A note by Gethin Roberts, a member of Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s Awenau programme which offers opportunities and training for new theatre directors. Gethin is a PhD student and teacher at the University of Bristol and currently Assistant Director for Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s production of X, a new play by Rhydian Gwyn Lewis.
The fifteenth of July. The first day of rehearsals in Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s rehearsal room in Carmarthen. In the morning the whole company gathers to listen to a table read of Rhydian Gwyn Lewis’ play X, which won the Drama Medal at last year’s National Eisteddfod in Cardiff. I’m sitting at the table, in my role as Assistant Director, with big questions floating around in my head. The most pressing me … this is an ambitious play that deals with huge and highly relevant themes set in a dystopian future with new technology, and we have three weeks to stage it… How ?!
In the afternoon the set is moved into the rehearsal space. On this production we have been lucky enough to have the full set right from the start of the process. The play is set in the Grange pub in Cardiff in the future, and the bar is a central set-piece. The set looks fantastic (wait until you see it!)
Gethin Roberts during X rehearsals. (Image: Celf Calon)
but as Director Ffion Dafis and I explore it, one question comes to our lips: is it too big? There are discussions with Luned Evans, our fantastic Set Designer. Numerous ideas are raised. To open up the playing space we could remove the back wall of the bar – this is quite simple. A few inches from the height of the bar could also be removed. This would help. I come up with an idea that involves cutting part of the front wall – this isn’t that simple. There is some umming and aahing, but the idea stays. By the next morning, everything is done. This job often feels like living in the fable of The Shoemaker and the Elves. It feels at times that a major part of being a Director is to give some simple piece of direction, and then see cast and crew do miracles with that idea, and develop it into something fully realised and spectacular.
I’m here as part of Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s new initiative: Awenau. This project develops skills and nurtures early career directors in this field. Everyone on the scheme is experienced – there are actors, dance directors, teachers etc., but we’re all reasonably new to the world of directing plays.
There are several aspects to the scheme, with an emphasis on practical skills development. Masterclasses are held throughout the year by highly acclaimed directors such as Sarah Bickerton (who directs the easy-going play Bachu in Caffi Maes B, and Y Cylch Sialc come the autumn), Arwel Gruffydd and Elen Bowman. There was also an opportunity to direct a reading of one of the New Playwrights’ Group’s plays in June and July as part of the Theatr Gen Creu scheme, working with professional actors. And for the last three weeks, I’ve been immersed in the opportunity to be an Assistant Director on one of the company’s productions.
Being an Assistant Director is a chance to be right at the heart of the process, starting with the words on paper, and ending this weekend with an exciting, contemporary play on stage. Over the past two weeks I’ve worked on characterization with the actors and helped run lines with them, discussed the blocking and their motivations, been a part of set and technical decisions. It has been a pleasure to work closely with Ffion Dafis, who has brought a bucket load of exciting ideas to the project, but who is always ready to listen to new ideas. Being an Assistant Director for a play is a fairly unique experience which is joyously creative but also underlines the importance of listening, of working together with people from multiple fields to realise the Director’s vision.
Gethin Roberts during X rehearsals. (Image: Celf Calon)
More details about the production, including performance dates and times at the Conwy County National Eisteddfod may be found here.
It has been particularly rewarding to work on a new creative piece. As Rhydian discussed the play has developed in a number of ways since last summer. He has been in the rehearsal room, and our actors – Saran Morgan, Manon Wilkinson, Tomos Wyn and Garmon Rhys – have been great in giving input and helping to develop the characters further. The rehearsal room has been a very warm one, with ideas from all corners being considered and developed further. It has been a pleasure to see how the actors’ interpretations have grown and developed since that first reading, barely two and a half weeks ago.
We are now sheltering from the rain and mud (and occasional bursts of extraordinary sunshine) in Theatr Y Maes, buried knee-deep in the technical rehearsals. The different departments – including sound, lighting and stage management – have finally converged. Onstage now there is an alien Wales, 20 years in the future. The different elements have combined to create a dystopian, uncomfortable world. After much deliberation and research, our backdrop displays our national background. There were a number of lengthy conversations around which images to display. To what extent do events from the history of the language sit hand in hand with issues such as our national identity and independence?
And to what extent do the events and choices at the heart of this play feel realistic? Or even inevitable? Come to Theatr y Maes and decide for yourself. We’re next door to Bar Syched and the Gin Bar – you’ll be ready for a drink and a heated discussion after this play!
5 August 2019