Theatre in Wales

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“In saving our souls they used the Welsh language”: Dafydd Iwan, Mike Parker, Sara Elin Roberts

Radio Arts Feature

The Invention of Britain- So Many Different Little Corners , BBC iPlayer , March 22, 2019
Radio Arts Feature by The Invention of Britain- So Many Different Little Corners Theatre is elastic. Even the notion of human co-presence, audience and performers, gets dissed this week. An article, reference below, posits dispensing with actors altogether. So too the elasticity of this site, which follows representations of and by Wales in motion, word and sound.

An article by Mark Damazer in the current edition of Prospect Magazine lauds the superiority of radio over television in covering these fevered times. So it was radio that went out to sample the voices of the nations that make the “United” in the United Kingdom. “So Many Different Little Corners” lasts just 28 minutes but Misha Glenny is a reporter of the first rank and his programme is a good one.

History is not there to be a comfort blanket. So said one of Wales' fine historians on a platform at the Hay Festival. There is a strand in Scots and Welsh culture that is desperate to project virtue. As a posture it is not just invalid and vain but also makes for art of tedium. In Scotland Glenny meets Fiona Watson on the subject of her compatriots and empire: “They desperately wanted colonies, they wanted to be with the big boys, the Scots were raring to go before the Union. They went all over the world...leading imperialism or just taking over land in other parts...The Scots took to empire with great gusto...Many people made fortunes on the backs of slaves.”

Tom Devine reports that the compensation paid to owners on abolition was proportionately much greater in Scotland than England or Wales. The Highlander paradoxically is called “part Scots, part warrior and unambiguously British.”

“Coming from the south we think you're one big lot, the Scots”, says Glenny. “But it's more complicated than that, isn't it?” Edinburgh and Glasgow are different. The Glaswegians are called “soap-dodgers.” That is, they don't wash.

But so too in Wales, not the washing or not but the variation of place. “Regional identity is very important because the people of Anglesey are not the same as the people on the Llŷn Peninsula. You can see the Peninsula from here but they're very different from us. We're not the same.” Sara Elin Roberts of Bangor University:. “South Wales is a very different country to North Wales really. In the Middle Ages it was a separate country, Deheubarth. To me Cardiff is quite a foreign place...South Wales is a foreign country to me.”

The larger part of the 28 minutes is given to Ireland; indeed Wales gets just 5 minutes. The emphasis given to Ireland is understandable. The border was formed in bloodshed with an irony that the most Welsh of Prime Ministers signed it into being. Glenny visits the gift shop in Dublin's Post Office, the site of rebellion, and comments on the commodification of history. His interviewer describes the sheer ineptness of the government of Britain in turning the men of 1916, a small minority, into martyrs.

Fintan O'Toole provides a quotation that should be read aloud to every dissenter in the Commons. “People in Northern Ireland learn history in two ways. They learn it at school and they learn it at home and sometimes those are very, very different experiences. Anyone over a certain age has a very refined sense of escalation and what that means. So when we hear politicians in Westminster talking about border infrastructure and they say “oh, it's just a camera”. We know that within a week a camera can become something bigger when someone tries to blow that camera up or cut it down. Then you have to have a man-post and then when that's attacked within a month you have the army back. That sounds like catastrophism, you're not going to go from that to that , but we know,all of us who lived here, is escalation is what happened.”

So to Wales and Dafydd Iwan too speaks of the past. “What you've just said about the Scots and the Empire is true for Wales as well. We played our part in the British Empire. We played our part and we cannot deny that.”

But the language has persisted on a scale where those of Scotland and Ireland have not. “On the other hand”, says Iwan, “we have to thank an English monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, for sanctioning the translation of the bible into Welsh because what happened then was that the Welsh language bible was used as a means of education, throughout Wales. In saving our souls they used the Welsh language, the main difference between us and Ireland. The Catholic church in Ireland used Latin so we have something to thank the English or British monarch, for.”

Glenny travels to Esgairgeiliog in a season in which it is besieged by snow. Mike Parker: "This is a very old, deep landscape. I was talking to one guy whose family had only been here for nine generations and he called himself an incomer on the strength of that and he was only slightly joking.” Parker, the most ardent enthusiast of maps and routes, points out that geography is destiny. The connections, he says, are all East-west. Flintshire and Deeside fuses with Cheshire. “This is a real barrier to cohesion.”

Mike Parker: “It is a model extractive economy where you have goods and people whizzed out to the east..To take the raw materials out of Wales, the coal and the iron, as fast as possible, down to the ports, out to the railways, and to the east, that's been the pattern of development of Wales through the centuries and there is a lot to undo.”

“The Invention of Britain- So Many Different Little Corners” at

The concept of doing away with actors altogether at

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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