Theatre in Wales

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Ynys Môn's Theatre Company Exhilarates

Cwmni'r Frân Wen

Ynys Alys , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , March 31, 2022
Cwmni'r Frân Wen by Ynys Alys The era of Covid-19 for the live arts is ending but is not yet terminal. In London it is common for a company member to be a late substitute and to perform script-in-hand. March 23rd marked the two-year anniversary of the first edict from Downing Street, although theatre and society were by then already in their own closure. March 23rd in Aberystwyth, a week back, was set to see the effervescent blend of Mathilde Lopez and Daf James. Covid-19- down but not out- hit the August 012 company and "Petula" was not to be seen.

Each performance still feels to be a small miracle of a world returned. Happily, "Ynys Alys" arrived mid-tour untroubled.

Director Gethin Evans and team have made a complex, layered and exhilarating confection. Dramatist Gareth Evans-Jones- winner of drama medals at the 2019 National Eisteddfod and again in 2021- opens with the entry of a tentative 18-year. Alys, winningly played by Becca Naiga, is due to talk for an hour about geology.

Things are not quite right. A bucket has been left centre-stage. Nonetheless she sets to her educational task. Her life-space, she explains, has been mapped out within the boundaries of Amlwch, Holyhead, South Stack, Llanfairpwyllgwyn. Parys Mountain has motivated her interest.

The rock of Ynys Môn, she says, is of an immeasurable age. John Henslow was the first to write of its geology, silurian, cambrian, quaternary, ordovician. First life arrived 541 million years ago. Humans, akin to us, have been here for 200,000. Alys has her own special place, a smaller island with a single house. Then her flow of talk is interrupted. A music producer strides in, apparently unaware of her presence. The design's wrap around screens show scenes of sea and rocky shore. A large-size Casi Wyn sings. Lemarl Freckleton. known as Lemfreck, raps in a cross-Wales collaboration. His base is Gwent, she is from Bangor.

If Alys were not discomfited enough by this interruption two audience members leave their second row seats and invade her talking space. Cati (Valmai Jones) is trying to teach her voice assistant new words. She is insistent that it learn "clywed." The voice is obtuse, its response only wanting to tell her about Cluedo. Daughter Luned (Fflur Medi Owen) is back in the family home, devotion and exasperation mingled in the way it is with an ageing parent.

Gareth Evans-Jones blends his three elements captivatingly. The lyrics and the raps link to the characters. Mother and daughter don shawls and aprons to loop back in time to become their nineteenth century predecessors. Alys reveals herself as an every-person teenager on life's cusp. "I don't know what to do and I'm just scared." The songs sing of precipices to be encountered.

Metaphor is crucial for theatre. "Ynys Alys" feels to be juxtaposing the eternal rock of its island setting with the provisional lives of its human inhabitants. Alys likens herself to being under metamorphic change in the same way the shapes of landscape have been formed under an immensity of pressure. Persona too can be metasedimentary.

"Ynys Alys" is innovatory and satisfyingly elliptical. It is driven by the fine music. A video went viral this winter showing a night scene of a Rhosneigr street emptied of human life. The onward sale of long-held property is a regular in theatre of the north. It last featured in "Merch yr Eog Marc'h an Eog" in 2016. True to 2022 Lemfreck raps "I can't get no property".

In this scenario the home is also destined to be passed on, but it finds a creative purpose, to be a place of music. "Ynys Alys" comes without rancour or polemic but then it is only bad art that needs to be declamatory. Good art retains its strand of mystery. To exhilarate is its purpose and "Ynys Alys" exhilarates.

Others members of the creative team include set designer Jenny Hall, costume Angharad and Rhi Matthews, lighting and audio-visual mapping Ceri James, sound designer Alexander Comana, video director Griff Lynch. Hannah McPake is associate director.

The full tour of "Ynys Alys" runs:

Pontio Bangor (17-19 March), Neuadd Dwyfor Pwllheli (22-23 March), Stiwt Rhosllanerchrugog (24-25 March), Aberystwyth Arts Centre (28-29 March), Galeri Caernarfon (30-31 March), Theatr Soar Merthyr Tydfil (2 April), Ffwrnes Llanelli (05-06 April) and Sherman Theatre Cardiff (07-09 April).

Previous productions by the company are reviewed below:

"Ŵy, Chips a Nain" (2018)

"Dilyn Fi" (2016)

"Gwyn" (2014)

"Dim Diolch" at Edinburgh Fringe 2014

"Fala’ Surion" (2012)

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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