This is an English Language review of a production performed in the Welsh Language. You can read the same review in the Welsh Language at the link below.
With Love Island such a phenomenon at the moment – with extracts tweeted, worn on t-shirts and discussed in the most unlikely of places – I couldn’t imagine many leaving their nightly fix of, ahem, blatant romps on the reality TV show to attend the theatre. However, last Friday, the Welsh-medium Performance BA students’ version of Deffro’r Gwanwyn (Spring Awakening) was a sell out, and a roaring success.
At first glance – in a world where sex is no longer taboo (and Love Island isn’t the only proof of this) and the American President openly jokes about groping women – I struggled to foresee the impact that a musical discussing sexual repression would have in this day and age. However, masterfully directed by Angharad Lee, the young and talented cast tackled the challenging themes with seeming ease, presenting their own interpretation of Dafydd James’ Welsh-language translation.
The story follows the trials and tribulations of a community of teenagers, their hormones astray and the parents and teachers refusing to acknowledge their passionate emotions and desires. Wendla innocently quizzes her mother about how babies are made and is denied an answer, whilst Moritz is terrified about the strange, recurring sexual dreams that haunt him at night. Both are, according to their parents, led astray by the well-read Melchior, who presents to them a natural, organic truth. All that needs to be said about the plot and its development is that ignorance is not always bliss.
The Gate Centre appeared ironically appropriate for an interpretation of Deffro’r Gwanwyn, for it was once a Presbyterian church, now adapted into a theatre space but still littered with period features. Sitting on old pews – forced to be uncomfortably stiff and sombre during the performance – felt apt, with the ornate pillars suitably shaken to their core by a striking performance.
The set was simple – a set of movable tables and chairs – and it was the use of immensely physical choreography that made the best use of filling the stage. Where there was once a pulpit and a preacher, a band was placed, cemented as the driving force of this angsty musical. In addition, an intense heat filled the auditorium – whether deliberately or not – with everyone, audience and cast members, drenched in sweat by the end of the evening.
Without a shadow of a doubt, a subtle charisma linked every cast member in his or her turn, showcasing their bond as fellow students and co-workers. Due to the very nature of Deffro’r Gwanwyn, each cast member received the chance to shine, even supporting cast. Martha’s (Heledd Roberts) anger is felt, and Lloyd Macey as Otto’s solo was a memorable moment – despite Macey’s physical appearance making him an uncredible schoolboy. It was Jemima Nicholas as Wendla who stole the show, with her poise and posture along with her beautiful voice capturing the innocent and mischievous curiosity of her girlish character. Although she and Josh Morgan as Melchior shared an intense and sizzling chemistry, his speaking and singing voice was often swallowed in the music, and slight technical hitches didn’t help matters either. Watching Siôn Emlyn Parry’s portrayal of Moritz and his declining mental state, I felt goosepimples along both arms, and a chorus of sniffs surrounding me proved his performance had reduced many to tears.
Without a doubt, the striking costumes added to the performance’s success. The previously starched collars and Puritan outfits worn by male characters at the beginning of the musical were shed, replaced by almost sheer dirty-white vests and braces, and a mob mentality as Melchoir is sent away. The girls pranced in baby doll dresses with long stockings both seductive and sweet, with each one appearing delicate, like dolls. All had mascara-stained eyes, a striking touch, with the emotion overcoming each one, especially as the musical progressed. As well as the provocative clothing, the choreography was laden with suggestive, sexual connotations – groping, grabbing and thrusting – and a clear rebellion against the staunch religiousness of the elder generation. The only flaw in the otherwise faultless choreography was that sometimes, backs were turned, and the audience shunned. However, a ready round of applause at the end of almost every song proved that no one took offence.
That evening, not even the biggest Love Island fan would’ve had the chance to regret leaving his or her television set for the night. Deffro’r Gwanwyn’s success was testament to the hard work of each one of the students present, and their lecturers, and although Deffro’r Gwanwyn was the end of one exciting chapter, the beginning of a next one, and promising a prosperous future for the creative industry in Wales, and beyond.