National Theatre Wales
Great Llancayo Upper Wood, Usk
In the heart of Monmouthshire, donned in my favourite pac a mac and waterproof footwear, I entered Mametz, by National Theatre Wales, amongst the trees and rolling hills of Great Llancayo Upper Wood, Usk.
This awe inspiring production was based upon a memoir by Llewelyn Wyn Griffiths of his time in WWI with the attempt of taking over the Mametz wood. The writer of the play, Owen Sheers stumbled upon a grave on 20 british soldiers in the Mametz woods and wrote a poem based upon this image. The combination of these two ideas created this production – Mametz woods soon reconstructed in Usk.
With a star infused cast including the Welsh comedy drama, Stella’s actors Catrin Stewart and Michael Elwyn , the performers were all on top form. Evoking every reaction, from fear to joy, sadness and grief to brief comedy and much more, we were brought through a rollercoaster of emotion felt by the soldiers and families of the time. This natural yet surreal production gave opportunities for the performers to stretch their talents. This ranged from double upped acting, to movement and freeze frames, showing that between the well established to the relatively new performers, there was no comparison through the sheer professional nature and inspiring acting skills.
The staging of this show was absolutely magnificent. When reading the press release, a 2 hour show with no interval originally seemed daunting and accompanied by the warning of footwear, I feared that this promenade performance would be more of a trek. Oh how I was wrong. With four separate staging areas that we were welcomed into, there were opportunities to sit , stand, some under cover and others in the woods. The one day so far in this beginning of Summer, we had rain but this gave more atmosphere and more of an experience of trench life; it almost seemed difficult to imagine such a hard-hitting piece to be covered in anything but a rain pour.
Walking to the first area, the large grass hill showed us two soldiers passing messages. By running over the hill and out of sight, we felt amongst the war land and wondering if we would ever see this boy again. And they were just boys. A cast of young faced actors put in perspective the reality of the age of the WWI soldiers. We were forced between iron walls, imitating a trench and with performers dressed from current soldier attire and through the eras to our new time frame, giving a feeling of time travel.
Photograph: Dimitris Legakis
Two barns were converted into, firstly, a French pub which brought a sense of location to the piece, and then a longer set amongst a trench. Here we saw the lives of each soldier, with the side of an old brick barn lit up through the windows, illustrating time back home. Behind the trench that we were faced to, the walls opened up to show the wood behind, where many images were created to , at times, give a surreal nature such as the injections of memory of an older soldier, reminiscing on the scene, to the warfare itself. We, ourselves were forced into a soldier’s nature, eventually walking through this to an amazing lightened field, where we followed the soldiers into battle; the commanding officer shouting at us like one of the men. Fear was felt like the soldiers from this interaction but was a fantastic way to move the audience.
The final scenes were carried out in the wood with giant portrait photos on the trees and staging of the soldiers. Forced to walk through the soldiers that just opened up to us in the barn being murdered and writhing in pain was thought-provoking and a shock to the system. NTW did not spare any risk in this production and that was a breath of fresh air.
I couldn’t help but give a standing ovation to this piece and through my tears, be in such awe. As a performer and theatre creator myself, it can be difficult at times to really become struck by a piece. War Horse last week gave me this feeling, but Mametz escalated this feeling for me. Productions such as this are why I love the theatre and why I perform and create my own theatre which aspires to be as inspiring and beautiful as this.