Theatre in Wales

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London & Wales Views of Welsh-Breton Collaboration

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

Theatr Genedlaethol & Teatr Piba- Merch yr Eog Merc'h an Eog , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , October 9, 2016
Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru by Theatr Genedlaethol & Teatr Piba- Merch yr Eog Merc'h an Eog To the eye of an outsider Guardian Media Group does not look to be in good shape. History is not likely to look kindly on it, its commercial woes not unrelated to its non-adherence to a fundamental tenet of good governance. When a good writer does get to see a production west of the Severn we should be grateful. Claire Brennan is a voice to be respected, for instance offering in 2014 a distinctive take on “Mametz”. Her welcome presence in Aberystwyth should be taken to be credit to Theatr Genedelaethol's Lowri Johnston.

Her report for “the Observer” of 9th October runs:

“The past is another country, they do things differently there.” For Mair (sympathetically portrayed by singer/songwriter Lreuwen Steffan) this is a literal statement. At the opening of the play, she has returned from Brittany, where she is based with her Breton partner Loeiza (a bright Loeiza Beauvir), to the family farm in her native Wales for the funeral of her aunt. The practical and emotional consequences of this event lead her to question her identity and her vision of her place in the world. Based on a play by Welsh novelist Owen Martell and Breton actress Aziliz Bourgès, there is, as the title (The Salmon’s Daughter) suggests, a poetic, folktale quality to the story, which is powerfully present in the look and sound of the production.

“Nadège Renard’s design suggests wide, sea-linked spaces: a circle of sand, in its centre a rock, at its peripheries a table lamp, a laptop. Behind this shore – a psychological as well as a physical threshold – stand a set of five tall, thin screens on to which Louise Rhoades-Brown’s videos project shifting shapes of sea surfaces and depths, suggestively complemented by Steve Shehan’s electronic score. The patterning of Ceri James’s lighting crisps up lighter moments (at a Breton spa, for instance) and gives opaque density to Mair’s solitary self-doubts and confusions.

“The writing, by contrast, is prosaic. Developed by two companies, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and Teatr Piba from Brittany, the piece explains its ideas more than it dramatises them and so feels rather long and worthy. This is a shame – interpolations by a character called the Salmon Man (versatile Steeve Brudey) and short, surreal interludes with masked creatures suggest more was possible than has been realised, as does the secondary story of the French West Indian immigrant, Jean (Brudey, again). The six-strong cast is engaging and a tightening of pace by co-directors Thomas Cloarec and Sara Lloyd over the tour will eliminate some flaws in a show that tackles interesting questions. Translation (from Welsh, Breton and French) is by a whizzy app – it lacks that which is necessary to all drama: timing.”

This is a clear view from a writer whose reaction is much the same as my own. The cast is rounded out by the well-known presences of Rhian Morgan and Mai Lincoln. There are a couple of added perspectives from a Ceredigion-based audience member. The first is the issue of the linguistic bridge, the second the nature of the European collaboration.

Firstly, the Sibrwd app is to be applauded as an innovation of the Gruffydd era. It is true that surtitling is the most effective method for blending word with action. It works because the brain processes language at three times the rapidity with which words are spoken. If Sibrwd offers summaries over line-by-line translation it does not deflect the eye from actor and stage. Given that here design and sound are of some richness that is a merit, although the summaries betray the lack of impetus in the writing.

The collaboration with Brittany has been slow in the making, a process gathering pace over four years to its realisation. The contacts between Wales and its south and westward neighbours are not extensive. The academic links are there and Meic Stephens includes notable Bretons in his obituaries in “Welsh Lives.” Theatr Clwyd held its Celtic-themed season but it is five years since a Galway company toured a half-dozen venues across Wales. The most regular cultural-cum-sport event is the Arklow-to-Aber longboat challenge but otherwise the presence of the nearest neighbour is restricted to the Dublin car registrations to be seen at the Llanybydder horse sales or the Enniscorthy strawberries that pop up at roadside stalls.

In that context Theatr Genedlaethol's collaboration is both bold and welcome. In particular Teatr Piba strikes a startling note of a different tradition. “Merch yr Eog Merc'h an Eog” has elements, picked out by Claire Brennan above, that are reminiscent of the pick of the BE festival that for a couple of years were stimulating October visitors to Aberystwyth.

Aberystwyth's Arts Centre is partner to this production, provider of rehearsal and pre-prdouction space. It is an instance of contribution from this most diverse of venues. (On a single night milling audiences were dividing between Theatr Genedlaethol, Jack Llewellyn and a rather good “Fawlty Towers” tribute meal event.) As for Theatr Genedlaethol this is its fifth production for 2016. Eclectic without being diffuse, venturesome without becoming didactic, it has become the most interesting of companies.

“Merch yr Eog Merc'h an Eog” continues to tour Wales, Plymouth and Brittany until 24th November

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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