Languages

Theatre company unite three venues to support the rejuvenation of the Welsh language in the South Wales Valleys

A new collaboration, Y Consortiwm Cymraeg has been set up by award-winning Theatr na nÓg and three venues to present high-quality accessible Welsh language theatre. They also aim to produce a programme of participation for communities to improve their language skills and also engage in arts and culture on their doorstep.

Theatr Soar in Merthyr Tydfil, The Welfare in Ystradgynlais and Maesteg Town Hall have joined forces with Theatr na nÓg to rekindle the vitality and value of their venues to their communities. The new Consortiwm is supported by the Arts Council of Wales’ Connect and Flourish Fund. As cultural centres have faced lockdown, the need for these creative hubs in their communities is even greater, not just to help safeguard the future of Welsh language in the valleys, but to support a thriving valley community beyond the Covid Pandemic.

Geinor Styles, Theatr na nÓg’s artistic director explained why this initiative is so important at this time " If we want to hit the Welsh Government’s target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050, it is vital that we support all the elements that contribute to the regeneration of our language and culture, and these venues are the key to that success.

“It felt like a natural partnership for Theatr na nÓg to collaborate with three community theatres, all three are and have been vital contributors in supporting culture and the Welsh language in their areas. Our shared vision is not only to co-produce theatre to develop audiences but also to devise a programme of local community engagement. Our collaboration also puts us in a strong position to be prepared to revive these areas once lockdown lifts, and we start breathing life back into these towns post-Covid."

Although there is still uncertainty of when the venues will reopen the Consortiwm are looking forward with optimism as they announce their first collaboration, which will be a translation and adaptation of the classic comedy Shirley Valentine written by Willy Russel. Translated originally by Manon Eames, this version sees Shirley transported from Liverpool to South Wales. A popular theatrical hit when it opened at the Aberystwyth Eisteddfod in 1994, it is certain to draw audiences back to the venues.

Olivier Award winning actor and director of Chichester Festival Theatre Daniel Evans, said of the collaboration: “Once again Theatr na nÓg proves that they have the resilience to withstand the tough blows that have been handed to the arts industry throughout the pandemic. I think this is down to not just thinking of their own success, but by looking at the role they play in the community, they’ve seen that they can help make a difference. Working in collaboration and partnership with Soar, The Welfare and Maesteg Town Hall they can genuinely help the community to re-build and flourish. They’ve also seen the importance that the Welsh language plays in their community and that by working in partnership they can bring new and old audiences to the venues that can once again be the backbone of the community.

“I’m encouraged too that the Arts Council of Wales is supporting such ventures and partnerships, the fact that they see the importance in safeguarding Welsh language arts in our communities bodes well for our future.”

Wynne Roberts, director of The Welfare Ystradgynlais / Y Neuadd Les Ystradgynlais said “At the heart of our commitment to Y Consortiwm Cymraeg is the desire to be opening up the theatre making process to Welsh speaking communities. We’re excited to see how such a well-respected theatre production company, Theatr na nÓg, develop ideas for new theatre with participation from local people. Very rarely do you hear Cwmtawe Welsh language voices on the professional stage; that’s something that we really are looking forward to.

“We have a long history of community engagement from the early operatic and drama societies of the 1930s right up to recent award winning films made with Syrian families and community organisations; after such a difficult period for many local people without access to our community and arts services we know there is a real craving and desperate need for participation in the arts and we are really looking forward to seeing how local people respond.”

The Awen Cultural Trust charity has been operating the Maesteg Town Hall since 2015, currently closed for an ambitious £8m redevelopment the Hannah Kester, Head of Cultural Development at Awen Cultural Trust said of the partnership: “Working with Theatr na nÓg, the Welfare and Theatr Soar is a truly collaborative approach to increasing the use of the Welsh language in our communities as well as an opportunity to bring forward the rich heritage of our area. We look forward to audiences and individuals being given the chance to participate and enjoy regionally produced work in their venue as we continue to work on forthcoming shows and participatory activity for all ages.”

Lis Mclean, director of Theatr Soar in Merthyr Tudful added “This is a really inspirational venture, Theatr Soar has been wanting to develop Welsh language theatre to raise aspirations and increase the use of Welsh in our community for some time now. This has been made possible by working in collaboration with others who share the same values and vision. The Consortiwm Cymraeg encapsulates what Theatr Soar stands for.”

Consortiwm’s adaptation of Shirley Valentine is scheduled to tour to the Consortiwm venues and the rest of Wales in September 2021, opening in Soar Merthyr. To sign up to updates go to www.theatr-nanog.co.uk

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