“Welsh heritage to the left of me, BNP to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with sparkly dragons.”
Hello. My name is Seiriol and I am a Welsh and a Gay. This probably isn’t earth-shattering news to anyone who’s met me or seen my stuff; I’m not exactly cagey about it. Actually, though, someone on Tuesday said that I didn’t sound like I grew up on a farm in the middle of Anglesey, which I found very offensive. Moi?? Avec le Radio 4 tone of voice and the spangles and showtunes? How actually dare you.
But I did grow up on one. I arguably wasn’t as involved in the farmy bits as I could have been, but I definitely helped bottle-feed the odd orphan lamb, and I once painted 3 ½ outbuilding doors, leaving the final ½ tantalisingly unpainted for 17 years, as a sort of unintentional durational artwork.
I was raised Welsh-speaking, Welsh nationalist, in the 80s that was still in the flourish of the 60s folk revival: long hair, harps, guitars, Eisteddfod fields, soft leather goods with your choice of name or political slogan burnt into them with a hot little wire thing, and rock songs against English oppression and the erosion of our culture. And then I learnt that Nick Griffin, holocaust-denying then-leader of the British National Party, had moved to LLanerfyl and raised his kids Welsh-speaking; and that he had done this “specifically… to escape multi-racial Britain.”
And I’ve always been queer, revelling in the humour, fire and licence outsiders have to define their own identity and world. And then I was talking to a gay man and he said he thought women should be banned from gay bars and clubs because they should be safe spaces.
Because everything becomes bloody problematic in the end doesn’t it? Thanks, 21st Century introspection.
Queer and Welsh are two of the core pillars of my identity (the third, for the record, is ‘wanting to have telekinesis’), and I always thought they were unassailably “just”; that, given I could define myself in both cases as an embattled minority, I didn’t really have to question myself at all.
We live in a time when we’re more aware than ever that we have the right to define and categorise ourselves, and that any curtailing of that right is an oppression. We also live in a time where that very awareness has been seized on by the murky forces of marketing, turned into a moneymaker and sold back to us. And the very idea of oppression has been sucked up, absorbed and turned into currency by people like [sorry, he had to come up eventually] Trump, so that even he – one of the wealthiest and most powerful citrus fruits in the whole world – is a victim because people are sometimes mean to him when he tries to annihilate their lives.
You don’t need me to bleat at you that across the world, from nations to social factions, drawbridge-raising isolationism is surging. We run the risk of letting the cultures that we love become an endlessly repeating meme of things that make us feel nostalgic and justified, and our Pride parades become nothing more than self-congratulating wet t-shirt competitions for trapezoid white boys sponsored by vodka and jockstraps. Which, as a situation, is (to paraphrase Gerallt Lloyd Owen) not cute.
So I made a show that tries to take the whole situation, pick it up and gnaw at it for a bit, while, I really hope, providing a good night out of the house. And some amazing lunatics agreed to make it with me.
The story of Milky Peaks kicks off when the town is told that it’s nominated for an Award. Having a contest at the core of the story seemed right, because (a) it’s a pretty good motor for plot, and (b) because oftentimes it seems like subcultures and subgroups are made (by whatever forces) to compete against each other for support, visibility, validity. And this is (in the words of the Red Book of Hergest, 1382) seriously not cute.
It is a really arseholey move to try and make a culture prove that it is “useful”, rather than accept its value. It is an even arsehole-ier move to make a culture fight against another for survival. It has a lot going for it, but Tina Turner’s Thunderdome is only useful as a system of civic organisation under very specific circumstances.
But how do you protect the things you love without that stepping over into stepping on or isolating others?
For me, the key question at the heart of Milky Peaks is ‘is it poison to want to protect what you love?’. I mean it’s one of two, the other is ‘dragons and dragons and sparkles and god dammit did I not say sparkles?’. But the poison one is very important.
And I don’t know the answer. Of course I don’t. But it has to lie in really being exuberantly robust with the things we love: take them apart, twist them around; find out what it is about them we love and give us life, and what parts might have outlived their positive usefulness.
I think that the queer, camp, draggy style we work in is a great way to ask these questions. It can be savage without being brutal, funny without being fluff, truthful without being realistic, specific without being excluding; it can be meaningful without not having sparkly dragons. And it’s Welsh too. There’s an anarchic spirit running through Welsh culture which is a total joy, and the show owes as much to that as it does to Taylor Mac, Bloolips and the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.
All this questioning hasn’t dampened my love for being Queer or Welsh. In fact, it’s only made me more excited and enthusiastic about the future of our culture and the unique voice that we have. When I was a surly teenager, Welsh heritage seemed a bit like some old Toby Jug we’d been left in someone’s will. You know Toby Jugs, those porcelain figurines of squatting men and woman in big hats and bonnets: super specific, full of character but they’ll break if you mess about with them too much. But now it all seems possible. We have to be brave; it’s not gonna break, but it might bend. And that’s okay. To paraphrase Gandhi, we must be the Toby Jug we want to see in the world.
ON THE TRAIN TO CHESTER, PASSING TATTENHALL MARINA
Theatr Clwyd today announce full cast and tour dates for Seiriol Davies’ Milky Peaks.
THEATR EMLYN WILLIAMS
Theatr Clwyd, Áine Flanagan Productions and Seiriol Davies present the world première of
Written and composed by Seiriol Davies
Devised by Seiriol Davies, Matthew Blake and Dylan Townley
Nestled in the heart of Snowdonia, the small town of Milky Peaks is nominated for ‘Britain’s Best Town’. The award brings with it a dark right-wing agenda, threatening the heart and soul of the town. Can the community club together to save the identity of their beloved Milky Peaks?
Milky Peaks reunites Davies with collaborators Matthew Blake, Alex Swift, Dylan Townley and Áine Flanagan Productions who co-created the critically acclaimed How to Win Against History.Milky Peaks has been supported by the National Theatre New Work Department, Theatr Clwyd, Arts Council England, Cyngor Celfyddydau Cymru, Battersea Arts Centre and Ovalhouse.
Milky Peaks can be seen at Theatr Clwyd (Theatr Emlyn Williams) from Fri 20 March to Sat 11 April prior to a Welsh tour. Tickets priced from £10 are available from the Theatr Clwyd Box Office on 01352 344101 or at www.theatrclwyd.com.
MILKY PEAKS TOUR DATES
Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon
Tuesday 14 – Wednesday 15 April
www.brycheiniog.co.uk / 01874 611622
Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea
Friday 17 – Saturday 18 April
www.taliesinartscentre.co.uk / 01792 602060
Tuesday 21 – Wednesday 22 April
www.pontio.co.uk / 01248 382828
Aberystwyth Arts Centre
Friday 24 – Saturday 25 April
www.aberystwythartscentre.co.uk / 01970 623232
Torch Theatre Milford Haven
Tuesday 28 – Wednesday 29 April
www.torchtheatre.co.uk / 01646 695267
Friday 1 – Saturday 2 May
www.thehafren.co.uk / 01686 614555
Sherman Theatre Cardiff
Wednesday 6 – Saturday 9 May
www.shermantheatre.co.uk / 029 2064 6900