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Chwalfa at Pontio, Bangor – ‘a moving experience’

The cast of Chwalfa at Pontio, Bangor. Photo: Mark Douet The cast of Chwalfa at Pontio, Bangor. Photo: Mark Douet
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You would be hard-pressed to find a more community connected play than this production from Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru – the Welsh language national theatre of Wales – that opens the 450-seat Theatr Bryn Terfel, part of Pontio, Bangor University’s swish new £45 million arts and innovation centre.

Set in the early 1900s, Gareth Miles’ pared-down stage adaptation of T Rowland Hughes’s sprawling novel chronicles the family tumult triggered by the prolonged industrial dispute at Penrhyn slate quarry in nearby Bethesda, when an attempt by quarrymen to take on their English boss ended as the honourable failure that still remains deep-rooted in local memory.

But localism digs deeper here: performed in Welsh (a nifty smartphone app provides simultaneous English commentary) a cast of 12 professionals is accompanied by a 50-strong ensemble mostly drawn from Bethesda and the surrounding area, some of whom are direct descendants of the strikers.

And mammoth slate-grey walls framing Cai Dyfan’s spare setting are a monumental reminder of an industry that once dominated misty valleys, while Arwel Gruffydd’s doggedly compelling production conjures up an air of impending doom hanging over a by-gone chapel-dominated way of life where labour militancy owed more to Methodism than Marxism.

Led by Llion Williams and Morfudd Hughes, the actors rise to the challenge of creating a series of richly drawn but conflicted characters in a production that succeeds in transforming a sombre local history lesson into a moving experience that embodies the spirit of an embattled community facing adversity.

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New venue opens with a piece of true citizens’ theatre