Theatre in Wales

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Saunders Lewis’ Classic Grips

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru- Siwan , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , May 18, 2008
Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru- Siwan Playing to a packed house Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s production of Saunders Lewis’ 1954 “Siwan” opened on a note of great visual beauty. Maid Alys (Lisa Jen Brown) glided across a black stage to the accompaniment of delicately amplified strings and choral voice, in her hand a burning taper. At floor level she then lit nine candles. If director Judith Roberts were in the wings or auditorium she would have known she had the audience in her hands. Not a sneeze, not a shuffle were to be heard over the ensuing one and three quarter hours, played without interval.

“A cerebral theatre of classical atmosphere, which called for sophisticated acting techniques and an intellectually endowed audience” is how Saunders Lewis’ drama is described in the brand new Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia. The entry carries the touch of Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s Chair; certainly it is demanding but then high demands may endow high rewards.

Seen in context 1954 was also the year in which Terence Rattigan wrote “Separate Tables”, a muted piece of realism. Whereas Rattigan’s Major Pollock faces a mild penalty and social ostracism for sexual transgression, the price in thirteenth century Gwynedd is that adulterous nobleman Gwilym Brewys is hauled off to suffer the lowly penalty of being hanged.

A Prince prepares to defend his fiefdom against predatory neighbours. As Siwan says “There’s no room for love’s disorder in ruling a family and a land” [Joseph Clancy’s 1985 translation]. Thematically and stylistically Saunders Lewis is closer to Racine than Rattigan. However, 1954 was also the year in which Christopher Fry wrote “The Dark is Light Enough” and Ronald Duncan “The Death of Satan”, both playwrights who can be seen in the same context of high moral seriousness and the use of verse. There is, however, a difference between them and Saunders Lewis, in that the first is unloved in his native country, the second now forgotten.

It is no disrespect to the acting of Lisa Jen Brown’s Alys or Rhys ap Hywel’s Gwilym Brewys that the gravity of the play falls on the long third act confrontation between Llywelyn Fawr and Siwan. Ffion Dafis and Dyfan Roberts held the stage with strong, assured classical acting; to act so convincingly regal is a considerable achievement.

Visually Colin Falconer’s set used an eight-foot high mirror running transversely across the stage. Indicative of the enclosedness of the life of the powerful, it brought a concentration of light and focus to the stage action. Add in the mesmerising soundscape by composer Jay Greave and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru has a proud addition to their track record, a production that brought the audience out in spontaneous cheering.

18 May 2008

The “Siwan” tour continues: May 20–23 Theatr y Sherman, Cardiff, May 27–28 Riverside Studios, London , May 31 & June 2 Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold, June 5–6 Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea, June 10 Lyric Theatre, Carmarthen, June 12–14 Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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