Llwyth [Tribe]

Sat 20th – Sun 28th August 2011

reviews

Jonathan Grande

at 12:00 on 21st Aug 2011

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Four guys on a heavy night out. In Cardiff. On International Day. Sounds like a recipe for an immature theatrical disaster. And yet portraying just that, Llwyth is a brave and questioning play that heralds in a new era of examining homosexuality on the stage, and may well prove to be the most important production at the 2011 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Stereotypes and clichés may still appear in abundance – musical theatre references litter every page, and there’s even some drag – but that aside, this is a layered, probing and most strikingly a multi-generational study of the highs and lows of being Welsh and gay. It is an ambitious script, refusing to shy away from issues ranging from a 15-year old boy experiencing being with a man for the first time to a 50-year old struggling to come to terms with still being on his own. The piece examines gay relationships, gay one-night stands and being gay and single. And yet no theme or individual feels over-emphasised, none overlooked, as Dafydd James weaves them all together into one story, one night.

The script is compelling, touching and thought-provoking, and both its comedy and tragedy is harnessed in this highly accomplished production, which delivers moment after moment that will be slow to fade from the memory. Music (including a stunning offstage choir) and poetry are integrated seamlessly, and as Aneurin (Simon Watts) describes the nightclub as the ‘landscape of his youth’, never has clubbing seemed so beautiful, so poetic. Employing a creative and atmospheric lighting design, the action shifts effortlessly from place to place around the impressive angular set, and the additional characters in various vignettes are handled by the impeccable cast of five with a sophisticated ease.

Much of the play may be in Welsh, with English surtitles, but that only adds to its charm. It suggests a strength and confidence that is gripping right from its soft and gentle opening. I didn’t even care that most of the Welsh references flew far above my head. Both production and script are perfectly paced, only tightening their grip as the show fairly races towards its powerful denouement.

Llwyth provides the most sensitive handling of gay relationships and friendships I have witnessed across any medium. But that by no means makes it a play only for gay people. It has already changed the landscape of Welsh language theatre, and is sure to have far wider repercussions following its current run in Edinburgh. It’s taken almost three weeks, but finally I had to resist the urge to stand and applaud. Diolch.

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