Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

In His Own Words

Siôn Eirian Speaking in 1994

The record is thin of authors of Wales speaking about their own experience of their own culture. Siôn Eirian left these words in testimony from 1994.

On background::

“The idea that Welsh sermons, in the amphitheatre of Welsh chapels, were in any way “theatre” was only true in a sense that left me gob-smacked and wide-eyed, when, in due course, I encountered real theatres. To me, the chapel was something so deadly, that, now that I look back on it, it simply begged to be caricatured, hated, even. That sounds a Caradoc Evans point of view. But what I found in that upbringing as the son of a minister, with the regulation two or three attendances on a Sunday, was that it stultified anything creative. So I certainly didn't see anything dramatically alive or vibrant in my background that I could associate with when I was writing. The writing was more to do with what I escaped from.”

On first theatre:

“There were no theatres as buildings or as centres of pilgrimage then. Theatr Clwyd wasn't there when I was growing up in Mold.. The drama we say in the late 1960s and early 1970s was what took place in the school hall in Ysgol Maes Garmon or Mold Alun School, so you saw plays on the same stage as you'd seen the headmaster take the morning service and prayers earlier in the day. Seeing theatre displace that kind of regulated activity gave it a thrilling resonance that you only rediscover when you are working in it yourself, because theatre can be anarchic and so dangerous.”

On studying Welsh, English and Philosophy at Aberystwyth

“They focussed me. Philosophy in particular. They focussed me, not in the sense of a future career, but in the way philosophy especially helps one to train and structure ideas and in the dialectic that always exists within dialogue itself, let alone within the general shape of a play. It's something I've been able to fall back on. More important, the immediacy of it was something that enabled me to sort out what and where I'd come from.

“Studying philosophy at university was a way of trying to disentangle myself from the Sargasso Sea of any preconceived ideas not just the religious ones of my own background. There was a lot of baggage that came from growing up in a manse, not just of a religious kind, but also in terms of Welsh culture, which is a separate thing. There is a term in Welsh “Y Pethe” “the Things”. It sounds rather silly when you say it in English but it seems something great and all-encompassing in Welsh. It's what worth and value are attached to when they're not merely financial. In such a society you're able to discuss and debate, and probably write poetry. It's a kind of cultural meritocracy.

“Philosophy showed me how and why people make moral decisions, what morality is. You don't get that through religion. Religion was he antithesis of morality, as far as I could see, because you have to adhere to things that don't help you, don't propel you to brave decisions. For me, philosophy was a great push forward towards something else, and away from something which I distrusted.”

On first moves after education:

“I had written to the Shotton Steel works, as it then was, because I'd worked a summer there in the coke ovens as a student. I'm glad I didn't get in there...There were no jobs going in the coke ovens and it was as a last resort I applied to Welsh College of Music and Drama, did a year as an actor and got an equity card.. I then worked with Theatr Cymru in Bangor for a year. It was at the end of that year that I realised I was a god-awful actor and I had to look yet again for something else.”

On livelihood and the professional life:

“It's only as the years go by that you begin to understand that the theatre isn't just supposed to be fun. With the colds winds blowing, and the necessity to earn a living and to take yourself more seriously, you realise that the theatre you experienced in school or university may have been great to watch or partake in but that it isn't enough. By the time you get to your thirties you either have to make a proper living out of it- and I do mean a proper living, not just scrimping and scraping a living- or you just have to give it up and do something else.”

And a coda, nine years later, in 2004:

“Generally I still despair over where theatre in Wales has led the writer in the last ten years, although I've disengaged largely from the debate now. The general map of Wales with its linguistic bisecting and its geographical quartering is still like the old Marcher Lords jousting over their bits of principality. Personal fiefdoms and feuds. The writers are rich in lip service but starved in all other ways. And there's less of note being written now than there was ten or twenty years ago. But that's a fair if sad reflection of how difficult it always is to speak up and agitate about society itself.”

Abridged, with acknowledgement and thanks from “Now You're Talking” pp 55-72, edited by Hazel Walford Davies, published Parthian Books, Cardigan, 2005.

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
14 June 2020


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