and Dai’s tales are full of warm humanity and humour but the presence of the new gas line in the background ultimately determines their tragedy.

Photo: Leslie BlackComing as it does at the end, and with both Andrew and Dai now absent from the stage, Joan’s (Meg Wynn Owen) story is very different. Laced with dreams and accounts of the fairy folk and their attachment to the land, her monologue, delivered as if read from a book of fairytales, emphasises her deep connection to the land and the magic that can be derived from nature whether one is a child or of a more mature vintage. The dreams Joan recounts are desecrated, though, and the magical association with the land has been replaced by disquiet.

David Horan’s delicate direction allows the actors to breathe and embrace the human frailties of their characters. Of the three performers here, Rhodri Lewis steals the show as the ineffectual but big-hearted Andrew, dominating the stage with real presence and charming the audience with his doomed affability. Grahame Fox’s Dai, in contrast to Andrew, is a more hardened character. Fox’s portrayal is, nevertheless, authentic and convincing. Meg Wynn Owen’s Joan is almost too timid at first but she grows into the role so that by the end we realise she is the spirit of the place. Grant Anderson’s low key lighting further lends an inviting feel to proceedings and Scott Twynholm’s sound incorporates an evocative intro and outro soundtrack.

The overwhelming feeling one gets from In The Pipeline is the dignity of human beings, and their tragedy too, in the face of the machine of big business. In The Pipeline is a minor key gem of understated protest.

Patrick Brennan was chief theatre critic and arts writer with the Irish Examiner from 1990-2004. He is currently writing a book on the theatre of Tom Murphy.

  • Review
  • Theatre

In the Pipeline by Gary Owen

11 - 16 October, 2010

Produced by Òran Mór and Paines Plough
In Bewleys Café Theatre

Directed by David Horan

Set Design: Patrick McGurn

Associate Designer: Kirstin Hogg

Lighting Designer: Grant Anderson

Sound Designer: Scott Twynholm

With: Rhodri Lewis, Grahame Fox and Meg Wynn Owen


In the Pipeline is presented as part of The International Season @ Bewley’s Café Theatre, which sees 5 new plays by 5 playwrights presented over 5 weeks:

Play 1: Fly me to the Moon by Marie Jones: 4-9 Oct
Play 2: In the Pipeline by Gary Owen: 11-16 Oct
Play 3: The Uncertainty Files by Linda McLean: 18-23 Oct
Play 4: Calais by April De Angelis: 25-30 Oct
Play 5: Good with People by David Harrower: 1-6 Nov

Presented by Paines Plough/ Òran Mór in association with Bewley’s Café Theatre and Metro Herald, with the support of Focus Theatre.