For Mountain Sand and Sea

09Jul10

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We went to Marc Rees’ performance in Barmouth, conceived for the National Theatre of Wales. Link to idea

We couldn’t have had finer weather for the event which involved a tour of the town, located on the North Wales coast looking out over Cardigan Bay. After initial trepidation we found our way to the Hall on the hill where the event began, just below the magnificent church. We waited outside before donning our high visibility vests and entering the Hall where tea and bara brith and home made cakes awaited us on a long table. The atmosphere was one of excitement. The Hall has not been used for a long while but has a history of events such as this, where the community would come together for dances, talks, eisteddfodau. The tea was served in the chapel crockery and the walls had been decorated with the shapes of parts of a boat, almost like an airfix kit.

Marc Rees introduced us to the event against a backdrop of photographs projected onto a screen. The images showed a town of people whose history was as important as those of the more celebrated townsfolk we would discover over the day. Images had been loaned to illustrate the rich seam of narrative that we would become a part of.

On his final word of introduction the doors beneath the stage dramatically burst open and a swarthy French sailor, played excellently by Guillermo Weickert, could be glimpsed beneath. He came out and onto the table whereupon he began to lurch from side to side and up to a tall vantage point at the head of the table before coming back down to the table. Here his boots were at eye level and he made uncompromising advances in song to a number of people around the table.

Then our journey began. We walked together through the town down across the railway to the Fun Fair and amusement arcades. Here we purchased tickets to enter a dancehall/disco. At the top of the stairs we were met by a glamorous usherette who presented us each with with a stick of seaside rock. We found a space on the plastic covered seats around the dance floor and watched as Cai Tomos turned from 40s soldier to contemporary dancer. The mood changed as the aggressive dance beats gave way to 40s dance music and he was joined by an older lady. You felt as though you were witnessing a dance with a long-remembered partner, perhaps someone who had been loved and lost. We made our way contemplatively out of the dark smoke-filled disco into the bright summer sunlight.

We wove through the candyfloss and doughnut fun fair towards the golden sands where we were invited to partake in a performance by a man and a woman dressed in the finest of 1930s beach wear. The air was erotically charged in that innocent, clipped, retrospective way. As kites fluttered above us we witnessed a display involving hoops and bright yellow water beds, all within an arena of striped wind cheaters. The performance culminated with a reference to the mythical Mawddach Monster.

We travelled back up into town, past the round house, built to hold drunken sailors in the 1800s, and past another character from the town, the Colonel, who handed out apples.

Up we climbed through narrow passageways that would give St Ives a run for its money. Up and up, past the cottages used for a social experiment by John Ruskin, higher and higher past the home of the woman who gave the land above Barmouth to the National Trust in its first donation in 1865. Eventually we arrived at Dinas Oleu where we were met by the fez wearing Frenchman, Auguste Guyard, a figure who had come to Barmouth to escape the regime in France, and who taught the ladies of Barmouth about how to cultivate medicinal herbs such as Valerian. The view was breathtaking and we were all glad of the opportunity to sit on the hillside and listen to his portrayal of this cosmopolitan figure from the town’s past, before he donned a long wig and gave us Fanny Talbot’s speech with which the land was given to the Nation.

On our way back down the hill we met a woman in Welsh National costume. She was drying her sheets in the sun on the Coconut-scented gorse bushes. We followed her, pied piper-like, down the hill and back into town.

With the Cambrian Establishment, Morris & Co, as a fine backdrop, and the main road between us and the performance, Marc Rees gave us a fascinating insight into the parallel lives of Tommy Nutter, tailor to the stars in the late 60s and 70s, and Barmouth boy, and the decline of this magnificent building which is said to be perfectly preserved inside, as though it just closed and didn’t reopen. This piece was a tour de force with cameos by other performers, passing by.

We were then treated to a moving rendition of “Each Man Kills the Things He Loves” by Marega Palser on an accordian under the railway bridge.

After watching a video piece we were led out of town towards the bridge over the Mawddach Estuary, by samba drummers and a large grey elephant. Here we were treated to a fine rendition of a Welsh hymn and a sculpture made up of the negative spaces left by the structures in the hall where we had all started.

We were treated to a re-enactment of a scene from a Pressburger and Powell film, “A Matter of Life and Death” which had a relevance to the locality which for the minute I forget, but also commemorated the many servicemen and woman who were based in this part of the world during World War 2. This was extremely poignant and was quickly followed by a reference to Planet of the Apes, I think the same actress, Kim Hunter, played a part in both films, and this, rather tenuously, linked to a reference to Darwin’s visit to Barmouth to write Origin of Species.

We then lined the bridge for a synchronised tube spinning event, before the actors took a well-deserved bow.

The entire event was well-conceived at all levels. It was thoroughly engaging and has had a lasting impact.

The excellent website with links to sounds and pics and features.

Telegraph Review

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One Response to “For Mountain Sand and Sea”


  1. 1 The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning « Steffan Jones-Hughes

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