Phil Morris reviews Y Teimlad / That Feeling a bilingual theatre/film mashup from NYTW and Theatr Clwyd weaving together multi-faceted stories of young love in a series of short vignettes.
There’s something sweetly poignant about the images of lovestruck teenagers, either standing alone in depopulated Welsh landscapes or sat in poky dorm rooms, reaching out to a distant lover or absent ex through a smartphone or laptop, which recur throughout National Youth Theatre of Wales’s film on love in all its forms in Y Teimlad/That Feeling. We discover; two pairs of lovers separated by moves away to university, a young man penning a letter to his beloved but deceased mamgu, while another person of non-binary gender struggles to find a positive sense of self; but it is the pandemic, with its enforced imposition of distance and consequent limitations of physical touch, that looms over the characters as an oppressive though unacknowledged presence.
The film comprises a series of short vignettes on teenage love tested, lost, and discovered, which is framed by a contentious Zoom conference in which a sardonic chorus of various Love Gods discuss the need for a management restructure to meet the complex emotional needs of contemporary teenagers. Playwright Hanna Jarman, inspired by the ideas and experiences of her young cast, sets up an ambitious and potentially rewarding premise, but the film’s brief running time of just under fifty minutes doesn’t really allow for an exploration of love that is as wide-ranging or as deep as initially promised. In moving frequently, in such a compressed timeframe, from the thorny problems of one couple to a complex dilemma facing another, Jarman seems hamstrung, able only to pencil-sketch each relationship, so that each character feels underwritten and ultimately uninvolving.
The production also suffers when its central conceit obliges the young cast to perform in two very distinct and opposing acting styles. The Love Gods, costumed as primary-coloured avatars from ancient religions, are by their nature abstractions, which leaves the actors with little choice but to give highly theatrical, albeit entertaining, readings of their lines. The earthbound lovers on the other hand, under-act like they are all in some mumblecore teen rom-com; the performances are convincing enough but they jar unfortunately with those of the Gods, creating a split personality for the film that hinders deep engagement with its story. This is a shame because its ultimate message, that love is not a singular and uncomplicated entity – be it erotic, familial, enduring, playful or even patriotic – but manifold, multifaceted and complex, is satisfyingly mature and nuanced for a drama for and about those in their late teens.
Like many narratives currently being presented in digital formats by theatres (in this case Theatr Clwyd) as they lurch slowly from Covid’s desolation, Y Teimlad/That Feeling is redolent with the whooshes and beeps of online communications and the bare-walled bedroom aesthetics of Facetime. No amount of handheld phone shakiness, however, can render the urgency and immediacy of in-person presence that theatrical performance can provide with heavy charge. Moreover, the distancing of actors, particularly those lacking in experience, across a multi-screen format – so that they play to each other across a flat two-dimensional space rather than relate to each other within a three-dimensional space – tends to slow the delivery of lines and therefore the film’s pace.
Despite its very real flaws, particularly the frustrating sense that Y Teimlad/That Feeling feels more like a work in progress than the finished product, one can take huge encouragement in the picture of contemporary Welsh youth that gradually emerges from its awkward and fumbling dramaturgy. Very often, teen dramas depict their protagonists as apathetic, promiscuous, and rather joyless. Shows like Skins, repeated ad nauseam across Channel 4’s yoof-oriented digital platforms, focus its teen relationships entirely, almost exclusively, on questions of sex and sexuality. The characters of Y Teimlad/That Feeling ache with a passionate desire to touch and be touched, and yet Jarman and her talented cast also acknowledge those forms of love that, while not being as hot nor as heavy as that of Eros, are just as essential to human happiness. The cornet-playing live-streamer Angharad concludes the film with the thought, “Love is the quality of attention that we pay to things.” It extends to lovers but also to family, friends, and even country.
Welsh indie-rock legends Datblygu once sang of Y Teimlad as “that feeling that makes you think that the future’s not so bad.” The best thing one can say about this film from National Youth Theatre Wales is that the picture it draws of the current generation of Welsh teens – thoughtful, curious, wryly self-aware and yearning to love and be loved – provides an uplifting measure of hope for the future.
Y Teimlad / That Feeling is a NYTW and Theatr Clwyd production.