Dafydd James, writer of the Welsh-language play Llwyth [Tribe], thought of the play as a battle cry, but found that perhaps the battle was all in his imagination.
To some extent, coming to Edinburgh with Llwyth [Tribe] feels like a homecoming.
In 2001, I graduated from Edinburgh University with an English Literature degree. In 2011, I’m returning with my first Welsh-language play.
Even more of a coincidence, perhaps, is that the Gododdin – the series of ancient Welsh language poems, which originally inspired the play – were originally composed in Edinburgh.
These poems, by the poet Aneirin, celebrated and commemorated an ancient tribe (also called the Gododdin) who, in the sixth century, spent a year feasting and preparing for battle before losing catastrophically in Catterick.
Llwyth, however, is not an ode to these warriors; it is an ode to Welsh-language culture seen through the eyes of five gay men. Welsh vs. queer culture. Uneasy bedfellows? Aneurin, the protagonist of the play, certainly seems to think so and has left home because of it.
This is the first time a Welsh language piece has been part of the British Council Showcase; in fact, to my knowledge, it is the first time a Welsh language play has appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at all.
No doubt, this Edinburgh festival, the tribes will be out in force as a whole spectrum of cultural groups descends on the city, and I find myself wondering how might such an internationally diverse audience respond to Llwyth?
When Llwyth was first produced it was easy for me to imagine that I was, like the Gododdin, going into battle.
Together with Arwel Gruffudd, the director, we went on what felt like a ‘coming out’ tour across Wales as we met the ten local choirs that would be participating in the show. Involving the choirs was partly inspired by the narrative (Rhys, Aneurin’s best friend is a member of a choir), part audience development and part political strategy.
We were keen to open up a dialogue between queer issues and Welsh-language communities. Surprisingly perhaps, this was the first Welsh language play to investigate queer issues written by an openly gay man.
Though the participatory element produced several challenges, I began to realise that most of the prejudices I had foreseen were part of my own imagined battles –the Welsh-language community embraced the play.
Of course, for many this is not the case. Across the world, the LGBTQ community are struggling to gain recognition, in many cases struggling to live. Real and very dangerous battles continue to be fought.
It is hard to avoid belonging to a tribe of some sort. Sometimes we belong to several all at once. We might look to leaders to guide us, fight to protect what we value. It’s very easy to judge the ‘enemy’.
After a week of riots in the UK, people have been quick to assume knowledge about the source of that violence, to see the force of the collective rather than the living, breathing individuals beneath.
It is never black and white.
Perhaps what unifies us all is that we all want to belong, to explore that sense of ‘home’.
I don’t know if the pen is mightier than the sword, but I’m pleased that Aneurin is returning to an International artistic festival, not a battlefield: an opportunity to exchange cultural knowledge, not blows, and invite the audience to consider how we might all relate to the diverse tribes, which surround us, internationally, and within our own communities.
Brought together through their collaboration on this new co-production, we are pleased to present two of Wales’ most prominent companies in Edinburgh Showcase for first time. With a heavy emphasis on new writing, Sherman Cymru is a building-based ‘receiving and producing house’ that consistently produces critically acclaimed and award-winning theatre in both Welsh and English. Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru is the national Welsh language touring company. Set up in 2003, its aim is to create high quality, accessible work that enriches Welsh theatrical culture – portraying both the nation’s position in the world and the world’s position in Wales.
The blogs on British Council Voices are written by individuals. We publish them to stimulate discussion and debate by exploring ideas. The opinions expressed in them do not necessarily reflect the official position or views of the British Council.