Passion, patriotism, laughter and tears; REVIEW: Rape Of The Fair Country, Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold.
This new production of Rape Of The Fair Country puts the industrial workers' struggle for change into the context of one family's battle in the 1820s.
Manon Eames has adapted Alexander Cordell's sweeping historical drama into a coherent and compelling story, and director Tim Baker has created a play in which light and dark both alternate and resonate.
Mark Bailey's set is spare and brooding, with an ironworks trackway dominating the stage, and a slagheap towering over the workers' hovels.
The Mortymers are a family in which the children go to work aged eight, yet Dada is a conservative-minded chapel deacon with a strict code of morality. But the younger generation are radicalised by injustice, and with the rise of unionism and Chartism, the family are caught in events.
Narrator is young Iestyn Mortymer, played with passion by Sion Ifan, as he ages from eight to manhood, finding love and politics in equal measure. His beautiful and wilful sister, Morfydd, is played by Hedydd Dylan - a fine actress with a moving singing voice.
Dada is Simon Nehan, who captures the character's struggle with change perfectly, and Crisian Emanuel is Mam, the archetypal strong pillar of the family.
There is a strong nod in the direction of Dylan Thomas as the townspeople are introduced, gossiping and flirting, waking to a fresh day. Memories of the Welsh working class are tapped so that emotions run higher and higher as the unrest grows, worker fighting worker as blacklegs and scabs break the strike, and owners demand more of those in work.
The play is threaded through with wonderful music, dancing and moments of high comedy, as well as patriotism and unashamed sentimentality. Prepare to have your withers well and truly wrung by Rape Of The Fair Country - there was a spontaneous standing ovation at the rousing close when I was there, and I suspect it will become a feature of the run. Every schoolchild should see it.
Gail Cooper | The play is at Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold until March 9, New Theatre, Cardiff, from March 12-16 and Swansea Grand Theatre from March 19-23