Very recently we lost one of our foremost literary talents, one who’s star will continue to shine as brightly as the first time he came to our attention. Siôn Eirian was the youngest ever winner of a Bardic Crown at the National Eisteddfod; he wrote the first ‘urban’ novel in the Welsh language; played an instrumental rôle in establishing the Welsh branch of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain; wrote countless scripts for film and TV, in Welsh and in English; was a generous supporter of many charities and was one of the main sponsors of Pontypridd Rugby Club.
This first time I saw Siôn was on stage in a school pantomime which he himself had written — me in my first year, he a 6th former — and as a frisson of tension rippled through the hall I became aware, even then, that this charismatic personality liked to push boundaries.
He continued to do this throughout his career, but not just for the sake of it — he was passionate about opening his audiences’ eyes to all sorts of themes, possibilities and conversations. He was one of the first dramatists to write in Welsh about prostitution and homosexuality for instance, and though he worked across all media, I believe theatre to be the one he enjoyed most, as this is where he was most free to have his own voice heard.
When I was appointed Artistic Director of Theatr Bara Caws our own career-journey began in earnest, and what an enriching, fascinating, joyful journey it has been.
The cast of Yfory
The cast of Garw
In 2014 we staged Garw which told the story of an ex-miner from the Amman Valley living in Thatcher’s Britain and trying to come to terms with the rapidly changing landscape in which he finds himself. Then in 2016 we staged Yfory – focusing on imaginary assembly members offering a new vision for the future of the nation, and arguably the most relevant piece of political theatre to come out of Wales in recent years. Both plays won numerous awards and audiences flocked to see them. We were due to stage the third in his ‘political trilogy,’ Fienna, later this year, where he looked further afield, to the continent, and the myriad races co-existing in Europe, but due to the pandemic we had to postpone the tour. When I contacted Siôn to relay the message he understood completely and insisted that we were to produce the last play we commissioned from him, Byd Dan Eira, before Fienna, as he’d written this particular piece to mark the 40th anniversary of the establishing of Greenham Common Peace Camp in 1981 by a group of women from South Wales. We will try our best to fulfil his wishes.
But his true genius as a writer lay not only in the massive intellect, philosophy, and passionate discourse typical of his work, but in the very tangible humanity he succeeded to imbue in each and every character, to ensure that the story was always kept real. Every member of the company — actors, technicians, designers, admin — found him a joy to work with, always supportive, informative, kind and generous, and from the myriad tributes paid to him, everyone whose path he crossed seem to agree.
I am not the only one who will miss his company, his conversation, his knowledge, his guidance, and his witty irreverence – and I will keep our e-mail threads for posterity!
Our thoughts and condolences go to his brother Guto, and to Erica, his wife and best-friend of 45 years.
Hwyl fawr gyfaill.
Main image: Siôn Eirian being recognised for excellence at the Wales Theatre Awards