National Theatre of Wales yr Helfa / the Gathering


The mountains resounded to the sounds of repetitive brass instruments calling to one another across this dramatic landscape. In a piece that explores the transitions and cycles that take place across the year on a hill farm such as Hafod y Llan at the foot of Snowdon. For the past three years Louise Ann Wilson has been observing the annual farming cycle. We were invited to take a remarkable journey on foot through installations and performances, inspired by this iconic location, its history and its people. The production is also supported by Migrations.

The last time such a gathering took place was with Gladstone and the route we took follows the Watkin Track that led many people up to hear the prime minister give his speech. (Interesting article here)

Along the way, as we were shepherded along the sometimes precarious path, we were able to see a number of art installations. We were in the first of many such groups and it felt as though our guide was quite anxious to set a good pace, so much so that we didn’t really have time to linger at many of the artworks, sites and live art performances on our way up. In fact, by the time we’d got to the more level ground I was quite exhausted.

The highlight, and in fact the most coherent bit of performance, or maybe I should say theatre, was in the slate mine nestling beneath Snowdon’s summit. Within the walls of a ruin a bed was placed. The actors gave a poignant and at times deeply moving account of the year in this remote Welsh speaking place where people and their animals’ lives are intertwined in an intimate and interdependent way. We came closer to understanding the term “cynefin”.

“I belong. Here. Now.
I have always known this,
I am. It is my place, cynefin.”
From Haf/Summer by Gillian Clarke

Another highlight was the band playing on the way down the mountain, as a flock of gathered sheep were brought in from the mountains and taken down to the safety (or maybe not) of the farm.

At over 4 hours the performance felt as though it was a little long, some of the art interventions were distracting and unnecessary, but over all it was a really enjoyable, if very tiring, day. The piece has been written by Gillian Clarke and her poetic sensibility pervaded the performance and was even physically transcribed onto the landscape. The acting was superb with standout performances from Meilir Rhys Williams, Ffion Dafis and Gwyn Vaughan Jones, but as often is the case with National Theatre of Wales I would have preferred a clearer narrative at times.




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