Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Remembering Why “Llwyth” Mattered

At the Sherman

Daf James, Theatr Genedlaethol & Sherman , Theatre of Wales , March 2, 2020
At the Sherman by Daf James, Theatr Genedlaethol & Sherman “Tylwyth” opens at the Sherman 10th March. Three of the cast, Simon Watts, Danny Grehan and Michael Humphreys, reprise their roles of Aneurin, Dada and Gareth from “Llwyth.” Sequels are not common in theatre and the production has a lot to live up to. In the week before the new production it is worth remembering why “Llwyth” soared.

Dafydd- as he then was- James was in conversation with Ed Thomas at Cyfrwng's conference in 2012. For their subject they discussed the challenges, both cultural and internal, of making drama. Ed Thomas had his view. “In Wales there is no collective mythology”, he said, “which makes it very difficult for a dramatist.” It was a pessimistic analysis that was broadly correct. The talk about culture over-focuses on variation- there is a lack of variation but the greater lack is one of centrality. It is hard to find a script that matters that has played Colwyn Bay to Cardiff.

The formula of Thomas plus James in public conversation together made for exuberance. At the time James had a good reason for exuberance. He was author of the first Welsh theatre to be performed in mandarin with surtitles in Japanese and English. He gave his audience in Swansea an unorthodox comment as to the “wright” part in playwright. “Make a mess first, throw out the mess and you may end up with a structure”.

Dylan Moore was there and at the production for Planet Issue 205. He saw it with eyes honed in his own sgwar milltir. “There is dark humour here, but also real bitterness. At the heart of the play is a sense of dislocation between Welsh-language traditions and modernity; it's hard to compose cynghanedd under the influence of poppers, ketamine, coke and E. If anything, rather more than “queer”, being Welsh is presented as a kind of cultural schizophrenia.”

Critics see different things. I saw the human qualities that are bedrock of all stories that count. On re-reading “Llwyth” in 2020 there is a 170-word speech by Aneurin in scene 11. It begins “Achos 'na pam ma' pobol yn ca'l plant yndyfe?” Gay-themed theatre has a heritage that goes back 95 years to J R Ackerley's “the Prisoners of War”. Some plays have lasted and some have not. Kevin Elyot's “Coming Clean” from 1982 was reprised this year by the King's Head. Since its theme is perennial it holds up well.

There have been speeches that matter. Elyot gives his character Tony some fine lines late on about his need for fidelity. It stands alongside Kushner's ringing cry that he gives to Pryor Walter at the very end of “Angels in America.” The 1980s was the decade that was the break-through. Another key speech is the one Larry Kramer gave to Ned Weeks in “the Normal Heart” about belonging to the culture of the main stream of Michelangelo and others. “Llwyth” links to, and is the equal of, Elyot, Kramer and Kushner.

But that was not the main focus. I opened my own account of the play, below 27th September 2011, with the line: “Llwyth” feels like a landmark.”

That landmark status referred to its place in Welsh theatre. “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.”

“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, Hywel Gwynfryn all get their mention, not as decoration but as texture in these characters’ experience.”

The real significance is “A culture capable of self-irony, that can laugh at itself is one that has come of age.” Year on year there have not been enough like “Llwyth.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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