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Arts interview: playwright Elgan Rhys

28 Jun 2024 4 minute read
Elgan Rhys

Jon Gower

Tonight the National Theatre of Great Britain will be staging a Welsh language play for the very first time. Dy Enw Marw,written by Elgan Rhys in collaboration with Leo Drayton will be performed by students from Ysgol Gyfun Gŵyr, who will be taking part in this year’s Connections festival which marries new writing with the theatre skills of young people.

Dramatist Elgan Rhys has been talking to Nation.Cymru about the play and how this opportunity came about: “I was invited and commissioned by Ola Animashawun, the Connections Dramaturg.

“I think he had read my debut play Woof (Sherman Theatre), and known about my work with young people, such as the collaborative book series Y Pump (Y Lolfa).”

Could you tell us a little about working with Leo? Is it easier with two writers?

“Following an initial workshop at the Sherman Theatre with a group of sixteen-year-olds, where there were so many ideas for several plays for young people, I decided that I wanted to rein in the idea in collaboration with a young writer.

“I knew that Leo was interested in developing as a theatre writer, and we had previously worked together on Y Pump – so this felt like a natural next step for our creative partnership too. Collaboration has always been very central to my work, so getting to share this opportunity with such a gifted Welsh artist was a privilege.

“He supported with the dramaturgy and character development as well as working with me on consultation sessions with queer young people in Cardiff and Bangor.”

Poster for Dy Enw Mart

What’s the play about?

Dy Enw Marw follows a day in the life of a teenager called M. When we meet him, he’s just got a new name – a liberating step in his transition – as shifting relationships and complex family dynamics swirl around him.

“It’s a play about tensions between individual and shared agency, and the decisions that define who we are.”

How will the non-Welsh speaking audience be catered for?

“The performance at the National will be captioned in Welsh and English. The English language version has been staged over the last few months by groups in York, Norwich, Tunbridge Wells and Suffolk.”

What’s the  significance of this being the first Welsh language play to be staged at the National Theatre?

“It’s massively humbling, and I’m very proud to get to share the moment with Leo and Ysgol Gyfun Gŵyr. It’s also bittersweet because this should be much more normal, and I hope to see many more plays in Welsh and other languages populate London stages.

“It means the world too that it’s both deeply rooted in contemporary Wales and a million miles away from stereotypically “Welsh” stories that tend to get seen in the mainstream outside of Wales.

“It’s proudly queer, proudly pro-trans, proudly political, proudly Cymraeg, and informed by the perspectives of young queer Welsh people from start to finish.”

Ysgol Gyfun Gŵyr performing Dy Enw Marw

Have you been involved with the rehearsals? 

“I haven’t been in rehearsals but was lucky to meet the young cast after their ‘home performance’ in the spring.

“Bringing it to such a massive platform must be a little intimidating, but also hopefully a huge boost to them in terms of developing confidence and skills.

“And being able to perform it in Welsh means they can express themselves on this big stage in their natural language.”

How does this drama fit within your own playwriting career?

“I recently started a full-time role as Head of Engagement with Frân Wen, so my own writing is taking a back seat after Dy Enw Marw.

“It’s felt like a culmination of a lot of themes and ways of working that have guided my creative work for the last decade, and now I’m channeling those into my work with and for the young people (and future artists) of north-west Wales.”

Are there plans to perform this in Wales?

“There will be a reading at the Eisteddfod in August as part of the Mas ar y Maes programme, along with other recent queer Welsh language plays.

“No other plans yet, but it’s would be amazing to see its life continue, and for more young people in Wales to take ownership of the story.

“The full play text, in both English and Welsh versions, has been published as part of the NT Connections 2024 anthology, published by Bloomsbury.”

The Connections 2024 festival runs at the National Theatre on London’s South Bank until the 29th June.

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