Rhwydo/Vangst is an interesting and important step forward for Welsh medium theatre. A trilingual play (English, Welsh and Dutch), this piece does something fairly unique; it opens up Welsh language theatre beyond the conventional borders of Wales to place the medium alongside other languages and other cultures.
It’s fantastic to have Welsh language theatre about Wales, about our heritage, about our land and people. Theatr Genedlaethol creates pieces of theatre like this on a frequent basis, but with Rhywdo/Vangst they take a definite step in the right direction towards being completely rounded in their approach to theatre. Whereas National Theatre Wales occupy themselves with other cultural issues on a regular basis, it is sometimes difficult to see the Welsh thread, the Welsh concern. We have a duty here in Wales to really try to connect with other cultures, but to always remember that Wales should be the central focus, even if it isn’t always overt. What is great about this collaboration is that Theatr Genedlaethol was able to co-produce a piece of art which is inherently Welsh just by being translated into our language. The themes in the piece are universal, but thanks to its translation, it seems really dedicated to a Welsh audience and thus ensures a better connection for that audience.
Of course, there are English and Dutch language options, available through the use of headphones. A small shelter type building sits outside Swansea Waterfront museum, completely surrounded by typewriters. The audience is urged to confess their deepest fears and deepest desires, then post them through the letterbox into the building. The significance of the typewriter on first thought can seem a little pretentious, but in terms of practicality, it’s great. There’s no hassle with leads, wires and computers. Of course there is old fashioned pen and paper, but the typewriters are a novelty which seems to excite the audience. The space is very small, intended to create an intimate feel between performance and audience. This is certainly achieved.
The audio is a collection of fears and desires gathered by the Dutch artist Roos Van Geffen from all over Europe. This is played whilst two actors give a silent performance onstage. In all honesty, although the performance is very controlled and captivating in parts, it does tend to lull at times. It’s extremely long for only audio backing, the performance onstage not being enough to keep the audience fully engrossed at all times.
A post-show talk with the director really opened up the significance of many parts of the performance, but for the few who left before these revelations, were they left wondering? Was that the point? It seemed to be a ‘take from it what you will’ type of experience and, although this can be an interesting concept, it all still seemed two dimensional. Although these fears and desires were related to us, some of them very personal and touching, the performance didn’t dig deep enough to partner this. What must be commended is the actors’ fantastic technique. The flexibility and composure was admirable and there were a few pieces of improvisation on the night which kept the piece feeling natural. The theme was thought provoking and well communicated in terms of audio compilation, but alongside the performance, it seemed to lack something.