This play was so good I went to see it twice.
The second time I brought along a few ntw TEAM members (existing and new) to share the experience and have a 'critical chinwag' afterwards.
There were lots of things I liked about the play, from its gentle wit to its highly animated protagonist, the wonderful use of props also as doubling as ingenious sound devices, and a refreshingly confident approach to bilinguality that wasn't laboured.
My Body Welsh throws us into the sensations and sensibilities of a young man whilst he unravels the tale of a skeleton found in a well. The solving of this mystery creates the main arc of the piece, but along the way it follows a watery theme through various meanders, diversions, spills and reflections giving us thoughtful asides, wry commentaries and stories within stories that build to something more than the small town tale it appears to be.
Making a series of hilarious parallels (between his own body and that of the skeleton, the betrayal of his Mabinogi forebears and his own ill-fated crush on local girl Gwen, the tragic tale of Gelert the dog with his own leapt-to conclusions), he slid effortlessly in and out of both languages, local jokes and current affairs, seeming to inhabit all the contradictions and angst of youth complete with its melodramas and obsessions. it felt like such welcome honesty.
Embarrassed, frightened, righteous, thoughtful, mischievous, curious, courageous, confused, angry, excited, deflated, frustrated, fascinated, amused, bemused...
One of the totally unique aspects of this piece was its amazingly inventive array of sound effects and physical props, all provided from a selection of pots pans and other assorted vessels lying around on the stage. They look pretty fun, yet there is something disarmingly magical about the way that Steffan Donnelly, co-creator and performer of the piece, transforms each item into anything from lakes and seas, to emotions and bodily functions, and with a few bits of technical wizardy provided by his accomplice Jordan Mallory-Skinner, an innocent dabbling of a water surface one minute became an epic and eerie soundscape the next. So simple but quite fantastic.
On the flip side of these sound echoes was the relative lack of repetition between the two spoken languages - instead there was a wonderfully fluid mix of both English and Welsh which just worked. I was very struck by this aspect of the play when I first saw it, and it was interesting the second time round because as a group we spanned the full range of Welsh fluency from none to first langauge and we still all enjoyed the play and the flow of language immensely. One of our party reflected that at drama school he had worked with people from all over the world and it barely mattered what language they spoke on stage. But there was also something clever in how language wove a rich cloth of familiar cultural signifiers and was used to both illustrate and challenge ideas of identity, ownership and truth.
The play did all of this without a trace of pomposity, somehow being gentle but sharp, inventive and funny all at once. The 'tall skinny Welshman' as he introduced himself, gave us tall tales and thin facts, played with our eyes and ears, shifted shapes and wrangled identity, and along with all the fun of stories and sounds and water and wonderings, he splashed a few tricky questions our way.
These are talented guys and I would love to see what happens if this show were to tour further afield. For all that it felt so local it was so very much more.