Bara Bread, Carmen Medway-Stephens

May 20, 2015 by

Isn’t life hard enough already without trying to get a play on…? We do it because it’s in our literary DNA…we have to tell stories.


A birth of a play is an interesting process, Where did it come from? What is unique about this world? Why now? Do these characters live and breathe? What will happen to them when we leave the theatre? Do they still exist somewhere? Bara Bread lives and breathes wherever there is community, village town or city. Bara Bread is all about the return to story, earthy, honest writing ‘Theatre of the hearth’.


Someone once described how as primitive man we watched the fire tell us stories until someone dared to be the fire and tell the stories ourselves. I grew up listening to the ‘women natbags’ the gossips on the bus top. Observing lives in small communities. I watched my Nana cooking, we baked together, I learnt from my grandfather about growing your own food, and now I feel it its a far too distant memory that has been replaced by materialism. Bara Bread is about ‘getting it back’.


Bara Bread began as an idea of a group of women coming together at a table who are all at different stages of their lives. As I began to explore the story I began to realise how the stages of bread making are like the stages of our lives. I had the image of a woman back in her childhood home, stood at the table holding her Mothers ashes. Where has she been in the interim…living her life as society demands…university, house, marriage?…career? What next? Babies? But where does that leave us if we don’t fit into this mould…what if women want to work in male dominated roles, what if we want to break the mould?


‘As I kneaded the bread I began to see a woman approaching her forties struggling with the constraints fast society imposes and Nettie from Lovenny was born.’


I wanted to create  a strong story that had a resonance of how we live our lives today. We’re all increasingly time starved, on a hamster wheel that we can’t get off. I wanted to write about such people. People who are lost or confused, disconnected in a hyper connected world. I wanted to write about what it means to be real. Food feeds our souls but today’s evening meal is often quick pasta or frozen food but as one of my characters says we can always make ‘Casserole’. It’s just as easy to throw ingredients in a pot and make your own sauce with herbs and a tin of tomatoes rather than a jar sauce full of additives, salt and sugar.  But we still reach for the jar…

The Italians live by ‘Arrangiarsi’ the ‘art of getting by’, skills that we have forgotten, using the food left in the fridge to make a hot pot instead we throw it in the bin. It made me think of how we get by, people often say when they speak honestly ‘they are winging it’ on a daily basis, clinging onto normal by their teeth. How we often won’t fix or mend we’ll go out and buy new.

This rat race of modernity other things are replacing the table; the TV, Internet, Social media. But coming together at the table gives us unity a shared experience, laughs tears, it binds us. In Sardinia once a year the super rich converge at a port in their ‘super yachts’. ‘Seeing is believing’. Ten even twenty lined up. Helicopter pads, staff of 50 the ‘super’ cars able to drive straight off the ship. The materialism is astonishing. To fuel the tank for one day is equivalent to a small house. You ask how one would make such money to afford such a ‘beautiful monstrosity’. ‘Packaging!’ The stuff that fills our bins, our land fill and oceans. It made me think if we buy local, make our own food, plastic packaging is kept to the minimum. If we make our own bread it has no packaging. Bara Bread can be described as a parable for how we live our lives – but isn’t it just about women coming together to bake bread?


I wanted to write about how we live now in this world of extremes ‘the haves and the haves not’ and the problems we are storing for our future. We had our grandparents and extended family to provide us with a knowledge about how to live simple and eat well but these skills are fast being lost by convenience food that is actually creating long term health issues. The ‘white sliced’ might have liberated us from the cooking and the ‘kitchen sink’ but what path will this cheap fast food take us on in the long run….it made me think of how do we make bread now? People say ‘bread can make you fat’ but what is in traditional bread that can do that – Flour Water Yeast?

Today we add all sorts of the things to preserve ‘the white sliced’. It made me begin to think about what we eat.  My research discovered something known as a starter but also called a ‘mother dough’ it is flour and water that begins to create its own bacteria taken from the environment it is in and the air we breathe. This is then used to create a loaf. It is reputed to last for as long as you feed it with the flour and water. Bakers call it the ‘philosophers stone’ or alchemy, its what gives the home made bread its unique taste. This in turn began my journey with magic realism in the play and made me question how theatre has lost some of its magic…


People have asked me what do I want the audience to feel as their leaving. This story works on two levels the personal and the political. I didn’t set out to write a story like this but something must have fed into my subconscious and has come through the writing. That we must look forward and learn from how we used to live before ‘convenience’ food hit our shelves. The characters are all searching for what is real. We have lost sight of what is real in the ‘business’ of our lives. We don’t switch off, how do we feel when the internet is down, we’re almost addicted to technology. How many look at their phones constantly and answer calls or texts at dinner?


And finally should we be buying local, support our farmer, our butcher, the baker, make food special again and not something we eat as fast as we can so we can get back onto the computer. Bara Bread is a journey of rediscovering ourselves and rediscovering each other and the world we live in.


Getting your work on: I currently make work myself, this is very hard and you have to be committed, be prepared to put yourself out there and ask lots of questions. Never be afraid to ask for help, most people are willing help you with advice, reading your work, providing a rehearsal space but always be humble and thankful and give back when you can.


The rural tours have been the hardest to organise. Its part of Theatr Gwalia’s remit to take work to the village rather than the village coming to the work. The generosity and friends I have made in the process have been rewarding. I have observed how communities have overcome adversity to build the village again, a leap of faith to open shops that sell and make local produce in the hope that customers will come.


We never know if our dreams will work until we take the first step. I always remember the line in the film Field of Dreams ‘Build and they will come’. The hard work that goes into baking bread by hand and now with the help of mixing machines in time/labour intensive but the bread tastes delicious. The meat from the local farmer tastes of meat. In the search for convenience we have stored up an environmental disaster waiting to happen. The expression ‘ we are what we eat’ is so true. I ate for as long as I had ‘the will power’ food that came without packaging. I felt the difference. Although through writing the play, time has been of the essence and a frozen pizza has saved the day. How do I feel now – well the trainers are on as we speak…

The play: Bara Bread is a visual and a very different play, challenging for our lovely all female cast with its busy stage and props. It’s a mouth-watering play when you see the bread being made that evokes all the senses. It is sensual, warm, sad and funny. Chris Morgan has directed it with sensitivity and beautifully. I have been through and invaluable process with Sharon Morgan as my mentor and Chris being tough with the editing and the cast all bringing their instinct to each line and asking those difficult questions. Somebody said ‘is it hard killing your darlings’ and I replied it’s actually liberating, like a hairdresser trimming your lines to make sure the exposition goes, the through line is clear and the good stuff remains hopefully creating a strong piece. Its ensuring all the mud sinks to the bottom and the water becomes clear. People in the arts say – why have you written this play now…come and see it and I hope you get the political in the personal.

We have age cast from 18 to 70 and its has been very important bringing all these ladies from different generations to the stage. The story has been informed by a little magic realism – an area of my practice that I hope to develop in 2016.  I have loved the research process – watching Two Greedy Italians every morning, meeting Paul Hollywood hearing the audience literally ‘saliva’ over him and the bread making….I must say the time and effort that goes into making tasty wholesome bread is honourable – it really is hard now to look at white sliced in the same way again.


The process been a game of juggling balls, writing to deadline, my lecturing job, marketing and producing on my own. This time organising the rural tour has been the hardest. Rural venues would benefit from learning more about the Night Out Scheme. But reaching out to rural venues has been ultimately rewarding. Going to Talgarth and meeting all the local people. The Bakers Table has been of great support – I made the tastiest bread on my baking day. Talgarth is all about returning to local as a way to see forward – The butchers, the craftsman, a local shop where local produce is sold, a mill in working order still making flour today with Welsh flour. Dedication to their craft. I sat in the café eating the fresh-baked bread while taking in the views of the Brecon Beacons I began to see I could be consumed by this way of life It has been breathtaking journey. It was important to reach out to these venues who never see theatre even if we get small audiences.


The venues were carefully thought through, Cowbridge the theatre is at the back of the historical cattle market and a town that thrives on buying local, Bridgend is on its path of regeneration and St. Brides has now been virtually cut off my a road closure and that has had both a positive and negative impact on the village.


I am not sure what I have written yet has its hot off the press but after its run I may get closer to the beating heart. I look forward to hearing what you find in the play and what it means to you.


So we invite you to ‘Lets Bake Bread Together’


Bara Bread opens Wednesday 20th-23rd  at Chapter and on to a rural Wales Tour before finishing at The Torch on the 30th of May. A  new play about Wales by people from Wales. A little splash of Welsh from my new theatre company Theatr Gwalia. (We previously brought to stage Utah Bride/Priodferch Utah)



  1. This is a great essay I recognise every bit. So sorry but I will be away and not able to see tour play, it sound wonderful ,hope lots and lots of other people will
    All good wishes

  2. Saw the first night Carmen. So sympathetic towards the situations of females, which reflect in the rural and urban societies. Without stereotyping you have portrayed accurately and sympathetically many of the issues which face women in the present day.

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