Theatre in Wales

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Guardian Impressed at Community Theatre

Mold Riots

Theatr Clwyd , Theatr Clwyd , November-07-19
Mold Riots by Theatr Clwyd In January 1899 a ship of 1,900 tons was making the regular trip from Bristol to Liverpool. The Forrest Hall, carrying 13 crew and 5 apprentices, ran into stormy weather not far out of port. It lost its rudder and was drifting towards the coast at Porlock in Somerset.

Lynmouth in neighbouring Devon had a Lifeboat Station and received a telegram reporting the ship in peril. The sea at the tiny harbour of Lynmouth was so turbulent as to prevent the lifeboat's launch. Its coxswain, Jack Crocombe, made a proposal. The lifeboat, the Louisa, should be carried overland and launched from the more sheltered Porlock Weir.

The distance was 13 miles and included one of the steepest gradients in Britain, Countisbury Hill. 100 people gathered for the transport of the boat, 10 metres long and with a weight of 10 tons. A farm provided 18 horses and six men set off ahead with shovels to widen the road where necessary.

The lifeboat reached the sea at 6.30am on 13th January 1899, after a journey of nearly 11 hours. The men, tired and hungry, launched the boat at once. An hour's rowing took them to the Forrest Hall The boatmen from the Louisa went onboard to help its exhausted sailors. Tugs arrived and the ship was taken to harbour in Barry.

A century on and the event was dramatised as a piece of community theatre. It followed the model that had been established by Ann Jellicoe in Bridport in Dorset. In 1978 she set up the Colway Theatre Trust. It evolved over time and became Colway Theatre and then Claque Theatre. The model has a professional team with local actors. But it is not devised theatre; they are plays written by established dramatists, performed in promenade style.

The result in Somerset was one of the most thrilling, urgent works of theatre I have seen. The reason was that it was about things that mattered, sacrifice and struggle, life versus death.

Theatr Clwyd revived this strand of theatre this season. Bethan Marlow wrote “Mold Riots” and it was directed by Katie Posner. It too was about something that mattered.

In the riots of June 1869 four citizens of Mold were killed by the military. They had been protesting the gaoling of two miners, who, it was alleged, had attacked a local colliery manager. The incident had been ignited by wage cuts

The Guardian, alone among the broadsheets, was there. In edit, with a spelling correction:

“Acted and sung with commitment and aplomb by a community cast of more than 100 (with a particularly game line-up of children), a choir, a brass band and four guest actors – Gethin Alderman, Lauren Fitzpatrick, Amy Forrest and Kai Owen – it’s an impressive feat, technically and theatrically.

“Whether in nuanced scenes of drama, or as parts of arresting physical sequences directed by Natasha Harrison, or even simply herding the audience from one location to the next, the community cast was completely present and vital throughout. The evening’s greatest strength was a clear sense of collective ownership that the performers have of the work – both the story and its telling.

“With the dialogue shifting fluidly between English and untranslated Welsh, tensions between communities and classes were effectively threaded throughout. It all ended a little too neatly with an earnest call for peaceful coexistence, but this was a persuasive act of recognition, allowing us, if only temporarily, to occupy the streets and stand in places where usually we cannot, to hear the stories that would otherwise have been unheard.”

Photograph: Samuel Taylor

Review in full, edited with thanks, can be read at:

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2019/oct/25/mold-riots-review

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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