Tag Archives: roger williams

Review, Y Sŵn, a Swnllyd/Joio/S4C film, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

What a fascinating film Y Sŵn is. No sooner has its writer, Roger Williams, struck gold with cult horror Y Gwledd than his Midas touch turns to the marking of forty years of S4C with this: a striking production that is as offbeat and realist, telling the story of how the Welsh TV channel came into being. Featuring an all-star cast of Welsh natives who perfectly attune themselves to playing key public figures of the time, it successfully immerses itself in the optimism and rancour of Margaret Thatcher’s first-term as Prime Minister. Full of energy and a bursting palette of colour, it truly marks itself as a distinctly British yet uniquely Welsh film.

The aesthetic right from the get-go resembles that of Killing Eve. In big bold letters, we are introduced to CARDIFF. The year is 1979 and there is a rich seam of colour which paints a positive picture of urban Welsh life. Ceri Samuel (Lily Beau) works at the Welsh Office, taking us into a shiny Mad Men-style series of corridors and meeting rooms where we are also introduced to key players in the civil service and government. The clever contrast between the ebullient colour of the former and monochrome presentation of the latter quickly marks out the heroes and villains of the piece. It also represents the vitality and strength of a nation against a stuffy and outmoded political leadership. Other forms of pop art appear throughout to give the film a slightly off-kilter, comedic edge. This sets it apart from the more fictionalised social realism of films like Pride to become a self-referential melodrama that nevertheless manages to maintain a sense of seriousness in respect of the story it wishes to tell.

The fine balance between dramatic and comedic forms is supremely kept by the onscreen talent. Assisted by the magnificent make-up and wardrobe departments, each character stands at an acute junction between verisimilitude and caricature. Willie Whitelaw is perfectly realised in the bushy eyebrows pinned and preened on Mark Lewis-Jones’ face. Sian Reese-Williams ensures a finely-pouted, drably-accented portrait of a scruffy-haired Iron Lady. Rhodri Meilir could turn up his pristine English act no more as Welsh Secretary, Nicholas Edwards. They play the part of authority figures straight enough to make them believable whilst subtly exaggerating them to undermine the abuse of power which leads to their attempts to back down on a manifesto pledge to establish a Welsh language television channel. In contrast, Carys Eleri plays Ceri’s superior with an effervescent humour that makes her a sympathetic character. Eiry Thomas plays devoted wife Rhiannon with enough emotional heart that belies her stereotypical dress. And Rhodri Evan brings a warm smile and gentle demeanour to troubled protagonist Gwynfor Evans to ensure his battle against the political might of Downing Street and Whitehall is portrayed with sufficient weight so as not to become a trivial matter. This is an important story albeit told in a highly imaginative way.

Y Sŵn represents the very best of Welsh filmmaking, in both its content and production. The ending is a surprising yet interesting one, paying homage as well as subverting an oft-derided formula. Its effect is heart-warming, in such a way as to instil a sense of pride in Welsh identity, complete with self-deprecation and humour. It also speaks to the small budget with which it was made, creatively used and referenced in the 4:3 home-movie ratio. You wouldn’t know it though from its professional and glossy finish. Y Sŵn is a real labour of love which stands among the best in contemporary British cinema.

Y Sŵn is showing in selected cinemas throughout March 2023. Click here to find out more.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Series 2 Review, Bang, S4C by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

After its acclaimed debut on S4C in 2017, it was surely only
a matter of time before Bang returned to our screens. Over
two years have passed since the first series, with writer Roger Williams
wasting no time in getting down to business. A visceral opening scene throws us
straight in at the deep end, posing plenty of intrigue. What follows is a
well-plotted second season that melds the development of returning characters’
stories with those of brand-new faces.

There is no sign of second series syndrome, with Williams
developing a strong central crime narrative that works perfectly well as a
stand-alone. This means that there is no overreliance on the likes of Sam
(Jacob Ifan) and Gina (Catrin Stewart), the brother and sister who were central
to the show’s original run. Instead, the continuation of their storyline is
just one of a number of other narrative strands – each fully rounded and
complete – that tie together nicely. It is the tightly-crafted way that
Williams weaves these strands and slowly draws them into a collective whole
that makes Bang such a satisfying

The gun remains a potent symbol in series two, though its
appearance is much more sporadic. It has shifted from being the singular
obsession of one to being the shared object of many. Its presence is felt, but
always underneath the surface in this latest six-episode run. The ramifications
of its use, however, are potently displayed in the character of Sam. Still
trying to come to terms with the death of his father by such a weapon in series
one, we find him grappling with PTSD. Ifan does an excellent job of conveying
Sam’s mental state; in fact, it is one of the most genuine onscreen portrayals I
have ever seen. Most make clear what they are trying to do. Yet here, through a
combination of fine acting, clever editing, choice camera angles, and pervasive
music, the producers of Bang manage
to capture Sam’s struggles so powerfully that I couldn’t help but be
emotionally moved.

The domestic abuse by DI Morgan Riley (Dyfan Dwyfor) on wife
Caryn (Hedydd Dylan) is no less affecting. Williams captures the subtle
manipulation and invasive cruelty of the husband really well, causing me to
turn away from the screen several times such was my discomfort in the face of
his underhand brutality. In fact, this subplot became more absorbing than the
central storyline, involving a serial killer enacting revenge for the rape of
Marissa Clarke (Sophie Melville) ten years earlier. The bloodbath that ensues
across the course of six episodes is fairly graphic. Yet it was the unseen
mental and emotional scars inflicted on the show’s characters that had me
reaching for the remote in distress.

Writer Roger Williams has not returned to Port Talbot in a
hurry. This second series of Bang feels
as much a labour of love as its first. It is another compelling story full of well-defined
characters dealing with pressing issues. Returning fans will not be
disappointed. And for those who haven’t yet seen it, I would recommend adding it
to your isolation watch-list.

You can watch the full series on Clic here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Review: Merched Caerdydd/ Nos Sadwrn o Hyd, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru (Using the Sibrwd App)

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Take four actors, three chairs, three sets of neon lights,
and one stage, and what do you get? Two new plays conceived for the 2018
National Eisteddfod now touring the country with Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru
(TGC). Both Merched Caerdydd and Nos Sadwrn o Hyd are making their way
from North to South, beginning in Mold and ending where they are set – in Cardiff.
And thanks to TGC’s Sibrwd app, it could be said that these are the most
accessible Welsh-language plays yet.

The Sibrwd app is a simple concept, designed to guide
non-Welsh speakers and Welsh learners through the performance. Until now, it
has provided audio synopses during plays, to help those not fluent in the
language understand the gist of the narrative being played out on stage. When I
arrive for this tour however, the app has undergone a significant change. For
the first time, TGC, and the app’s operator Chris Harris, are providing
audiences with a full translation of the dialogue. Think surtitles at the opera
but on your phone. Ingenious you might think. And to some extent it works. But
I’m not entirely convinced.

The main problem that I encountered was being drawn away
from the action on stage in order to understand some of the dialogue being
spoken. As a Welsh learner whose proficiency level floats somewhere between
Intermediate and Advanced, this wasn’t as much of a problem as it could have
been. I was able to grasp a general understanding of the narrative and the
characters’ stories without needing to refer to the app too much. However, if I
wanted to understand a particular word or phrase, it became difficult not to
disengage from the play in order to seek out the translation amongst the bulk
of text being shown on my screen. In one sense, I can see how this would suit a
non-Welsh speaker or beginner better – they could easily follow along and not
miss a trick. The transitions between each piece of dialogue on the app flowed
seamlessly. The problem is that they would then be likely to miss out on one of
the primary thrills of theatre: live performance. It is as much about the
action on stage as it is about the dialogue being spoken. What both Merched Caerdydd and Nos Sadwrn o Hyd have are strong,
powerful and engaging performances by a hugely talented cast. They bring such
immersive and intimate details to their characters through their physicality
and movement as well as their emotion and vocals. But this could be missed if
one is concentrating too much on reading in English what is being said ‘yn

This balance between the aural and the visual is a tricky
one to maintain when one of those requires translation. The more translation
needed, the harder it becomes to maintain a kind of equilibrium. Without prior
experience of the app in its audio descriptive form, I cannot say with any
confidence which style is better to enable non-speaking and/or learning audiences
to engage most fully in Welsh-language theatre. I suspect that from my own
position, an audio option would be preferable (particularly if it offers a
synopsis, rather than the whole script). I could then maintain my focus on the
stage rather than being drawn down to look at my screen. The main benefit to
this, in my opinion, would be that you remain engaged in the production as a
whole. To be so engrossed in the stories being told by writers Catrin Dafydd (Merched Caerdydd) and Roger Williams (Nos Sadwrn o Hyd) respectively is to be
made more open to being challenged and moved by their messages; more vulnerable
to empathy and emotion.

Both Merched Caerdydd and Nos Sadwrn o Hyd are fascinating pieces of theatre. Whilst the former focuses on three women and the significant choices that they have to make at an important juncture in their lives, the latter concentrates its attention on Lee, a gay man whose blossoming relationship is disturbed by an act of violence that threatens his life. Performed as a series of monologues (interweaving in the case of Merched Caerdydd), the simple set and subtle use of lighting and sound help plunge the audience into the increasingly messy and fraught situations of the characters’ lives. We cannot help but become entangled in their relational quandaries and bodily vulnerabilities. The sharp focus of Merched Caerdydd on sex, love and relationships feels very relevant, particularly with its themes of control and power. Meanwhile, the mixture of humour and heartbreak, sweetness and violence found in Nos Sadwrn o Hyd, portrayed so eloquently by Sion Ifans, makes for a fraught and funny hour. It cannot be underestimated how important, how needed – these stories are.

Sion Ifan

Despite them being unrelated, both Dafydd’ and Williams’ plays
seem to complement one another well. They are but a small snapshot of the
strength and depth of talent coming through in Welsh-language playwriting. I
find it interesting that both feel somehow connected to their own language and
place – the feeling that these would not have come out of, or would at least have
been conceived differently in, an Anglicised context. To give non-Welsh
speakers and learners the opportunity to access and engage with these worlds
through the Sibrwd app then feels important. In its current form, Sibrwd enables that to an extent. What
is exciting about the app is that it remains in the relatively early stages of
its development. Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru should be commended for testing and
experimenting with live audiences and being genuinely open to their feedback. Give
it time, and give it chance, and I think that this app will become a
significant tool, not least in opening up Welsh-language plays to a wider and
broader audience. That can only be a good thing for plays like Merched Caerdydd and Nos Sadwrn o Hyd. For these are stories
that need to be told, and experienced by as many people as possible.

For more info and tickets, click here.