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Creating an illusion; The period drama Y Stafel Ddirgel is the culmination of two years painstaking work. Liz Davies finds out about just some of the problems.

Byline: Liz Davies

Y Stafell Ddirgel S4C/Sunday - Tuesday with English subtitles

MEN and women wore elaborate wigs in the 17th century. Hair was kept long and very rarely washed, so the wigs acted as a cover-up for scalps that were probably itchy and scabby.

But the wigs themselves were rarely cleaned, either, just freshened up with liberal amounts of powder. Some large wigs were favourite nesting places for mice and cage-like devices were made to keep the wigs safe from marauding vermin at night.

Clothes were not washed all that often either and people of the time knew little of personal hygiene.

Knowing all this, people often comment that the characters in a costume drama set in the period look too clean.

Gareth Lloyd Williams, who comes from Llandegla, directed Y Stafell Ddirgel (The Secret Room). He admits that his actors are not dirty, but there's a thoroughly modern and operational reason for this.

"The costumes that we use are hired and you can't just go and make them look filthy. It would take time and money to clean them up, and anyway, the process of filming is one of perception, not reality, " he says.

'THERE'S a scene in Y Stafell Ddirgel in a prison. In my imagination, prisons of the time were filthy places, dripping with damp, with human excrement and rotten matter everywhere. You can't ask an actor to work in those conditions so you have to suggest the filth by careful use of shots to create the atmosphere."

Y Stafell Ddirgel is the story of a young squire's quest for peace and spiritual fulfilment in the face of a growing tendency for material wealth. Rowland Ellis, of Brynmawr near Dolgellau, is a gentleman, a farmer and a landowner. But he hates the injustices he sees around him in society and is drawn to the Quakers and their philosophies. The story is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Marion Eames, adapted for television by actress and writer Manon Eames. It's repeated with English subtitles on Tuesday evenings on S4C (9pm).

"A poet once said that through his work he wished to create something beautiful for the ear, which would then reach the heart. I see my work in the same way to create something that's appealing to see, which will then touch the heart, " says Gareth.

"If the script and story-telling are good enough, then a few details of costume or location should not make a great deal of difference. Besides, information about the 17th century is scant. When I directed Y Wisg Sidan and Y Graith, it was easier because they were set at the turn of the century and you have the nation's memory to depend on and visible evidence of buildings and of people through photography.

"Before embarking on Y Stafell Ddirgel I did a lot of research into the period. There are portraits of the gentry and buildings still surviving, but little information about ordinary people.

"And so much change took place during the Reformation that there is little certainty about anything. In a way, that makes it easier for us. We can take advantage of the lack of knowledge and put our imagination to good use.

"In this business you try to be as accurate as you can, but ultimately you are trying to do something that is appealing to the viewers. Were we to be 100pc accurate, then it might not be so appealing. But our team of Jilly Thornley (costume), Magi Vaughan (make-up) and Allison Sing, John Munroe and Michael Sylvester (hair) have done a fantastic job."

THE producers were fortunate to be able to film in Gwydir Castle near Llanrwst which has been faithfully restored, Hengwrt near Llanrwst and Plas Newydd on the Glynllifon Estate. But there aren't many places in Wales that look 17th century. When you think you've come across a perfect building, there will be half a dozen reasons why it can't be used - pylons or wires, road signs or aerials or noise pollution.

Y Stafell Ddirgel was largely shot on purpose-built sets on the Vaynol Estate outside Caernarfon. There are authentic barns and an old manor there, and the designer, Pauline Harrison - who incidentally was the designer on a previous dramatisation of Y Stafell Ddirgel made for the BBC 30 years ago - has created a farmyard and facades to blend in.

"She and her team have come up with marvellous sets, " says Gareth. "I confess I hate the use of materials like polystyrene, but what these people can do with it is amazing."

Editing Y Stafell Ddirgel has only just finished, the culmination of two years work, if you take all the scriptwriting and research into account.

Gareth says he'll be glad to get back to the real world. "When I do a period drama I always say never again. It's hard, physical, tiring work. There's so much more tension involved to get things right. The camera has to be pointed so carefully, every frame studied to make sure that nothing in the background detracts from authenticity. And finding locations is getting harder all the time."


PERIOD PIECE: Rowland Ellis dines with his servants, above, and pictured right, Bryn Fin as Huw Morris, and below director Gareth Lloyd Williams on the set of y Stafell Ddirgel
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Title Annotation:Media
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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