“The Royal Bed” Theatr Pena Feb – Mar 2015.
At all major arts centres and theatres across Wales.
TOUR DATES HERE
see locations list at the bottom of this page.
Siwan, wife to Llywelyn Fawr, Llewelyn the Great, was a pivotal historical figure. Her passionate, intelligent, and highly politicised life offers a thought provoking drama. The play was first staged via Saunders Lewis’ Welsh script in 1956. It now benefits from a sensitive new English language version by Sion Eirian, directed by Erica Eirian of Theatr Pena.
Theatr Pena, already famed for their innovative productions, especially on gender issues, have taken their expertise into Mediaeval Wales with great success.
The play compares to ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ in its ferocious couple dynamics. But this couple was the ruling power unit of Gwynedd and Wales. Unlike a modern urban marriage, their personal storm ravages the lands of Wales and England, driving thousands into bitter war. It is already being remarked that Theatr Pena’s interpretation makes the politics of the time far clearer than the original version. This is essential to the character of Siwan, who was not just an unfaithful wife: she was a formidable stateswoman.
The performance takes place in an austere but evocative set. A few well chosen furnishings, a brass worked chest, a carved chair with wolfskin, paint the richness of mediaeval castle life. Skilful lighting evokes the candlelit chambers where passions explode. The bed itself shapechanges as in traditional myths into Llywelyn’s war desk, symbolically apt to its political sexuality. One aspect I much enjoyed was the players’ active use of body positions, upright, seated, half lying, lying, and splayed out on bed or floor. This geometry embodied the gamut of dignified masking and gut deep emotion the plot demands.
In a similar symbolic to the bed/ desk symmetry, Siwan and Llywelyn both assume and discard elaborate costumes which represent their royal dominance in diplomacy and war. Each then reveals the humanity beneath in softer fabrics which mould to their vulnerable bodies. Siwan’s lover also appears in peacock fashion, then casts aside his court coat to become a young man in love, seeking kisses and laughter.
As Siwan, Eiry Thomas gives a wrenching performance, a complex range from playful dancing lover to agonised bereavement, never escaping her position as royal chess mistress of several nations. The play sympathises with her arranged marriage and late life discovery of love. Russell Gomer as Llywelyn demonstrates a suitable gravitas, with leashed passion. My one reservation is I cannot agree with Saunders Lewis’ script making this ruthless warlord so profoundly motivated by romance; for one, his political trajectory was well established before he ever met his much younger wife.
The young lover Gwilym Brewys (Francois Pandolfo) is both brave and adorable, glinting with a joy in love and life so cruelly extinguished at his dawn execution. An important part is played by Siwan’s maid (Hannah O’Leary) who mediates that violence off stage in the classical Greek tradition, so unlike the crude gore of today’s media. She emerges as a young woman of much character, widowed by her soldier husband, extending our grasp of the devastation of war across all who lived in Siwan and Llywelyn’s world. Two musicians deserve note for their powerful music, by voice and harp: Buddug Verona James and Delyth Jenkins.
Honour was the essence of noble mediaeval life, as the famous Mabinogi taught in its stories, and as the court bards declaimed in praise poetry. It was more important than life itself. The play bears out very accurately how it was not Llywelyn’s execution of his rival which was his great mistake. It was his barbarism in subjecting a noble lord to a common felon’s hanging rope, and making it a public spectacle for the crowd. Theatr Pena ensure we can understand this crucial issue of another time, while holding us enthralled by the same human passions which are part of our lives today.
To bridge the mediaeval and the modern as Theatr Pena has done, is no mean feat, deserving of our applause.
PERFORMANCE LOCATIONS (in touring order):
Newport / Casnewydd, The Riverfront / Glan yr Afon.
Milford Haven / Aberdaugleddau, Torch Theatre / Theatr y Torch.
Aberystwyth, Aberystwyth Arts Centre / Canolfan y Celfyddydau Aberystwyth.
Blackwood / Coed Duon, Blackwood Miners Institute / Sefydliad y Glowyr.
Newtown / Y Drenewydd, Hafren.
Abergavenny / Y Fenni, The Borough / Theatr Y Bwrdeistref.
Pontardawe, Pontardawe Arts Centre / Canolfan Celfyddydau Pontardawe.
Denbigh / Dinbych, Theatr Twm o’r Nant.
Cardigan / Aberteifi, Theatr Mwldan.
Church Village / Pentre’r Eglwys, Theatr Gartholwg Theatre.
Builth Wells / Llanfair ym Muallt, Wyeside Arts Centre / Canolfan Gelfyddydau Wyeside.
Carmarthen / Caerfyrddin, The Lyric / Y Lyric.
Brecon / Aberhonddu, Theatr Brycheiniog.
Llandovery / Llanymyddyfri, Llandovery College / Coleg Llanymyddyfri.
Swansea / Abertawe, Taliesin Arts Centre / Canolfan y Celfyddydau Taliesin.
Felinfach, Theatr Felinfach