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New drama podcast considers the issues of inherited disease and genetic testing

05 Mar 2022 5 minutes Read
Tremolo by Illumine Theatre

This week, a new Welsh dramatic collaboration between science and the arts has been released as a podcast, aiming to raise awareness of the issues of inherited disease and genetic testing.

Aimed primarily at young audiences aged 16+, Tremolo is a podcast drama produced by Illumine Theatre and has been launched on SpotifyApple PodcastsAM and on Theatr Genedlaethol’s education resource ‘Casgliad Dysgu’.

Produced in partnership with Wales Gene Park and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and supported by the Genetics Society it will also be marketed directly to schools.

Written by Cardiff based playwright Lisa Parry, Co-director of Illumine Theatre, Tremolo is a powerful podcast and gives a real insight into the question of whether to have genetic testing and how one family copes with a diagnosis that may be hidden in their genes.

There are several illnesses and conditions which may be inherited or familial and have implications for children or grandchildren of sufferers, but this play looks specifically at early onset Familial Alzheimer’s Disease (eFAD).

Dementia is something which many of us will have encountered, and with an ever-aging population, many of us will face it ourselves. While the forms of the disease which hit in later in life will be more familiar, some  people may experience early onset dementia, and more rarely, the type that can be inherited – eFAD.

Powerful and intimate

Tremolo is presented through the eyes of Harri, a caring teenage boy who, like many youngsters who have just completed their final A-level exams, is excited about the future – inter-railing with his friend and then off to Uni to follow his dream of becoming a neurosurgeon.

Suddenly, his world is turned upside down when he discovers not only that his loving Mam has been diagnosed with eFAD, but also, there’s a 50% chance that he and his younger sister Gwenllian may have it too.

The play examines some of the early signs of the condition, and the impact of the disease on family relationships, financial pressures, daily life, and dreams is explored through Harri’s eyes.

Writer Lisa Parry felt that the podcast format and the solo voice would provide a powerful listening experience which would really appeal to younger listeners.

She said: “The intimacy of the podcast format really appealed to me – the play lands in the listener’s brain for them to visualise events.

“Music is so central to the play, and the fact the podcast will be delivered via popular streaming services really appealed to me too. I wanted Harri’s fragility to come across and, with this format, he’s speaking to listeners one-on-one.

“Families throughout our communities have to make decisions such as those taken by my main character, teenager ‘Harri’, and his family, and we rarely hear about it. I really hope Tremolo helps families considering genetic testing options and makes understanding these options more accessible to the general public.”

Tremolo recording – image by Kirsten McTernan

Captivating

Music is an integral part of the production and Harri’s younger sister Gwenllian loves playing the harp, spending hours practising her ‘tremolo’. As the play progresses, emotions build as the two teenagers grasp the enormity of the situation.

Director Zoë Waterman, who is Co-director of Illumine Theatre alongside Lisa, explained the role of internationally acclaimed Welsh harpist Eira Lynn Jones, who composed and performed live harp music, in bringing the story and emotions to life.

She said: “In Tremolo it is Harri who takes us through the story; voiced by the fantastic Gareth Elis, we are inside his head as he grapples with the sudden and shocking news of his mum’s diagnosis and what that may mean for his own future.

“However, there is another sibling, his younger sister Gwenllian, who is also going through this turmoil, and Lisa has wonderfully written her as a musician – playing the harp and finding her escape through its strings.

“In doing this Lisa has allowed Eira Lynn Jones to tell Gwenllian’s story through the music she plays, her relationship to that material and her connection with the harp – it provides a beautiful texture to the play and gives us the two siblings’ stories side by side, vibrating off each other, like the tremolo of the title.”

The fields of science and medicine are new for Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, but the company says it has enjoyed working on the project and exploring the use of podcasts to bring theatre to new and young audiences.

Rhian Davies, Executive Producer Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru said: “Offering relevant creative content on different platforms is key to Theatr Gen moving forward. We want to develop our offer so that it includes not only a live theatre experience but also a wider reach and longer legacy that comes with digital platforms.

“Tremolo is also a captivating story. With the new curriculum in Wales, it’s a great chance for the expressive arts to connect with science and technology, and teachers can take advantage of a bespoke bilingual and free educational resource created by Theatr Gen and Gene Park Wales to support this podcast drama in the classroom.”


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