Tag Archives: Gareth Williams

Review, Road to Ruin, Dan Jordan & The Warbirds, by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Dan Jordan and The Warbirds evade categorisation. They are poetry. They are music. They are outlaw country. They are moody blues. They are folk storytelling. They are heavy metal vocals. The only seminal thread that runs through their latest album, Road to Ruin, is main man Dan’s clear connection to the music of Bob Dylan. He may not readily admit to such an influence being a conscious thing, but it is apparent that his time spent with Dylan over the course of his first album has had a lasting effect. His vocal delivery may not be to everyone’s taste, but one should at least be able to appreciate the hard-felt poetry that emanates from it.

Opening track Slow Burn may get off to a slow start but its first few moments of silence create a real sense of anticipation. A whirring cymbal then comes spinning into existence before being knocked sideways by the hard keys of a piano. It introduces the heavy beat which symbolises much of the album’s dark veneer, Jordan’s own smoky Dylan-esque vocals then coming in to add further shade. There is a sultry otherworldliness to the piano and electric guitar which gives it a certain intrigue and stops it descending into a black hole. The various mixing of genres, from the Latinized Country of Rider to the Metalized Blues of Run, have a similar effect, the poetic nature of Jordan’s lyrics also contributing to this sense of fascination which surrounds much of the album.

Each track is greeted with surprise. Each offers something slightly different from the rest. Ain’t Got Nothin’ may have a classic Blues structure but Matts White and Taylor bring some wonderful organ and electric guitar respectively to give it an added dimension. The soft and delicate composition on Seven Deaths of You creates a beautifully light atmosphere which allows deeper access into Jordan’s poetry. There is a real slice of folk storytelling here, delivered rather nicely through a deep voice that contains the faint presence of delicacy and vulnerability. Sweet City Ruin manages to uncover this further in lines like “stumbling through the city like a spectre” and “all you want is for the world to know that you were here” even as they are hidden behind the up-tempo, western swing style music.

There is a mythical quality to Elena which could be said to draw on folk tradition. The track that follows, Nightingale,certainly seems to suggest a strong folk influence upon Jordan’s work. His always gritty and grave delivery never allows for the same cadences that one might find among the typical folk singer however, meaning the loss of emotionality to some degree. What is lost here though is made up for in another unexpected musical addition, this time the introduction of pop elements followed by a sudden flurry of different instruments that take the album in a completely different direction. It means that, even as Jordan’s vocal starts to feel staid, there is enough originality to keep you listening right to the end.

Final track This Land has No Name is definitely worth sticking around for. On its musical surface is a wild west evoking landscape, complete with tolling bell and front porch guitar. It is the country music of the outlaws, reclaiming their rural roots from the urbanisation of an earlier sound. Dig a little deeper into the lyrics, and you begin to see the parallels. Yet this song speaks not of a place across the pond but a land much closer to home. Those “structures… crooked… battered” are the stone houses dotted across the countryside. The “roofs made of tin” are the barns stood in fields “still breathing [though] barely alive”. The bar, “as dry as a bone” and “the shops, boarded up” represent the communities who have lost their amenities to the forces of globalisation and capitalism. It is a depiction of Wales that is keenly felt and of which Dan Jordan seems acutely aware, no doubt garnered from his own geographical movement across the nation’s map. It is a protest song, if you will, inspired, whether conscious or not, by folk pioneers such as Bob Dylan, with a contemporary resonance that ensures Road to Ruin finishes with a political bang.

To find out more about Dan Jordan & The Warbirds, click here. To listen to album on Spotify, click here.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, Curtain Up, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Curtain Up is a celebration. It is a celebration of creativity, imagination and Welsh talent. Over three fun-filled weeks, it has been the setting for a series of short plays that have all taken the notion of play to heart. And where better to host this menagerie of pure ingenuity than Theatr Clwyd. It has certainly delivered on its aim to make the world a happier place one moment at a time. Coming out of conversations with creative freelancers, Curtain Up has given writers the time and space to write again, actors the chance to perform on stage once more; and allowed stage managers, lighting technicians, and sound operators, to name but three, to return to what they do best. It is a reminder to all of us of the power and wonder of live theatre.

Oat Jenner’s smile said it all. It was the widest of smiles among the 10 actors taking part in the final week of plays. It seemed that he couldn’t contain his delight during both Normal Day and Seen, expressing the same euphoria felt by so many after so long. No wonder the excitement in the room was palpable. The opportunity presented to the audience at the start of the night, to choose which props would feature and who would play who, only heightened the sense of anticipation*. And with each week’s performance, the cast and crew delivered. It may not always have worked – the Cadbury’s Milk Tray in Kristian Phillips’ Trwsio: Repair was ripe for comic exploitation but came over rather dead in what was an otherwise touching story – but when it did, it produced chaos aplenty (see Sion Pritchard’s inventive use of a skipping rope in Just Another Blue Marble and the hilarious water spray face-off in In the End). Such fun.

There were moments of real depth alongside the humour. I found The Order of the Object by Lisa Parry to be a fascinating critique of both the religious and the secular; Jennifer Lunn’s Stop the Drop a deftly comic analysis of political power and influence, steeped in contemporary irony; and the symbol of a child’s pink and flowery wellington boot to be a potent symbol of subversive oppression in Alun Saunders’ Beginnings/Dechreuadau. It was left to Thieves by Mali Ann Rees to reduce me to tears, in a moving story of love, friendship and loss that was brilliantly written and wonderfully acted by Catrin Mai Edwards and Miriam O’Brien. Meanwhile, David Bower’s performance in Seen by Katherine Chandler was utterly mesmerising. What a storyteller he is, working his magic alongside Chloe Clarke in a tale of online dating, belonging, and love. And the improvisation of Sian Reese-Williams and John Carter in Life 2.0 was a masterclass, making it seem as though the prop chosen by the audience had been theirs to rehearse with all along.

To choose a favourite among this smorgasbord of 15 plays would be like picking your favourite child. They were all so very different, ranging from the virtual (The Ongoing Eternal Search for ‘Da’) to the real (Letting Go). The inclusion of the Welsh language in and amongst them was great to see, the surtitles accessible and undistracting. The way that they were weaved into Mari Izzard’s The Ongoing Eternal Search for ‘Da’ was cleverly done; and they held extra poignancy in Beginnings/Dechreuadau whilst adding superbly to the realism of Trwsio: Repair. If there was one play that really struck me though, it was Nine Point Two Minutes by Ming Ho. It shone a spotlight on some of the pressures of the healthcare system and its effect on both doctors and patients. It was so effective that the sense of injustice apparent in Ho’s narrative, pressed home through the fragility and passion of Llŷr Evans and Anita Reynolds in their roles respectively, was impossible to miss. It was but one of many highlights over the three weeks of Curtain Up.

Curtain Up has been the perfect opportunity to revisit the theatre safely again after lockdown. It has been an enjoyable pilgrimage to Theatr Clwyd every Wednesday night for the past couple of weeks for a fabulous evening of entertainment in the company of some of Wales’ finest. Its success must surely pave the way for similar shows in future, if only to continue supporting the very best in the nation’s emerging talent both on stage and off. I will miss this weekly trip to the theatre on a hill. But I am grateful to director Tamara Harvey et al for making it a return to savour. The words from Finding Your Feet by Samantha O’Rourke feel like the most fitting to end with here. They seem to sum up what has been the overwhelming response to Curtain Up from both creatives and audiences alike: “Thanks for being here. Thanks for listening. It means a lot”.

*This review is written in response to the Wednesday night performances over the production’s three-week period. Therefore, references to certain props and actors are made accordingly.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

An Interview with Francesca Goodridge, on Curtain Up at Theatr Clwyd, conducted by Gareth Williams

Curtain Up is a celebration of creativity, live theatre, and Welsh talent.

Over the course of three weeks, three companies, comprising of ten actors each, will perform 15 new plays – five each week – by 15 Welsh playwrights. That’s 15 voices with 15 very different stories to tell.

Associate Director Francesca Goodridge took some time out of her busy schedule preparing for week one to tell us a bit more about this exciting new project from Theatr Clwyd.

How would you describe Curtain Up?

It’s like a conveyor belt of theatre. So we start week one with a group of ten actors who work on five new plays, about 10-15 minutes long each, written by five playwrights who were specifically commissioned for this project. They have one week of rehearsals, one week of tech, and then open the following week. Meanwhile, during their tech week, a second company of ten actors come in and start rehearsing another five plays, with the third group of ten actors coming in to rehearse another five plays a week after. So that’s 15 new playwrights that have been commissioned for a project involving 30 actors in total.

How did the idea first come about?

It was borne from a series of conversations that Tamara (Artistic Director) and Liam (Executive Director) were having during lockdown with freelancers. They just asked, ‘What can we do to support you guys? What do you need?’ and the general consensus was that creative people can only live when they’re being creative – we’re just such strange beings, aren’t we, that nothing else really feeds our soul – and so Tamara and Liam came up with this concept, this conveyor belt of theatre, which allows us to give as many freelancers as possible the opportunity to be creative. It gives 15 writers a paid commission to write something after what might have felt like an age; to write something that is going to be seen, and hear people saying their words. It gives actors a space where they can just play and learn lines and be silly again. And it allows design, stage management, lighting, all of these freelance jobs, an opportunity to use their craft again after so long; to be creative on a huge scale.

And I’ve heard there is an opportunity for the audience to get involved as well…

So not only do the audience have the opportunity to see five new plays each week but the really good thing about Curtain Up is that an audience member can come every night and see something different. We’ve cast it in such a way that two actors learn every role, and at the start of the show we “rock, paper, scissors” it to see which actor will do which show that night and what part they are going to play. (So that’s the fun and excitement we’ve really been missing; the chance to not just be creative in rehearsal but for that to still live and breathe in the production.) Also, the writers were asked to include an unspecified prop in their play so the actors don’t know what that prop will be. The audience chooses the props at the start of the night and the actors are only handed the prop as soon as the play starts so there’s some improvisation: they have to react differently, which can change the course of the play. It’s all about having spontaneity again and feeling that excitement of live theatre. Every night is super-charged because things change, props change, the costumes change, an actor might do the scene opposite one actor one night and then do the scene opposite a totally different actor the next, so every night it’s something different.

Has it felt like an explosion of creative energy being back on stage after so long?

I think everyone has felt the same, me included. On day one, going into a rehearsal room and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, can I even do this anymore? I haven’t done this for so long. Can I still do this?’ But I feel so lucky right now to be sat on a stage, and it’s the same for the whole company, not just the actors but stage management too, to be able to do the things that we love and we’ve really missed. I think an explosion is a great way of putting it because I think that’s what it will feel like every night. It is going to be different; and I think, in a world where nothing really feels steady at the minute, it’s kind of nice to have that little bit of tension on stage as well, that little bit of no one knows what’s going to happen, and the excitement and energy that comes from that.

Was it a conscious choice to perform the plays in the round?

It was a conscious decision because it’s about bringing people together again and, ultimately, the reason why this project is so special is because we aren’t flying in sets or have a huge budget. What is at the heart of it is storytelling and actually hearing stories again, which is what I’ve missed so much. I think being in the round is so much like sitting around a campfire and telling a story – that is where we come from and how we tell stories. It also allows the actors to have real fluidity. They can move; and with it being double cast, it opens the space and it becomes like a big playing field for them. We want the audience to feel like they’re in this bubble and to feel like we are all united again in being together.

How important do you think it is that there is such a diverse range of writers with such a diverse range of stories to tell here?

You can’t tell a story the same, and what is so exciting about this is having five stories from five writers with five different backgrounds – totally different people, totally different identities, with totally different upbringings, from totally different homes – so every single play is different. One of the plays is set on a spaceship, for example, and then for another we’re in someone’s living room. And that is the beauty of theatre: that we are transposed from place to place and we totally believe that. It’s so imaginative.

But though each of the play’s are different, each of the five writers was given a theme – so the first one is new beginnings, the second is finding feet, and so on – so that every night has got an arc that will take us through the night. So although the audience will see five different stories each week, they will have gone on a journey on the night through these themes. And to add to the diversity, we have some Welsh language stories too, which was a bit of a logistical challenge to make sure that four of the actors were Welsh speakers, but it’s been really great to have these Welsh language plays as well and to have Welsh language theatre included. I know that this was one of the most important things for Tamara and Liam, to make sure that it was truly diverse and was championing many different voices in Wales.

How excited are you about the writing talent coming out of Wales at the moment, and the opportunity that something like this affords them?

The thing that excites me most is working with a writer and sitting down to work on a new play and having that seed of an idea and seeing it through. It is one of the best things in the world. But aside from these sorts of opportunities, what Curtain Up has done is given 15 people a chance to write – how many of these writers may have come out of lockdown and lost their love for it, or not had the opportunity to do it, or were working elsewhere and had no time to fit it in – so as much as it’s about wanting to commission new writers, it’s also about giving people time and space to just write, without them feeling like they have to come up with anything. Yes, this is a commission, but more than that it has given them a bit of time and a bit of space to just do what they love. If that then ignites something in them to then write something else, great. But it’s about letting people have time and space to just do what they love without having to produce something all the time; where there’s no pressure to write. That’s hard when it’s something you might be doing alongside another job because you need to live. So, yeah, I think more of that would be great because that is where some of the best work is made, when there’s no pressure to have something in by a deadline, as you can make what you want when you have time and space.

Click here to find out more and book tickets.

Conducted by
Gareth Williams

An Interview with singer-songwriter Eleri Angharad, conducted by Gareth Williams

In this latest interview, Get the Chance member Gareth Williams chats to singer-songwriter Eleri Angharad. Their chat takes place in the form of a podcast, the third in a trial series in conversation with Welsh creatives. Eleri talks about her new EP, Nightclub Floor, as well as Swansea’s music scene, songwriting, her creative journey as a musician, and Welsh identity.

Click here to listen to the interview.

To find out more about Eleri, visit her website here, or follow her on social media @ImEleriAngharad.

You can purchase Nightclub Floor on her website, or stream it here.

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Gareth to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here. Thanks.

Review, Yr Amgueddfa, S4C by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Two of my screenwriting heroes went head-to-head a couple of weeks ago. On BBC1, the master of social realism, Jimmy McGovern, brought us the incredible Time; and on S4C, thriller-extraordinaire Fflur Dafydd gave us the heritage-crime drama Yr Amgueddfa. The former may have been getting all the plaudits but the latter has not been without its supporters. The most prominent, Russell T Davies, has been shouting about it in the Radio Times no less. And deservedly so. For Fflur Dafydd has again created a drama that is well written, intricately woven, gradually builds tension, and offers plenty of twists and turns.

At first, it appears that Della (Nia Roberts) is the main character in the show. The opening scene sees her deliver her first speech as newly-appointed Director of the National Museum of Wales. The focus on her and her family gives the impression that these characters are going to be the bedrock of the series. And in some sense, they are. All have their own intriguing storylines that help flesh the drama out, making it a patchwork of stories that all, somehow, end up connecting as the series progresses. But the appearance of a mysterious young man called Caleb (Steffan Cennydd) in the grand entrance hall of the Museum in those first few moments, and his obvious attraction to Della, acts a bit like a red herring as, far from being the antagonist, he emerges over the course of six episodes as an empathetic protagonist.

It is testament to the clever writing of Fflur Dafydd and Steffan Cennydd’s subtle performance that Caleb is imbued with an ambiguity that keeps the viewer guessing his real motives throughout. One minute he appears vulnerable and fragile; the next, suspicious and manipulative. He seems to be seducing Della at one point, earning her trust to gain access to files from the Museum. Then, at another turn, he seems genuinely in love with her and self-loathing in his actions. Dafydd really plays with our perceptions of the character, as she does with so many here. This is what she is best at: subverting our expectations and playing with the objectivity of truth. Cennydd, for his part, ensures that this is achieved through minimal expression that is precise in its execution; and a deceptive amount of flat emotion that keeps us wondering who he is and what his intentions are.

Nia Roberts may be formidable in the role of Della, but it is Cennydd as Caleb that emerges as the most fascinating person in Yr Amgueddfa. It may not be as high-octane as its sister production, Y Llyfrgell, but it is as absorbing in its mystery and suspense. The fabulous sets and expansive scenes may have been a result of Covid protocols but they also give the impression of a sleek and modern Wales that is far removed from the rural stereotype. Fflur Dafydd has again collaborated with producer Paul Jones to create a series that is full of colourful characters, none of whom are wasted, all caught up in their own well-written subplots that gradually feed into the grand narrative. It has clearly struck a chord with viewers given its extended run on Clic and BBC iPlayer. So if you haven’t seen it yet, make it a priority for your summer viewing. You won’t regret it.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

An Interview with Screenwriter Fflur Dafydd, conducted by Gareth Williams

In this latest interview, Get the Chance member Gareth Williams chats to screenwriter Fflur Dafydd. Their chat takes place in the form of a podcast, the second in a trial series in conversation with Welsh creatives. Fflur talks about her latest series, Yr Amgueddfa, as well as the writing process, her creative journey, Welsh identity, memory, and Welsh TV drama.

To find out more about Fflur, visit her website here, or follow her on social media @fflurdafydd.

You can watch the whole series of Yr Amgueddfa on BBC iPlayer here.

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Gareth to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here. Thanks.

Review, For the Grace of You Go I, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a sadness and deep sense of injustice behind the humour and surrealism of For the Grace of You Go I. Due to begin just before the pandemic hit, Alan Harris’ play may be long overdue but its delay has proved timely. Beneath the strange veneer of a storyline in which a man puts out a hit on himself lies a sobering analysis of the inequalities that coronavirus has exposed in society over the past 18 months. It makes for a darkly comic play that is both hugely entertaining yet deeply unsettling.

Its colourful set, of luminescent pink, green and yellow walls, belies the broken and struggling lives of its characters. They do reflect the dreaminess of their existence though. Jim (Rhodri Meilir), employed to put pepperoni on pizza as part of a government scheme, imagines himself as Employee of the Month – complete with giant rosette and accomplished chef’s hat – in one of several cartoonish scenes projected onto the walls. In reality, he is a thorn in his line manager Irina’s side. Played by Remy Beasley, she is under constant pressure to meet targets, and Jim’s daydreaming does nothing to help matters. Though work gives him a sense of purpose, she is forced to let him go. His only solace is found in a monthly film club where he meets new guy Mark (Darren Jeffries), whose obsession with American action movies makes him the perfect partner in Jim’s movie-styled life. After watching the 1990 Finnish film I Hired a Contract Killer, Jim decides that he wants to take the place of its protagonist and asks Mark to do the honours in killing him. It may sound rather far-fetched but there is a serious underbelly to its hyperbole and other-worldliness.

Jeffries gives an assured performance as Mark, whose Mancunian swagger hides a far more vulnerable masculine existence. He is terrific opposite Rhodri Meilir, who brings a beautiful innocence to the troubled Jim, their exchanges pacy and lively throughout to give a slightly unnerving edge to the funny and ironic dialogue. Beasley is wonderfully on-edge as the hassled Irina, maintaining a brilliant balance between sanity and breakdown such that her character fizzes both in dialogue and action like a loosely-corked bottle of pop. The pressures on all three are palpable in their different ways; and they give rise to the much bigger issues at play. Harris comments on mental health, consumerism, capitalism and the political system without ever being preachy. He achieves this through the disabling use of humour and by intimately tying the issues to the narrative. As a result, they ooze naturally out to offer a searing indictment on the oppressive systems and privileged attitudes in existence within society, tempered frequently by the comic form.

I had expected to be overwhelmed as I walked through the doors of Theatr Clwyd for the first time in 18 months. But though it felt special to enter the building to a familiarly warm welcome, made more so by the beaming sun as it flooded in through the windows; to give a knowing smile to the recognisable pictures on the stairs up to the Emlyn Williams theatre; and to be greeted by the same ever-delightful staff who were courteous and helpful as I got into a bit of confusion over my ticket number, it was the reminder of the importance of theatre, as a medium that can speak truth to power, that really made its mark. That importance has not gone away over the course of the pandemic. If anything, it has grown stronger and become more vital than ever. But having become acutely aware of this once-unspoken assumption outside of the context of its physical space and place, For the Grace of You Go I was the first opportunity for what had become apparent through the screen to be embodied within the bricks and mortar to which theatre most truly belongs. As such, Alan Harris’ already-powerful message struck an even deeper chord than it might have in pre-Covid times. If it had something to say then, it most definitely needs to be heard now.

Click here to find out more and purchase tickets.

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Gareth to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

An Interview with Country Singer-songwriter Rae Sam, conducted by Gareth Williams

In this latest interview, Get the Chance member Gareth Williams chats to Welsh Country singer-songwriter Rae Sam. Their chat takes place in the form of a podcast, the first in a trial series in conversation with Welsh creatives. Rae talks about her debut album, The Great Escape, as well as songwriting, mental health, Welsh identity, and faith.

To find out more about Rae, visit her website here, or follow her on social media @raesammusic.

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Gareth to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here. Thanks.

Series Review, The Pact, BBC1, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a moment during the final episode of BBC1 drama The Pact when its writer, Pete McTighe, attempts to deconstruct the truth. Julie Hesmondhalgh’s character Nancy, one of the four women caught up at the centre of a murder investigation, begins a Shakespearean dialogue with her priest (Mark Lewis-Jones), telling him that we all wear masks and play parts. No one is ever truly themselves, she admits. “I’ve come to realise that it’s the absence of truth that holds us together”. When Father Martin responds to her “cynical worldview”, I’m inclined to agree with him. But I do wonder if McTighe has still necessarily muddied the waters to offer a critique of truth as a negative construct: sometimes dangerous, potentially destructive, and capable of being subverted by something greater than itself.

Pete McTighe

This critique plays out in the central narrative of the drama. After brewery boss Jack Evans (Aneurin Barnard) is found dead in the woods, having been innocently left there by four friends in a humorous act of revenge for his snide comments the night before, the group endeavour to create a cover story so as not to be implicated in the subsequent investigation. They attempt to absolve themselves of the situation, thinking about the possible ramifications should their involvement be uncovered. They are driven by fear of where the truth might lead, and attempt to abscond it by living a lie. What takes shape over the course of six episodes is a fascinating interplay between truth and lie. It is at its most dynamic in episode five when Anna (Laura Fraser) reveals to her husband, police officer Max (Jason Hughes), what really happened. In doing so, she makes him complicit; forced to choose between his personal and professional commitments. It becomes a choice between telling the truth or living the lie; and in choosing the latter, the lie becomes the truth that drives the lie. In other words, he acknowledges the destructive consequences that the truth poses to his family, and so seeks to avert this risk entirely by becoming entangled, like the rest, in a web of deceit.

Anna (Laura Fraser) and Max (Jason Hughes)

Ordinarily, one might assume that McTighe is telling a simple story of corruption. However, I believe he presents a rather deft commentary on the nature of friendship. I think it goes to the heart of what Nancy means when she describes “the absence of truth that holds us together”. For the lie which Anna, Nancy, Louie (Eiry Thomas) and Cat (Heledd Gwynn) concoct, which some of their nearest and dearest are eventually drawn into, becomes the basis for which trust between them is built.  The Pact is not so much an exercise in secrecy then as trust. It may be that the lie wins but only as an expression of self-sacrifice. Nancy gives of herself in an act of grace that saves the guilty Tamsin (Gabrielle Creevy), complicating the typical formula of the crime drama where the mystery murderer is finally unveiled and given their comeuppance. There is no good and evil as solidly defined categories here. Instead, everyone falls short in their own way, having to pay penance for their actions on the night of Jack’s death, to paraphrase Nancy. Her response is, perhaps not surprisingly, steeped in a theology of sin and atonement which, though far from straightforward, still leaves plenty of food for thought on the place of justice and truth.

When I came to The Pact, I was expecting to comment on its place within the landscape of Welsh TV drama. It is certainly an interesting addition to the canon, with its strong Welsh cast supplemented by a scattering of British stars representing a Wales with fluid borders; a community with a recognisably local identity but peppered with the accents of Scots and English settlers. It is not quite the bilingualism of a Bang or Hinterland but neither is it a homogenously accented whole. It has given Eiry Thomas an opportunity to take on a role that sees her come into her own, her star turn opposite heavyweights like Eddie Marsan (Arwel) and Hesmondhalgh announcing her as an accomplished lead. Rakie Ayola is superb as deadpan detective DS Hammond, her commanding presence softened beautifully by her dry wit and no-nonsense comment. Meanwhile, Abbie Hern makes her debut acting role as Tish a memorable one, her performance opposite Heledd Gwynn making her one to watch for the future. However, for all its stunning shots of the landscape, its subtly effective music and excellent cast, it is the narrative themes that have really drawn me into this drama and kept my interest throughout. The Pact has been a thought-provoking crime thriller which has left me with something to think about.

Click here to watch the series.

Written by
Gareth Williams

Review, Bregus, S4C by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Hannah Daniel gives an impressive performance in S4C’s latest drama series, Bregus. She is almost unrecognisable from her best known role to date, playing straight-faced, sharp-tongued lawyer Cerys in Keeping Faith. Instead, she takes on the character of high-flying surgeon Ellie, whose vulnerability and fragile mental state begin to unravel following the sudden death of her sister, Luce (played by Sara Gregory). Daniel manages to create a richly compelling personality, surrounding her with an air of mystery that is greatly enhanced by the use of camera, music and cinematography. In doing so, she makes the transition from supporting actor to leading lady with aplomb. No doubt awards will follow.

The series begins almost as a mirror image of Keeping Faith, with Daniel adopting the organised chaos of the married middle-class professional with kids first thing on a weekday morning. The initial picture that is painted is one in which everything appears perfect. Life is good. But then an unexpected twist turns everything upside down. Where Bregus then veers from Keeping Faith becomes more apparent, not least in the actions of Ellie, whose accompanying blank expressions could not be more different from the swirling emotion conveyed by Eve Myles as Faith. This is where Daniel excels in producing a sense of detachment both within the drama itself and from us, the audience. She becomes something of an enigma. The lingering close-ups, jarring soundtrack and surrealist techniques all contribute to this unknown element. But it is what surrounds the dialogue between Ellie and husband Mart that really unlocks the general feeling of unease that accompanies the strangeness of this drama.

It is not about what is said so much as what is not said that makes Bregus so intriguing. The surface dialogue contains such rich subtext that it is hard not to be gripped by the exchanges of Hannah Daniel and Rhodri Meilir in particular. Meilir is perfectly cast as the quietly controlling Mart. His ability to play a character with such threatening calmness is ideally suited here. There is always a sense of an ulterior motive behind his composed exterior which, like in his previous role as Bill in 35 Diwrnod, is never quite confirmed until the final episode. In the meantime, it is the suspicion that surrounds him that helps build tension here, with the revelation of his character’s true nature being even more powerful when it finally comes. It is in the final scenes that everything that has been bubbling underneath the surface is suddenly unleashed in explosive fashion. The dialogue then becomes explicit, so carefully crafted as to cut like a knife, and revealing Bregus as a beautifully feminist piece that is incredibly moving to say the least.

Bregus is this wonderful mix of mystery drama, psychological thriller and family psychodrama. At its heart is a wonderfully complex female character whose actions are often far removed from the stereotype. Hannah Daniel portrays Ellie exceedingly well as a mother, wife, friend and surgeon who is not immune to the challenges and external pressures that come with these roles. Her responses are often unexpected and at times surprising, which is partly what makes this drama so absorbing. Its sense of intrigue is elevated by music that is so resonant at times that it overwhelms; close-up shots that are so immersive that they enthral; and the use of surrealism such that one is never quite sure whether what Ellie is experiencing is real or not. It is in the subtlety of expression alongside the dialogue though that should be particularly commended. Daniel and Rhodri Meilir excel at this, though the rest of the cast have their moments too. It is in the mystery at the heart of these relationship dynamics that makes Bregus such a fascinating watch. And it is the vehicle through which Hannah Daniel finally announces herself as a solid and very capable lead.

Click here to watch the series on Clic.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams