Tag Archives: Welsh language

Review: WOOF at Sherman Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

(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 / 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 / 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