Charmian Savill looks at recent and upcoming productions from Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, including Nansi and Dawns Ysbrydion, as part of a wider phenomenon in contemporary theatre and performance in which the power of ritual is revived.
Theatr Genedlaethol’s Nansi (about the world-famous harpist Nansi Richards 1888-1979), directed by Sarah Bickerton and written by Angharad Price, sold out at the National Eisteddod in Meifod this year, and will tour Wales in 2016. Although there are several biographies of Richards, Bickerton’s project is the first theatrical exploration of her life. The Eisteddfod production was a site-specific event situated in the Llanfair Careinion Public Institute. Here an old-fashioned bar with wooden furniture and silver tankards for the beer on sale to the audience generated the atmosphere of an old ale-house, and evoked The Castle Tafarn in Llangynog where Nansi took her first lessons on the Telyn Deires (triple harp) at the age of twelve. In a circular performance path surrounding the audience, harps were set out like sculptures, and other areas denoted the bar, Nansi’s family home, a bedroom and a traditional concert theatre stage.
Structurally the narrative of Nansi plays out like the complex weft and weave of a carthen (traditional blanket), going backwards and forwards in time and space. We are immediately presented with the protagonist’s complex character: her fragility, conviction, professed connection with spirit forces, and her love for her family and local area, Dyffryn Tanant (Tanat Valley). Nansi’s portrayal by Melangell Dolma demonstrates vitality, persistence and deep sensuality, while also consistently suggesting a destabilising edge of madness.Sign in to read more