This week, playwright Carmen Medway-Stephens’ ‘Bara Bread’ starts its run at the Stiwdio at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.
In little Lovenny, due to the passing of Nettie’s mother, the heart and soul of the village, Nettie (Sarah-Jayne Hopkins), is brought back to her childhood roots, a far cry from the city slick fast paced society she now knows. Left for her on the kitchen table is a book of recipes that her mother had put together as a parting gift with a note that reads ‘let us bake bread together’. As Nettie scatters her mothers ashes and makes the mother dough it becomes clear that her abandoned culinary skills are dusty. However, through feeding the mother dough, the bread maker’s answer to the alchemist’s ‘the philosophers stone’, a little magic is sifted into the mix and the understated kitchen table becomes an emblem of hope and honesty where the bread is broken, secrets are shared, barriers are brought down and relationships are rekindled. It becomes clear that the steps of making bread mirror the steps taken in our own lives.
This exploratory narrative of magical realism takes us back to the mode of storytelling where these women’s lives and challenging experiences are shared with one other. Womanism is a term that is rooted in black women’s culture but it is a phrase of solidarity and one that strikes a chord with Carmen Medway-Stephens’ script. The creation of these five women in a little Welsh corner of the globe interacting by creating bread together is the reflected image in Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple of the female community sewing the quilt together, fashioning a unified and supported life for themselves. There is Mair (Olwen Rees) who is discovered to be a larger than life female vicar whose path has faced many challenges, Lara (Saran Morgan), the village’s typical teenage disaster, an endearing young mum who spends her benefits on nappies and a night out in Swansea, Annabel (Michelle McTernan), the village ‘intruder’, botox blitzed and money grabbing and Maggie (Louise Collins), the widowed shepherdess, a recluse who has lost touch with her womanhood since her husband passed away. Despite appearances, as they open up to each other it is clear that life has consumed them all and as they sit kneading the dough together, (like the art of making a good loaf) they share, prove, nurture, feed their souls and grow together.
Alongside a subtle and sensitive soundtrack (with the exception of an unnecessary addition of ‘You raise me up’ at the end), Chris Morgan’s direction is intuitive and fluid; despite the simple home set-up it is a very challenging performance to choreograph. Watching these women physically create this process, you can almost smell the bread cooking. The interactions between these characters are fittingly comical and the concept of born and bred Welsh heritage is aptly personified but the narrative excels because of its strong cast. Michelle McTernan, Olwen Rees, Louise Collins, Sarah-Jayne Hopkins and Saran Morgan bring Carmen Medway-Stephens’ fresh and actively engaging script to life.’
Bara Bread’ raises your spirits, touches your heart and makes you hungry for more.