The source novel for this play is a sprawling family saga in which the Mortymer family is caught up in the 19th century south Wales iron industry, the fight for union representation and the ill-fated Chartist movement. It is a broad-stroke, heart-on-sleeve, highly emotional book in which bad things happen, one piled upon another.
Manon Eames’ adaptation fully reflects this, as does Tim Baker’s large cast, spectacular production. It starts a little awkwardly as Iestyn Mortymer’s memories of his childhood result in a near Dylan Thomas unleashing of remembrance that’s split across the cast.
Once Iestyn grows up and his world gets darker and more dangerous it settles into a sequence of traumatic events. Vanished is the humour of the first act but the production grows in stature as the horrors mount.
This is a big production and many of the excellent cast take on multiple roles. At the turbulent core are the Mortymers with Sion Ifan growing very effectively from boyhood to manhood as narrator son, Iestyn.
Dominating the family and the production is Simon Nehan as Hywel, an immensely effective portrait of a strict yet flexible man of principle and of a firm yet fair father.
Tim Baker creates great stage pictures and there are magnificent set pieces, the blazing iron furnace, the barge outing, the punishing fights and the Chartist uprising.
But in the end, thanks to Nehan’s powerhouse acting, it’s Hywel’s dignity and strength that makes this a production that will stick in the memory.