Mags by Cwmni Pluen explores the story of a woman in her forties still haunted by experiences and decisions she made as a teenager.
Those lucky enough to see Ti.Me three years ago could see that, at that embryonic stage in its existence, Cwmni Pluen was a company to keep an eye on. That little gem of a show, barely half an hour-long, beautifully demonstrated that more than one – or even two – languages could co-exist on the same stage. The production was raw, though, the company was raw. Co-founders Gethin Evans and Elgan Rhys needed to go away and harness their innovative vision into something tangible. Mags is that tangible.
Inspired by almost two years’ worth of research and development, Mags is the story of a woman in her forties still haunted by experiences and decisions she made as a teenager. In itself, the ‘plot’ is pretty standard fare, but Mags is so much more than just the plot. It’s about what it means to call a place home, where we feel we belong, and how. It’s a show that has the courage to provoke its audience to question their own sense of belonging, yet does it in the most tender way.
That’s possible because of its five performers, each one great individually but exceptional as a collective. Their interactions feel so organic that, at times, it’s as though the whole thing is being thought up on the spot. Even in its darkest moments, the performers (and by extension, the characters) remain warm and engaging. They talk lovingly of the past as if it were a long-dead relative, without prejudice. In less capable hands this could have easily strayed into melodrama, but Evans and Rhys never let that happen.
What is so interesting about Evans and Rhys’ construction of the piece is its use of language. That doesn’t just mean English and Welsh; just as crucial is the respect shown to dance and music as languages in their own right. Anna Ap Robert, Matteo Marfoglia and Seren Vickers give physically and emotionally exhausting performances, their bodies acting as modes of expression. And at the same time, flitting from foreground to background is a sensational live musical score by CASI and Eddy Bailhache. CASI’s haunting vocals bring a dream-like quality to the show, enhanced by stellar lighting design by Ceri James. It’s easy to forget at times during Mags that it’s a piece of fiction, but James’ lighting prevents that by shrouding the auditorium in a hallucinatory haze.
In the end, though, it’s Evans and Rhys who deserve the biggest mention and the most plaudits. It’s obvious that Mags was by no means an easy play to make. As complex as the subject matter is, even more, the complex was the process. All of that research; five powerful and expressive performers; the sensitivity and responsibility of the project; it’s a big burden to carry. They’ve taken on those challenges and produced something that is full of genuine love and warmth. It’s a remarkable achievement.
As I write this, National Theatre Wales is currently in conflict with some of its own artists, who are frustrated by a perceived lack of opportunity. It’s hard to argue against that when a play like Mags takes to the stage. It’s a fearless play by an innovative company, using language in a way not seen anywhere else in Wales. These are the companies and the artists that should be making our national plays. Some say we’re looking at the future arts leaders of Wales. I think they’re already here.
Mags is on at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, until September 28th.
Jafar Iqbal is a regular contributor at Wales Arts Review.