Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Landmark Piece of Theatre Deserving Its Second Tour

At National Theatre

Theatr Genedlaethol/ Sherman Cymru- Llwyth , Theatr Mwldan , September-28-11
At National Theatre by Theatr Genedlaethol/ Sherman Cymru- Llwyth Llwyth” feels like a landmark. It is not just the truth and humanity in Dafydd James’ depiction of the long night that his five characters undergo. Nor that “Llwyth” wowed audiences in Scotland and that its two tours have taken in almost every corner of Wales. What sets it apart is that its characters treat a whole range of cultural shibboleths in a spirit of unabashed irreverence. The audience in Cardigan adores every piece of lampooning and cultural jokery.

Mike Parker is reviewer in this Autumn’s New Welsh Review of two new novels by gay authors. The article is a timely summary and a reminder that not so long ago gay fiction was synonymous with catastrophe. The characters in “Llwyth” are faced with fears that are universal. For Paul Morgans’ Rhys, turning thirty, it is the threat of inconstancy from Michael Humphreys’ Gareth. For Danny Grehan’s Dada it is the threat of an aging loneliness. A character may say “my dad was a right knob end” but the need for love and reconciliation from dad and mum is deep and true.

Arwel Gruffydd directs the high-velocity dialogue at the speed it asks for. The surface conversation has the smack of authenticity to it. The focus on the physical is never far away. It is the “smell of sweat, deliciously wet.” Aneurin is nagged endlessly to tell just what happened at an orgy he has recently been at. He provides the answer, eventually, with a clarity of description and a joke that, regrettably, cannot be reproduced on an open-to-all-eyes website. A character tells of a comic encounter with a partner who dons a Superman outfit.

There is a kind of writing, sprinkled with brand names and topical references, that does not dig deep. It sits on top of the characterisation rather than unveiling it. The characters in “Llwyth” are saturated in current culture in the way that Caryl Churchill’s venal crew in “Serious Money” are suffused with the business culture of thirty years back.

The references span the ages, not just Kylie but Iolo Morganwg too. The jokery at the expense of the Eisteddfod is a cause for audience delight, not least by those who are attenders every year. Mistar Urdd comes in for a kicking. In Aneurin’s planned fiction the warriors of Gododdin have come to resemble the Spartans of “300”. Huw Chiswell, Derek Brockway, Margaret Williams, Dafydd Iwan (“sucks”), Hywel Gwynfryn all get their mention, not as decoration but as texture in these characters’ experience.

Simon Watts is electric. His character Aneurin is rarely off-stage in the play that runs without interval. The character oscillates wildly in emotion, from a ravaged existentialism to a cry of “Tonight we are Gods” to the backing of a fierce disco beat. Joshua Price astonishes, his Gavin a mix of seductive allure and sexual precocity. The way the final encounter works out, with a hint of “American Beauty” in it, is fitting and touching.

In terms of how it fits into a tradition of theatre “Llwyth” is entirely its own creation. It’s not “What’s Wrong with Angry?” nor is it “Cardiff East.” It links to the subtitle that Tony Kushner gave to “Angels in America”, “a gay fantasia on national themes”. It does not have that epic’s political content but it is carried by an utter confidence in its culture. Characters may say “as losers we stand as one”. But that, rather than a stolid earnestness, is strength. A culture capable of self-irony, that can laugh at itself is one that has come of age.

A linguistic exuberance runs through “Llwyth”. After a snort of coke there is a pause, followed by “Neis.” It is a rare script where characters chat about Treigladau. The occasional line like “the wind of change sings her song of betrayal” jumps out but there is much richness besides. Welsh, for instance,, is lacking in a word for “orgy”, it is revealed.

Hoyw, according to Trinity St David, the guardians of geiriadur.net, also has meanings of “alert,” “sprightly”, “bright”. All are true for “Llwyth”. Much in Dafydd James’ writing escaped audiences in Scotland. But they had plenty else to warm to, not least the brio in the writing and performance. “Llwyth” wins for its human content. One of the characters says it truly. “Love is a verb. Something you do, you show.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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