Theatre in Wales

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Warmth & Welcome for Company Return

At Lighthouse Theatre

The Many Lives of Amy Dillwyn , Aberystwyth Arts Centre Studio , March 10, 2022
At Lighthouse Theatre by The Many Lives of Amy Dillwyn A place holds memories. The span of time since March 2020 is a chasm in our collective experience. On 12th March two years ago wife-and-husband artist team Brenda Chamberlain and John Petts were in Aberystwyth's beguiling domed studio space.

Other figures of history have been here before: Jennie Lee, Aneurin Bevan, Richard Burton, Lloyd George, Dylan Thomas. Not in themselves of course. The players in March 2020 were Sue Lloyd-Davies and Francois Pandolfo. Their predecessors in the roles from history were Louise Collins, Gareth John Bale, Rhodri Miles, Richard Elfyn.

The Dillwyn name is not as familiar as these. But it features strongly in Swansea along with the Vivian name. "You've come to find out about my life, have you?" asks Sonia Beck. Her script has been mainly made from her subject's own words, transcribed from her diaries and and novels.

The life begins conventionally in line with the background. From the Sketty Mansion of Hendrefoilan the young Amy mixes with her peers. They include the Talbots of Margam and adoration for the daughter of the house, Olive. She is one of 250 of her year of 17-year-olds to be presented at court. Sonia Beck has a choice of five costumes arrayed around the set. Court means dance and a swirl of crinoline.

In the buzzing social life she meets Garibaldi and hears Adelina Patti. But a suitor, Llewellyn Thomas, dies peremptorily of smallpox. The young Amy, not expectant of marriage, turns to charitable activity. The Killay of her time is swelling with immigrants from Ireland, the lives of women shadowed by men who drink alcohol to excess.

A small school of 42 offers teaching. It turns out "not as rewarding as I thought. I wasn't really made for the schoolroom." She is still seeking meaning for a life-path. Too worldly to take the veil her course is shaken by illness. A debilitating neuralgia condemns her to the sofa and days of pain. She has always read novels, does not think herself much of a writer but nonetheless sets to it.

The first novels are not wanted but "the Rebecca Rioter", published by Macmillan is a hit and goes into European translation. She is much sought after as a reviewer at a good fee of 5 a time. In this role she encounters Robert Louis Stevenson and the new dramas of Ibsen and Shaw.

Her father has put his parliamentary role before his business activities. On his death the laws of inheritance send the estate to a male cousin. Amy is able to inherit the Llansamlet smelting works which come with debts of 100,000. With her knowledge of languages she can read the documents from overseas suppliers. Her experience of running the estate has given her facility with accounts. With a new trusted employee, later a partner, she turns the operation around over six years. Expansion means more capital and she sells to a German metal company.

The last years are played out in what she calls "rational dress". The cigar-smoking figure becomes well-known in Swansea and finds a late-life cause, the emancipation of women. At the end she looks back to the smelting works for metaphor. Under great heat the zinc transmutes. The life has been various. The closeness of love over the decades was not there. "I am what I am" she says.

After a warm, absorbing performance Sonia Beck steps out of role to add a few words from the person. Adrian Metcalfe has earlier paid tribute to Government and Arts Council. A beneficiary of the Cultural Recovery Fund Lighthouse has done activities for a camera. Outdoor performances have included a show about Josef Herman, another surprisingly with all on bicycles. But, says Sonia Beck, to be back in a space at Aberystwyth for the first time since 2019 is the real thing.

The Welfare, Ystradgynlais is co-producer for "The Many Lives of Amy Dillwyn." The company includes director Derek Cobley, costume-maker Ariadna Bosch, sound design Tony Davies, lighting Carwyn Hopton and Andrew Merrell, stage manager Lisa Briddon.

After Taliesin, Theatr Brycheiniog, the Riverfront, Pontardawe the tour continues to Neuadd Dwyfor, Pwllheli, Theatr Hafren and Miners Welfare, Ystradgynlais.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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