Theatre in Wales

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Gwych- North-South Fusion Creates Performance Fireworks

At Wales Millennium Centre

Branwen: Dadeni-Frân Wen & Wales Millennium Centre , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , November 17, 2023
At Wales Millennium Centre by Branwen: Dadeni-Frân Wen & Wales Millennium Centre In the cycle of the theatre year the touring season after summer used to start in mid-September. In post-pandemic times it has taken until November for a trio of productions to fire up Aberystwyth's Art Centre.

Taken together, Theatr Genedlaethol, Black Rat and Blackwood Institute, and now Frân Wen and Wales Millennium Centre are evidence of a theatre ecology in good shape. They are varied but all three are propelled by masterly performers, high skills in light and sound, and all underpinned with directorial sparkle.

“Branwen: Dadeni” is also a marker; north and south bond creatively to create performance fireworks. Publicists can run away with themselves but this time the high-vaulting words are matched with fact. “The dramatic show”, ran the pre-publicity, “will mark a major milestone for the Wales Millennium Centre and Frân Wen as both organisations embark on fulfilling their shared vision of producing a landmark Welsh musical.”

The Wales Millennium Centre has experience of working at the apex of British theatre. “The Boy with Two Hearts” played at the National Theatre in London in the first season after the pandemic. That ambition shows. In its scale, its design and lighting, the quality of its music and singing “Branwen: Dadeni” could transfer straight to the Lyttelton stage on the South Bank and a national theatre audience would not blink an eyelid. The production values are supreme.

Formally, Elin Steele's design has a lower area for the main actors, and a raised section for the musicians and octet of singers, who function as both chorus and amplifiers of the action. The first act is led by the magnetic duo of Mared Williams' Branwen and Rithvik Andugula's Matholwch. Fine singing too from Tomos Eames as Bendigeidfran, Caitlin Drake as Efnisien and Gillian Elisa as Ena. In the second act Gillian Elisa unleashes a full power not often seen before. Ioan Hefin, back in Aberystwyth after the summer's “Brassed Off”, is a gruesome statuesque Picelle, explicator of time and story and history.

The tale of alliance, war with Ireland, infanticide has an innate power. It flows, suggests the programme, into Tolkein, George R R Martin and Studio Ghibli. The emotional impact is profound.

For Seiriol Davies, composer and lyricist, “Branwen: Dadeni” completes a truly remarkable trilogy of theatre. (He took time in-between for Manchester's tribute to Betty Boothroyd “Betty: A Sort of Musical.) “Milky Peaks”- lost to the pandemic and brought back by Theatr Clwyd as soon as feasible- was musical theatre like no other. “How to Win Against History” was booked into Aberystwyth's studio and had to put on extra performances to meet demand. It went on to play for weeks in London. “Branwen: Dadeni” completes the trio, displaying a unique mercurial and eclectic talent.

The production goes back to the days of Covid-19 and belongs to four people: Seiriol Davies, Hanna Jarman, Elgan Rhys and Gethin Evans. For Frân Wen the company notches up forty years in 2024. Not so long ago it was known for perfect gems like “Gwyn” and “Dilyn Fi”. The key to corporate longevity is rejuvenation. This is a major accomplishment for Artistic Director Gethin Evans and his team. Their new centre, the Nyth, should be a powerful incubator for the culture of Gwynedd and beyond.

A refrain in the second act runs “We must open the door to the future.”

The future is looking good.

The production credits are extensive. They include:

Cast: Mared Williams, Caitlin Drake, Rithvik Andugula, Tomos Eames, Ioan Hefin, Gillian Elisa. Mali Grooms and Tegwen Velios share the role of Gwern and plentyn.

Octet: Lisa Angharad, Huw Euron, Steffan Hughes, Miriam Isaac, Elan Meirion, Niamh Moulton, Cedron Sion, Adam Vaughan

Llyfr: Hanna Jarman, Elgan Rhys a Seiriol Davies

Cerddoriaeth a geiriau: Seiriol Davies

Cyfarwyddwr: Gethin Evans

Cyfarwyddwr Cerdd: Geraint Owen

Dylunydd Set a Gwisgoedd: Elin Steele

Dylunydd Goleuo: Bretta Gerecke

Dylunydd Sain: Sebastian Frost

Trefniant Cerddorfaol: Owain Roberts

Cyfarwyddwyr Symudiad: Nia Lynn a Owain Gwynn

Cyfarwyddwr Castio: Hannah Marie Williams / HMW Casting

Cynhyrchydd: Branwen Jones

Picture Credit: Craig Fuller

* * * *

Previous Wales Millennium Centre Productions reviewed below:

“Es and Flo”: 22 June 2023

“The Making of a Monster”: 24 November 2022

“The Boy with Two Hearts”: 13 October 2022, 10 October 2021

"Lovecraft (Not the Sex Shop in Cardiff": 23 August 2019: 15 August 2018

"Tiger Bay": 16 November 2017: 15 November 2017

"Only the Brave": 01 April 2016

"Land of Our Fathers" : 19 November 2015

"Showboat": 23 July 2014

"Man to Man": 29 March 2015

"I'm with the Band": 20 October 2013

"The Igam Ogam Show": 04 August 2013

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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