Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru was born at an exciting time in Welsh history, just four years after the formation of Senedd Cymru when a new chapter of devolution was underway. Our identity as a nation was the topic on everyone’s lips, and there was a hunger to make the longstanding ambition of creating a national Welsh-language theatre company a reality.
The company was founded in March 2003, with a grant from the Arts Council of Wales, in a temporary premises in Carmarthen, with a staff of five and a company of four actors.
There was much discussion about what the mission of the company should be. Should a national theatre be based in one permanent place? What should it offer its audience? From the very early days, one thing was clear – that it would be a touring company, taking Welsh-language theatre into the heart of communities up and down the country. The company would celebrate our identities and our language in all its diversity.
Cefin Roberts was the first Artistic Director (2003-2011) – and Yn Debyg Iawn i Ti a Fi by the late Meic Povey was the first to be staged in April 2004.
2008 saw the staging of the epic Iesu! by Aled Jones Williams with Fflur Medi Owen in the title role. With a woman in the role of Jesus, we were challenging our audience’s expectations, and have continued to do so over the years. During this same year, we moved premises to Y Llwyfan, Carmarthen. Y Llwyfan was to become an important part of our story. The rehearsal room became a temporary home to cast and crew, a proving ground for new ideas as well as a stage for hundreds of local children to enjoy drama clubs with us.
In 2011, Arwel Gruffydd was appointed as Artistic Director (2011-2022) and that same year Llwyth by Daf James, our co-production with Sherman Theatre travelled to the Edinburgh Fringe – the company’s first production to appear at the world-famous festival. A breath of fresh air to audiences, and an opportunity for us to give a platform to lesser heard stories and voices, Llwyth introduced the story of a group of gay friends living in Cardiff.
In keeping with our mission to bring theatre to the people and our belief that anywhere can be a stage, the streets of Aberystwyth became our theatre in 2013 with our epic one-day production, Y Bont. This production marked 50 years since the first protest by Cymdeithas yr Iaith (the Welsh Language Society), when crowds of young people called for equal status to the Welsh language. It was a multilayered production that featured short films, blogs, archival material and street theatre, and culminated in 500 people recreating the famous protest from 1963.
Following the success of Y Bont, site-specific theatre became a key part of our work. Blodeuwedd was performed in bright sunshine on Tomen y Mur, Trawsfynydd, in 2014 to an audience who followed the action on foot. Morfydd Clark played the iconic title role, and this was to be the start of a glittering career that would see her achieving international fame in tv and film.
Macbeth, the late Gwyn Thomas’ Welsh adaptation of Shakespeare’s iconic play, was also presented on location, this time at Caerphilly Castle in February 2017, and it was broadcast live to 14 cinemas on one unforgettable night. The production was supported by an incredible community cast from the local area. Our production Chwalfa from 2016 also featured a talented community cast.
As the company went from strength to strength, so our audience grew. 2015 saw the launch of Sibrwd, our innovative language access app, which has made a whole world of Welsh-language theatre accessible to more people.
Much like Y Bont, Nyrsys, our verbatim musical from 2018 marked an important occasion. During that year the NHS was celebrating its 70th anniversary. We were proud to be a part of the national conversation and to celebrate the incredible individuals who save lives and keep our precious NHS going. Health and wellbeing also became a focus of the company’s participation work in 2019, with the launch of our long-term project Ar y Dibyn, in association with Iola Ynyr and a variety of partners, to support those affected by addiction. So far, the participants have developed written work, visual art and have produced a film; all based on their personal experiences and feelings.
2020 was an incredibly challenging year for us, as it was for everyone. As Tylwyth – a follow up to Llwyth – opened at the Sherman Theatre to a fantastic response, international news broke that a dangerous virus was in our midst and unprecedented measures were being put in place to keep us safe. Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, we had to rethink our work and move our productions to the screen. By March 2021, the company had created 8 pieces of work digitally, including 3 live performances, as well as releasing 9 archive films and facilitating 132 talks and participation sessions. This work had more than 78,000 views.
As restrictions eased, we went on our first post-Covid tour to outdoor venues with Gwlad yr Asyn. In autumn 2021, we returned to theatres across Wales with Anfamol – a one-woman show about a single mother. This was the first play throughout Wales to be performed indoors since the pandemic.
This year is our 20th anniversary. Over the last two decades, the company has embraced the classics of Welsh-language theatre as well as new and experimental work, presenting in traditional theatres and in unexpected locations. With Steffan Donnelly taking the reins as Artistic Director in 2022, alongside Joint Chief Executive Angharad Jones Leefe, and the company settling in its new headquarters at yr Egin, a new era is dawning.
Onwards to the next 20 years of adventures. Come join us!