‘Margaret and the Tapeworm’ – A warm feeling in my gut

So I went to see Margaret and the Tapeworm by Triongl theatre at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre and I have to say, my evening wasn’t off to the best of starts when an 11 ft tall 500 stone bodybuilder sat in front of me and I was too scared to ask to switch seats. That being said, I’ll do my best to try and wrap up what I saw! But first – a joke.

A guy goes to a doctor complaining of feeling poorly. The doctor examines him and says “you’ve got a tapeworm. This is what you must do: Every day for a week, eat two hard boiled eggs followed by a pickled onion. Make sure you always eat the eggs first and the onion right afterwards. Do this for a week then come and see me again.”
So the guy does this for a week, religiously eating two hardboiled eggs each day followed by the pickled onion.
At the end of the week he goes back to the doctor and says “I did what you said. What now, Doc?”
The doctor produces two hardboiled eggs and a hammer.
He gives the eggs to the guy and says “eat these and wait. When the tapeworm pops his head up and says ‘Where’s my pickled onion?’ we’ll get him with the hammer!”

Now that’s out the way, onto Christmassy Triongl-y joy! The first thing I noticed about the performance was similar to the first thing I notice in any situation: the alcohol. The performers were handing out mince pies and sherry to the theatre-goers, what fun! As we sat down to tuck into our snacks and get very mildly inebriated, the character who would soon introduce herself as Amber (played by the spectacular Rebecca Knowles whom I now have a crush on as a result of her jolly and overly cheery portrayal of a Christmas fanatic) came and wished each of us a Merry Christmas. As I awkwardly stuttered back “M-m-m-merry Christmas”, she simply grinned and moved on to provide sherry to the next person who was ignorant of the makeshift bar at the entrance as if we were all lifelong friends. The apparent need to get us all drunk didn’t put me in high hopes for the quality of the show – however I’m happy to announce, I was so very very wrong.

With this jolly start to the show, I’d assumed that was a tone-setter, that we would all experience a fuzzy warm sense of Christmas spirit throughout. While I wasn’t entirely wrong on that assumption, it turned out that there’d be some twists, turns and bumps along the road. Imperfections to the festive season tingles that came in the form of explosive laughter, quiet senses of sympathy and hang-your-head-in-shame relatability (a depiction of a drunken, cry-inducing breakdown on the street was like looking into a mirror for me).

Once we get into the mince meat of the performance, we’re introduced to the title character Margaret (Rebecca Smith-Williams), a new arrival at the office who has made their first appearance at the Christmas party no less. The gatecrashing doesn’t seem to bother Amber though who seems her ever bubbly self, perhaps even more excited with a new friend to be made! As soon as she gets her chance she swoops in to greet Margaret with cozy smiles and the last cocktail sausage… which is where our third character is to be met: the profane, glutinous and seemingly hedonistic Tapeworm played excellently by Valmai Jones (who you may recognise as Enid from Hinterland).

As a quick aside I absolutely love the costume for the Tapeworm which was some white ribbed overfitting fabric. At first, with Valmai Jones sat on a chair with her back to the audience at the rear end of the room, I’d just assumed someone had brought a dangerous criminal locked in a straight jacket with them to enjoy the yuletide festivities. But as soon as she turned around I remember remarking – in my head of course – “Oh, a sad condom”, but it wasn’t long before Valmai picked up her act and hit me round the head with it – she was absolutely fantastic. Every one-liner delivered, every hedonistic tingle when the “oxytocin” hit, every ‘sod-off’ given to the deliriously happy and nosy Amber was perfection and made me split my sides laughing, Valmai truly was the comic relief of the show.

Talking of comic relief, it strikes me that the true subject matter of the performance is so subtle it doesn’t stick in my mind as a real plot point of the story. However, there is a real message that’s delivered with all the hilarity and the surrealness of the piece. At it’s heart Margaret and the Tapeworm is really about loneliness at Christmas time, the narrative progresses to tell the stories of Margaret being shafted to Amber just wanting her family Christmas that’s now not possible after the recent death of her mother. You even start to feel sympathy for the Tapeworm who – when Margaret starts to hear it during a drunken stupour – seems genuinely ecstatic to have made a friend. The writing, combined with the show’s direction from Sean Tuan John (with presumable input from the Triongl girls), does an excellent job of not beating you round the head with a social message but amongst the laughs and the cringes it makes it’s way in.

As a reviewer I have to try and find something I don’t like about the performance or maybe something I can nitpick at, and I was genuinely disappointed that Rebecca Smith-Williams wasn’t given anything more funny – she really seemed like she was there to stabilise the mood from a comedy show to a show with a social agenda. As a result, her performance doesn’t shine as much as Valmai Jones or Rebecca Knowles, which I think is a true shame. Also, you should have given me more drink Triongl!

To sum up, this show is more than worth a watch. It really encapsulates everything that is Christmas to me (and I say that as someone who isn’t even the biggest fan of Christmas) – swearing, eating, crying, family and friends, ridiculous jumpers and karaoke while being so drunk I can barely stand. There’s no better way to experience this and it’s sobering message, than in the company of a Tapeworm.