Wild Merthyr Skies by Mark Hardwidge


Chapter, Cardiff, Wed 23 Feb 2005 , £3 on the door


Olwen – Eiry Palfrey

Ethel – Madeline Adams

Dewi – Emyr Bell

Huw – Giles Thomas


Sarah Argent


Fledgling playwrights have a real problem. A play doesn’t become theatre until the words are liberated from the page – and there just aren’t that many companies who will risk taking on new writing.

Sgript Cymru is one, of course, that has a brief to do just that and their Welsh-language quintet Drws Arall I’r Coed this week at Chapter is part of that commitment – but meanwhile in the same building it’s good to see the On the Edge rehearsed-readings project offering the opportunity to get an idea of what a new script might be like in production.

Mark Hardwidge’s first play, Wild Merthyr Skies, got its professional premiere as the latest in the series in Chapter’s Venue 2 and benefited from Sarah Argent’s clear direction and good performances: indeed, the ad hoc company captured the comedy and drama and also exposed Hardwidge’s inexperience and the play’s inadequacies – but that is what the process is about and I’m sure the writer will have learned a lot.

Emyr Bell was particularly strong as Dewi, a farmer who has brought up his dead sister’s son, Huw, only to find him escaping from the family home and living an itinerant life abroad before finding a partner with her own child; Giles Thomas found what he could in the role of Huw and their interactions gave the one-acter some energy.

It’s all set in the bar of a pub over a 25-year period – with the lapse of time something impossible to portray in a script-in-hand production – and there’s a kind of chorus in the form of Olwen (Eiry Palfrey) and Ethel (Madeleine Adams), a couple of gossips, whose significance is not entirely clear.

We could, I am sure, find deeper allegories in this slight story: I suspect it is unlikely to be seen again, so I can reveal that the son turns out to be the product of an incestuous relationship between Dewi and his sister. But it isn’t much more than a tv-style sitcom with a (not unexpected, it has to be said) twist in the tail.

It was, however, never less than engaging, often funny and would work, perhaps, as a radio play. I hope we hear more from Mark Hardwidge – a longer piece, maybe, that would allow for more content and characterisation.

Incest on a farm isn’t, maybe, what we expect to happen under wild Merthyr skies – we’ve come to see the place as inhabited by crazy substance-fuelled small-town eccentrics, thanks to plays like Bull, Rock and Nut, In Sunshine and In Shadow and Redemption Song, the Merthyr Trilogy written by Alan Osborne.

These days Osborne lives in Cardiff and he has a new play, Slaughter on Grand Avenue, which may well feature on this On the Edge series’s next season – and as part of the night’s double-bill he gave us a taste of it. Typically, the preview took the form not of excerpts but a large painting and a synopsis delivered in verse, Osborne’s point being that the process of playwrighting for him involved creating it all first in other media, such as poetry and art.

It was a typically humanistic, eclectic, complex tour-de-force from one of Wales’s true creative geniuses – and good to see and hear an artist of maturity and confidence alongside the always-welcome chance to experience a new voice in Welsh theatre.

David Adams (Western Mail)


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