Theatre in Wales

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Theatre History

Martin Morley , Cwmni Theatr Cymru , February 15, 2024
Theatre History by Martin Morley Scotland has a history of its theatre. Joyce McMillan wrote “Field of Dreams” on the most recent generation of theatre since devolution. It was reviewed here in the sequence “Theatre of Scotland” 19th August 2018.

“Nations define themselves most fully, most accurately and most impressively”, wrote Scotland's lead theatre critic, “not when they are directly examining their own nationhood, but when they are using the stuff of their own language and culture to tackle the substantial issues of their time.”

The older history of theatre in Wales is well covered in the book “The English Theatre in Wales in the Eighteenth & Early Nineteenth Century” by Cecil Price. Otherwise the record is disaggregated.

Carl Tighe left a testimony during his presence in the 1980's. This site takes up the story from 2000. Made in Wales, Wales Theatre Company, Sgript Cymru have their testimony. But the record of the key decade of the 1990s is all over the place. The summary articles by David Adams at least give a first point of entry.

Martin Morley has performed a service in setting down the record of Cwmni Theatr Cymru. His account runs to 3000 words, is accompanied by numerous photographs and has links to theatre programmes. The full account can be read at the link given below.

Morley opens:

“The company was founded by Wilbert Lloyd Roberts in the 1960s as the Welsh speaking arm of the Cardiff based Welsh Theatre Company and shared workshops and technical facilities with them. It did not spring from nowhere but as a response to a great deal of activism in support of the Welsh language at the time and the stand made by Saunders Lewis.

"In 1973 it acquired a disused chapel in Bangor to use as its own technical base and it became fully independent. As there were no purpose built theatres then in Welsh speaking areas, all designs had to fit in various school and village halls.

“It was the only fully professional Welsh Language Theatre company and its brief was to tour plays from a very broad repertoire to all areas of Wales where the Welsh language flourished. There was no long tradition of professional theatre in Wales and it has been a rocky road developing one.

"The scene has changed out of all recognition between the 1970s and now but what has not changed, is that as the centres of the Welsh Language are still scattered and often in rural areas, touring is the only option for any company working in the language and this of course has a huge impact on how shows are staged.

“In the mid 1970s a chain of theatres was built which were attached to universities or local authorities. They were: Theatr Gwynedd, Bangor: Theatr Clwyd, Mold: Theatr y Werin, Aberystwyth: Theatr Sherman, Cardiff and Theatr Ardudwy at Harlech.

“...Wilbert Lloyd Roberts, the Artistic Director, guided the company through many turbulent but exciting times; Nesta Harris, Gruff Jones and Grey Evans did many productions between them and Malcolm Taylor who directed the highly successful revival of “Under Milk Wood”, to name but few.

“One of the great pleasures of working with Theatr Cymru was designing the plays of Gwenlyn Parry. I had the opportunity of designing the premieres of “Y Ffin”, “Y Twr” and “Sal” and the revival of ‘Ty ar y Tywod‘ directed by Cei Sherlock, each very different, each very challenging.

“In 1982 Wilbert resigned after what had been a very fractured period in the company’s history. By then it was essentially two companies: one producing mainstream work and Adran Antur, producing experimental work and they did not sit easily together. Arts politics is complicated every where and it certainly was in Wales at the time.

“Torri Gair” was the first production that Theatr Cymru mounted with Emily Davies as artistic director....Ceri Sherlock was the associate director and directed a number of very fine productions, notably “Tair Chwaer” by Chekhov and a most unusual production of Gwenlyn Parry’s “Ty ar y Twyod”. Noa replaced the traditional pantomime...eventually economics caught up with it and it went under one afternoon in early January 1984.”

The account moves to Morley's own participation: John Gwilym Jones’ play ‘Y Tad a’r Mab’, Gwenlyn Parry’s ‘Y Ffin’.

“Theatr Antur (literally Adventure Theatre) was established as a separate entity within the company to produce productions of a more experimental nature that were at the same time closer to the grass-roots. Eventually this broke away to form Theatr Bara Caws which is still flourishing to-day.

“David Lyn did three notable productions in the mainstream apart from ‘Pethe Brau’: ‘Y Twr’, ‘Esther’ by Saunders Lewis, and Bernard Evans ‘Syrcas’. Another key collaborator was Gareth Jones, the company’s quite extraordinary lighting designer. Over a number of shows he developed beautiful and subtle ways of lighting touring theatre, usually involving exposed lighting rigs and a large number of small open white lanterns, and ‘Esther’ was the culmination of his style.

“...The birth of S4C had a profound effect as now there was an abundance of well paid work that theatre companies found it very hard to match. For the last two years of the company’s existence, 1982–83, Theatr Cymru was led by Emily Davies, assisted by Ceri Sherlock. Ceri Sherlock’s re-thinking of Gwenlyn Parry’s ‘Ty ar y Tywod” and his ravishing production of Chekhov’s ‘Tair Chwaer’, designed by Chris Green, were two of the finest productions the company produced.

“One day in early January 1984, the Art’s Council pulled the plug and the ship sank.”

This article is taken, with acknowledgment and thanks, from the full account which can be read at:

https://mmorleytheatretvdesign.wordpress.com/theatr-cymru-1972-1984/

Illustration: Ty ar y Tywod 1983

A guide to the sequence “Theatre History” can be read below 12th August 2021

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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