Part of the Wales In Edinburgh strand at the Fringe, Caitlin is a biography of Caitlin (wife of Dylan) Thomas’ in dance. As Caitlin informs us at the outset, she was to be a great dancer, he a great poet, equals, complements to each other, but history had other ideas. This two person dance piece, directed by Deborah Light, portrays the relationship with all its mutually destructive energy.
Audience and performers are seated, as at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, in a circle, a circle that disintegrates along with the Thomas’s marriage and future. Chairs are plucked from the ring, flung about with abandon, and made to function as cradles, straight-jackets, bar counters, lovers, tombstones and more as the story unfolds. Music by former Julian Cope collaborator Thighpaulsandra is intense, getting intenser.
Eddie Ladd (Caitlin) and Gwyn Emberton (Dylan) start with a segment which encapsulates the Thomas’s relationship – unsteady, sexual, co-dependent – Caitlin nurses Dylan’s head in her lap, catches him when he falls, brings him round from drunken slumber. But it works both ways. Sometimes they lean on each other, sometimes Dylan takes the upper hand.
Subsequently, detail is given. In short spoken segments Ladd as Caitlin gives just enough information to convey what we see. The couple’s children are born and raised, rocked in cradles or pushchaired round the room. Dylan’s career takes off from a chair podium. Both partners take other lovers, thrusting and bucking around the room. In a brilliant scene, they bar crawl their way around the circle, swigging back drinks and ending up as snorting pigs, drunk not just on booze but on each other’s company. There are fights, vicious headlocking fights, and quieter moments with Caitlin rolling a cig watching Dylan in hospital. The climax is Dylan’s fateful American tour, the poet teetering metaphorically from great heights atop a stack of chairs.
In all the chaos, this is very much Caitlin’s story. Dylan remains a silent, but imposing presence throughout. Both Ladd and Emberton convey the wild, passionate brutality of this famous couple’s relationship with obvious empathy. What lacks is a more suitable setting for the piece. The wide-open, tall-windowed space of Dance Base’s Studio 2 is fantastic, but too bright, and without mood-setting lighting to finish this piece off. All the same, Caitlin is a fine example of storytelling through dance.