Tide Whisperer, National Theatre Wales, Tenby

September 16, 2018 by

It begins in a dark room, lit only by countless screens displaying images of the sea. From above you a choir sings, and the opening speeches are delivered – powerful, poetic and challenging; because Tide Whisperer does lay down a challenge: to make a two and a half hour odyssey through the streets of Tenby and along its beaches, hearing the searing tales of migrants who have set sail from their homelands driven by war, fear, and the promise of a better life. It’s a piece of surreal beauty, with items of furniture placed on the beach and characters emerging from the rocks that frame the shore.


Listening to stories through their headsets, the audience walk through the cobbled streets of Tenby.


The audience members are corralled into groups, each one with a leader and all wearing headsets through which the actors’ words and swirling music are clearly heard. It’s deliberately disorienting: your initial departure, prompted by the blast of an alarm and a voice urgently directing you to the exit, gives a tiny taste of how it might feel to be human cargo.

Your walk through the streets to the beach is accompanied by a lyrical monologue on the experience of departure, listing the treasured items and memories left behind. It urges you to empathise, hammering home the point that the decision to depart is not made lightly.

On the beach you encounter characters desperate for sanctuary, and each performance is mesmerising: a woman who fled Vietnam with her family, losing some of them on the way; a man displaced after his land is taken from him; an economic migrant who risks his life for the chance of a better one; and finally, the tale of the vicissitudes recently experienced by the Windrush generation.


Lourdes Faberes tells the story of Layhing


Perhaps in an effort to link it all to Wales, a recurrent motif throughout is a choir of cocklewomen, and while their presence is evocative of things gathered from the shore, it does not mesh particularly effectively with the rest of the piece; at the climax, the cocklewomen become a swaying chorus, and the characters met on the audience’s shoreline journey are gathered together and given safe harbour. It’s a little too feel-good when you consider the grit of the tales told, and the realities happening in the world every day, but I felt it reflected a storyteller’s yearning to provide a satisfying conclusion, and it did present an inspiring picture of how things could be.


Character Jamil played by Ebenezer Gyau


Written by poet and playwright Louise Wallwein, there is no denying the power or beauty of this production: every monologue crackles with emotion, and technically it’s brilliant: the headsets, the lighting, and the music fully immerse you while Tenby’s coastline provides a stage of transcendent beauty. This is a haunting, innovative, poetic and political play: I hope it inspires action.


Tide Whisperer by Louise Wallwein, directed by Kully Thiarai and designed by Camilla Clarke

Playing the Mayor, actor Dyfan Roberts adresses the audiences



Images by Jennie Caldwell.

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