Bridie Doyle-Roberts: Citrus Arts’ Savage Hart

October 7, 2016 by

Citrus Arts are a Welsh company based in Pontypridd, creating work that sits between circus, dance and theatre.

Founded in 2009, we are delighted to be embarking on our first UK tour with a production called Ceirw – Savage Hart.

As the writer and director of this work, I have been developing the idea for over 3 years, yet the origins of the concept lies further in my past.


I was born in Aberystwyth and grew up next to the Hafod Estate where as young girls, my sister and I used to play among the overgrown gardens and crumbled mansion walls of a once cultivated landscape full of fascinating stories and characters that inspired the most imaginative of curious children.

The history of the Hafod goes back centuries to a dangerous wilderness of robbers and highway men seeking the riches of the mineral mines of the area. The mansion building which stood there proudly for generations, was known as a “beggarly estate” (1) a lonely, dangerous place that nobody wanted, cut off from the rest of the world.

The man who fell in love with it and tried to make a success of the place in the 18th century was Thomas Johnes an aesthete who’s deep love for the Hafod, modern approach to working the land and appreciation of the beauty of the landscape attracted the likes of JMW Turner to paint his mansion sitting in the gloriously wild countryside. Johnes’ story, so full of hope and passion was plagued with grief and disaster and the mansion was abandoned. During the 1950’s the building was blown up for being unsafe and the only evidence of it’s existence is in piles of rubble and a still half-standing balustrade staircase where nature has taken over again.


savage 2


savage 1


This idea of natural re-wilding is the organic root of “Ceirw – Savage Hart”. The thinking behind the work came into being during my artist residency at The Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury. Like many parts of England, Gloucestershire is still characterised by it’s connection to the natural world, but defined by land enclosures, history, heritage, and how we muddle mother nature into our market towns. I felt a strong connection between the landscapes shared histories. During the residency I was introduced to Gladys Paulus, a felt artist based in Frome who inspired us to work with full-head, felt animal masks.
Fascinated by the symbolism of the Deer, and the once popular taxidermy of their heads to display on the walls of stately homes, the animals felt like a clear choice to help us tell a story. There was also an interesting cultural shift during Johnes’ time between the Age of Enlightenment and the Romantic Era – a changing of attitudes from a domineering, scientific categorisation of nature to a more spiritually comforting reflection of the mystery of our wild world. In our story, our Deer heads – doomed to watch over the humans lives for eternity become alive again to instigate a change in the human characters onstage.

The piece has a strong narrative and is dance-led with moments of aerial and acrobatic work beautifully performed by performers wearing full head masks. The masks offer a particular challenge for such a physical piece, as the performers are visually impaired and they are hot and uncomfortable to wear. However, the overall affect is magical and we are transported into another world through their performance. Working with masks, and in particular these exquisitely crafted works of art, has informed our thinking about the identity of our future work.

We have also developed a love for working with live music, and this piece features a cellist and pianist working together to create a haunting soundscape that is evocative of the era and location, but pushes the story along with modern, pulsing electronic effects.

From the beginning there was a desire to create a piece of work that would be adaptable and allow for a longer life than the usual touring production. Along the way we have seen the Deer appear as strolling, dancing walkabout performers, presenting an open-air stage version of Ceirw – Savage Hart at Wales’ much-loved Green Man festival, and created a site-responsive youth production in and around a stately home. Creating, nurturing, and freeing these beautiful characters has allowed us to engage with a vast range of audiences on many different levels, and will see the Ceirw (Welsh for Deer) outlive the stage show for a long time to come.

Bridie Doyle-Roberts, Co-Artistic Director, Citrus Arts
Touring dates:

Jacksons Lane, London (12th-15th October, 8pm & 3pm matinee on saturday)

The Courtyard, Hereford (21st October, 7.30pm)

Aberystwyth Arts Centre (25th October, 7.30pm)

Deda, Derby (30th October, 7.30pm)

The Muni, Pontypridd (3rd November, 7.30pm)
1) Research material taken from “Peacocks in Paradise” by Elisabeth Inglis-Jones (1988) Golden Grove Editions

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