As Punchdrunk prepare to take centre stage at their London based “bleak hinterland”, enter Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, the Welsh-language National Theatre, aiming an equally powerful punch at the current crisis in the Welsh farming and food industry.
‘Tir Sir Gâr’ (The Land of Carmarthenshire) is a joint venture between leading Welsh artist Marc Rees, playwright and screenwriter Roger Williams and director Lee Haven Jones. This poignant and often powerful ‘promenade’ production starts with a cup of tea and ‘bara brith’ at St Peter’s Civic Hall in the market town of Carmarthen. Congregated under Melville Mitchell’s newly built Dutch style barn of corrugated iron and surrounded by Sergio Pessanha’s plastic neon boxes, we are seated to watch a film. During the two week performance period, the barn becomes a daily debating ground for guest speakers, on various themes from the show.
Whisked away by coach to the Carmarthenshire County Museum , who’s own future is currently in crisis, the experience continues on foot amongst a vast agricultural collection. We are invited to look for twelve themed artifacts, numbered on film, but soon forgotten from memory. We meet the fictitious Jenkins family, and distraught mother Anne (Rhian Morgan) who argues with her angry young son Arwel (Siôn Ifan) about the future of ‘Pen Cerrig’, the 200 acre farm, and their ironically named daughter, Non (Lucy Hannah).
Divided into two groups, we are guided through the museum of memories, discovering the previously featured bubble wrapped artifacts, accompanied by video installations by various artists. From duo Melville Mitchell’s labour inspired struggle to Eddie Ladd’s enactment of a traditional baptism, these beautifully shot films, curated by Rees and filmed by Simon Clode feel distant from the live theatrical experience, often leaving the older generation lost on this new experience.
The family saga continues with Luned (Catherine Ayres), the OCD suffering, cheese obsessed, older daughter, who prefers the clinically sterile villain supermarket, to the shit and stress of the family farm. London based older son Celyn (Gwydion Rhys) returns home through a beautifully written station to station soliloquy. Stripped of his suit and city life, he is confronted with the trauma which lies at the heart of this tragic, true to life tale. The passion of each performer is electrifying, as they tackle Williams’ beautifully crafted poetic story, treasuring their emotional soliloquies as carefully as the agricultural artifacts.
As the bell tolls, the iconic sounds of Welsh hymn singing invites the congregation to join the feuding family in the chapel, as father (Dewi Rhys Williams) reflects on the neon signage that ‘everything, everyone, everywhere ends’, resonating the sad truth of the factual and fictitious storylines.
Led out to a familiar corrugated barn of white washed walls and neon boxes, the last few laces of this theatrical treasure hunt are told and tied. We leave behind the unnoticed contemporary ceramics of Carwyn Evans and the painful absence of the much needed live performance art. We return on the bus with a legacy of hope, wrapped in linen and a clever play on words ‘Câr Sir Gâr’. Translated, we are asked to love this county and support the local enterprises of Wales.
St Peter’s Civic Hall, Carmarthen and Carmarthenshire County Museum, Abergwili until 27 April