Happy New Year

We've just found our translation of Lowri Haf Cooke's review of The Good Earth featured by Arts Scene Wales. For those of us at Motherlode that don't speak Welsh we really couldn't have asked for a more encouraging start to 2017. To all of our friends who supported us with this production over 2016 - Diolch yn fawr! 

Below is a translation of Lowri Haf Cooke's review for The Good Earth by Gareth Meirion - Original Welsh language review here

Back in Cardiff, most fittingly, I experienced a new protest drama, partly based on the citizens of Troedrhiw-gwair's stand in 1973. The Good Earth by Motherlode Theatre offers a personal glimpse of a long battle, and is this season's theatrical ticket in my opinion.

It was praised to the skies in a review in The New York Times following a staging at TriBeCa's The Flea Theatre in August. Thankfully, it was not compared to the works of Dylan Thomas, even though there is an echo of Under Milk Wood at the start of the show. But the musical, which includes strong elements of folk singing, offers more than cartoon characters. Indeed, some of the performances are amongst the best I've seen on the Welsh theatre stage this year.

We follow a family and community in a village in the Rhondda Valley, at the time of an unexpected visit – a stranger comes to report that the nearby mountain poses a great danger to everyone. Everybody in the village is encouraged to move a mile away, where the council is offering new services: a supermarket, a swimming pool, a school, and houses that are less damp than the traditional terraces. 

Many people in the valley accept the offer without debate, apart from one particular family.

We are introduced to it all through the eyes of a young girl, Jackie Adams (Gwenllian Higginson), who's brimming with curiosity. We are given a comic, visual list of her many neighbours who live on the same street as her, from the butcher and the grocer to the doctor and the teacher – this is a living community, an 'honest community'. Finally, we are introduced to her mother Dina (Rachel Boulton), who raises Jackie and her older brother James (Mike Humphries) by herself. Her husband 'left', having lost his job, and life has been a battle ever since.

Neither the strike nor the coal pits are mentioned, but there are references to Miami Vice and the new 'Harvester', placing us, and the story, in a period of emptiness, in the no man’s land of the latter half of the 1980s.

To this close-knit family, battling is a way of life and there's no question but to oppose the authorities; they ask for evidence about the 'unstable' mountain, but they are ignored for three years and more. In the meantime, their long-time neighbours, who start to turn against the family, gradually leave. According to Jackie's teacher, the family are daft 'troublemakers' who are blind to development. 'Ask her what's the meaning of integrity,' is Dina's firm answer.

But as the battle moves closer, tensions at home grow, threatening to completely undermine the close-knit family. Is the principle of the campaign stronger than family loyalty?

The drama's conclusion is most ambiguous – and is less hopeful than Tir Sir Gâr (‘The Land of Carmarthenshire’), a similar production in which a heritage is at stake. Despite that, there are comic strands throughout this show, which strike the right note, thanks to excellent performances by everyone.

Even though Gwen from Fishguard – James's fiancée – is Anni Dafydd's main character, she offers a master class by presenting three comic neighbours in less than a minute. Gwenllian Higginson, as Jackie Adams, is incredibly sweet and believable as an innocent girl under ten. Enthralled by nature, she loves the stars, before seeing her world turned upside down. Mike Humphries offered a strong performance as her brother – the passionate family man under siege. In spite of an injury to his knee, he gave his all to the show's many physical challenges. Kate Elis brought light relief to the show as Trish, the mouthy broad next door, at her best, profound and jovial – through fire and water – in the company of her best friend, Dina.

Through it all, the cast bring a powerful blast of physical energy; through collective movements, the five actors work together instinctively, to communicate a spirit of unity and harmony. Sound effects by the cast themselves are simple but extremely effective: heavy sighing, and magical folk singing.

Even though The Good Earth is not a Welsh-language drama, this spirited soundscape gives a background 'commentary' in Welsh. From 'Tŷ Bach Twt' (‘A Little Tidy House’) to 'Gwyn Fyd yr Aderyn' (‘The Bird's Paradise’) to the lullaby 'Si Hwi Hwi' – the latter written during a period of servitude – the themes couple perfectly with each scene, and offer a more profound layer to Welsh-language audiences – congratulations to the musical director Max Mackintosh on the powerful arrangements.

Visually, the stage is empty apart from abstract tables and chairs and metallic installations which bring to mind the pipes of a church organ.

The drama came about thanks to the Wales Millennium Centre's Incubator scheme in 2013, before being further developed by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council's Theatres scheme in Park & Dare Theatre, Treorchy, before going on tour. The drama is polished and directed carefully to hit the right notes before reaching its climax.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the show is Rachel Boulton's performance – the founder of the Motherlode theatre company – who portrays Dina, the 'Welsh Mam' of The Good Earth production. We have seen 'The Mam' in countless productions, but Rachel brings a new freshness to her interpretation, and a healthy dose of everyday reality. Despite being a relatively young actress, she is transformed into an older woman – not through prosthetics, but through a thorough understanding of the character traits of Rhondda women. My father's family came from Porth and her accent hits the mark, with wavy rhythms and elastic vowels. But thanks to her mastery of deadpan comedy, balanced with pure heartbreak, we see in her an embodiment of the Valleys' strength.

If we aren't all stimulated by her to start our own revolution, there's something seriously wrong in Wales. But considering the similar whirlwind of a performance given by Sophie Melville in Iphigeniah in Splott last year – before the political earthquakes of 2016 – it is likely that Dina's story will serve as no more than ephemeral entertainment. 

Treorchy at The National

Treorchy at The National

Big Cwtch and Bloomin Well done!


A few weeks ago I wrote about how inspirational a group of young people who I've been working with at the Park & Dare Theatre, Treorchy have been over the past months as we worked on staging Blackout by Davey Anderson as part of National Theatre Connections. This year has been the biggest Connections festival to date and marks their 21st year of producing new plays for young people across the UK. Along the way the group I've worked with who are Tamara, Caitlin, Callum, Olivia, Gabby, Ffion and Sadie have continued to blow me away with their professionalism, grounding, and support for one another. The focus throughout has been to develop their craft, create theatre that is relevant to them, and enjoy the process taking challenges on the chin.

I'm thrilled that our production of Blackout has been chosen to be staged at National Theatre London on the 28th of June. 


We're looking forward to getting back in the room over the coming weeks but before we do I'd like to say thank you to the parents, community and all the staff at the Park and Dare who have supported and championed this project.


A great start to our residency - Onwards!


Rachael x

NTW TEAM Part One

NTW TEAM Part One

Back last May John McGrath directed Mother Courage and Her Children - a gutsy, anarchic, defiantly twenty-first century version of what's been named by many the greatest play of the twentieth century.

Taking over the Merthyr Labour Club along with National Theatre Wales was a cast of nine vivacious actresses and a community ensemble of strong local women.

The community ensemble found and cast by Rhiannon White, emerging director on the show and artistic director of Commonwealth became intrinsic to the production, creating a tangible spirit that hit audiences the moment they walked through the doors of the club that is Merthyr's oldest building.

The community ensemble also known as The Ladies formed a unique bond during this time - They'd never met, came from different walks of life but came together by; passion to perform, women's solidarity and ultimately the guts to do something different.

In the months following success of Mother Courage and Her Children, NTW's TEAM continued to support the community ensemble, with the aim to make them a theatre company in their own right, with their own voice. 

That's where I came in.

In October last year NTW asked if I would work with The Ladies, helping them to stage their first show. I was and am still excited to work with this group of strong, grounded, hilarious and tenacious women whose stories are more funny, poignant and moving than a lot of theatre out there.

Meeting for two hours each Monday we cut together scenes from various works by Gary Owen and titled our first sharing Learning to Fall - inspired by a speech from the great Ghost City. Learning to Fall was the companies first performance, this time to friends, family and a few NTW folk including John McGrath. Watching the way John interacts with the group was quite honestly inspirational to me. In a business where fickleness, vanity and sycophancy exists it is hard at times to not feel disillusioned and tired as a young director and person first, who believes in the power of community and that art and story has the power to change. This is the third project I've worked on with National Theatre Wales but the half hour before and after this sharing that took place at Christmas time at the Guest Keen Club in Merthyr is my most memorable moment to date and one I hope will stay with me for a long time.

The Ladies are now planning their first professional show to take place in Merthyr in May this year. Helping them look for suitable plays has been an interesting process and again has brought home that while positive change is happening for gender equality the plays and roles written outside of the traditional patriarchal pattern is still too small. 

Right, that's enough from me for now until rehearsals start and to sign off here's a list of hat tips for those named in this blog. Keep on doing what you're doing; John McGrath, Rhiannon White, Devinda De Silva, TEAM, Gary Owen and of course, The Ladies.

NTW TEAM Part Three

NTW TEAM Part Three

Last night I met with The Ladies of Mother Courage's community ensemble at the Guest Keen Club in Merthyr for our second session of R&D which explores the issue of Welsh women affected by domestic violence.

When I arrived the group were rampantly gassing (words chosen for you ladies) about Before I Leave, National Theatre Wales' current production that sees a group of people in Merthyr come together in a choir for individuals living with dementia and Alzheimer's. With the support of NTW TEAM the ladies were there for opening night and were still talking about the show two weeks later. They discussed how and why it moved them and what they could take from that as they create their own piece of work over the coming weeks and months.

Throughout the workshop we shared the beginnings of works written by the company excited that we might be on to something that these women feel might speak to their community.

Each week the stories and ideas these women fill the spangled room we work in are insightful and hilarious. While we have a long way to go as we approach this topic respectfully, we're moving week by week in a way that celebrates these women's unique voices and create theatre that reaches often unheard ones.

Doing great work in Merthyr is Rhiannon White who is directing The Peoples Platform at Penydarren Social Club, Merthyr on Thursday 16th June. The Peoples Platform, which includes these great ladies, celebrates Merthyr's community, its stories, questions, and hopes for the future, something we're hoping to honour throughout our R&D. 

If you can, get down to it! 

Thanks for reading,

Rachael 

NTW TEAM Part Two

NTW TEAM Part Two

Meet Andrea, Rhiannon, Louise, Lynnett and Mandy. 

After a year of support from NTW TEAM since being Mother Courage and Her Children’s community ensemble these five women will carry out their first stage of R&D as a company in their own right. The group made of five very different women from across Merthyr are united in a passion to tell urgent stories that are relevant to their community, except Mandy, who’d be a dancer if she didn’t have policeman’s foot.

With the support of NTW TEAM the group will explore how to create a new piece of work, written by themselves, that aims to raise awareness of domestic violence towards women in the valleys. Like approaching many taboos, the women will inevitably face challenges over the next few weeks as they sensitively delve into the process, although this R&D comes at a time when other and prolific companies in Wales are fighting for the cause. 

In spring this year Creu Cymru, the development agency for theatres and arts centres in Wales received a People and Places grant of £239,143 from The Big Lottery. The Survivors project works in partnership with inclusive theatre company Chickenshed to deliver work in seven communities around Wales – partnering with regional theatre venues and support organisations, to work with people who have experienced domestic abuse, in a series of workshops and intensive creative sessions.

Working with these women over the past months has has been a privilege for me, more than ever seeing the value of art in the community and how powerful a tool it is to allow women a space outside of their day to day to develop skills, express themselves, and build the level of confidence needed to take affirmative action on the things they care about through creating their own work.

I'll be blogging about this each Tuesday for the next six weeks, but for now, thanks for reading.

Rachael x