Review: Rape Of The Fair Country @ New Theatre
Where to begin with this review? How can you review what is still going on today in Wales? Can we ever learn from the past?
Based on a book by Alexander Cordell, it is the first of three novels. The other two, The Hosts Of Rebecca and Song Of The Earth had also been adapted into plays as a set of 'Welsh plays'. Manon Eames has taken the books and turned them into plays that demand attention. Not just the type of event for history teachers to bring along students.
Granted, this is one of the best works of theatre, which has come out of Wales for some years. More importantly, it is about Wales and our rich history, culture and heritage. It's a funny experience, but mainly a sad form of entertainment. I was surprised at how much I cried at times in the play. The amount of deaths in this rivalled Hamlet. The set was outstanding as well.
A large miners wooden track tilled downwards with a cart going back and forth. The best aspect of the set was the furnace. It emerged out of the stage with steam and bright red lights to give the illusion of immense heat. The stage was also extended with half a circle shape added into the stalls cutting off a couple of rows of seats.
The story involves the Mortymer family. Their struggle in the 1830s industry in Wales is a contentious concern. If the boys' work they are seen as 'scabs' during the strikes. If they go on strike they can't sustain a stable financial situation for the rest of the family. It's an awful scenario. I can't imagine how families got round all this. Even the mines in the 1980s proved a hotbed of conflict and redundancies.
The main character is Iestyn Mortymer. We see him grow up, gain rites of passages and battle all that he could against the tyrannical English factory owners. His sister Morfydd is very much a free sprit. Anti-chapel, pro-union and of all things, in love with an Englishman. All her views are at first seen as outrageous. As the story unfolds her views become a voice of reason and men realise just how appallingly they have been treated as a work force. It goes without saying in Wales just how many men, women and children suffered because of the mines, factories and other awful places of hard labour.
This packed an emotional punch. My plus one for the evening was someone with whom I had debated in the past about Wales and more importantly the future of the Welsh language. I wanted her to see the other side of the argument. Why we must be proud as a nation, like others who stood up to the all-consuming and culture-killing English. No harsh feelings here. But I really do wish I spoke Welsh from birth.
A powerhouse of a performance. The songs alone were enough to rally you out the door in a state of Welshy glory. I'd certainly recommend this to others.
I hope the other two plays have a revival as well.