Poetry at Sangam



Prodigal Audience

On the Demolition of The Embassy Cinema (“Bridgend Cinema”) (1939-2011) by Rhian Edwards


From the derelict bleachers of a jilted
cinema, where the flip-seats
are petrified in stubborn prayer;
a terracotta army, poised
as a domino trail on tenterhooks
before the flick.

The Embassy flashes back, back to Pearl and Dean,
back to the MGM lion roaring in cartouche,
back to a montage where the rope
still tunnelled through the curtains’ mind,
before it was dragged out of hiding
like a fugitive python and the lumbering
drapes slumped to the stage
like fainting dames.


This picture house that has only ever known
the half-light, a perennial dusk.

This casino blindness slackens
your canny grip upon the hour.

The sun’s absence is the one
to blame for this charcoal sketch,
this near darkness.


Within this palace of pigeons
flying rats smoke Embassy Red
and strike through grid-numbered cards
with felt-tipped wings.
Legs 11, Kelly’s Eye number one,
39 Steps, Danny La Rue 72,
Berlington Bertie 30,
The Lord is my Shepherd 23,
77 Sunset Strip and 76 Trombones,
I hear the warble of ‘Bingo’ at the top
of a pigeon’s popcorn-sized lungs.


Other nights it’s packed
to the rafters, feathers
spluttering and drifting
like fistfuls of flung crisps,
wafting back to earth.

You can only speculate
the film was a resounding hit
by the flying ovation,
the cooing of encores.


It is the tale of longing and loitering,
hands shoved into pocket corners
or folded in those of another.
It is feet stamping on the spot,
as you inch towards the entrance.

It is the tale of a hailstorm of popcorn
confettied through projection dust,
where the most innocent coupling
can mutate in the dark.


The screen wall that only ever caught
the shadow puppetry of the motion picture,
the residue of the projection’s lustre,
is being clawed from its corners
and hacked from its sides
by a wheeze of clumsy robotics,
a long-necked dinosaur footed
in a war tank’s rubber crawlers.

This clatter of sci-fi Jurassic
tears the epidermis of brick,
And bends the ribs of girders.
Arrows of light perforate the belly
of the theatre, triggering the muscle
memory of a pulley that whirls
the phantom pleats apart on cue
to the flickering of life
cartooning in its folds


The Embassy blinks like a mole,
wincing at the alabaster of day
an overcast canvas,
it hasn’t seen since 1939.

The sky is quick to bag the role,
of the once woven screen, the virgin
skin to the twitching tattoo
of Pen-Y-Bont Ar Ogwr, a foolhardy
town unravelling itself.


Bridgend now floods into the theatre
like the brimming tide of the River Ogmore,
when it jumped the queue in December 1960,
bursting its banks into the foyer,
waterlogging the upholstery
and blackening the red velvet.

Although this cult classic is low resolution,
tarnished technicolor and specless 3-D,
it has a surround sound that makes you
brackish with the tremor of the bulldozers,
the hectoring of a pneumatic drill
cross examining your bones.


The plot churns like cement
in the drum, as an epic cast
is unearthed, the Embassy Cinema’s
own prodigal audience.

We gather around the felled wall,
the backbone to the screen.
We catch our first sight of the Gods,
the invasive white orchid clambering
the walls, the balcony, the front seats.
Half a century of impressions,
cushion dents, the hollows
of our callow thrones.


Now the last theatre has keeled over
quashed, erased, the way of all
the Bridgend picture from the Pavilion
of Brackla Street, the fleapit
of the Palace, the Electric Cinema,
the first talkie of the Town.
All razed to rubble,
mowed to a car park
with little to park for.


I have become the voyeur
from the wrong side,
a lily-livered spectator
to this final public screening.

I hang on every craven word,
rapt, on the edge, the suspense
killing, alone as a tourist
forgotten on the film set.