Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Ty ar y Tywod

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru , Theatr Gwynedd , May-03-05
After a run of three serviceable but innocuous productions, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru seems to have finally come to the realisation that less is more. The obtrusive and overbearing concepts of their previous endeavours has been replaced by a beguilingly sparse staging of exciting quality that for the first time seems to have reached a level worthy of company trading on the esteemed claim of being ‘National’.

Of course, this pleasant change in fortunes could be due to the fact that their choice of play, Gwenlyn Parry’s achingly beautiful T_ ar y Tywod, is arguably finer than any previously staged. A tragic allegory for the fall of man, Parry’s surreal play follows the fate of a lone individual who resides in a shack on a beach and the threat to his existence due to the expansion of a nearby fairground. Entangled with the truly international concern of rampant commercialism are more localised, Welsh concerns, such as the deterioration of a language and culture that would be destroyed by the fairground’s enlargement, symbolised by the threatened Man’s rich and poetic discourse.

The production’s success was aided significantly by a truly wonderful design. Painted in a simple palette of greys, greens and blues, the stage created a luscious atmosphere of delicate splendour, beautifully echoing the solitude and idyllic nature of the Man of the House’s relationship with the female Effigy. Yet, it was evident from the outset that such an environment was precarious; all the furniture and props, from a wardrobe to a bed to a telescope, were built at an angle, the whole stage seemingly slanting to the left. The lighting was also equally effective, with the garish lights of the fairground in the background a stark contrast with the overall soft and dewy effect.

An intermissionless play in three acts, the first act was mostly the domain of Jonathan Nefydd as the Man of the House and Mared Swain as the Effigy, with both performances being highlights of the evening. Jonathan Nefydd’s lengthy opening monologue delivered to the wax mannequin was amazing; not only was his diction nigh on perfect even while projecting directly away from the audience, but his emoting throughout was almost insufferably heartbreaking and sincere. It became a metaphor for theatre itself: the artificial becomes palpably real if only one is willing to believe. Mared Swain gave an equally moving and deft performance, aided much by a strong chemistry with Jonathan Nefydd. Although the range of her emotions was much more limited and her characterization broader and lacking the subtle nuances shared by her co-star, one imagines this was due to being a creature made of wax rather than due to any ‘wooden’ acting ability. Her performance during the final minutes was particularly shattering; her voice and expression perfectly encapsulating the helplessness of watching as her love succumbed to the fate of all men. The scenes between her and Nefydd were akin to their own private romantic isolation: a flawlessly beautiful dreamscape that one hoped would never end.

It is therefore unfortunate that the arrival of the two youngsters which heralded the end of their private idyll also spoiled the hitherto impeccable artistry. Such an intrusion is implicit in the text, but this should be reflected by the performances themselves and not by their quality. At best, Dave Taylor and Carys Eleri Evans were adequate. At their worst, they were shockingly amateur. Both posses fine technique, with their diction and projection being generally good. What they both lacked significantly however was an ear for the rhythm and poetry of the piece as the delivery of several lines were incorrect. One such mistake by Dave Taylor was “He’s not half there” which is supposed to imply that the Man of the House is half-mad. However, the emphasis was strangely placed upon on the adverb and therefore the line became “He’s not half there” which erroneously and incorrectly suggested that the Man had only less than half arrived at some unspecified geographical location.

It may be argued that this reflected the deterioration of the Welsh language which is inherent in the text but as that is already explicit in the characters’ discourse and as Dave Taylor was painfully guilty of the same crime in Plas Drycin, one suspects that this was not a characterization facet specific to this production. Great technique simply isn’t enough at this level and the production deserved better. One must question why these two actors are employed as core members of the company when they evidently have yet to master the language of its productions, or indeed why the director failed to notice such mistakes.

Dafydd Dafis gave a strong, if unexceptional performance as the Man of the Fair and regularly seemed slightly uncomfortable in Gwenlyn Parry’s surreal world. Although infinitely better than his two henchmen, he also lacked an awareness of the subtle nuances and poetry of the piece. Conversations spiralled into monotonous shouts with the power struggles between characters suffering as a result. The ending was specifically problematic with the climactic revelation reached with little sense of drama or crescendo. Had the tone been subtler earlier in the act, there would have been opportunity for additional shading and variation, but with repetitive shouting being the dominant form of expression there was simply not enough room to vary the tone sufficiently.

To concentrate on these faults might be unfair, but they should be noted as they were unfortunate blemishes on an otherwise stunningly painted canvas. As I have already assured, the design was spectacular and there were several examples of simple but astounding stagecraft. One such sequence involved the wax effigy being placed by the wardrobe, the door of which was opened and a box placed in front to hold it open and thus obstructing the model from the audience’s view. One knew very well that the wax model had been exchanged for the real actress, but it didn’t stop me sitting there in breathless anticipation waiting for her to take her first tentative steps. The final moments were also beautifully staged, with the gaudy lights of the fairground emitting from every structure and piece of furniture in a nightmarish, cabaret turn.

Despite its apparent faults, the superior aspects of this production far outweigh the bad and one does hope that it heralds a change of fortune for Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru. After a year of mediocrity, T_ ar y Tywod is the first example of a level of artistry and quality that a national Welsh theatre can, and should strive to achieve. It is somewhat ironic that it took an unstable house built on sand for the company to lay its first own solid foundations.

Reviewed by: Gareth Evans

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