Inheriting Gods, the latest from C.M. Stephens’ Theatr Gwalia, inspired by the author’s own enlightening travels in New England, is a tale of connection on at least two levels. Two young people connect with one another; each also renews a relationship with his/her own cultural heritage.
Our story begins in the holiday haven of Cape Cod, where Rhiannon, played by Saran Morgan, is on vacation with her mother, the father (apparently a “dick”), no longer in the picture. Rhiannon is from a small Valleys town; she is awaiting her A-level results and the subsequent adventure of being the first in her family to go to university.
Whilst wandering alone on the beach (her mother rarely straying from her sunbed), she encounters a young man, raking sand outside his shack. This is Shaw – Charlie Jobe (still a student at Femi Oguns’ Identity School of Acting, making his professional debut). Rhiannon is intrigued to learn that he is a native American, of the Wampanoag nation.
After the predictable initial misunderstandings (e.g. re different meanings of the word “fanny”, and Rhiannon’s “Englishness”), they quickly develop a rapport, and are understandably curious about one another’s backgrounds. It soon emerges, however that while Shaw is well versed in the history of his people – he also works at a nearby “living museum” alongside other members of his family – Rhiannon is not especially knowledgeable when it comes to Welsh culture (despite the best efforts of her grandfather).
She can’t even speak more than a few words of her native language; but then, neither can Shaw. Furthermore, he sees few options for his future other than to join the armed forces, despite his disconnectedness from mainstream American society. Added to which, he is not quite as secure in his Wampanoag identity as it first appears, since he has yet to undergo the fiery rite of passage which will enable him to lay claim to his tribal name.
Jenny Lee’s set, dominated by low wooden fences, effectively evokes the ocean-side ambiance, and back-projected video and photography (courtesy of Simon Huntley and Kirsten McTernan), help transport us from the tacky reality of contemporary America to mystical realms, as Rhiannon calls to mind her other-worldly namesake from Welsh mythology.
The action, smoothly directed by Chris Morgan, flits between Cape Cod and South Wales, several weeks on, as Shaw and Rhiannon maintain their tentative romance via smartphone. It becomes clear that as much as Shaw has encouraged Rhiannon to turn her sentimental attachment to Welshness into something more substantial and constructive, she has inspired him along a similar path.
Stephens’ text mines much humour from the contrast between Shaw’s tourist-friendly politeness and Rhiannon’s profanity-ridden Valleys vernacular; Morgan and Jobe give charming and assured performances. Would a college-bound late teen truly be so ignorant about the recent political history of her nation, though?
The focus on language as a signifier of authenticity is perhaps overly familiar to Welsh audiences; although Inheriting Gods puts the issue in a refreshingly internationalist context. A piece which takes us on two meaningful journeys in less than seventy minutes, it certainly deserves to be seen beyond these borders.