BLOG Ryan Davies

NWR Issue 113

Dreaming The Night Field

The performers approached the stage and began to sing whilst they slowly arranged an assortment of tree branches, resting them upon each other in different positions. Michael Harvey drew the audience into another world as he gave directions to a hill and described the climb, the night-time view and galaxy of constellations where this legend, the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion (concerning Blodeuwedd), begins. He beckoned us by saying ‘follow me’ and ‘let me take you there,’ and although no one moved, we were transported back to a time where kings waged wars and were tricked by magicians. The storyteller spoke with such conviction that it seemed he had witnessed these events first-hand.

The Welsh legend describes the magical trickery of Gwydion, who started a war between the north and south of Wales. It then follows generations of the royal magicians and the aftermath of the war; a woman is made from flowers, trees march to battle and princes are transformed into beasts. The performers conjured the tale through voice, song and sound, along with the visual presence of nature, whose branches cast skeletal shadows upon the walls behind. Through their unique storytelling, we did not question the logistics of spell-casting and cursing.

The musician sang along with the singer, their voices intertwining with one another as the storyteller added his own deeper voice at parts. Some of the poetic verses were performed in Welsh, leaving me captivated by the beauty of the language. Sometimes they would sing in both English and Welsh, skilfully merging the two voices and separate melodies. Moments of silence also played a key part in the performance, as they were used to create sudden changes in the story or further heighten the intensity of the combined voices. I also began to recognise characters’ recurring themes surfacing within the tapestry of music.

One of the most surreal and enchanting moments of the evening was when the storyteller, accompanied by the harp, balanced one branch upon another and spun it horizontally around with ease. This created a dreamlike atmosphere as the storyteller spoke of the sounds of the forest, the nature of love and the beauty of the cosmos. She also played the accordion, adding powerful chords to the structure and intensity during descriptions of single combat and murder. The trio performed a couple of songs together, during which they stamped their feet. The storyteller added the beat by expertly drumming a tambourine skin with his hand while tapping the small cymbals. He also pulled out a harmonica to vocalise his own harmonies, combining speaking, communication and song.

The two years it took to create Dreaming the Night Field paid off, as the three performers bowed to a standing ovation from the audience. It was reassuring to know that the magic they spoke of in their legends will always live. We left the theatre spellbound.

Ryan Davies is a student in the Department of Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University.

       


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