Just round the corner from the Royal Court is 23 Cliveden Place, the home of Nye Bevan and Jennie Lee. As I walked past this address on my way to The Royal Court I realised that perhaps Wales was not so very far away.
Some may question placing such an intrinsically Welsh story onto a London stage but just as Bevan saw the universality of the lessons he learnt in Tredegar, so are the subjects that Ed Thomas addresses in On Bear Ridge. We are all subject to forces that we can neither affect nor understand. This play does not set out to address Brexit but the parallels are clear; the tumult of Brexit is difficult to understand for even the most engaged, for the rest it is baffling.
In the world of On Bear Ridge, the characters are powerless as their familiar world is destroyed piece by piece. The postman stops coming, the animals disappear, the once busy butcher’s shop is silent.
The play works because it is so true to itself, so authentic, it is of its place and it speaks eloquently about the loss of the familiar, the loss of security and the loss of the most dear, the most precious. Just as the “Old Language” has gone for them so too has the audience’s language, where once we were divided along political lines, now we are Leavers or Remainers, Remoaners or “Taking Back Control” few of us can understand the others point of view and even fewer have any respect for it. Our old language of tolerance, a characteristic of the British, has gone.
The London audience will experience the Penwyllt installation through VR headsets and short of a five hour car journey that is probably the only way they can. But that is just geography, this show more clearly shows what we share, even if what we share is a terrible loss. The Welsh grit, stubbornness, poetic resolve that enables the characters to cope is believable because it is a take on the British condition.
Nye Bevin was a proud Welshman, but he did not stay in Wales because he spoke with a broader voice, his sentiments and politics were more universal. Pride in your roots is a foundation stone of a universal perspective, it is the eye piece of a telescope, the frame of a world vision. It does not reflect back in on itself but looks outwards. This is how Bevan functioned and it is what On Bear Ridge brings to the stage.
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