Ann Davies

“Rhondda Road” A new soap opera in the Rhondda by Ann Davies

So what do you think about soap opera in the Rhondda? Would it be full of soap adverts with an aria from a male voice choir entwined? Would it be in black and white or colour? This was no soap opera, this was diverse, this was real, raw and blisteringly true to present day issues!

“Rhondda Road” – was Treorchy’s very own LIVE soap opera safely in the hands of the Avant Cymru Theatre actors and its Director Shane Anderson, when its first live inaugural episode was presented on Tuesday, 12 September in the lounge of the Park and Dare Theatre.

As you entered “The Fourth Wall Café” you were invited to take your place at a café table, the owner hovered around clearing each table. Balloons decorated areas and a greetings banner was in the process of being aligned to the wall. We realised that a Birthday was being celebrated and realised that we were all invited. This was different.

The people began to talk – this was not eavesdropping, we were not busy bodies, we were there and their lives and emotions were being unravelled before our very eyes. It was interestingly engrossing to actually know what was going on, without being classed as ‘nosey parkers’.

Alex and Megan, partners in real life, run the café with their friend Ieuan. This day was the 13th birthday of Isabelle, Megan’s daughter. Alex, who has been attempting to build a relationship with Isabelle, has organised a surprise party for her, drafting in Ieuan, Seren, a part time waitress and young carer, and Charlotte, Megan’s half-sister to help with the preparations. Charlotte has already informed Megan that Isabelle is not coming, that there is something wrong, but won’t divulge any reasons. Abi, Isabelle’s best friend and Ieuan’s niece, has been given the duty of getting Isabelle to the café on time. Seren arrives late, having attended to her ailing Mother, she quickly attends tables placing cakes, serviettes and streamers on each one.

Alex’s emotions swing, as he exclaims that his offer for the café has been accepted. “It’s all we’ve ever wanted” he exclaims as he and Megan lovingly embrace; in his dreams they will marry and he will adopt Isabelle as his own daughter. Charlotte walks out in a huff as she witnesses their attentiveness.

Life is a rich tapestry and as such, other strands gel into the mixture. Ieuan is a struggling actor and is often seen using the café premises to prepare for auditions and devising ideas to attract people to the café. You suddenly hear a booming voice from behind you, and you literally jump out of your skin. ‘I am your Father’ is directed at the occupants of the café, as we watch Ieuan appear in all his ‘Star Wars’ attire, plus a bucket on his head. His announcement is almost prophetic.

Abi rushes into the café, Isabelle is not with her, and there are concerns that all is not as it should be as we await the arrival of the Birthday girl. Abi confides in her Uncle that Isabelle won’t talk to her anymore, whilst Ieuan quietly tells her to be there for Isabelle whatever is wrong.

Isabelle enters, as the streamers are popped, and Happy Birthday Greetings resound, but this girl is not in a celebration mood; she is distressed and unhappy and can take nothing in. In a quiet corner, Megan manages to prize the problem out of her, Isabelle is being bullied. The couple have to decide what course of action they will take next.

Ieuan has his own concerns as he prepares to cut the birthday cake. Liam, his homeless friend from Uni. arrives. Liam has stayed with Ieuan for what was only going to be a few weeks but has ended up staying for months. Ieuan instructs Abi to go home, he has run out of patience, there is a clash of opinions; enough is enough as Ieuan asks Liam to find other accommodation.

An older man walks into the café, looks around, senses the nervy atmosphere and sees the desolate Liam berating his own life, and offers him some consolation as they walk out together.

Seren, in the meantime, has her own problems; time is precious to her, her part time job and her caring responsibilities. Sometimes it proves too much, especially when she sees other girls her age not having the daily worries that she has to tend to. Life is further complicated by the attentions of love sick Ioan, who follows her around pausing for every word she speaks, whereas it is Charlotte who wishes to be by Ioan’s side.

The older man returns to the café, but this time his demeanour is not so serene and helpful. It is soon apparent that he is Megan’s Father, Sion. Megan, so strong and resilient, visibly shrinks under his stoic glare; remembering the damage he had inflicted on her during a traumatic childhood. Tempers flare and Megan attempts to guard her daughter from his grasp. Sion states that he has changed, he wants to be part of a family again, to get to know his granddaughter, but Megan stalwartly insists that this will never happen and leaves Alex and Sion alone.

Sion’s mannerisms change, there is no emotion, he is malevolent; his intentions are as clear as his final threatening words

I’ll be back, I’ve bought this café

That is how episode one ended. “Rhondda Road” showed life as it is wherever you happen to live, its concept and format is different and entertaining. You feel the emotions of the people performing, and in the final minutes, we saw such a difference in the character of Sion Andrews with his hurtful threats, that you almost wanted to cry ‘Boo! Hiss!” at the villain, connecting in every way.

It’s not black and white, it’s not colour, its Life and it’s RAW. It brings a format and a way of storytelling (or soap opera in this case) alive.

Episode 2 Tuesday, 10 October at 4 pm, Park and Dare Theatre, Treorchy

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    Review Swarm, Fio Productions by Ann Davies

    The rendezvous was made; a meeting with others. The night was dark and dank as the drizzle stormed down on our gathering. Black Gothic gates barred our entrance to the large stone building. We waited patiently. We were all strangers, curious about what lay ahead. We didn’t know just what to expect.

    At last, the clanking sounds came of the gates being opened; we were told to assemble in straight lines. It was almost as though we were awaiting some sort of detention duty. A loud cry went out as another person came scrambling out of the darkness crying “My child, please see to my child” as uniformed personnel rushed around, issuing orders for us to enter asking questions “Were you followed? How many? Are there any more?” “My wife, my child” were the only words that the man managed to utter within his sadness. Lost in explanation, a large door began to open to a warehouse type area; as one, we were herded into its vast inner sanctum.

    Slowly, we became aware of our surroundings. We came under an incredible amount of scrutiny from a multitude of people, and saw children huddled together in one corner, as if afraid of our arrival. “We have a few supplies and blankets, please share the blankets” the voice on the speaker announced. Some people came forward as if on a welcoming bid, imploring details about the outside. The man and child were rushed to an enclosed area with a Red Cross embellished on it.

    “For fear of disease” the voice continued “you will have to be examined. Your photograph will be taken, a detailed form will need to be completed; you will then be assigned a number “.

    The air was stifling; people were talking wildly about their relatives and whether anyone of us knew anything about them. Hands were inspected and washed; we were each issued with toiletry samples. The siren shrieked shattering our thoughts, as the lights dimmed

    “Get down and remain still!” the urgent command drilled.

    We all lay prone on the hard floor using the blankets provided.

    Repeated blows on the door followed as security personnel entered, they were looking for certain people, but received only a stony silence. A child cried out in pain “There is nothing we can do” a medic announced as the man walked aimlessly around.

    Fear held us in its grasp. Notices on the wall were adorned with desperate messages; missing people cried out to be found. You could almost reach out and touch the growing mania of panic and distress of what we were all witnessing.

    This was an experience that we had not only watched; we had participated in a human drama.

    “You’ve got a swarm of people coming, seeking a better life” A play had been performed but we were also the actors, the performance may disappear but the crisis of the refugees would not go away. It was an experience driven by conflict, of painful human reality of what is actually happening. The play was called ‘The Swarm’; the company were the Fio Productions and it was staged at the Pop Factory, Porth.

    It was not a tale of the unexpected. At its conclusion it was a diverse platform for the further discussion of ethical and political issues.

    The truth hurts.

     

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