I was very much looking forward to seeing this play as it deals with Welsh politics, something that is not achieved very often in the media in Wales in general. S4C’s Sunday evening drama ‘Byw Celwydd’ is set in the Welsh parliament in Cardiff and mirrors today’s political scenarios, but very few stage productions have attempted to question our national identity in the post-devolution era.
The narrative is centred upon a couple who live in a luxury flat in Cardiff Bay, Gwyn Davies who is the party leader of Plaid Cymru and his partner Ellie. As they discuss the way forward for Wales, an old friend and fellow politician with different values causes conflict. Gwyn’s son also puts him in turmoil through his actions, and a twist caused by this character highlights the deeply fragile nature of assuming a position of authority. One event leaked to the media can threaten someone’s power, a feature I found very powerful considering the tabloid age we live in.
The script was very timely as it dealt with the aftermath of the 2016 elections, and its strength was the pendulum between the personal and national crisis. We were consistently torn between the micro and macro as personal problems within a relationship and in one family ran parallel with the challenges that face the nation as a whole. Sion Eirian is an accomplished playwright who was widely praised for dealing with the miners’ strike in ‘Garw’ a few years ago. Again, he has demonstrated his knowledge and understanding of Welsh culture and the issues that demand to be grappled with, but has also set the Welsh experience within a wider context as he referred to Brexit and Trump. He also possesses an understanding of the complex dynamic of relationships that are inherently intertwined in such national dilemmas. His words are enriched with strong sentences and a wide range of vocabulary – to the point that some words could be incomprehensible to some in the audience. Nevertheless, I also believe that a high standard of language should not be sacrificed in this way.
All the actors were convincing, but Caryl Morgan as Ellie stood out as the feminist role who possessed the ideals and vision required to change perspective. Her portrayal as the figure that would offer hope for Wales’ future and as the hero who stood outside the political sphere was striking. She is the one that suggests a new ‘realpolitik’ direction for the party that would solve the deadlock placed on the Assembly’s increasing difficulty to sustain support after twenty years. The friendship between Kelvin and Gwyn that blossomed in the Cwps at Aberystwyth University was possibly a little too tidy, and their relationship could have been explored further as influential factors in their personal political stance.
The set was minimalist, and conveyed a slick flat in the Bay, but lighting may have been developed further by experimenting. It was refreshing to hear Welsh songs within the sound effects, even though I did not always comprehend the significance of the words to what happened on stage.
At times, I felt that the long speeches would be more fitting for the political arena, but the fact that a lot of young people were in the full theatre proves that the audience can handle intense political themes. A longer play could have provided the opportunity to embed these specific viewpoints within a more conversational tone. However, a number of people stayed for the Q and A session afterwards, which underscores in itself the play’s success and the thirst for engaging in discussion about Wales today. The contemporary feel was also enhanced further by references to UKIP, co-operation between parties and capitalism. Indeed, the suggestion to move towards an economy based on a more local and community level found on the continent gave the play a European backdrop – which is all the more poignant following Brexit.
One of the main questions addressed was has the Welsh Assembly Government proved a success, which is a question brought to the fore regularly following 1997. The failure to find common ground was a current theme in the play, which symbolizes the main weakness of the Welsh Government. The ending left me wanting more, but nevertheless the play acted as a very potent springboard for exploring the Welsh political climate. I very much welcome this politicized theatre that we crave in Wales today.