Tag Archives: Welsh language

Series Review, Enid a Lucy, S4C by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Writer Siwan Jones blends social realism and surrealist comedy in the most delightful way in Enid a Lucy. The S4C mini-series, which came to a slightly abrupt end on Sunday night, made for an entertaining and enjoyable drama. Termed the ‘Welsh Thelma and Louise’ by some, Eiry Thomas and Mabli Jên Eustace certainly provide plenty of laughs as the two leads whose offbeat road trip takes them from Llanelli to London via the most unconventional of routes.

The drama begins on a modest housing estate in Llanelli where we meet next door neighbours Enid (Thomas) and Lucy (Jên). Enid is a piano teacher whose home is neat and tidy, fitted with mod cons and well lit. Meanwhile, Lucy lives in a dark, dank and messy space. The drained colour palette of the cinematography, as well as the use of handheld camera, gives the impression that this is going to be a gritty, class-based drama. The introduction of Lucy’s drunken and abusive boyfriend Denfer (Steffan Cennydd), in contrast with the genteel and traditional images of the Mother’s Union that Enid is involved in, only serves to underline the divide that exists between them. Yet early indications that this is going to be a serious piece of realist drama are confounded by the end of the first episode when Enid turns getaway driver for Lucy in order to escape the hapless Denfer and his buffoon of an uncle, Sid (Nicholas McGaughey). What follows is a random and raucous cat-and-mouse chase across the country as the men seek to reclaim a holdall containing drugs and a gun from Lucy, who is determined to use the contents in order to make a better life for her and her baby.

Siwan Jones’ script plays like a melody that is pitched just below hard-hitting but doesn’t quite decrescendo into absolute farce. It manages to deal with some big issues, such as childlessness and mental health, but these never feel forced. Neither are they allowed to consume the overall narrative, Jones ensuring that the escapades of Enid and Lucy are filled with much hilarity and randomness. This includes perhaps the most comical scene of the series, where two farmers that they end up staying with accidently take some of the drugs in the holdall. Actors Ifan Huw Dafydd and Rhodri Evan really let loose their inner zombie to produce a very funny scene. It borders on the ridiculous but never descends into the realms of the unbelievable. It is this kind of accurate measurement which Jones must be applauded for in the writing of Enid a Lucy.

My only bone of contention with this drama was the finale. It was as if a timer had suddenly gone off with five minutes to go and all the loose ends had to be tied up tout suite. It left me feeling rather out-of-kilter; that such a well-paced journey should end so abruptly. Although not quite on the same level as the conclusion to BBC1’s The Replacement (2017), it nevertheless conjured up similar feelings. It is a shame because, otherwise, Enid a Lucy is a great drama, with particularly notable performances from Eiry Thomas and Mabli Jên Eustace. Thomas, in particular, slips into her character with ease here; in contrast to her over-exaggerated performance as the detective in Keeping Faith, she is completely believable as Enid. She is a joy to watch, especially during her exchanges with Eustace: the two bounce off one another wonderfully.

It is great to see S4C, via producers Boom Cymru, giving a prime-time platform to female writers at the start of 2019. Both Fflur Dafydd (35 Awr) and now Siwan Jones have provided Welsh audiences with some quality TV drama already this year. Enid a Lucy may have only received a short run, but it was fun whilst it lasted. Its slightly left-field style follows on from some of Jones’ previous work – not least 2011’s Alys – but it still feels highly original. It would have been great to have spent longer with these characters. Despite its rather hasty end though, Enid a Lucy still manages to thoroughly entertain.

Watch the series on S4C’s Clic here.

gareth

Review: Merched Caerdydd/ Nos Sadwrn o Hyd, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru (Using the Sibrwd App)

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Take four actors, three chairs, three sets of neon lights, and one stage, and what do you get? Two new plays conceived for the 2018 National Eisteddfod now touring the country with Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru (TGC). Both Merched Caerdydd and Nos Sadwrn o Hyd are making their way from North to South, beginning in Mold and ending where they are set – in Cardiff. And thanks to TGC’s Sibrwd app, it could be said that these are the most accessible Welsh-language plays yet.

The Sibrwd app is a simple concept, designed to guide non-Welsh speakers and Welsh learners through the performance. Until now, it has provided audio synopses during plays, to help those not fluent in the language understand the gist of the narrative being played out on stage. When I arrive for this tour however, the app has undergone a significant change. For the first time, TGC, and the app’s operator Chris Harris, are providing audiences with a full translation of the dialogue. Think surtitles at the opera but on your phone. Ingenious you might think. And to some extent it works. But I’m not entirely convinced.

The main problem that I encountered was being drawn away from the action on stage in order to understand some of the dialogue being spoken. As a Welsh learner whose proficiency level floats somewhere between Intermediate and Advanced, this wasn’t as much of a problem as it could have been. I was able to grasp a general understanding of the narrative and the characters’ stories without needing to refer to the app too much. However, if I wanted to understand a particular word or phrase, it became difficult not to disengage from the play in order to seek out the translation amongst the bulk of text being shown on my screen. In one sense, I can see how this would suit a non-Welsh speaker or beginner better – they could easily follow along and not miss a trick. The transitions between each piece of dialogue on the app flowed seamlessly. The problem is that they would then be likely to miss out on one of the primary thrills of theatre: live performance. It is as much about the action on stage as it is about the dialogue being spoken. What both Merched Caerdydd and Nos Sadwrn o Hyd have are strong, powerful and engaging performances by a hugely talented cast. They bring such immersive and intimate details to their characters through their physicality and movement as well as their emotion and vocals. But this could be missed if one is concentrating too much on reading in English what is being said ‘yn Gymraeg’.

This balance between the aural and the visual is a tricky one to maintain when one of those requires translation. The more translation needed, the harder it becomes to maintain a kind of equilibrium. Without prior experience of the app in its audio descriptive form, I cannot say with any confidence which style is better to enable non-speaking and/or learning audiences to engage most fully in Welsh-language theatre. I suspect that from my own position, an audio option would be preferable (particularly if it offers a synopsis, rather than the whole script). I could then maintain my focus on the stage rather than being drawn down to look at my screen. The main benefit to this, in my opinion, would be that you remain engaged in the production as a whole. To be so engrossed in the stories being told by writers Catrin Dafydd (Merched Caerdydd) and Roger Williams (Nos Sadwrn o Hyd) respectively is to be made more open to being challenged and moved by their messages; more vulnerable to empathy and emotion.

Both Merched Caerdydd and Nos Sadwrn o Hyd are fascinating pieces of theatre. Whilst the former focuses on three women and the significant choices that they have to make at an important juncture in their lives, the latter concentrates its attention on Lee, a gay man whose blossoming relationship is disturbed by an act of violence that threatens his life. Performed as a series of monologues (interweaving in the case of Merched Caerdydd), the simple set and subtle use of lighting and sound help plunge the audience into the increasingly messy and fraught situations of the characters’ lives. We cannot help but become entangled in their relational quandaries and bodily vulnerabilities. The sharp focus of Merched Caerdydd on sex, love and relationships feels very relevant, particularly with its themes of control and power. Meanwhile, the mixture of humour and heartbreak, sweetness and violence found in Nos Sadwrn o Hyd, portrayed so eloquently by Sion Ifans, makes for a fraught and funny hour. It cannot be underestimated how important, how needed – these stories are.

Sion Ifan

Despite them being unrelated, both Dafydd’ and Williams’ plays seem to complement one another well. They are but a small snapshot of the strength and depth of talent coming through in Welsh-language playwriting. I find it interesting that both feel somehow connected to their own language and place – the feeling that these would not have come out of, or would at least have been conceived differently in, an Anglicised context. To give non-Welsh speakers and learners the opportunity to access and engage with these worlds through the Sibrwd app then feels important. In its current form, Sibrwd enables that to an extent. What is exciting about the app is that it remains in the relatively early stages of its development. Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru should be commended for testing and experimenting with live audiences and being genuinely open to their feedback. Give it time, and give it chance, and I think that this app will become a significant tool, not least in opening up Welsh-language plays to a wider and broader audience. That can only be a good thing for plays like Merched Caerdydd and Nos Sadwrn o Hyd. For these are stories that need to be told, and experienced by as many people as possible.

For more info and tickets, click here.

gareth

Series Review, 35 Awr, s4c by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Exasperated by BBC1 Wales’ Pitching In? Thankfully, it is now the exception to the rule when it comes to contemporary Welsh television drama. What would have once been seen as a godsend – alleviating the problem of non-representation, if only briefly – is now seen as an affront to the people of Wales. We’re better than this. The last few years has seen an explosion of Welsh drama. Not only in the number of series’, but in the quality of these series’ too. From Hinterland to Bang, Parch to Keeping Faith, there has never been a better time for Welsh-set, Welsh-made drama. A Golden Age, as I’ve been inclined to call it.

At the start of 2019, there is another drama to be added to this growing roster: 35 Awr. Fflur Dafydd’s new series sees a 12-person jury assemble after a court case to consider their verdict. But finding the defendant guilty or not guilty of murder proves far less straight-forward than some were expecting. And when it comes to light that they could be in danger if allowed home, they are taken to a local hotel for their protection, until they can come to a decision. But not all is as it seems.

Across this 8-part series, the lives of these characters begin to slowly, tentatively, and intriguingly unfold. As they do, Dafydd begins to entangle them in a dark and sinister web. Connections are made, alliances formed; the power play between the different characters is always fascinating, never simple. The game of poker in episode three becomes the perfect metaphor for this psychological murder mystery. Even where their conversations seem mundane, or rather superfluous, one need only dig a little deeper, beneath the surface, to discover the ulterior motives, selfish motivations, and hidden desires at play. These aren’t always obvious at first. Which is what keeps the drama interesting. Dafydd slowly feeds us with tit-bits of information; now and again she surprises us with a big reveal. Such revelations come at steady intervals throughout; gradually increasing the tension, which bubbles gently until the final episode when it finally boils over, with pulsating twists and numerous turns.

It is the intimate characterisation which makes Fflur Dafydd’s scripts always so enjoyable. To see the characters of 35 Awr brought to life in such fine detail, and with such fascinating complexity, by the ensemble cast was a real treat. From the awful masculinity of Carwyn Jones’ Peredur to the nonchalant behaviour of Gillian Elisa’s Val (to name but two), Dafydd succeeds in creating a memorable set of well-rounded characters that become instantly recognisable long after the programme is over. Indeed, the excellent editing of Dafydd Hunt and the cinematography of Alwyn Hughes helps to give this drama a look that feels fresh and original even as it employs fairly standard techniques and tropes. This is no easy feat. Yet, somehow, they manage to do so; perhaps, in part, down to Dafydd’s original screenplay.

If you’re looking for a darker, more subversive murder mystery than your typical Agatha Christie, then 35 Awr should satisfy your needs. In fact, it should exceed them, for it is also much more than that. Part psychological thriller, part crime drama; it contains as much humour as it does menace. Writer Fflur Dafydd has assembled a fine cast of characters whose personal lives slowly seep out and intertwine with one another, creating a gripping narrative which culminates in a superbly arresting final episode. This is what great Welsh drama is. It is no longer defined by the likes of Pitching In. Pitching In is now the exception. Fflur Dafydd’s 35 Awr represents the rule.

Click here to watch the series now.

gareth

Review: WOOF at Sherman Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Please note this review contains references to sexual violence and detailed analysis of the productions plot.

WOOF by Elgan Rhys is a new Welsh-language (occasionally bilingual with English subtitles at every performance) play about two men, Daf and Jesse, who have different expectations of one another.

In a lustful first meeting we see the pair’s first sexual encounter and follow their romance along some ups and downs until their final “sexual” encounter and the fallout.

Woof portrays big topics such as open/polyamorous relationships and sexual assault both in the context of modern gay life. However, Elgan Rhys fails to really explore any of these topics in a way that does them justice.

One main reason why is because the characters are cliché “types” of gay men. One wanting marriage and kids, the other wanting an open relationship. But this is the extent of their individuality. Even the way they speak is basically identical and generic.

Because of this, despite the characters having clear goals, the motivations that drive them aren’t clear. For a play that relies so heavily on bubbling under the surface, we should be understanding the motivations.

Rape is used as a “turning point” and feels more like a plot point than a major life event in Jesse or Daf’s life. Things do change after this, but again, the motivations that drive these changes are invisible. Because of this, it doesn’t feel like we’re watching a play, we barely see how they’re feeling and when we do, it mostly comes through speech and feels unnatural.

Things happen, we get spoken to about them, and then the characters move on to the next stage of the plot. It feels like a draft of a script that has figured out its structure, but not found the character’s voices or even the characters themselves.

One positive is that we see real love from both characters to each other, even if they don’t always care for the other.

Elgan Rhys presents a lot in Woof and some people will really identify with it, because of the evocative nature of the topics presented. But it explores very little of these huge themes and how they affect the characters, which is where this play particularly falls down.

The tone of the direction from Gethin Evans doesn’t help solve this. It’s quite flat throughout. The odd scene or moment is well controlled by Evans. But the piece overall feels odd. The subtext isn’t portrayed well throughout the performance at all and the build-up to the rape scene, as well as the scene itself, is really poor because of this.

Whilst neither Aled Pedrick as Jesse or Berwyn Pearce as Daf do particularly badly in portraying what they’re given, neither really rise and meet the task either. There are great moments from both, however.

Jesse’s immediate reaction to being raped is horrifying. The confusion and fear are portrayed well – but this doesn’t hold and the performance of Jesse declines into mediocrity afterwards. Meanwhile, the performance of Daf peaks in more comedic moments – but struggles with the darker ones.

There are moments of good chemistry between the two, particularly in the first third of the play. A scene where the two characters exchange phone numbers is particularly nice. Some real chemistry which is lovely as well as being the first time we see real care and love in the two. But then, there’s a lot that feels unnatural. For example, whenever the characters talk about their relationship – which is the central conflict of the piece.

The set and design from Elin Steele is simple. Nothing out of this world but it works. It’s a similar story for Katy Morison’s lighting design too. Some moments that are good, the club scene in particular, but ultimately underused.

The sound by Sam Jones doesn’t have a huge impact on the overall production. An announcement of “Happy New Year!” on the sound system doesn’t fit the tone and music isn’t exploited nearly enough.

The design elements really could set the tone for the piece but instead, as happens too often, feel like an afterthought.

Now that we have critically assessed the play itself, there are some other things that desperately need to be addressed.

Firstly, the lack of trigger warnings was a huge issue. “Sexual content” does not equal “rape/sexual violence”. This desperately needs addressing by the Sherman in the remaining shows as this was incredibly irresponsible.

The tone on the night and marketing is out of place with the nature of the piece. Having feedback boards outside with various LGBTQ+ flags on it, was a strange contrast from portraying a toxic gay relationship and gay rape. Marketing it with the words “bold” and “gritty” are also out of place with what we see. This isn’t a bold play because it doesn’t challenge its audience.

In the programme notes, Rachel O’Riordan, former artistic director of the Sherman Theatre and the person who commissioned this play, said, “the play…will ask our audience to look at some uncomfortable truths.” This is true. It asks its audience to observe some uncomfortable truths but doesn’t challenge them by exploring those truths.

It seems that from start to finish, the whole theatre had the wrong attitude with this play, from top to bottom. From commissioning, to presenting, to marketing and warning its audience about the issues it deals with. It’s a presentation of something that may well be true, but not an exploration of the themes or characters.

There will be people who really enjoy Woof and it is worth seeing, in full knowledge of what it’s about.

WOOF is a dark portrayal of a toxic, yet loving relationship, between two male characters who are ultimately underdeveloped.

WOOF performed at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
31 January – 9th February 2019
Written by Elgan Rhys
Directed by Gethin Evans
Cast:
Daf – Berwyn Pearce
Jesse – Aled Pedrick
Designer: Elin Steele
Sound Designer: Sam Jones
Lighting Designer: Katy Morison

Review, Parch, S4C by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Last Sunday evening, I spent a good ten minutes with my hand firmly placed over my mouth. In the final episode of S4C drama series Parch, there was such an unexpected twist that I simply hadn’t seen coming. In my own words, ‘Well, that was a bombshell and a half’. To think that this is it, that we will no longer be following the crazy and chaotic life of the Reverend Myfanwy Elfed, is more than a little sad. Yet writer and creator Fflur Dafydd has reached the conclusion that this is a good time to say farewell to this most lovable of protagonists. It’s a little frustrating. Carys Eleri has brought such warmth and wit to her character that it has always been a pleasure to share in her company of a Sunday evening. But if she must go, then she has gone in the most beautifully tragic of ways. It felt like Dafydd always knew how this series was going to end. It made the final scenes no less surprising though. And for someone who has journeyed with Myfanwy through all three series, the emotional impact of this final section certainly hit hard.

It is only retrospectively looking back at the narrative arc of the main character that you begin to see the full artistic vision of Fflur Dafydd for Parch. As such, although gutted that this is the end of the road, I applaud her for having the conviction to draw a natural line in the sand and stick to it. So many TV drama series’ these days have a tendency to drag on a bit too long, remaining on our screens on the basis of their initial commercial success. What would have been the right time to stop is made into a springboard in an attempt to give fans more of what they love. Yet for so many it is like carrying on after reaching the edge of a cliff. Few fly. Many fall. As a result, I’m rather glad that Dafydd has refused to bow to the desires of people like me who want to see Parch continue. Instead, it will remain an ever-affectionate drama in my mind rather than a hoped-for return to a glorious past. Not that the series has to end due to Myfanwy’s absence. It is testament to the strength of Fflur Dafydd’s writing that, over the course of these three series, the focus has been as much on the other characters as the cleric of the title. As such, although initially a contemporary representation of a female priest within the Church in Wales, the series has also seen a broader focus on the trials and tribulations of the Elfed family and those around them. We have been involved as much with Gwenlli (Non Haf) and her struggles with her sexuality, for example, as we have been with Myfanwy and her faith. This final series, in particular, has been such an enjoyable watch in part due to Dafydd’s ability to hold the various storylines onscreen together. She has woven romance, mystery, fantasy, and family drama together so brilliantly that, in the end, it has become an ensemble piece. But, ultimately, it would be odd to continue in her absence. Even if she were to be like the ghostly visions that have accompanied her throughout the series’, somehow it wouldn’t be the same. In the end, Fflur Dafydd has made the right decision to bring Parch to a close.

Parch is another example of the high quality television drama that is currently being produced in Wales. As I’ve said recently, I think this is something a golden age for Welsh television drama. Having watched it alongside Keeping Faith, I can honestly say that Parch ranks just as highly in my view. It may not have won the plaudits that Keeping Faith has, but it has shown a quiet strength, epitomised by Carys Eleri’s performance. Whilst Eve Myles showcased her bold and brash physicality in Keeping Faith, Eleri has brought a humorous vigour and subtle power to her character in Parch. In doing so, she leaves behind an indelible mark of a veracious female lead who will be sorely missed.

So thank you, Fflur Dafydd. You may have left me in tears at the end, but the past three series have been a joy to watch. Parch will be missed.

Review Inheriting Gods, Chapter Arts Centre by Roger Barrington

Image credit Kirsten McTernan

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

“When each of you in this room were born, there were 6,000 languages spoken on the planet. Now, a language is not just a body of vocabulary or a set of grammatical rules. A language is a flash of the human spirit. It’s a vehicle through which the soul of each particular culture comes into the material world. Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind, a watershed, a thought, an ecosystem of spiritual possibilities”.

So says my friend Wade Davis in a TED speech in Monterey  in 2003.

This premise is largely what drives the excellent Theatr Gwalia’s “Inheriting Gods” that has now finished its short run at Chapter in Cardiff.

Writer C.M. Stephens links the Wampanoag language to the Welsh by interacting a Valleys tourist Rhiannon, and an indigenous descendant, English name Shaw, within a Cape Cod setting. Once they sort out their national identity, they find that they have an awful lot in common. In finding out about each other’s language and culture, they reach a state of transcendence where they discover their own.

Playwright C. M. Stephens 

Both my paternal and maternal lines originate in Somerset. My Barrington line found themselves in Brecon in the 1870’s and remained for the next one hundred and twenty five years. Why Brecon? Well my great great grandmother, was a typical female Welsh export at this time, a servant in Weston Super Mare. She came from Llanspyddid outside Brecon and this obviously prompted their emigration. My mother’s family landed up in Cardiff in the 1890’s.

Inevitably, both families married Welsh folk so I have the usual Davies, Williams and Powell lines on my family tree. When examining the 1901 Census, my great grandfather, James Davies is recorded as a Welsh speaker., but like so many families, this was not passed down to his children. Brecon, being located close to the English border is not a particularly Welsh speaking town and despite learning the language in school for many years without distinction, I now know only a basic number of Welsh words, but am unable to string sentences together. This mirrors Rhiannon in the story.

Shaw a descendant of the indigenous people  has been Americanised. Cape Cod, where most of the action takes place has a large Wampanoag settlement at Mashpee. Other reservations are found on Martha’s Vineyard. In fact, each year, a powwow takes place, a weekend of dancing, drumming and musical performances celebrating the People of the First Light. This year, the three day festival starts on 6th July. I guess it is the Wampanoag equivalent of our Eisteddfod.

Charlie Jobe

 

 

Saran Morgan

 

 

 

 

The Wampanoag language is unusual in that it was, at one time extinct, but has been revived since the 1990’s.  Even more so than Welsh, it struggles to survive being immersed within the English speaking communities.  Also, like Welsh, it has its own varied culture and way of life.

The play touches upon many subjects besides language loss. The Wampanoag were the people who greeted the Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth Rock on November 11th 1620. Ms Medway-Stephens makes the point that I used to debate with my Chinese students in their American Literature class when studying William Bradford’s controversial contemporary  account. The point being that each year American’s celebrate the fact that the good earth provides nourishment on Thanksgiving Day, whilst simultaneously and mostly unintentionally, wiping the faces of the indigenous people’s whose land they stole in the same soil.

Of course there is a common denominator in that both races were exploited by the dreaded English, another point the writer is anxious to make. To be fair to our neighbours over the other side of Offa’s Dyke, it as not only the English who colonised America, as the ill-fated Darien Scheme instigated by the King of Scotland clearly shows. I’m sure us Welsh did our bit – well Patagonia springs to mind.

The name Rhiannon, the Horse Goddess of that great work of Welsh literature, the Mabinogion is also brought into the narrative. There is also much attention paid to Shaw’s anglicised name.

Then there are the Welsh politicians who went on hunger strike to successfully plead the case of having a Welsh language television station.

The burning question to be addressed may be an uncomfortable one for us Anglo-Welsh. That is, how Welsh can you actually be without speaking the language of your nation; without reading its literary heritage in its mother-tongue; without singing the beautiful songs that have been passed down over the ages?

If there is a more important Welsh play in the English language written in this or any other year, I would very much like to see it.

My only criticism is that I feel it is under-developed as it stands. Lasting only sixty five minutes, the issues and others not mentioned here, don’t get sufficient time to be explored fully. I recall seeing Robert Lepage’s seminal play, “The Seven Streams of the River Ota” in both it’s workshop production and its triumphant seven and a half hour epic presentation at the National Theatre a couple of years later. I can see “Inheriting Gods” developing in a similar way. By having twenty to thirty minute vignettes exploring the issues referred to for both the Welsh and Wampanoag themes bound together by the central premise.

The two characters played by Saran Morgan and Charlie Jobe are both likeable. Scenes are divided by videos and photographs of both Cape Cod and Wales. Accompanied by an assortment of songs in both English and Welsh, I think this worked really well. The set seems to be some kind of stockade, although it may represent the reservation or even the traditional architecture of Wampanoag huts.

Saran Morgan and Charlie Jobe

 

 

 

The play has now ended its short run, but I hope to see it re-emerge, perhaps somewhere along the lines I have suggested here.

Finally, to slightly change one of the central anthropological questions, what it is to be human and alive. Carmen Medway-Stephens poses the question, what it is to be Welsh and alive.

More information about the Wampanoag People

culturalsurvival.org-Awakening a Sleeping Language on Cape Cod The Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project

tolatsga.org-

 

Roger Barrington