Writer and critic Jafar Iqbal talks to Gethin Evans and Elgan Rhys from Cwmni Pluen, our first bilingual Company in Residence ahead of their new production Mags.
"A lot has happened at Sherman Theatre since Cwmni Pluen became its first company in residence. The name, for one; critical and commercial success; new audiences locally and globally; and recently, the recipients of Wales’ first-ever Olivier Award. It may not be the theatre they joined three years ago but, thanks to the relationships they’ve cultivated, what Elgan Rhys and Gethin Evans are leaving behind is a home. Not too dissimilar from their new show’s titular character.
“It’s the idea that one person can care so much about another person,” Gethin says of Mags, “or can be affected so much by something that’s happening to another person. How much do we care for each other, and in what ways do we do that?” This relationship to the community and the family is explored through the story of Mags. Reunited with her past, the forty-year old is forced to reflect on the communities that she visited and the choices that she made as a teenager. As Elgan reveals, it’s a story that has been gestating for some time.
“It started three years ago. We filmed the personal and professional process we went through for our first show, Llais / Voice, and shared that documentary in Pwllheli. Our mums came to see it and, because the show was about me coming to terms with my sexuality, so really personal, my mum was a mess. Gethin’s mum came over to her at the end to say hello, and said: ‘mothers feel everything’. There was something about that moment that struck something in both of us.”
Fast-forward to an eighteen-month process that brought professional and non-professional artists together in one room. “All of them have a real honesty,” Gethin explains. “They allow themselves to go to places that are very vulnerable, and I think that’s incredibly exciting to watch when talking about themes of care.” Anna Ap Roberts, Seren Vickers and Matteo Marfoglia bring the bilingual production to life, while Welsh electronic pop artist CASI performs her original score live on stage alongside musician Eddy Bailhache. “It’s a really contemporary piece of work,” Gethin goes on, “that brings together some really exciting artists, some really exciting and incredible human beings, and some really exciting forms in the space. To have that music from those artists, with the rest of the cast, is really, really exciting. It feels relevant and contemporary, which feels really connected to the people we’ve been working with to create it.”
“Creating a whole experience was important to us,” Elgan expounds. “Everything is about responding to each other and being inspired by each other: the text, the movement, the music.” Integral to that experience was the support Cwmni Pluen received from three Welsh charities – DadsCan, Trans*Form Cymru and CAIN. “I think they’re all in there,” Gethin muses. “The work is inspired by all of those people and all of the work that they’ve done, and it felt right for this show, for this process, to be inspired by those things. It’s about taking a story that we feel has a lot of universal and identifiable choices in them, and allowing all of these amazing people’s questions and experiences to flood through that.” When discussing their duty of care, Elgan points out that it “was one of the biggest questions we had during the process, of how important is it that you see yourself reflected in a community.”
“We’ve taken care of them by knowing them,” Gethin follows on, “by spending a lot of time with them, by getting to know them on a human level just as people. Whilst they’re not in the show, they’ve been really present in the process. Of course, it’s always a risk, but it was really interesting to see the points where they go, voomph, we identify with that.”
It’s sensible to assume that, had it not been for Rachel O’Riordan’s faith back in 2015, this incarnation of Mags may never have emerged. It’s a sentiment Gethin agrees with. “The belief she’s had in us has been amazing. Support comes in a very material way, in space, in having a home, in having a place to share our work. But then also, the knowledge. The technical team here are incredible, and they’re so generous. The generosity with equipment. The generosity of Rachel and Julia [Barry, Executive Director] to stop and chat about how the day is going, where we’re at and what we need to do. It’s being surrounded by people who have been here longer than you have, and are very generous with their knowledge.”
There is close to a week left of Cwmni Pluen’s residency at Sherman Theatre, and new residents Chelsey Gillard and Jac Ifan Moore – known collectively as PowderHouse – have already moved in. Two more young artists that fully deserve the opportunity they now have, displaying the same passion and can-do attitude that their predecessors did three years ago. “We’ve brought a new style of work” Elgan says of the theatre, “and Sherman feels like the perfect place to do it. It is a theatre in the centre of Wales’ capital city. Creating a fresh and innovative piece of work, in this building, in this moment in time, with everything its doing, feels really right.”
Mags isn’t just a new play by a young company. It’s the next step in what has already been an exciting three-year journey, not just for Cwmni Pluen but for Sherman Theatre as a whole. In her time as Artistic Director, Rachel led the company to unprecedented success and has developed and nurtured the Welsh artists of the future. Artists like Elgan Rhys and Gethin Evans."
by Jafar Iqbal