St George’s West, Edinburgh
You would be forgiven for thinking Llwyth is theatre reserved for a very specific audience. With frequent allusions to Welsh celebrities whose fame is unlikely to cross the border, off-hand references to Cardiff’s gay bars and rapidly delivered in-jokes between four gay friends, this Welsh-language work may not scream an obvious universality.
Yet Llwyth has an appeal that transcends what may initially feel like restrictive factors. The surtitled story follows London-based writer Aneurin as he returns to the Welsh capital following his mother’s illness. Moving from a cold London where ‘it’s so easy, belonging to the impersonal’ to a deeply emotive Wales, the work is a fiercely energetic exploration of the power of community and modern tribal identity.
Played by the strong and instantly captivating Simon Watts, Aneurin is a dynamic lead who brings a wealth of qabalistic meaning to the piece. In the vibrant surface journey of four men out on the town, he is a relatable and grounding character. He also brings a powerful historical and literary resonance to the work, his name a clear echo of Aneirin, the Dark Age poet credited with writing the heroic Celtic piece Y Gododdin. Aneurin’s interest in the Sacred Band of Thebes, a Greek troop made up of 150 homosexual couples, also paints a vivid image of a strong group of males united by a common goal. Again, we see the embodiment of a power heightened by passion but in Llwyth there are no wars, just a heady quest to live life to the full. And from this emerges a bold epic surrounding a flawed, everyday hero.
But distant history isn’t the only thing the piece takes into account. Llwyth is in constant negotiation with the many cultural contexts that have shaped its moment. Invigoratingly, there are also rich comparisons with musicals, a subject which not only builds on the production’s exploration of gay culture, but also showcase an awareness of how easy it would be to spiral into cliché. The scripts scrapes close to cheesiness with songs celebrating the land, a Welsh language rendition of ‘From a Distance’ and – at one spectacular point – the inclusion of an Edinburgh-based community choir. What saves the piece from becoming mawkish, though, is a cunning self-awareness which make Llwyth a naturalistic anthem on the musicality of life. After all, as Aneurin himself asserts, ‘This is not a musical’.
And as church-like choral swoops mix with trance beats and breathlessly expressed observations and passions, Llwyth scripts the complex poetry of urban living. In tune with this, there is a powerful self-consciousness of the decadence, the ecstasy and the extremity that cannot last forever and which ultimately masks a greater pain. Opposites become simultaneous and religion and debauchery clash, making Cardiff’s gay nightclub Club X a revered shrine to decadence. In the ‘Devil’s tavern’, the energy of the men becomes a ‘secular prayer’. As Aneurin, fresh from the influence of a different kind of Spirit, declares ‘Tonight we are gods’ it is clear there is a new kind of faith brewing.
Llwyth is a liberated and captivating insight into an intrinsically poetic society. It is a play firmly of this moment and, like the drugs and alcohol that fuel it, one gets the sense that the power of the production will be short-lived. Dynamic, fast, emotive and witty, Llwyth is an intoxicating shot of theatre meant to be enjoyed quickly, not lingered over and it is certainly easy to get swept up by the tempo and urgency of the script which matches the trance beats that power it. There is a rich, guilt-free hedonism as the group grab at experience and, as a local community choir flock onto the stage for a powerful ending I could only watch through tears, the sense of a belonging is palpable. For this moment I am part of the tribe and, surely, this is what matters most.