Theatre in Wales

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Captivating Performance Hybrid

At National Theatre

National Theatre of Wales Assembly- Eich Parc, Eich Dweud!: Your Park, Your Say! , Glynllifon Park Gwynedd , July 29, 2012
At National Theatre by National Theatre of Wales Assembly- Eich Parc, Eich Dweud!: Your Park, Your Say! “An interactive performance debate” is how National Theatre of Wales describes its Assembly programme. “Eich Parc, Eich Dweud” is the fourth, and final, of the second series. As at Carmarthen it inhabits a lost place that seeks a revitalised role in and for its community. In form, it is part performance, part community activism, part celebration, with a dab of focus groupery. Abdul Shayek mediates somewhere between director, curator and impresario.

The two elements naturally jostle alongside each other. Debate is talk while performance is action. The debate element is slightly repetitive. Participants are invited to comment in a book of prophecy for the park. A wish tree may have been borrowed from Yoko Ono’s current retrospective. Two guest speakers kick off a group discussion. One is an apparent leisure entrepreneur and shows pictures of Glynllifon as a revitalised “Glyn Hapus”, a collection of wooden cabins of impeccable environmental sensitivity. The second speaker projects a vision of a wholly grant-driven public service vehicle, allied to some quasi-educational notions.

Each scenario is emblematic of extra-urban Britain. Participants are quick to point out that the last thing that Gwynedd needs is another cluster of holiday cabins, no matter how dressed up in ecological credentials.

On the other hand Glynllifon is a former self-standing estate and there is a limit to the economic activity that can be derived from woodland and estate activities. At the heart of it, says a participant, the issue is the same as that for Pembrokeshire, or Dumfriesshire, or any other scenic rural area. Wealth is created in cities; there is a mathematical algorithm that makes it so. Hence the dilemma as to how a region can become greater than a place of recreation and retirement for cities seventy miles distant.

But this is a theatre company and “Eich Parc Eich Dweud” lives by the quality of its performance. Abdul Shayek has curated a six-location event across a small part of Glynllifon. It is an outdoor event. Assembly three took place on a night of Powys’ worst rainfall in a century. A sharp four-in-the-afternoon shower on this day has cleared the air. By the time the audience of fifty or sixty arrives, three hours later, the sky is a palette of colours. A low sun shines through the park’s trees. Art requires many things but a little luck helps too.

The audience’s first sight is a madcap drummer in tartan waistcoat and jester’s cap. He leads half the group away for a short history of Glynllifon. A cowled figure plays flute in a circle of standing stones. A fierce scene is played out between two women on the historical divide of allegiance to England and Wales.

In the estate’s forge craftsmen-performers bang out a beat with chisels and hammers. A counter-rhythm is achieved by the shuffling of hot coals. Across the yard a jeweller leads a class in the making of a pendant. This is not just a place for consumers. It is a working site where things are made.

The audience is led into a granary barn. Down its sides are remnants from former use, cartwheels and butter churns, ploughs and rusty rollers. A copper-haired soprano in black beret is singing folksong, with a fourteen-year old providing beautiful descant for the chorus. True to the spirit of the event the audience is nudged to create its own song. After a kick-off line of “Rhwng Eryri a’r mor” the result is not bad.

“Your Park, Your Say” is bilingual but has attracted a wholly Welsh-speaking audience, so acquires a leaning one language-wards. National Theatre of Wales has brought a few facilitators from Cardiff. One is part-Mexican and she too, to the company’s credit, is good in Welsh.

“Eich Parc, Eich Dweud” is about, and for, Glynllifon, a place says a recorded vox pop voice “of many assets and many facets.” One issue is the four pound fee to walk the garden, another the disjointed ownership. But bluntly a major historical site needs capital, and a lot of it. One voice speaks of trying to make it a coach tour stop but that is not really an answer. Plas Newydd is a stone’s throw away. It is not just endowed, sleekly and expensively maintained, but contains art of genuine greatness in Rex Whistler’s panoramic canvas. Glynllifon with its five hundred and fifty tree species is a different kind of place.

National Theatre of Wales is rethinking the Assembly programme. The aim here is “to stimulate conversation about realising the full potential of Park Glynllifon for the local community.” Conversation is as fruitful as the range of minds that come to it. April 2010 the company was host-participant to a spontaneous assembly in Swansea’s Old Library. The topic was politics and theatre; it stood out on account that it reached beyond artists and observers. Activists and a politician holding real office were present and reporting from primary experience. It has been in the nature of these Assemblies, rapid guerrilla creations, to bring in the enthusiastic and the curious. Authority of feeling has powered the debate. That is how it should be for an artistic event. But an activity that seeks to generate action also needs to be fuelled with an authority of knowledge; plenty to think about.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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