‘Nawr Yr Arwr/Now The Hero is a multi-artform, site-specific project created by Swansea born interdisciplinary artist Marc Rees for 14-18-NOW. This bold and exciting commemoration of WWI will take place in and around the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea during Harvest, September 2018.’
The website introduces me to the performance. My problem was that I didn’t have the humility to research the project before hand.
‘Harvest’ why Harvest? Now I know. The connected ‘Graft - A Soil Based Syllabus’ curated by artist Owen Griffiths has been going on for months in and around the city. The plants of Sir Frank Brangwyn’s commemorative artwork have been grown and gathered in for the making of a cawl. As an audience we will ingest the panels. We are part of the process. We are part of the commemoration.
‘I’m not hungry,’ I said when my mate asked if I fancied some soup!
‘Look Eddie’s coming down the tower. Wow!’
Eddie Ladd, The Peace Protester, travels through the experiences and images presented to us with a message of peace. She commentates/narrates throughout, a ball of energy at all times.
Performed to a dystopian soundscape, she digs, traces in the sand the aerial view of trenches, spills black earth onto them God like, child-like playing in the sand. Black earth? Scarred earth? Black blood? Bad blood? Or was it just mud?
This is my problem. I see an action: a scene, a tableaux I’m asking questions. The finale has her abseiling forward down the clock tower. No mean feat! Why? Is it for effect or is there a meaning behind the statement. Is it her? It’s got to be! Is it a stunt? Perhaps it would have been more impressive the other way?
The siren wails, calls our protagonists to action. Three warriors, aboard a power boat enter the stage. The three interlinking stories through the evening are introduced: the Celtic warrior, the Great War officer the modern day soldier. The poem ‘Y Gododdin’ reverberates through the night. The seventh century battle of 300 Celtic warriors is evoked.
The promenade performance follows Eddie through the streets of the city. The Home Front, the war work of women supporting their men. Shrouds for the dead soldiers. A WW1 tank made of coal doing the rounds fund raising, only to buy more tanks.
The last time I was at Brangwyn Hall I charged the doors as a teenager to watch the glam rock band, Slade. What was I thinking? Now Modern young soldiers charge screaming at the doors as if in bayonet practice, racing to war.
I now walk reverently into the beautiful arena of blood red trenches, adorned with Brangwyn’s panels. The wonderful Polyphony choir patiently bide their time on the stage for us to find our seats. The impressive Celtic Warrior has an authentic aura. He also waits. We settle, silence, the light show begins dramatically and the music centrepiece of the performance begins. I find myself transfixed by the choir and the bellowing sound of the organ. A lengthy dance of death as the dead warrior is swallowed by the bloody earth. The introduction of young men performing a very slow macabre dance as they, likewise, are swallowed into the graves of the bloody trench mud. I just wish I could see a bit more.
I’m woken from my libretto trance by a public announcement: 30 minutes to look round the hall and then the finale will take place.
The different rooms of the Brangwyn are adorned in tableaux and scenes from the three stories. More questions bounce around. Why is the soldier crawling? Why are the women slowly walking the length of the room with a fluorescent light travelling over the soldier’s head? Does the light represent bullets? Is the soldier a tunneller? Why are there women? Did they send the soldiers to battle? And on it goes. A peace room, a wedding room, a wake room, a locker room, t.v. installations etc etc.
We are called out, the finale begins. Nearly 500 people queue for the harvest fare and the unveiling of a flag. I think it was Eddie’s peace banner but the weather had been too kind. There was no rain. There was no wind to unfurl the flag. After post performance reading I now wish perhaps it had rained.
I’m still asking questions. I’m still discovering, as a Welshman, who I am and where I’ve come from.
Marc Rees’ Nawr Yr Arwr/Now The Hero is epic but it doesn’t answer all my questions.