A Review, Voices – can you hear the Voices?

The Silent Volunteer, featuring Hiraeth by Sue Bevan.

Do YOU remember 1966?

Ah yes, England won the Soccer World Cup – lest we forget!


A terraced community aligned on a mountain slope. Aberfan, a South Wales mining village facing the ravages of time, when despite the warnings a darkness of coal sped downwards as a generation slipped into eternal slumber as heavy rain mixed with wind and an encompassing mist descended on the village that very morning

The date was the twenty-first day of October 1966.

Avant Cymru – Rhondda’s very own forward thinking theatre company – had been preparing the play “Hiraeth” producing the Valley Voices for playwright Sue Bevan’s portrayal of her experience as a young First Aider who attended the avoidable tragedy that struck that village community. Like so many others from the mining communities, alongside essential workers, local T. A.s (Territorial Army cadets) and including a newly trained nurse who in the future would become the mother of actor Richard Harrington.

Their memories linger long

Two venues presented “The Silent Volunteer” Two performances were at St Elvan’s Church, Aberdare on Thursday,11 April followed by two performances at the Tylorstown Welfare Hall and Miners’ Institute on Friday, 12 April.

Devante Fleming distributed the Meeting Agenda as people gathered at the Welfare Hall in Tylorstown. Matthew John Bool and Rachel Pedley joined Devante as Adam Vaughn addressed the audience to begin the play. They entered an exchange of conversations on the state of the past, discussing the present situation as Cler Stephens approached the audience. Cler’s monologue was both eloquent and poignant interpreting the playwright Sue Bevan’s very words

“Have you ever washed a child’s hand?” cleaning the bodies in an attempt to rinse the blackness of slurry and the turmoil that arose from within the deep blackened thoughts.

“Were you, as a parent, asked to prove how close you were to your child?” The audience remained visibly shaken

I would challenge anyone not to be moved by these powerful words. Cler was in front of the audience pleading for them to think of the future of their children and grandchildren. Their faces told her that they were listening. It was a genuine voice its message ran true.

The cast assembled on the stage dressed as of the sixties, mini dress, high platform white boots, the shirt and cardigan the dad who worked in the pit and the Mam in an office or factory. The Bopas (honorary name for the Valleys female neighbours as Aunts who would look out for the children in their street.)

A time when the children could play safely in the streets no heavy traffic, the boys perhaps wishing to be a Bobby Charlton (playing for Wales of course!), the girl who would perhaps become a teacher or for them to be grandparents to a family that would cherish them.

“You watch my windows boyo!” Bopas would shout as the opposing teams shifted the football from one side of the street to the other.

The Secretary who would take notes taken from the Engineering Official expressing concern about the tip overlooking the Pantglas School adjacent farm and village. Letters were sent throughout the 1950s and 1960s highlighting the danger and anxiety of the community as the coal tip loomed larger and larger. Urgent requests for investigations to be conducted answered stating that the “pipe” or “culvert” problem had been rectified.

Suddenly there was an almighty Roar that exploded within the Hall leaving us all slightly shocked as the cast remained rigidly still on the stage. The cauldron of neglect reverberated the terror of it all. The silence was deafening

It was around a quarter past nine in the morning when a catastrophic collapse of colliery spoil (around 140,000 cubic yards) engulfed the school and surrounding area.

School assembly had finished, attendance records were being taken as the children looked forward to the Half Term holidays No one would hear the distressing screams, the adults clasping the children close to their bodies, for they must have known what was coming and could not do more than cover the children in a quilt of love and comfort. 28 Adults and 116 children lost their lives that day. Do you remember?

Adam Vaughn sang Ar Hyd y Nos an emotional Farewell to innocence. Later the cast came down from the stage and asked the audience what they could have learnt from that time. Rachel portraying a Mam who was unconsciously wringing her hands in torment as she rinsed the school clothes of a beloved lost child. The World claimed Aberfan as its own with a warning that other tragedies could and would occur with no accountability

Tears were visible in the eyes of all the cast and audience, emotionally drained and moved by this brilliant performance highlighting the obscenity of such a disaster.

There were Guests at both venues. At Aberdare, the Lewis Merthyr Band played their Requiem to Aberfan. The Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Rocio Cifuentes viewed the assessment for compensation as “appalling”. It was a performance that left the audience in tears and still angry as it is relevant today as the village of Aberfan may lose its Community Centre

The Guest at the Welfare Hall in Tylorstown (the only such Miners Institute that remains in the Rhondda Fach and is the heartbeat of the community) was Natalie Sargent, Development, Manager Wales, of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, who in a Question and Answer Session alongside members of Avant Cymru believed that we should all share a community of voices for future generations. Let the message be that the coal tips of South Wales are NOT SAFE. Coal may well have empowered the UK and yet, with a cry, the Valleys are raped repeatedly.

On a personal note, across from my house I saw the landslide of slurry slide like a tsunami one February day in 2020 I screamed inwardly and groaned “Not again!” No one heard me. We were lucky there were no fatalities. My village lies beneath the Tylorstown Tip aka Old Smokey (as it once did) below it is a farm and at the valley bed stands the Junior School (sound familiar?).

Aberfan is sometimes referred to as a “unique catastrophe” Not in the eyes of the communities of the South Wales valleys. It grew from the past capitalist greed and gross contemporary official negligence for which no one was punished. A standing ovation was received by the cast members and playwright. They had told, presented and produced the story in a superbly thought-provoking way. This play should be shared across the UK

To end thus

To misquote an Agatha Christie novel

Why didn’t they ask the people or community /

There are some wounds that apologies can never heal

All photographs courtesy of


Adam Vaughn

Matthew John Bool

Devante Fleming

Rachel Pedley

7 Words 1135

Devante Fleming

Adam Vaughn

8 Words 1135

Matthew John Bool

Devante Fleming

9 Words 1135

Cler Stephens

Ann Davies

Jess Morgan

10 Words 1135

Appreciation from the audience at the Tylorstown Welfare Hall and Miners Institute 12 April 2024

11 Words 1135

Cler Stephens

“Have you ever washed a child’s hand?”

Monologue from “The Silent Volunteer” by Sue Bevan

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