Welsh filmmakers have an advantage over others: world-class landscapes on tap.
Shooting in Wales, filmmakers don’t have to go very far or search very hard to find breathtaking locations that will serve them, are deserving of top billing, and require very little in the way of lighting or design or any other customisation for that matter. Wales’ landscapes can be taken ‘off-the-peg’ and are ‘ready to wear’.
Landscapes in Wales speak volumes, with eloquence, intensity, romanticism, or whatever else filmmakers wish them to evoke; they would speak Welsh if they could. And they give Welsh films signature visuals to be proud of and grateful for, but a film cannot succeed by landscape alone.
The location in Yr Ymadawiad (The Passing, Welsh language with English subtitles, Severn Screen production in association with Boom Pictures) a huge old farmhouse on an expansive plot of remote woodlands in late Autumn/early Winter, is awesome and is captured magnificently (Director, Gareth Bryn; DOP, Richard Stockland; Production Designers, Tim Dickel/Siani Palfrey). With exteriors on tap (apart from the well, perhaps?) the designers were able to focus all their attention on the interiors, which I’m sure required a fair bit of research and deft prop acquisition to make it look and feel like it, too, was found as is. (Unless it was?)
The man we watch with great interest at work in the landscape, his intensity and brutish physique quite profound, adds further grim authenticity. Mark Lewis Jones’s performance as Stanley is consistently strong throughout. The attention to detail in vision and in sound (Composer, Jeremy Holland-Smith credits/Cranc, Post-production sound) are apparent in a way the genre permits; the sound scape works like a treasure map – dropping clues like mad — and the audience excitedly keeps track as they stack up. The amount of time spent on these establishing shots, our prolonged watching of Stanley work and live in exquisite silence, is characteristic of Welsh filmmaking, and the opening scenes are captivating. The absence of the spoken word serves his character well: a simple, lonely and emotionally oppressed man, a man with a secret.
I don’t think the minimalist dialogue serves the other actors or the story in the same way. Use of the fewest possible spoken words seems an intentional stylistic decision (Story, Ed Talfan and Peter Watkins-Hughes), but the combination of this, and other style points — the production’s reliance on landscape; and perhaps, a foreknowledge of Welsh history, and an understanding of its allegorical cultural references to tell the story, hinder the success of the film. Even those in the know want more from a film: they want to hear more, be told more, have to assume less.
Until the other characters, Sara and Dyfan, appear, the film works. Their appearance raises questions. Some are the suspense of the story, others are due to the flaws that impede its flow. Their performances (Annes Elwy as Sara; Dyfan Dwyfor as Iwan) are admirable, but the script does not enable them to fully exhibit their relationship or tell the story. Though beautiful to the eye, as the camera follows with languorous shots, Sara’s passive gazing or her curious meandering though the bare, thick-walled exquisitely-lit rooms, the premise remains unclear for too long, mere snippets of dialogue creating a tension that was less edge of the seat and more an urge for a gear shift. Equally, Iwan’s erratic behaviour raises questions, but the script’s reduced dialogue offers no opportunity for answers, increasingly reducing the impact of the action, and ultimately the pay off.
I was ready to make a lot of space and time for the film as it began to unfold, but I gradually began to feel as though I didn’t want to keep investing in this story because it wasn’t giving. It took too long to get to the point. In all its glory, it languished. The Passing could have been a short.
The Passing is not entirely dissimilar to the collective pool of Welsh films that also treat landscapes, pace, dialogue and storylines this way. Huge credit to film industry professionals whose networks have grown and grown up, taking the Welsh product to a substantially broader marketplace and to the savvy of the producers (Ed Talfan/Kate Crowther) who will have ensured The Passing will be seen on multiple international platforms. I am confident that new audiences will devour it and praise it for the same reasons indigenous audiences are calling for more from Wales’ filmmakers.
(You know) It’s all about the bus…
When is a bus not a bus? When it’s a cycle bus or a walking bus. Please read on….
Guy O’Donnell coordinates Sherman 5 at the Sherman Theatre Cardiff. This Sherman 5 event supported a group of older people to see Happy Hour (written by Anita Vettesse; directed by Gethin Evans; and part of the Òran Mór series: A Play, A Pie and A Pint); and have a discussion afterwards.
When I pulled up on foot outside of The Sherman Theatre, I saw all these busses (as you do outside of a theatre on a performance day)…. and for some reason, this image resonated. I stored it away inside my writer’s brain, and went inside. And then I learned that when you join Sherman 5, and you book a ticket to see a range of the Sherman Theatre’s productions, you do not have to worry about getting there. Because (you know) it’s all about the bus, you can choose the Sherman 5 coach (which is a bus by another name), or you can choose the walking bus or a cycle bus.
I’d never heard of a walking bus or a cycle bus before now. Walking busses, I have since learned, operate for Sherman 5 family productions; and a lead cyclist will accompany audiences from the four Communities First areas of Cardiff to the theatre on Sherman 5 nights. That’s the Cycle bus. For further information, on this or any aspect of Sherman 5, please contact: –
Guy O’Donnell, Sherman 5 Coordinator, Sherman Cymru.
Also steering this bus with Guy were Artistic Associate (and Happy Hour Director) Gethin Evans, and the Sherman’s Creative Learning Associate, Andrew Sterry.
This was an early matinee, 11am on a Thursday. That was just about the most perfect time for this event to occur. Five stars on timing, guys. And, instead of a pie and a pint, a cake and a cuppa were offered – very well received, thanks again!
As a dramatist, I can’t help but find symbolism in everyday occurrences, and like the busses, I knew that somehow the overturned milk jug during the interval would serve me. The play is about a dysfunctional family. ‘The family have gathered in the back room of the pub ready to scatter Dad’s ashes which currently reside in a Nike shoe box. But bitter resentments and long-held grudges might hinder Dad from resting in peace…’ Their ‘stuff’ (like the milk that accidentally spilt all over the Sherman foyer floor during the interval), spills across the pub floor in a tragic and hopeless way, as did the ashes in the penultimate scene….
The only ‘happy’ in this play was in its title. Happy Hour was not an easy play to watch; it left me feeling quite bereft. Personally, I am compelled to seek happy endings or at least a glimmer of hope in my own work; and I prefer to leave the theatre with some sense of promise so, when I asked on the day, I said I didn’t ‘like’ this play. But in retrospect, perhaps its dark rawness was its strength and perhaps it was necessary. (Perhaps Vitesse is writing a sequel? The characters were deep and full, and I was invested in their drama. I cared about them, and would like to know what has happened to them.)
I’d bet that the majority of older people in the audience, if not the world, can relate to family dysfunctionality in one way or another. By the time you’ve reached 50 it’s inescapable to have encountered it in one shape or form. And the discussion afterwards gave voice to their varied experiences. Respectfully, Andrew made the group aware that ‘the language of the Glasgow pub lives and breathes in the piece’. As the discussion again proved, there were not many in the group who hadn’t experienced vulgarity sometime or other in their lifetimes.
The post show discussion
The happiest part for me was observing an audience of older people at the theatre for a challenging production. The team had considered age and appropriateness, and deemed Happy Hour fit for purpose. They also considered all the logistics and variables to ensure the success of experience. The discussion was well-led by Andrew Sterry, who genuinely made everyone feel welcomed and valued; and the extra added bonus of the STAR Communities Volunteers on site offering hearing-aid testing was a stroke of genius.
Leslie Herman Jones
Third Act Critic
8 December 2015