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My People at Emlyn Williams, Theatr Clwyd review – ‘biblically bad behaviour’

My People at the Emlyn Williams, Theatr Clwyd. Photo: Catherine Ashmore My People at the Emlyn Williams, Theatr Clwyd. Photo: Catherine Ashmore

Known by critics as the ‘the best hated man in Wales’, Caradoc Evans’ collected short stories – dramatised in fervent fashion for the first time by Theatr Clwyd and Invertigo Theatre – scandalised the moral majority with their tales of brutality and religious fervour among the west Welsh chapel-going communities when they were first published 100 years ago.

Evans is said to have influenced countryman Dylan Thomas. But those expecting the wry, lightly scabrous lyricism of Under Milk Wood will be taken aback by the cruelty on display in these vignettes, depicting as they do the use and abuse of womenfolk, violent fathers and unfeeling clergymen, and the unflinching way a fully committed five-strong cast throw themselves into the increasingly unhinged events.

Steffan Donnelly and Aled Pedrick’s production starts strongly, as a modern-day congregation is first lectured about the contents of Evans’ writings and then find themselves swept up into a full-on re-enactment of what they contain, before pithily returning to the premise that, despite their protestations, the characters are not so different after all. In between, adaptor Donnelly doesn’t quite manage to weave the disparate strands into a fully satisfying narrative whole, and the uncompromisingly rendered syntax of Evans’ early 1900s prose makes the action hard to follow at times. But some arresting images, clever staging touches and the unfettered performances go some way towards making up for the lack of an emotional through line and fully three-dimensional characterisations.

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This production fully embraces the biblically bad behaviour contained in Evans’ stories, extracting its core message but failing to flesh out his protagonists