Tag Archives: Rhodri Meilir

Review For The Grace Of You Go I (Online). by Alan Harris. A Theatr Clwyd production, co​-commissioned by Wiltshire Creative by Richard Evans

Many of us have bemoaned the lack of live theatre over the past months, the atmosphere, the immediacy, the inventiveness behind a good production.  Would a virtual presentation be able to compensate and provide a stimulating theatrical experience?

Online interaction has been something that many of us have had to get used to and is now such a familiar form of media for both business and entertainment.  Would it work for a play that cries out for a live audience? 

Alan Harris’ play, ‘For The Grace Of You Go I’  is a dark comedy that explores the theme of mental illness, in particular a personality disorder.  It demonstrates how illness and disadvantage fits in a context of a ruthless, profit driven society that shows little understanding and still less sympathy for those who find themselves unable to conform to a standard sense of normality. The main character, Jim (Rhodri Meilir) is forced into a job creation scheme or else lose the benefits he needs to survive.  However he is unable to keep up with the demands of work or the strictures placed upon him.  Why should a pepperoni pizza have 6 pieces of sausage arranged in a circle?

Central to the play is an examination of reality, individuality and purpose in life.  Jim suffers from a depersonalization=derealisation disorder where he has a repeated experience of viewing himself from outside his body.  This has a debilitating and demoralizing effect on him and effectively prevents him from accessing work and relationships as he would like, leading him into a spiral of depression.  However, he expresses this with an honesty that contrasts markedly with Mark (Darren Jeffries) who comes across as self-assured, successful with an aspirational lifestyle.  This however is a sham and his life is effectively a lie. 

With both characters being dysfunctional, the play explores the support society should give to those with a mental illness. Remi Beasley’s character, Irina is the person who promotes the back to work scheme designed to help reconstruct the lives of those like Jim.  She presents an enthusiastic, sympathetic persona to him that is sadly crushed by the target driven, profit oriented company they work for.  Her frustration is initially directed to Jim but as she grows in knowledge and affection for him, this is directed towards the soulless nature of the company and the empty promises it makes.  This very much mirrors the experience of those marginalised in our society who seek to reconstruct their lives.

The play is drawn to a memorable climax when Jim and Mark meet at a film club.  They are both heavily influenced by a film by Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismaki, ‘I hired a hitman’.  To escape his despondence, Jim attempts to mimic the film by hiring Mark to be a hitman who will end his suffering. 

The set was highly effective using a simple backdrop of three primary colours that allowed a change of mood and scene to occur seamlessly.  It helped focus the attention on the actors and dialogue rather than distract the eye as some more complex backdrops can do. 

It was superbly acted by the three players, whose dialogue and interplay was slick and convincing.  However, while there were many occasions when the dialogue brought out a smile, there was a smouldering intensity about the production that drew towards an inevitable, tragic conclusion.  To me, the most important conclusion was that the authentic life must prevail and be lived with integrity no matter what the circumstance.  This is followed closely by the searing indictment of a harsh, money driven society lacking compassion and the ability to help those with significant mental health problems.  As such it is a timely reminder that after this current pandemic, there will be plenty of people in need of substantial support. 

Did the play successfully translate to a virtual environment?  It was certainly riveting viewing and well worth a watch, but I stand by the impression that this is no replacement for a live performance, good as it was.  It is a convenient format, where you can pause, refill your glass and come back to it, but the flat screen dulls the senses to the poignancy playing out in front of you.  Congratulations to Theatr Clwyd for having the ambition to film and broadcast this production.  It was a welcome treat after being starved of theatre for so long, however, it will be great to walk through the doors and experience once again live theatre in reality. 

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.

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Reviewed 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

Series Review, 35 Diwrnod: Parti Plu, S4c, by Gareth Williams

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

There is nothing like a dining table to expose a series of lies and untold truths. Many would point to Mike Bartlett’s terrific 2015 drama Doctor Foster as the epitome of that. Yet there is a scene in the latest series of 35 Diwrnod that comes close. After four episodes cranking up the tension, this moment represents the point at which the bomb, slowly ticking away since the opening scene, truly starts to go off. It is an extraordinarily gripping scene, full of revelation, as the incalculable web of mystery and intrigue that writer Fflur Dafydd has spun begins to quickly unravel. True to her style however, she leaves enough enigmatic plot points to keep the viewer on tenterhooks to the final moment of the final episode.

What I love most about the writing of Fflur Dafydd is her attention to detail. The series may set up Beth (Gwenllian Higginson) as the main character, whose impending marriage to Dylan (Geraint Todd) provides the focal point, but the interlocking narratives of every single character and the gradual exposure of their secret links to one another means that, in the end, it becomes an ensemble drama. We as viewers become invested in every single person because Dafydd herself has gone to great lengths to make each of them complete and fully rounded characters in their own right. It means that there is no let up; no subplot that exists simply to give the viewer a break from the main focus of the drama. Instead, it is a constant stream of deliberate action, in which every interaction, however mundane on the surface, becomes a point of information that feeds into the wider narrative. The viewer gets drip fed little details, sometimes through dialogue, sometimes via a cleverly crafted camera shot, which act as tantalising threads that keep us hooked. It is a visual guessing game that springs surprises and often plays with our expectations. Dafydd is without doubt one of Britain’s best screenwriters.

This latest series of 35 Diwrnod also features some of Wales’ best acting talent, with Sion Ifan (Efan) and Rhodri Meilir (Bill) starring alongside some inspiring new faces, none more so than Emmy Stonelake (Angharad). Indeed, Meilir and Stonelake are excellent as a married couple whose relationship becomes increasingly fractious due to the former’s controlling behaviour. The calm and calculated persona that Meilir adopts in Bill’s attempts to isolate Angharad from her friends helps achieve a verisimilitude that offers a welcome contrast to some of the more outlandish content in this drama. Stonelake portrays the emotional effects of Bill’s behaviour on Angharad with such obvious subtlety that though it may not grab you by the scruff of the neck like in series two of Bang, this domestic abuse storyline still resonates with a quiet power. Dafydd handles it with great sensitivity, just as she seems to with transgenderism. The inclusion of a character in the process of transitioning may be used as a plot twist, but the emotional impact on them and their family strikes me as sympathetic and considerate in its portrayal. Dafydd balances high-octane scenes with delicate moments really well. 35 Diwrnod: Parti Plu is an emotional rollercoaster for the viewer as much as it is for its characters.

I am always fascinated by the exploration of memory and perception that is a feature of all Fflur Dafydd dramas. In this series of 35 Diwrnod we witness the mental traumas that some characters carry, the mental anguish that others feel, as well as the mind games that a few play. Viewers are frequently challenged in their perception of what is happening onscreen, the many surprises and twists throughout providing plenty of mental stimulation that causes us to think twice about our own theories and assumptions as we engage with this incredibly intricate world of Dafydd’s own imagination. I did think that I had her writing figured out. But as my early expectations failed to match with the outcomes onscreen, I realised that it was facetious to even entertain the notion that I could second guess her every move. 35 Diwrnod has deservedly returned for another series with critical acclaim. It further cements Fflur Dafydd’s reputation as a master storyteller.

Watch the series on S4C’s Clic here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Series Review, Hidden, BBC Cymru Wales by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

When one looks back over 2018, Keeping Faith is sure to come out on top in the world of Welsh television drama. It has been a huge success. Its latest stop on its incredible journey is primetime BBC One. It goes from strength to strength, and will certainly deserve all the accolades that come its way. In amidst all the hype of this brilliant series however, it has been easy to overlook another Welsh drama that has been airing over the past two months on BBC Wales and BBC Four respectively. Produced by the creator of another Welsh hit drama Hinterland, Ed Talfan, Hidden has been allowed to bubble away below the surface of Keeping Faith’s success. I would suggest that this is primarily because it is a crime drama. And though I would agree, to a certain extent, with some of the groans that accompany the thought of yet another one hitting our screens, it does at least offer something a little different. There is a slight spin on the achingly familiar.

The twist in Hidden’s tale is the revelation of the killer at the outset. The opening scene sees a girl running through the woods, pursued by an unknown man. This girl is subsequently found dead. The investigation that unravels across the whole of the series centres on finding this girl’s killer. Such a task is given to local detectives Cadi John (Sian Reece Williams) and Owen Vaughan (Sion Alun Davies). But whilst they are in the dark over the killer’s identity, the viewer is given unprecedented access into the life of Dylan Harris, played brilliantly by Rhodri Meilir. A strange, sensitive and brutalised figure, Harris lives with his mother and daughter in an old farmhouse deep within a forest of the Snowdonia National Park. It turns out that he is a serial abductor of young women. Having let his latest catch go, we witness his unsuccessful attempt at abducting a local farm girl. Then, as the pieces of the drama’s puzzle start to come together á la The Bridge, he claims the life of long-suffering student Megan Ruddock (a standout performance from Gwyneth Keyworth). What follows is a tense thriller that follows both the police investigation and Harris’ narrative simultaneously. As a result, it involves the viewer deeply in its various twists and turns over the course of its eight episode run.

Despite the fact that the central crime isn’t particularly original, Hidden remains worthy of some praise for the performances of two of its central actors: Rhodri Meilir and Gwyneth Keyworth. Episode four in particular, which is wholly focused on Dylan and Megan, is a deeply uncomfortable yet utterly compelling hour of television. It is made so by their noteworthy performances. Firstly, Meilir brings a vulnerability and gentleness to the role of Dylan that will be recognisable to fans of the sitcom My Family, in which he played the hapless Alfie. Yet this vulnerability and gentleness are subverted as a result of the abuse Dylan has suffered at the hands of his mother (Gillian Elisa). As a result, they manifest themselves in an extremely dark and dangerous way, far from the comforting confines of the Harper household. Meilir manages to express such complexity at the heart of his character in such a way that the viewer is both sympathetic yet repulsed by him. To extract such opposing emotions is testament to Meilir and his ability to play such a broken and complex figure. Meanwhile, Gwyneth Keyworth produces an emotionally raw performance as Megan, a student whose mental anguish (outwardly shown in the form of self-harm) is exacerbated by her abduction. It is an incredibly challenging role that Keyworth manages to embody wholeheartedly. As a result, she is powerfully believable as Megan. It is easy to forget sometimes, in the course of the series, that what is witnessed is a dramatic reconstruction. Keyworth plays it in such a way that it seems horribly real. For me, it is one of the most engrossing performances in a British TV drama this year.

With a stunning backdrop that shows off the bleak, mountainous terrain of North West Wales in all its magnificent and austere glory, Hidden may not be revolutionary but it is still worth watching. With some excellent performances from the cast and a slightly different take on the conventional crime narrative, it has enough going for it to keep viewers coming back for more. If you like your crime dramas dark and disturbing, then Hidden is certainly for you. It may not be Keeping Faith but it nevertheless showcases the fantastic talent coming out of Wales at the moment at every level, from production to acting, storytelling to editing. This is very exciting. With hopefully more fantastic ‘Made in Wales’ dramas to come, the Welsh TV landscape looks like going from strength to strength.

Click here to watch the full series.

gareth