Tag Archives: Welsh language

Review, Rhinoceros, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, at Pontio, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In contrast to NTW, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru goes from strength to strength. Rhinoceros is the latest in a series of shows and commissions to offer fresh, bold and imaginative theatre. In fact, Manon Steffan Ros’s adaptation of the classic text by Eugène Ionesco is the first Welsh-language production that feels not just national but international in scope. This, in spite of the fact that pop cultural references populate the dialogue.

I say this as a Welsh learner who had to sit and listen to the play without audio description or captions. A problem with the Sibrwd app meant that I was forced to engage with it on its own terms. It is testament to not only the actors but the whole creative team that I became immersed very quickly in this increasingly-apocalyptic world. Set in an unknown location in Wales, friends Bérenger (Rhodri Meilir) and Sian (Bethan Ellis Owen) are enjoying tea outside the local grocer’s shop when a rhinoceros runs in front of them across town. The small but effective skill of the actors to shake the furniture to create the vibrations of its movement is but one of several parts that make this a spellbinding watch. Everything from the placement and use of props to the physical manifestation of the creature within each of the characters makes Rhinoceros a captivating commentary on social conformity.

Bethan Ellis Owen perfectly embodies the absurdity that underscores the whole production. For in her transformation, we witness the destructive, dramatic and the ridiculous. Her hysterical movement and exaggerated speech causes laughter among the audience even as it contains a nervous quality that points to a more serious tone. For Meilir presents an increasingly distraught and tortured soul as he fights desperately against the change, from person to creature, that friends and colleagues succumb to. This is no linear tale however: horror is always punctuated with the comic; fairy dust is often laced with fatalism; and the funereal contains a certain cultural irony. It is a melting pot of genres and emotions, expertly crafted and directed by Steffan Donnelly and his team.

What ratchets up the drama and emotion of Rhinoceros is the absence of an interval. It allows the momentum to build to an epic proportion, making its conclusion all-the-more powerful and demanding. It is, at its best, a warning: do not allow the light to be infected by the dark. And this speaks not only to its distinctly Welsh culture but to a Western world in danger of doing just that.

Click here for show dates.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, Imrie, A Sherman/Fran Wen co-production, at Theatr Clwyd, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

What is striking about Welsh play Imrie is its richness. Rich in language. Rich in description. Rich in lighting. Rich in characterisation. This coming-of-age story is like a rainbow bursting into life, pouring its colour out on stage with a vibrancy that reverberates throughout the whole production. Each element resembles a charged particle which, in collision, drives forward a powerful narrative about identity and belonging. It is a tour-de-force in aesthetics, as well as telling of its message.

Credit: Mark Douet

Elan Davies and Rebecca Wilson take on the roles of Josie and Laura in this two-part drama. They are half-sisters seeking to fit in in their own ways. It begins with Laura dragging Josie along to a party on the beach, she wanting to become one of the ‘in’ crowd while her sibling would rather be elsewhere. So while the former attempts to act ‘normal’, the latter runs off, after being made fun of, and finds herself alone with only the sea for company. And when from the water she hears a voice calling, a journey into an otherworldly tale takes place. This ethereal experience is captured brilliantly by the lighting that shimmers and shapeshifts across the three walls of the enclosed set. But it is also the flexibility and freedom of Davies’ physicality that produces beautifully an event which exists between the real and the imaginary.

There are parallels with Caryl Lewis’ recent novel Drift, particularly in relation to the female protagonist. Along with Disney’s Turning Red and The Little Mermaid, it is fair to say that writer Nia Morais has tapped into something bigger with Imrie. Certainly, that desire to break free from the expectations of family and (patriarchal) society burns strong here. To tie it in with the theme and symbol of water gives it a weight that bears down on the scale of contemporary classic. Its relevance is shored up by its exploration of sexual and racial identity. In particular, the conversation between the two characters at the end is thought-provoking, challenging and inspiring in its interaction with intersectionality. This is a further facet to the richness of Imrie, whose immersive soundtrack wraps the audience in its atmospheric tones which, along with the Welsh language, contributes to a mythic quality. Its basis in Cymraeg also adds a poetic lyricism to the dialogue which, though stereotypical, actually strengthens its value as a cultural expression of (self-)acceptance.

Credit: Mark Douet

Most definitely driven by Frân Wen’s passion for young people, when coupled with the Sherman’s support for innovative new Welsh writing, Imrie becomes a bold piece of theatre. Its message may be common but at its heart is an imagination that beats with such originality that it feels fresh. Celebratory of life, even as it depicts its struggles, Imrie reveals something of how identity blossoms, arising out from the depths to become all that we are, rich in colour. A play to be enjoyed whatever age you are.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, Trouble in Butetown, Donmar Warehouse, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

To see the Wales-based play Trouble in Butetown performed on a London stage was a tantalising experience. This was a rare example of accent and language reverberating around a place not situated within the confines of its nation. To hear Welsh being spoken miles from home in front of a multicultural audience where English was the common denominator was both a surprise and a delight. When coupled with the intimacy of the Donmar, where the audience are immersed right in the action, the familiar phrases, said without translation or explanation, made for an authentic performance that was unexpected but welcome.

The scenery and costume added well to the verisimilitude, transporting us all into the living room of an illegal boarding house in wartime Cardiff. Credit must also go to the dialect coaches who have worked wonders with a cast of mixed nationalities, Sarah Parish among them who, as the matriarch Gwyneth, delivers a voice of which those in the Valleys would be proud. She may be the star name in this production but the star performance goes to young Rosie Ekenna as Georgie. Making her debut on stage, her confident and agile performance belies her nine years of age. She produces a character that is full of attitude and vigour; tough as nails, and a quick wit which is keenly delivered. Her relationship with Samuel Adewunmi, who plays American GI Nate, wanted for the murder of a fellow soldier, is especially wonderful, the two bouncing off one another as equals in both their dialogue and action.

Rita Bernard-Shaw also shines as Connie, an aspiring singer, whose stirring renditions of jazz standards and blues numbers mark her as a real talent vocally. Meanwhile, Zephryn Taitte brings a much harder edge to Norman than Call the Midwife fans are used to seeing (he plays pastor Cyril Robinson in the long-running series). His presence on stage is always evident though never dominant; a character of compassion borne of struggle and hardship. His inclusion, alongside fellow immigrant worker Dullah (Zaqi Ismail), means that Trouble in Butetown portrays what the programme calls the “cosmopolitan community with seafarers from all around the world making Cardiff their home”. In doing so, it cannot help but include racial tensions which, though localised, speak to universal issues, giving voice not only to past generations but present struggles too. This is a story not only of Tiger Bay but contemporary Britain too.

There is a feeling at the end of the play that what has been witnessed is a celebration of diversity. It presents Wales’ capital city as a place of welcome and integration that belies the historical notion of a homogenously white population. It also presents the cultural importance not only of BAME identities but the native language of the nation, included here not as statement or stereotype but as real expression of lived experience both then and now. It challenges the notion, still prevalent in wider society, that Welsh is a ‘dead’ language. Trouble in Butetown plays a small part in taking it beyond the border, and in doing so, communicates cultural inclusion on several fronts.

Trouble in Butetown premiered at the Donmar Warehouse between 10th February & 25th March 2023.

Reviewed by
Gareth 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

Review, Her Ffilm Fer, Hansh, S4C by Gareth Williams

The old adage that the two most difficult genres to write are comedy and horror seemed to have bypassed the ears of some of Wales’ top producers. The likes of Ed Thomas (Hinterland) and Euros Lyn (Doctor Who) decided to devilishly choose the latter for a short film challenge put on by S4C’s Hansh (of which they were judges). To raise the stakes even further, the films were required to be made within 48 hours, which under lockdown conditions, seems like a pretty tall order. But I guess that’s where creativity can either flourish or flounder, producing a fight-or-flight response which, for those of the former persuasion, led to some pretty professional-looking and eye-catching pieces.

The variety of films that were sent in made it difficult for the judges to compare them. But they managed, in the end, to narrow it down to a shortlist, before announcing a couple that were deserving of special merit; that came very close to the standards of the overall winner. Of the three runners-up, Martha a’r fantell ddu was my personal favourite. It contained a lovely, light humour which, in typical horror fashion, slowly turns sour as strange things begin to occur in the life of the protagonist. Much like other entries Dilynwyr and Y Glesni, it uses the prevalence of digital technology to create a familiar experience which, like The Blair Witch Project and Unfriended, is then brilliantly skewed to generate unease, concern, and, finally, terror. But it is the performance of the actor who plays Mari (the film’s producer, Erin?) that makes Martha a’r fantell ddu stand out from the crowd. The effervescence she brings to the role perfectly encapsulates that of the enthusiastic YouTuber. Yet as things get weird, her increasing paranoia is displayed not only in her facial expressions but in the nuanced delivery of her dialogue. She succeeds in taking us on a journey through a narrative that is character-driven, leading us to be entertained, concerned and fearful for her, as we are drawn into her experience to really emotive effect.

The overall winner takes a somewhat more conventional line. There are no livestreams or Zoom calls here. 03YB is a clever, playful and absorbing film that takes familiar tropes from the horror genre and executes them incredibly well. There is enough originality and fresh impetus in the plotline though to test your expectations, as the creators use skilful editing to keep you guessing throughout. The ear piercing music is largely effective, grating only slightly at points, whilst the costume is utilised brilliantly. More specifically, the ears on the hood of the protagonist’s onesie become a fantastically devious signifier for blood at one point, representing the kind of deceitful intentions that the film’s creators look to insert at almost every turn. 03YB reminds me of the kind of visceral scenes at the start of many contemporary Welsh television dramas, posing just as much mystery as them too. It leaves you with enough questions to want to enquire further. It has the makings of a full-length episode, if not series. It is a well-deserved winner.

It appears that there is plenty of talent in Wales when it comes to the creation of original, suspenseful, and entertaining shorts. Thomas, Lyn, et al, clearly sussed that setting such a hard challenge would lead to some excellent entries. I wonder if it did leave them surprised however by the quality of the filmmaking. Given the lockdown restrictions, alongside the competition’s time constraint, I would say the films were of a remarkably professional standard. If they are representative of Wales’ young creative talent, then the current generation can rest assured that the future looks to be in very safe hands. I just hope that the opportunities come for these young filmmakers to grow and develop in their creative potential. Without investment in the arts at all levels, but particularly at the grassroots, going forward, the worry is that their chances will be severely curtailed.

You can watch all 42 films that were entered into the competition here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Review, Trials of Cato with Tant, Pontio Arts Centre by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

You know you’ve hit on something good when the support act is as good as the headliner. It may have been The Trials of Cato that we had come to see, but it was the five-piece female band Tant that we went away talking about. Running slightly late, we wandered into the theatre at Pontio Arts Centre and were immediately transfixed by their magical and melodic tones. They proceeded through a half hour set that traversed the boundaries of folk and pop with tremendous subtlety, producing a sound that felt highly original and resultantly captivating. All are clearly talented musicians, whether on harp or guitar, but it was their combined vocals that really struck me. Performing acapella on the song ‘Gwydyr Glas’, their voices played together like wind chimes, singing in beautiful harmony whilst also producing distinct tonalities that made this a really fascinating piece to listen to.

At the end of their set, Tant were wildly applauded off stage. Recognising their popularity, The Trials of Cato twice paid tribute to them during their own set, where the praise was again handed out, and deservedly so. It was clearly an inspired choice to have them open. Only the best could follow. The Trials of Cato are certainly that, having already scooped up Best Album at the Folk Awards in spite of their relatively short career. Opening with an instrumental piece before going straight into ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’, these early numbers demonstrated the toe-tappingly catchy rhythms that make their music such a joy to listen to. ‘Haf’ added a lightness of touch to proceedings before ‘Cân John Williams’ was given a Lebanese vibe thanks to a particularly strong instrumental section at its end. The only slight melancholy in the evening came courtesy of ‘My Love’s in Germany’, but even here the performance was more rousing than depressing.


We were then treated to some new material in the form of ‘Dog
Valley’, from an album that should be out later this year. It was a track to
sit back and enjoy, reminiscent of freestyle jazz and showcasing their skills
as truly accomplished musicians. This and ‘Gawain’ are highly recommended for
first-time listeners, the latter their “prog rock” offering, which turned this
intimate venue into a few thousand seater stadium through excellent lighting
and amplified sound. Two favourites in ‘Aberdaron’ and ‘Gloria’ then followed
before they closed out with an excellent rendition of ‘Kadisha’. So good was
this final number that there was no need for an encore. Indeed, in hindsight,
there should not have been one, for it was hijacked by a woman intent on
playing tambourine with them on stage. The intervention of security a few
moments later meant that any chance of the band making the best of this
unexpected entrance was lost. A chorus of boos followed, and the subsequent
final song fell a bit flat. It was a disappointing end, but the only blot on
what was an otherwise incredible night of Welsh folk music. The strength of and
sheer originality on the national scene at the moment is inspiring. The Trials of Cato most definitely
reflect that, and after their performance here, Tant are undoubtedly doing the same.

Click here to visit The Trials of Cato’ website.

You can watch Tant perform their song ‘I Ni’ here.

Gareth Williams

Series Review, Enid a Lucy, S4C by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Writer Siwan Jones blends social realism and surrealist comedy in the most delightful way in Enid a Lucy. The S4C mini-series, which came to a slightly abrupt end on Sunday night, made for an entertaining and enjoyable drama. Termed the ‘Welsh Thelma and Louise’ by some, Eiry Thomas and Mabli Jên Eustace certainly provide plenty of laughs as the two leads whose offbeat road trip takes them from Llanelli to London via the most unconventional of routes.

The drama begins on a modest housing estate in Llanelli
where we meet next door neighbours Enid (Thomas) and Lucy (Jên). Enid is a piano
teacher whose home is neat and tidy, fitted with mod cons and well lit.
Meanwhile, Lucy lives in a dark, dank and messy space. The drained colour palette
of the cinematography, as well as the use of handheld camera, gives the
impression that this is going to be a gritty, class-based drama. The
introduction of Lucy’s drunken and abusive boyfriend Denfer (Steffan Cennydd),
in contrast with the genteel and traditional images of the Mother’s Union that
Enid is involved in, only serves to underline the divide that exists between
them. Yet early indications that this is going to be a serious piece of realist
drama are confounded by the end of the first episode when Enid turns getaway
driver for Lucy in order to escape the hapless Denfer and his buffoon of an
uncle, Sid (Nicholas McGaughey). What follows is a random and raucous
cat-and-mouse chase across the country as the men seek to reclaim a holdall
containing drugs and a gun from Lucy, who is determined to use the contents in
order to make a better life for her and her baby.

Siwan Jones’ script plays like a melody that is pitched just
below hard-hitting but doesn’t quite decrescendo into absolute farce. It manages
to deal with some big issues, such as childlessness and mental health, but
these never feel forced. Neither are they allowed to consume the overall
narrative, Jones ensuring that the escapades of Enid and Lucy are filled with
much hilarity and randomness. This includes perhaps the most comical scene of
the series, where two farmers that they end up staying with accidently take some
of the drugs in the holdall. Actors Ifan Huw Dafydd and Rhodri Evan really let
loose their inner zombie to produce a very funny scene. It borders on the
ridiculous but never descends into the realms of the unbelievable. It is this
kind of accurate measurement which Jones must be applauded for in the writing
of Enid a Lucy.

My only bone of contention with this drama was the finale. It was as if a timer had suddenly gone off with five minutes to go and all the loose ends had to be tied up tout suite. It left me feeling rather out-of-kilter; that such a well-paced journey should end so abruptly. Although not quite on the same level as the conclusion to BBC1’s The Replacement (2017), it nevertheless conjured up similar feelings. It is a shame because, otherwise, Enid a Lucy is a great drama, with particularly notable performances from Eiry Thomas and Mabli Jên Eustace. Thomas, in particular, slips into her character with ease here; in contrast to her over-exaggerated performance as the detective in Keeping Faith, she is completely believable as Enid. She is a joy to watch, especially during her exchanges with Eustace: the two bounce off one another wonderfully.

It is great to see S4C, via producers Boom Cymru, giving a prime-time platform to female writers at the start of 2019. Both Fflur Dafydd (35 Awr) and now Siwan Jones have provided Welsh audiences with some quality TV drama already this year. Enid a Lucy may have only received a short run, but it was fun whilst it lasted. Its slightly left-field style follows on from some of Jones’ previous work – not least 2011’s Alys – but it still feels highly original. It would have been great to have spent longer with these characters. Despite its rather hasty end though, Enid a Lucy still manages to thoroughly entertain.

Watch the series on S4C’s Clic here.


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.


Series Review, 35 Awr, s4c by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Exasperated by BBC1 Wales’ Pitching In? Thankfully, it is now the exception to the rule when it comes to contemporary Welsh television drama. What would have once been seen as a godsend – alleviating the problem of non-representation, if only briefly – is now seen as an affront to the people of Wales. We’re better than this. The last few years has seen an explosion of Welsh drama. Not only in the number of series’, but in the quality of these series’ too. From Hinterland to Bang, Parch to Keeping Faith, there has never been a better time for Welsh-set, Welsh-made drama. A Golden Age, as I’ve been inclined to call it.

At the start of 2019, there is another drama to be added to
this growing roster: 35 Awr. Fflur
Dafydd’s new series sees a 12-person jury assemble after a court case to
consider their verdict. But finding the defendant guilty or not guilty of
murder proves far less straight-forward than some were expecting. And when it
comes to light that they could be in danger if allowed home, they are taken to
a local hotel for their protection, until they can come to a decision. But not
all is as it seems.

Across this 8-part series, the lives of these characters
begin to slowly, tentatively, and intriguingly unfold. As they do, Dafydd
begins to entangle them in a dark and sinister web. Connections are made,
alliances formed; the power play between the different characters is always
fascinating, never simple. The game of poker in episode three becomes the
perfect metaphor for this psychological murder mystery. Even where their
conversations seem mundane, or rather superfluous, one need only dig a little deeper,
beneath the surface, to discover the ulterior motives, selfish motivations, and
hidden desires at play. These aren’t always obvious at first. Which is what
keeps the drama interesting. Dafydd slowly feeds us with tit-bits of
information; now and again she surprises us with a big reveal. Such revelations
come at steady intervals throughout; gradually increasing the tension, which bubbles
gently until the final episode when it finally boils over, with pulsating
twists and numerous turns.

It is the intimate characterisation which makes Fflur Dafydd’s
scripts always so enjoyable. To see the characters of 35 Awr brought to life in such fine detail, and with such
fascinating complexity, by the ensemble cast was a real treat. From the awful
masculinity of Carwyn Jones’ Peredur to the nonchalant behaviour of Gillian
Elisa’s Val (to name but two), Dafydd succeeds in creating a memorable set of
well-rounded characters that become instantly recognisable long after the programme
is over. Indeed, the excellent editing of Dafydd Hunt and the cinematography of
Alwyn Hughes helps to give this drama a look that feels fresh and original even
as it employs fairly standard techniques and tropes. This is no easy feat. Yet,
somehow, they manage to do so; perhaps, in part, down to Dafydd’s original

If you’re looking for a darker, more subversive murder
mystery than your typical Agatha Christie, then 35 Awr should satisfy your needs. In fact, it should exceed them,
for it is also much more than that. Part psychological thriller, part crime
drama; it contains as much humour as it does menace. Writer Fflur Dafydd has
assembled a fine cast of characters whose personal lives slowly seep out and intertwine
with one another, creating a gripping narrative which culminates in a superbly arresting
final episode. This is what great
Welsh drama is. It is no longer defined by the likes of Pitching In. Pitching In is now the exception. Fflur Dafydd’s 35 Awr represents the rule.

Click here to watch the series now.


Review: WOOF at Sherman Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Please note this review contains references to sexual violence and detailed analysis of the productions plot.

WOOF by Elgan Rhys is a new Welsh-language (occasionally bilingual with English subtitles at every performance) play about two men, Daf and Jesse, who have different expectations of one another.

In a lustful first meeting we see the pair’s first sexual encounter and
follow their romance along some ups and downs until their final
“sexual” encounter and the fallout.

Woof portrays
big topics such as open/polyamorous relationships and sexual assault both in
the context of modern gay life. However, Elgan Rhys fails to really explore any
of these topics in a way that does them justice.

One main reason why is
because the characters are cliché “types” of gay men. One wanting marriage and
kids, the other wanting an open relationship. But this is the extent of their
individuality. Even the way they speak is basically identical and generic.

Because of this, despite
the characters having clear goals, the motivations that drive them aren’t clear.
For a play that relies so heavily on bubbling under the surface, we should be understanding
the motivations.

Rape is used as a
“turning point” and feels more like a plot point than a major life event in
Jesse or Daf’s life. Things do change after this, but again, the motivations
that drive these changes are invisible. Because of this, it doesn’t feel like
we’re watching a play, we barely see how they’re feeling and when we do, it
mostly comes through speech and feels unnatural.

Things happen, we get
spoken to about them, and then the characters move on to the next stage of the
plot. It feels like a draft of a script that has figured out its structure, but
not found the character’s voices or even the characters themselves.

One positive is that we
see real love from both characters to each other, even if they don’t always
care for the other.

Elgan Rhys presents a lot in Woof and some people will really identify with it, because of the evocative nature of the topics presented. But it explores very little of these huge themes and how they affect the characters, which is where this play particularly falls down.

The tone of the direction from Gethin Evans doesn’t help solve this. It’s
quite flat throughout. The odd scene or moment is well controlled by Evans. But
the piece overall feels odd. The subtext isn’t portrayed well throughout the
performance at all and the build-up to the rape scene, as well as the scene
itself, is really poor because of this.

Whilst neither Aled Pedrick as Jesse or Berwyn Pearce as Daf do particularly
badly in portraying what they’re given, neither really rise and meet the task
either. There are great moments from both, however.

Jesse’s immediate reaction to being raped is horrifying. The confusion and fear are portrayed well – but this doesn’t hold and the performance of Jesse declines into mediocrity afterwards. Meanwhile, the performance of Daf peaks in more comedic moments – but struggles with the darker ones.

There are moments of good chemistry between the two, particularly in the
first third of the play. A scene where the two characters exchange phone
numbers is particularly nice. Some real chemistry which is lovely as well as
being the first time we see real care and love in the two. But then, there’s a
lot that feels unnatural. For example, whenever the characters talk about their
relationship – which is the central conflict of the piece.

The set and design from Elin Steele is simple. Nothing out of this world but
it works. It’s a similar story for Katy Morison’s lighting design too. Some
moments that are good, the club scene in particular, but ultimately underused.

The sound by Sam Jones doesn’t have a huge impact on the overall production.
An announcement of “Happy New Year!” on the sound system doesn’t fit
the tone and music isn’t exploited nearly enough.

The design elements really could set the tone for the piece but instead, as
happens too often, feel like an afterthought.

Now that we have critically assessed the play itself, there are some other things that desperately need to be addressed.

Firstly, the lack of trigger warnings was a huge issue. “Sexual content”
does not equal “rape/sexual violence”. This desperately needs addressing by the
Sherman in the remaining shows as this was incredibly irresponsible.

The tone on the night and marketing is out of place with the nature of the
piece. Having feedback boards outside with various LGBTQ+ flags on it, was a
strange contrast from portraying a toxic gay relationship and gay rape.
Marketing it with the words “bold” and “gritty” are also out of place with what
we see. This isn’t a bold play because it doesn’t challenge its audience.

In the programme notes, Rachel O’Riordan, former artistic director of the Sherman Theatre and the person who commissioned this play, said, “the play…will ask our audience to look at some uncomfortable truths.” This is true. It asks its audience to observe some uncomfortable truths but doesn’t challenge them by exploring those truths.

It seems that from start to finish, the whole theatre had the wrong attitude with this play, from top to bottom. From commissioning, to presenting, to marketing and warning its audience about the issues it deals with. It’s a presentation of something that may well be true, but not an exploration of the themes or characters.

There will be people who really enjoy Woof
and it is worth seeing, in full knowledge of what it’s about.

WOOF is a dark portrayal of a toxic, yet loving relationship, between two male characters who are ultimately underdeveloped.

WOOF performed at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
31 January – 9th February 2019
Written by Elgan Rhys
Directed by Gethin Evans
Daf – Berwyn Pearce
Jesse – Aled Pedrick
Designer: Elin Steele
Sound Designer: Sam Jones
Lighting Designer: Katy Morison