Boy meets girl at a medical testing centre. Their first date is in Tesco café. It is hardly the stuff of movies. Richard Curtis hasn’t exactly jumped at the chance to choose Merthyr Tydfil as the perfect rom-com setting, and it is doubtful that Notting Hill would be the Christmas classic it is if, rather than centring on a glamorous Hollywood star, its plot revolved around a talk on taxidermy, a debt-ridden ice cream van and an amateur porn shoot in a dodgy hotel room.
Love, Lies and Taxidermy (5 stars, Roundabout @ Summerhall) is more Wes Anderson than Richard Curtis; it is much more quirky and offbeat than a romantic airport chase scene. Though, Rhys Ifans in his underwear just might fit in amongst Jakub, the Polish bird-stuffer who attends the local Conservative Club’s events (yes, “there really are Conservatives in Merthyr”), Mr Tutti-Frutti, the desperate ice cream seller (since the new Tesco people are eating ice cream at home, “in front of Netflix”), and Maxie Doyle the desperate wannabe film maker, who is only going to make “soapy porn” until he has enough money to escape to the bright lights of Newport. Oh, and Valentine and Ashley, who are the star-crossed lovers of the piece, the teenagers caught in the crosswinds of their parents mistakes, longings and worrying hobbies. There is also a brief cameo moment from Ron Burgundy.
No description of the tangled plot, the fast-paced, achingly funny language, or the first-class characters will do this piece justice. It is sweet, strange, endearing, uplifting and bursting with energy. The three actors never seem to stop. They dart around the stage, switching accents and body postures to contort themselves into the various idiosyncratic characters; they make cheeky glances and winks at the audience; they never leave the stage for a second. Awkward kisses, awkward parents and run-of-the-mill adolescent awkwardness are given an energy that elevates the central teenage love affair to that of the greats. In this case, life in Merthyr is more magical than the movies.
(originally forCrows Nest Zine )