Review: Llwyth [Tribe] @ Sherman
I will be honest in this review, as you would expect me to be. I would like to regard myself as Welsh, but like most people here I don’t speak Welsh.
The Welsh language play Llwyth [Tribe] by Dafydd James, has seen a surprising and successful career in the last few years. I had realised this, since I had missed the production the previous times it had been at Sherman Cymru. Like with other events in Cardiff (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama etc.) it was an excuse to finally see the venue refurbished.
Of course, being in Welsh, I was aware the event would be saturated in the language and Welsh speakers present should feel comfortable. So I bit the bullet and booked a ticket. After all it would have English subtitles. It was admittedly, the first Welsh language anything I had seen in its entirety, bar the odd piece of music I have heard. In the spirit of things, I watched half an episode of Pobol Y Cwm the night before the performance. It was an enjoyable experience and with all honesty I would much rather watch this than Eastenders or Coronation Street, as I enthusiastically hate both of these shows. There was a delightful storyline which involved a cash machine that was giving out double the money it was supposed to (as if, right?). I missed the second half, but noted that during the advert break on S4C, there were three adverts in Welsh and six in English (as well as one having no speech, but had text in both languages).
Admittedly, half the play was in English. Indeed Wenglish is loved by native speakers, it being the many forms the way English mingles with Welsh in the use of words, grammar and so on. Obviously, you don’t have to speak Welsh to use Wenglish. Classic phases such as ‘I’ll do it now, in a minute,’ ‘Alright butt(y boy)’ and ‘Where to is your mom’ amongst others are infamous Welsh phrases. Having been discussed in Gavin & Stacey and in other pieces of popular culture in recent years, their usage seems to have increased. As well as all this, a new play has been written entitled Whose Coat Is That Jacket? another wonderful use of Wenglish, in that it uses two different words for the same item. Only in Wales!
Not being a Welsh speaker did have its downfalls when seeing the play. A sense of alienation lingered in my mind, as had been discussed by previous critics of the play. The staging had utilised English subtitles on duplicate sides of the set. At times this made me think I was at a tennis match, constantly shifting my head back and forth to follow the actors and know what was being said. This proved annoying. But as the play progressed I was able to sink into the rhythm of things.
What I should go on to discuss is the story and characters of the play itself. It sees four gay Welshmen meeting and revelling in the famous Cardiff gay scene. There is little doubt that had this play been in full English, it would have brought in a completely different crowd. I did wonder if the older generation of Welsh speakers really know what they were getting into with a play like this. Were they seeing it for the sake of it being in Welsh or because they really wanted to see a play that dealt with the homosexual identity in the 21st Century?
The lead character Aneurin, played by Simon Watts, was meant to be a writer himself. I found this unconvincing. You never saw him in the craft or even reading a book. Brief references to ancient Welsh texts were quoted, but nothing to really tie him down as a wordsmith. He seemed too busy on his bike, discussing his sexual endeavours and being a mess of a person, who it would seem never resolved issues with his parents.
For some time now, I have asked myself do I need to speak Welsh? In school we were all taught it. I never took the subject seriously enough in high school to study it properly and the teacher hated me for it. Those who have it as a first language are lucky enough to be brought up bilingual. It's well known in certain parts of North and West Wales that Welsh is the first language. These areas could be seen as a microcosm.
All Welsh speakers speak English. Let’s not forget the word ‘Welsh’ is Anglo Saxon for ‘foreign’. Of course, who would agree with cultural genocide? The reason for English being such a powerhouse of a language is the fact that the British Empire had a monopoly of countries around the world ‘claimed’ to be in their power and the locals picked up the language. The same is evident with French, Spanish and so on. More importantly, we speak one of the most sought after languages in the world. I myself have been successful in an application to teach English in South Korea. Something I would really love to do!
In my opinion, the cultural identity of the Welsh is one which is minimal compared to the identities of the English, Scottish and Irish. I speak on an international level where a fair amount of people would admit they have never even heard of Wales. Being a volunteer at the Cardiff Story, the two most asked questions I get from foreign visitors are: ‘Is it free?’ and ‘What’s this other language?’ They have told me they feel it’s important to keep the language alive.
Of course the same situation is seen in France with Breton, Spain with Galician (which has more ties to Portugal in language and heritage) amongst others. It was during a visit to Ireland a few years ago that my grandmother was amazed at the fact that they do have their own native language, this of course being Gaelic. I had to remind her that (as with all languages) it was the language that made the accent ie. the Irish accent stemming from the language. I guess this is why it’s called the Celtic Fringeï¿½
I could easily go on more about thisï¿½ but this is about the play so I shall continue. One surprising fact about the play is that it toured Taiwan, of all places. But the contradictory fact about this is in the use of its subtitles there. Both English and Chinese were displayed. But this being a play about native languages would not Taiwanese have been more appropriate? Granted Chinese is the most spoken langues on earth, English following suit and the fact that the youth want to speak it as opposed to their native tongue seems to also reflect the Welsh attitude in youths here as well. Welsh speakers will text and use Facebook in English but talk to their family in Welsh.
The nightclub scene in the play stood out as it displayed the lavish and frantic side of gay culture. The lead character spoke of how all different sorts of people were their as one. To dance! To live! Watts was given a headset so he could be heard over the blazingly loud dance music. Though I hate clubs themselves, this scene remained highly stimulating in its effect on the audience. We felt as if we were there and it was as if we were being seduced into this environment. In a relevant turn, he later spoke of ‘those t***s in the Rhymney Valley.’ I guess he was talking about me! Some remarks went over my head. I had not heard of a great deal of the Welsh singers that were mentioned throughout.
Though my opinion on the Welsh language remains a highly ambiguous one, it is still a wonderful idea to be brought out of my comfort zone and see curious works like this.