BLOG Gwen Davies


The Archbishop, Arts for Teens and Crashing Cars

Our cuddly archbishop, Rowan Williams, lately launched Literature Wales’ imaginative Literary Tourism programme, a venture which combines books, guided tours, history and personalities (they offer a choice of Owen Sheers on foot or horseback in Llanthony Valley come September). Next up on 19 May is our Young People’s Laureate Catherine Fisher leading a welcome departure from the literary pub-crawl formula. Hemingway at Harry’s Bar? I would down my Bellini and head for the gondolas. But the serene Catherine leading a group around her former convent school, Tredegar House? Now you’re talking. Her schooling, the house and grounds inspired scenes and themes in several of Catherine’s popular teenage novels, and is the setting of her 1999 novel, The Lammas Field. Gomer have just published her latest book, for eight-plus, The Cat with Iron Claws.

The youngsters exploring Tredegar House will surely behave better than the three trio in Arad Goch’s revival ‘Crash’ last month at the Opening Doors performance festival. This black comedy by Sera Moore Williams is about class and the dangers of playing victim. From the moment nerdy crisp-addict Rhys (the superb physical comedian Gethin Lloyd Evans) handed out manky lettuce from his lunchbox, our empathy buttons were being ruthlessly pressed. At the close, a beautifully underplayed moment, we realise that this anxious, witty, middle-class boy is about to suffer as much as Wes (Craig Walkley), the boy with a short fuse and a social worker. Elin (Ceri Mill) closes this love triangle, bringing a needy pliancy to her scenes with boyfriend Wes and a constrasting assurance in those with Rhys that should show her where to lay her loyalties.

‘Eagle Calling Hawk’ by the German Consul Theatre Gelsenkirchen, for kids of four plus, brought me close to tears. The plot is simple: Max has a sleepover chez Aloysius. The boys fall out (over who gets the girly duvet), they agree (that Aloysius’ mum must NOT come into their room), they negotiate (a flouncy skirt and a slinky dress are the best gear to tackle the Bone Man because he’s scared of girls) and they withdraw when necessary (Aloysius wets the bed and blames his ‘Ice Bear’, the play’s one flaw revealed to be an imperfect translation). But while its main theme is testing boundaries (illustrated wonderfully by hands punching out of a cardboard playhouse), ‘Eagle Calling Hawk’, is surely a celebration of sociable play. I will never forget the moment when as Max’s bald head is adorned with a funny foam up-do, a girl breathed, ‘It’s a lady!’ Nor the lads’ party finale, when they broom round on toy cars, skirts stuffed behind driving wheels, fake foam flicking teachers in the front row, to a chorus of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.

This is a version of a column first published in the Western Mail Insider column on Saturday 7 April 2012.


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