With assignment stress and deadlines looming, there’s nothing better than an escape from university work and a relaxing, and thoughtprovoking, evening at the theatre. In February 2016, I watched the debut performance of Theatre Cadair’s Windsongs of the Blessed Bay at Taliesin Arts Centre and was left enchanted and mesmerised by the performance. Directed by award-winning dramatist Professor David Britton, the audience were left spellbound by the magic performance which saw myth, history, memory and humour combine in a charming tale of Betrys, a young blind Welsh woman who sets out from St Bride’s Bay in Pembrokeshire to make the great fishing catch her late grandfather had always dreamed of. Gwawr Loader was an incredible Betrys, presenting her as a strong and fierce young woman, who just happened to be blind. Aided by a brilliant and highly amusing cormorant, performed by Meilyr Siôn, Betrys sets sail on the boat to
find the ‘last catch’, but her catch is not what she expected.
Gwawr Loader and Meilyr Siôn’s fantastic acting made the audience feel involved and included in Betrys’ personal journey of discovering who she is and dealing with the battles she faces in her life, as well as her physical journey on board her grandfather’s boat. Pinky, the cormorant, is arguably the most amusing character. Not only is it humorous and ironic for the audience that a cormorant, a black bird, is named ‘Pinky’, as ‘all colours are the same to me [Betrys]’, Meilyr Siôn’s performance as a bird was terrific, encapsulating the movements of a cormorant splendidly and really adding to the idea of magic and myth in the performance.
I was lucky enough to interview Director David Britton before the performance and was intrigued to hear that Britton’s main challenge for the production, but arguably one of the aspects that makes working on a production like this so rewarding was the “difficulty in moulding a conventional performance/acting into something cohesive” but certainly there is no challenge in following or understanding the performance! By integrating myth and history with puppetry and music, adults and children alike were able to follow the performance with ease and feel involved in Betrys’ journey. The humour was particularly successful as both children and adults found the clever jokes enthralling and funny. One moment that I found particularly clever was the use of squawks to show the character Joe’s foul mouth, without any adult language being used! Moreover the constant childish bickering between the cormorant Pinky and JP the bird was amusing to say the least!
Puppetry was certainly one of the most interesting and successful elements of Windsongs. During Betrys’ journey, Betrys met St Bride herself and Brân the Blessed, who came to life through intelligent puppetry to tell their mythic stories. Although debatably little is known about St Bride, I felt a deeper understanding of who she is and what she stood for from watching Windsongs. Moreover, alongside puppets; actors presented other characters from Welsh history, including Moondyne Joe, Annie Gwen Jones, JP Morgan and Jenny Jones/Grufydd. This was particularly successful as the audience were able to reflect on their past and present selves through the adorable character of Jenny played by the talented Heledd Gwynn. Moreover, Richard Nichols was fantastic as the comedic Welsh characters of Joe and J.P. Morgan: enabling audiences to join Betrys in thinking about their priorities in life and where they see themselves. Moreover, Bethan Mai was a brilliant Annie, another character caught from Betrys’ boat and through her happy spirit; the audience was able to think about what makes them happy and again consider their priorities in life.
Director Britton explained the creative process of Windsongs of the Blessed Bay as an ‘ensemble creation’ and certainly the sense of community and togetherness is clear to see. The talented cast work so well together and dialogue and acting flow seamlessly, it’s clear that everyone performing in Windsongs was involved in putting the production together. Moreover, designer Bethany Seddon has designed a wonderful production, with the stage setting perfectly depicting Betrys’ grandfather’s boat and allowing the audience to believe Betrys’ tale.
A mythic play with enthralling music, humour, acting and puppetry, Windsongs of the Blessed Bay had me enchanted and entertained from the start. I was speechless – a rarity(!) – at the wonderful puppetry techniques of pupper master Benjamin Ho, poignant folk music from Andy Tamlyn Jones and the cast of top Welsh talent, particularly Meilyr Siôn’s stunning and amusing performance as Pinky, the Cormorant.
Despite covering some serious emotional and intelligent themes, including loss, finding a place in a community and in the world, and discovering who you are and what you care about, Windsongs of the Blessed Bay was a thoroughly entertaining piece of theatre with real colourful characters presented by wonderful actors and a fantastic creative and production team.