It was refreshing to see a performance based on an old text that did not relocate the action to a modern context. It was also unashamedly antique in its script from Siôn Eirian, after Saunders Lewis. The lyrical, poetic language of the adaptation ebbed and flowed like the sea on the screen behind the characters. It would be enjoyable to watch without knowledge of the text but knowing the story simply increased my admiration for an exceptional script and a performance that was beautifully staged and acted.
Directed by Erica Eirian, each individual was pitched beautifully. Each was a unique and discreet character with different motivations and a different story to tell.
It was a joy to see the roles of the female characters in the story fleshed out. The contrast between the freedom of the sea and woods that moved on the screen behind the characters and the women’s lives, imprisoned at the hands of men, was poignant and beautifully played. Arianrhod (Betsan Llwyd) stalked the stage like a coiled spring, at times visible, at others, melting into the scenery. Her explosion of bitter anger at the end was an event that always going to happen. Her stalking raised the tension and led the audience towards that moment – totally compelling.
Rhys Meredith and Sara Gregory
I loved the idea of Gwydion as a sister-brother. Gwydion (Eiry Thomas) was set apart from the other characters by his/her power and unique gender-bending. He/She was the one character who could manipulate and who, arguably, was truly free. Yet though he/she began with freedom and male power, his/her machinations ensured that he/she too was trapped by the end. All the machinations in the world could not break Arianrhod’s curse.
The fluidity of Blodeuwedd’s (Sara Gregory) movement emphasised her wild origins and her pain at being separated from the them. Her flow contrasted with Arianrhod’s stalking, telling the story physically, as well as through words.
There were times when the delivery of Gronw Pebr (Rhys Meredith) was a little flat. I was unsure if this was deliberate. As the play unfolded, it became clear that the men were as bound as the women, but bound by the strictures of their own codes. They were chained by binds that they had created, while the women were chained by them, apart from Llew (Oliver Morgan-Thomas) who had been chained by his mother’s curses and in this was as much a victim as the women. I was unsure if Gronw’s delivery was designed to echo that binding, that the life had been squeezed out of him by guilt at breaching the honour code.
The moving, wild video background played a key role in giving the play a sense of remove. It placed the action somewhere apart from our world, and yet within it. It emphasised the antiquity of the text and underscored the contrast between the constraint borne by the characters and the freedom that they aspired to.
Holly McCarthy’s costumes were splendid and Arianrhod’s dress astonishing. At times it completely blended into the scenery, leaving only her dark, angry face visible. Blodeuwedd’s dress moved with her. The use of the court scarf / sash emphasised her entrapment in her body and in the court.
It felt old, it felt Welsh. It was beautifully staged and compellingly acted. I genuinely lost track of time whilst watching it. I hope they publish the script!
Main image: Betsan Llwyd