Theatre in Wales

Feature articles on key individuals and organisations in the Welsh performance industry

Mike Pearson

Mike Pearson is somewhat of a puzzle. He is co-artistic director of Brith Gof, the contemporary perf

Swithin Fry: December 5, 1998

Mike Pearson The Company's sites have included Aberystwyth Railway station, in the middle of a forest near Lampeter, an iron foundry in Tredegar, a quarry in Italy and an empty ice-rink in the Netherlands
Few would argue that Mike, 48, is the foremost deviser and performer of contemporary welsh -language theatre in wales. And this is at the root of the puzzle, for he read archaeology at university and is not welsh but comes from a small village in North Lincolnshire. He would say that it is exactly this dichotomy which has helped him achieve his success.

His interest in theatre started when he was a student at Cardiff University in 1968.
"I'd never seen theatre really at all before" he says, "my great loves were archaeology and ornithology. Then in my first year, my girlfriend suggested that I audition for a production of Under Milk Wood. It was presented as a radio play with a group of people at the back miming the play and wearing masks. That was my first inkling that theatre could be something different"

He worked more and more with dramatists in Cardiff and on graduation joined the "fairly notorious" RAT theatre - that's Ritual and Tribal.
"We were seen by people from the World Theatre festival in France - they snapped us up. Immediately, this group of young, fairly green people were in a major world festival"

After nine months with RAT he left and helped form Cardiff Laboratory Theatre - which lasted none years. A major influence on Mike's work was Eugenio Barba of Dutch company Odin Teatret. He first saw the company at a festival in Poland.
"I was really attracted to the work because of the cleanliness of it, the precision of the action"
It was at a festival of The Third Theatre - alternative theatre - in Belgrade in 1975 that "we came into contact with people living and working in similar ways from all over the world, South America, Poland and other countries in Western Europe"
Odin was to later tour Britain with community based and, for those days, avant-garde work

"In many was it was Odin's visit which precipitated our departure from Cardiff Lab. We had a very strong desire to work outside the industrial south, to make work which we felt was more appropriate to Wales, working in and with rural communities - so we came to Aberystwyth"

That was the start of Brith Gof, in March 1981, which at that time was only Mike and Lis Hughes-Jones. The early work consisted of contemporary interpretations of Welsh mythological material, but fairly quickly came the more political productions such as 'Blood or Bread', about the rural riots in mid wales in the 1880's, which was presented at the Eisteddfod in Swansea.

A key moment in the revolution of the company's work came in December 1988 with the production of Y Gododdin.
"Our world went upside down. There were very few people making agitprop work, despite it being the darkest days of Thatcherism. One of the groups that was active was Test Dept., a group of skin-head drummers from South London - unlikely collaborators!

"Y Gododdin is one of the earliest pieces of welsh poetry - it gave s something to go on. It's a lament for a failed military endeavour. I don't think it's about militarism - it's about failure, a lament for loss".

It was held in a disused car factory in Cardiff and on the third night more than 1,000 people attended.

Other large scale works followed. Pax, performed in Aberystwyth railway station, and the St David's hall in Cardiff, had the actors suspended from the roof as angels. A small scale version was later toured.

With Brith Gof now based in Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, and Mike lecturing in at the University of Aberystwyth, he lives between the two places. He is now doing a lot more solo shows, such as Dead Man's Shoes, and work which invites the audience to participate.

"The next natural step is Beyond Theatre - a kind of performance in which there are no spectators. In some way , everyone coming to a performance would know that they have the liberty to participate. That's my next notion"

source: Western Mail



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