The Ten Weeks of ‘Clap for our Carers’ In Britain

Here is my experience, in Wales, of the ‘Clap for our Carers‘ event, also known as Clap for Carers, Clap for the NHS or Clap for Key Workers, which ran through early 2020 during the Coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic lock down.

WEEK 1

[26/03/2020] It is the first 8 o’clock clapping event to show our appreciation to the NHS staff. If the wind blows the wrong way and carries water droplets… boom – more infections… but it seems like everyone will be doing it for an excuse to step out of the house. Will the NHS staff (and others this is done for) hear the clapping from miles away? I doubt it. It’s about ‘community spirit’ more than that really it seems.

The media treat it like an afterthought when not patronising the workers they’ve corralled to appear as window dressing to their reports. Virtue signalling seems the real intent behind this all rather than any practical support or supporting the rules established regarding social distancing… although it is bizarrely surreal and comical to see reporters holding boom microphones like pole arms while interrogating people to report their experiences.

It’ll be one of those ‘everyone did it’ events historians recall about this period in years to come. So you better do it or else your neighbours will judge you (or, at the very least, there is some weird media driven social pressure to take part)! The BBC’s ‘The One Show’ is endorsing it now. Go to your door, balcony, etc and clap for them to show your appreciation they insist. Just like they did in Italy and Germany. If they can do it so can we! There’s a strangely competitive aspect to the whole thing beneath the façade of community spirit.

20:12 There was some BBC coverage of ‘the clappening’ as I coined it (no doubt others have also done so independently though I’ve not heard the term being used). Various NHS staff were shown but also those currently on military service for some reason appear. I don’t know about you but nothing quite says ‘well done NHS’ like a big fuck off tank being shown full screen… ‘Oh yeah, you’re doing the 8 o’clock clapping to show our appreciation to the NHS staff, etc? Yeah, we are doing that too but, while we’ve got your attention, look at our military power too while you’re at it’.

There was no initial suggestion this would be a weekly thing at this point unless you went to the website.

Week 2

[19:58, 02/04/2020] I forgot about the ‘clapping to thank carers’ was happening again this evening at 8PM.

The news and media, in general, were not mentioning it this week so either it was a given it was happening or maybe not. Who knows? Probably people hesitantly checked at the time and joined others if they saw them doing it outside their front door.

It occurred obviously. There were one or two less this time on their doorsteps. Some blinds fluttered as people across the road checked who was out doing it. It seems those either side of us were not doing it and thus those across the road decided they wouldn’t either. The house where the old woman used to live, decades ago, has young people in it now who came to their doorstep to clap.

WEEK 3

[09/04/2020] Besides Britain I know Italy was doing a similar thing (and playing music) on their balconies and Germany was doing something similar. There was no clapping in St Petersburg but there was in Yekaterinburg I was told regarding Russia. Ringing the church bells would be nice as an alternative plus in the lead up to the Eastern Orthodox Easter on the 19th. It would reassure those concerned about celebrating Easter in some way.

Here in the UK apparently the third ‘Clap for our Carers’ event was going to happen tonight. It was obviously a given to many depending on what media you consumed as they would notify you throughout the day ad nauseum. Remember you better do your bit or else people will judge you.

Regarding the clapping there seemed less enthusiasm this time. The first I heard of it on the day was the 6 o’clock news personally although the news later on in the evening showed clips of people around the nation, in the armed forces and NHS staff (stood on the forecourts of hospitals they’ve been working in for hours only to be rounded up to perform for the cameras) doing it. It is all a bit ‘propaganda’ in tone when you take a step back and consider it. Could the overstretched hospitals really afford to have twenty or more staff go outside for ten minutes for a media event? You would think in these times they would need all hands on deck constantly.

I participated in the clapping. I saw a guy, across the road, literally stick his hands out the door, while in his t shirt and shorts with disheveled hair, clap for about 10 seconds then going back inside. I could hear, but not see, people further up the street clapping.

WEEK 4

[16/04/2020] The clapping: this week more people were out and someone, a street or two away, shot off fireworks. Pots and pans began to be banged together this week by the people up the road.

Yet again more people, on average, seemed to have stopped doing it around here (this week had a mild resurgence in participants which didn’t last) but those who did continued participating seemed to be trying to over compensate for others’ apathy.

WEEK 5

[23/04/2020] BBC’s The Big Night In (a collaboration between the Children In Need and Comic Relief fund raisers) had a filmed skit based on Black Adder featuring Stephen Fry and Prince William:

Melchett (Stephen Fry) and the Prince (Prince William, Duke of Cambridge)

Stephen Fry reprised his role of Melchett ,who he had played multiple generations of in the Blackadder series, to chat with Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge. This skit actually led into the weekly clapping ‘ritual’ (as The Guardian newspaper refers to it) on the night as a countdown so I didn’t see anything, on the night, in the above video after the two minute mark when he began counting down to 8 o’clock. That was an amusing thing to happen for the special evening of entertainment charity drive. There were some nice sketches during the event which are available to see on YouTube.

We had a few clangings of pots and pans again but no one I could see. In fact, at one point, one guy walked out of one house with a bottle of beer and went in another house. He clapped on his way amusingly. Again it depends where and who you’re doing it with I guess as to how many people seem to be participating in the clapping.

WEEK 6

[30/04/2020] Clap. Clap. Clap. It’s week… five or six? I’ve lost count. It was week six. I’ll leave in my confusion over the next few weeks’ entries as it is what I noted on each occasion due to one week flowing into the next over the period.


The cat goes in the window to see what is going on. The houses across the street don’t come out. I saw one woman come out of her house to join the clapping after about a minute, into the two minute long clapping, this week. Each clapping session lasted at most two minutes I think with everyone waiting for someone else to stop first. The same pots and pans were being banged together.

This week they televised other places clapping. Not just hospitals but also residential streets. Would the people have been out in such force without the cameras there? We can only speculate. All bright young things. Middle class families with 2.4 children with perfect hair and perfect teeth.


Also during this time a ninety nine year old World War II veteran, Captain Thomas Moore, was doing laps of his garden to get donations for charity thus becoming somewhat of a celebrity for a short time.

He was in the news constantly serving as a distraction from the events and as a symbol of the ‘resilient British spirit’ I suppose. ‘Stiff upper lip‘ and all that.

Kakebyleanneharry made a cake in the shape of his head. Those always have that element of unintentionally saying ‘look – I’m stabbing and eating this person like a murderous cannibal’ in the photographs when they are served I imagine. ‘Here’s a cake celebrating you… here’s us cutting into the cake and eating ”you” too… you should feel honoured we are devouring a representation of your flesh’. I wonder how many ‘Christ-like’ jokes have been made regarding these confections? It’s all a bit surreal…

On the last few laps of his garden he had an honour guard and there was a fly over by an air squadron past his house. He was made a colonel eventually. The country felt a little bit better about itself and he received enough birthday cards to fill a town hall on his hundredth birthday.

WEEK 7

[07/05/2020] The sixth week of ‘clapping for carers’… No, apparently it was the seventh… I don’t know what the media coverage was of it as I was watching National Theatre Live’s broadcast of Shakespeare’s Anthony & Cleopatra. (It was good if a little bloated feeling. They had a live snake on stage in one of the final scenes when Cleopatra and her assistants die!)


This time, during the clapping in my street, a girl in pyjamas and a nightgown was clapping at her garden gate and was joined by her, I assume, sister after a minute. The people up the road were not clanging their pots and pans as much but had their Union Jack bunting out already for V.E. Day tomorrow. Oh and a woman, so fat she was spherical, like in a cartoon, was chasing her black dog, walking slowly after it calling the dog’s name, down the road as it ran about sniffing everything having escaped the house.

[08/05/2020] V.E. Day: Street parties with people in their gardens etc. Apparently there was meant to be some ‘coming out the house and singing’ event to celebrate it but it didn’t seem to happen here unlike the clapping.

However on the BBC you could watch entire streets doing it and dancing besides their small garden tables they had outside their front door. However these communities seemed to mostly be in picturesque English villages projecting a certain image to the rest of the world rather than anything else. I’m not saying they were organised especially for the media but it all seemed a bit too convenient. Everyone in a street dressed in vintage clothing with one guy able to play the accordion, everyone knowing the lyrics to songs of the era and having all the other things you might expect at a historical recreation event. Except it’s owned by all the residents in a single street during a societal lock down where you would be unable to buy such supplies. Maybe they ordered them online and had them delivered? Amazon rules western society right now…

WEEK 8

[14/05/2020] The seventh week of ‘Clap for Carers’. No apparently it was the eighth… I really lost track of the weeks.


People living nearer me did the banging of pots and pans this time. However the ones up the street didn’t seem to be doing it this week surprisingly – or maybe they were being drowned out. Across the road someone in a white bath robe came out to clap at the end of her pathway. Directly across the road, slightly obscured by a white van, was a young woman in a pink t shirt whose hair seemed to have been completed plaited out of boredom. She clapped looking down into her garden while facing her house. Maybe she had a dog or little children I couldn’t see. There were even less people this week taking part.

WEEK 9

[21/05/2020] Clapping for Carers: week… eight? No, it was actually week nine.


This time one guy across the road leaned out his door to clap for a minute. I heard one, maybe two, people up the road banging pots and pans halfheartedly. That was it.

Suddenly, the last week or so, people have got a bad attitude here it seems. Maybe everyone is fed up. The novelty of it all has worn off. The media is slowly showing signs of being fed up of keeping a façade of positivity and endorsement.

On the TV you see NHS workers, spaced out as part of ‘social distancing’ obviously, continuing to clap minutes after the two minute average as the journalists revel in it. It’s more for show than anything. It still seems questionable to have carers take part in the clapping when the clapping is intended for them. But it’s all for the aesthetic. It’s like that song says ‘the sun always shines on TV’…

WEEK 10

[27/05/2020] Apparently Annemarie Plas, the creator of ‘Clap for our Carers’, would like it to end with the tenth week. I think most people gave up after the first week or so anyway…

The final ‘Clap for our Carers’. Maybe for now… maybe forever. The media was really sour about it this morning with them all acting like it was beneath them and just a government trick to keep people compliant due to Dominic Cummings actions and the Westminster governments efforts to explain or justify them which feels like they’ve all been blown out of proportions for the sake of something to discuss. At one point they even tried to drag accusations against the Welsh Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, into it as a parallel though it didn’t stick.

The media is bored now of giving an unequivocal supportive tone to proceedings. Now, just as they have in the past, they turn sharply to intense criticism and judgemental, languorous, condemnation because so few developments have occurred to satisfy the ever hungering beast of twenty four hour news coverage. The government statements and their coverage all sound like: they’re repeating yesterday’s announcements to which only yesterday’s questions can be asked and yesterday’s vague answers can be offered. Something is happening but it’s negligible because only 24 hours have passed so it’s hardly worth acknowledging.

‘But why isn’t more being done?’ demands the journalist like a spoilt child via a ZOOM conference call scratching themselves out of frustration. ‘Something is being done’ answers the indolent government adviser, stood at the podium, who has nothing new to say while slowly hoping they can leave the room soon. No one is satisfied with how it’s gone so far but everyone has answers on how it should be done.

‘Are we there yet?’ the journalists ask from the back seat. ‘Almost, just a little while longer’ the government mutters, through gritted teeth, slowly putting their foot down on the accelerator to get out of this situation sooner to shut them up.

Journalism has turned into an industry where they watch paint dry and complain it isn’t more exciting. Unlike ‘the good old days’ when you might asphyxiate on the fumes of the lead paint or choke on the coal dust lining your lungs from the fireplace or even die of liver disease from one too many wet lunches. Back when journalism was ‘real’… or at least that’s what the old timers, who’ve retired and love recounting their exploits, tell them while pretending things were all sanitary back then and no one ever got their hands dirty for the sake of ‘a good story’.

No doubt, in a few years time, we will see multiple autobiographical books being published by journalists who go on to give talks and book signings at literature festivals. Books detailing their struggles, their vigilance, their nobility of spirit, all very inspirational… oh and that ever so funny thing that happened to the person they don’t respect but have to call a friend in case they ever have a use for them. You know the one. Yes, them. The one with the funny thing and their terrible, completely bonkers, manner. Hilarious honestly. Where do they get it from? Amazeballs. You had to be there. But you weren’t. Because you’re not important enough. Even if you were there you definitely were not ‘present in the moment’ like they were. Even if there’s a recording of the moment contradicting what they wrote it’s a complete lie unlike how they recall it. Their story is much better anyway. Now buy the bloody book and piss off because we all know no one actually reads these things – they just go on a shelf so you can look informed and on the ‘right side’ when it comes to discussing things.

[28/05/2020] The Clappening a.k.a. Clap for Carers: Chapter 10: The Finale (?)
Some people, three at most, were clapping further up the road. I saw Venetian blinds across the road flutter. The cat was in the window watching us. The clapping continued for two minutes then ended.

I took the rubbish (garden waste, glass, black bags and food waste) out afterwards from the back to the front garden. Out the back I could hear some pots and pans in the distance clanging together. Also this song was playing in the distance:

What have you done today? Whatever it is it’s time to feel existential dread.

It was as if it was intended to mock people. But was it aimed at those who clapped or those didn’t? I’ve not heard any songs playing loudly in the area in years. Someone used to play Seal’s ‘A Kiss From A Rose’ every Sunday morning. I always suspected they were covering the sounds of their love making because it was odd to always have that one song at the same time every week… but maybe they were exercising or something. Who knows?


On the final day the media were basically doing the adult equivalent of acting like the self declared cool kids in school. We have all known them. The fashionable followers of trends. The ones who brought something to people’s attention and, initially, were front and centre making sure everyone saw them ‘doing their bit’ endorsing it beforehand but then one day, out of the blue, repudiated it entirely declaring ‘yeah, I was never into it because I saw through it all along’ though, only a week before, they were calling out others for not participating in the endorsement.

I tend to get the impression journalists were the nasty, but respected, people in their classrooms. Ever ready to change their opinion if it suits their needs to one up others or when they perceive a shift in the attitudes of the majority which might cause them to lose influence.

In a while they’ll chortle derisively on various programmes ‘what was that all about ?’ like people looking at photos of the fashion they wore in previous decades which is completely alien to modern trends… until that style comes back into fashion. Just like there’s always a plague, or some such, in the ’20s of the past few centuries. Time is a flat circle.

MEANWHILE…

There were many events and attitudes expressed during the period but you can find those documented elsewhere. Here are one or two representing the sort I came across.

Imagine if it turns out she was right…

Conspiracy theorists: So ardent about it too! But apparently that’s how the media began to speak about it once they wanted to demonise Dominic Cummings and the current UK (Conservative) government despite their efforts.

The Welsh government took a more strict view to enforcing lock down compared to England – which people coming into Wales seemed to have a hard time understanding. Many assumed that the rules announced by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, applied to all of Britain not just England even though he stated explicitly they were for England only. That’s an unfortunate attitude people have: they assume Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales follow England’s lead even though many areas of legislation and such have been devolved to their respective governments for quite a while now.

For a shorthand explanation of the underlying attitude to why people clapped every week, though they would never admit it, look at this humorous video:

How it felt to be clapping…

Keeping up with the Joneses. That’s why people really clap as they think their neighbours will judge them. This video was played on one of the breakfast shows; either BBC Breakfast, Good Morning Britain or The Jeremy Vine Show; on the final morning as if they themselves were not the people doing exactly this sort of judgemental thing every other week lecturing people on ‘virtue in the times of COVID-19’.

Of course there were other amusing things which occurred during this time such as the Great Orme Kashmiri goats who invaded the deserted streets of Llandudno.

They apparently come down more often than the town likes to admit

The next ‘Clap for our Carers’ is on 25th March 2021. I wonder how many people will take part then… if indeed it even happens.

What were your experiences over this period? Did other countries do a similar ritual weekly? Maybe your country did something different?

Leave a comment and let me know.

Blog Update 2020

Usually I post these updates on 1st January but there was a delay this year.

Last year I posted once a week instead of every day as I had in 2018. The result? The same number of readers but less viewing of multiple pages per visitor. Translation: regular readers were not ‘catching up on previous posts’ when checking in once or twice a week while there were the usual ‘looking for one thing then leaving’ types too but in lower numbers. Another thing I did was that, in contrast to 2018, I limited posts to once a week to see what the downturn would be. Fortunately it seems those who follow the blog have stuck with it which is nice to learn.

This year, if the regular readers don’t mind, I will be posting reviews of various films and such alongside the poems. The poems will remain being posted on Sunday 8:30AM BST barring any issues so that’s isn’t’ changing. I just never felt there was a good time to post the reviews without posting multiple times a day during 2018 and then I became overly busy in 2019 so I couldn’t do the long form reviews I’ve done previously.

The reviews I’ve done in the past tend to include long synopses but they never felt satisfying. The reviews I will be posting will be much briefer and likely only a few paragraphs in length compared to past efforts. I won’t include header images as I am always a bit concerned about the upload limit we have for file storage like that (hence why many previous images have likely been on the smaller side).

Along side those I hope to write some vignettes too. Short stories and the such. I got into watching a series called Yamishibai which comprises of 5 minute long Japanese ghost stories. It’s quite enjoyable and available for free in high quality on the Crunchyroll website. So I might type things like that too to experiment with some styles of short writing exercises.

Any comments or suggestions are welcome.

On Bear Ridge

“One minute we had customers, the next minute there was no-one.”

In a lost village, blurred by redrawn borders, hidden under a crumb on the map, Bear Ridge Stores still stands. After a hundred years, the family butchers and grocers – a place for odds and ends, contraband goods, and the last petrol pump for 30 miles – is now silent. But owners John Daniel and Noni are going nowhere. They are defiantly drinking the remaining whiskey and remembering good times, when everyone was on the same side and the old language shone. Outside in the dark, a figure is making their way towards them…

One of Wales’ most celebrated writers, Ed Thomas (co-creator of Hinterland) makes a momentous return to the stage with this semi-autobiographical story about the places we leave behind, the indelible marks they make on us, and the unreliable memories we hold onto.

Ed Thomas speaks about writing the play

Writer Ed Thomas

Co-directors Vicky Featherstone & Ed Thomas

Designer Cai Dyfan

Composer John Hardy

Sound Designer Mike Beer

Cast

Noni: Rakie Ayola

The Captain: Jason Hughes

John Daniel: Rhys Ifans

Ifan William: Sion Daniel Young

World Premiere in Sherman Theatre‘s Main House

National Theatre Wales and Royal Court Theatre

Performed in English (though there are a few Welsh words present e.g. bara brith).

Contains strong language, scenes of an adult nature, loud noises & gun shots

Running time: Approx. 95 minutes (no interval)

I saw it on 25 September 2019 at 7.30pm.

The cast and staff speak of the play.

Synopsis

I usually give quite detailed, near exhaustive, accounts of a narrative but I feel due to how new this play is it would be a disservice to do so. I will just give a general outline for those who want it. A lot of the impact is in the dialogue and performance of this play, so much so it could easily be adapted for radio, so it may seem relatively uneventful. It’s an allegorical narrative regarding the playwright’s memories of his community and concerns about the challenges the Welsh language and culture face both from the past and going forward when there are so many foreign influences, most notably that of England. I probably have forgotten certain elements or omit them intentionally in the following paragraphs so there are some things for you to experience for yourself.

A man, John Daniel, awakens in the remnants of his burnt out butcher’s shop after an aerial carpet bombing raid. He laments he is all alone now in the dark as snow falls about him. He begins to recount the birth of his son with his wife Noni and how proud he was. (I’ve forgotten the son’s name ironically but he does have one).

We then see him and his wife waving their butcher’s cleavers as planes fly overhead. They condemn that they don’t know if they’re on their side or against them during an ongoing war. A war that apparently ended decades ago yet still seems to affect them currently. They then spend a while discussing how their community at Bear Ridge has dwindled as they relive the memories of their past both in terms of recalling their customers, food and events. Their young slaughterman Ifan William comes from out of the trapdoor and goes into the fridge and returns to the underground slaughterhouse after some brief chatter. The couple continue their discussion once he has left reciting their mantra of foodstuffs happily to each other relishing the memories.

John Daniel and Noni dancing to the radio

As the couple are dancing to a repeating song on the radio a captain, who was involved in the ongoing war, walks into their shop and holds them at gunpoint not sure if they are friend or foe. Once reassured he chats with them and says the song reminded him of his mother and youth. He recounts a number of things, including how his commanding officer gave him the order to clear the mountain before then shooting herself to his shock. Eventually he gains the couple’s confidence. They discuss memories and ‘the old language’ which only John Daniel now knows how to speak but laments he is forgetting. He only remembers it because he remembers speaking it to others but they’re all in the past so all he has are his memories with which to keep the language alive. His son spoke it fluently, Noni learned some but he is ultimately alone now in knowing it which throws him into despair.

Suddenly the captain is on edge when Ifan William comes from out of the trap door again. He demands to know why they didn’t tell him of this third person. ‘You never asked’ John Daniel replies drily. Ifan William recounts his childhood growing up and going to university with the now dead son of the couple. The son went to university and was very progressive, philosophical and wanted to keep the ‘old language’ alive. However the son and Ifan William (who the son taught Welsh) were beaten by others one day in the street accusing them of being Germans and other nationalities though they were not as these aggressors didn’t recognise the old language of their own country and assumed the worst (the identity of the characters in the play as native Welsh people is never explicitly stated but some words and phrases dotted throughout the dialogue suggest this along with the distinctly Welsh naming styles of the characters). The son died in the war and had so much potential the characters who knew him lament. Ifan William admits he truly loved their son and their son loved him (to the degree it’s implied to have been romantic in nature but this too is never made explicit). John Daniel silently embraces Ifan William for their mutual loss.

The captain holds his service revolver to his head as Ifan William watches

The captain, after offering Ifan William a swig from his canteen, again recounts his memories. How he was ordered to clear the mountain by a commanding officer who then killed herself immediately afterwards in front of him having fulfilled her duty. The couple refuse to leave, despite being the only people left, as this is where they belong as does Ifan William. The captain tells them he is on the same side as them. Noni, agitated by such a broad declaration, asks if he really is or not and compares it to a river where there are two sides – the side they are on and the other side. People who want to swim over can try but the current is strong and deep many drown in the effort (as if referring to the Severn river which acts as both the physical and metaphysical division between the Welsh and English identities). She asks the captain again if he really is on their side or not. He insists he is. Now they’re all assured Noni offers to make tea and the captain excuses himself asking to go to the bathroom. John Daniel says it’s around the corner, behind the rocks, outside the building (actually it may have been in the building but the actor exits the stage via the rear). The captain leaves silently.

Ifan William enters carrying a tray piled high with a china tea service. The couple and Ifan William sit down to drink. A single gun shot rings out (presumably the captain coming to the same conclusion his commander did and committing suicide). Nothing is said. No one reacts. They sit in silence drinking their tea and then, once everyone is content, a plane flies overhead and it suddenly cuts to black and it seems a bomb was finally dropped on Bear Ridge to clear it.

The End.

Arguably this loops back to the start of the play though you could also read the beginning as John Daniel lamenting his isolation as the only person who knows the old language… which he truly is if the play loops back to that opening scene as his wife (who was a learner), his son (who was fluent) and Ifan William (who was, I think, semi-fluent) are all now gone leaving him truly alone both in his memories, knowledge and physically.

Costumes

I won’t go into great detail. They’re all dressed in the manner one would expect of people left with little to sustain themselves during an ongoing conflict with few if any supplies available over a long time.

John Daniel is dressed in a worn jumper and the white, but now grubby and worn, coat of a butcher with an orange gilet over it. Around his ankles are scraps of cloth over his worn boots. A shaggy beard and overall dishevelled state indicate he has little time to pretend like he is at all at peace with life to attend to such things. Not just due to the situation they find themselves in but it seems like he’s always been a bit like this and the gilet is, as explained during a piece of dialogue, a birthday resent from his wife and the only clean thing on him. Life weighs heavy on his shoulders.

Noni wears an apron and cardigan with a tattered skirt and hobnail boots. Even in these bad times it’s evident she tries her best to maintain normality by taking care of herself appearance wise unlike her husband.

Ifan William is young and his clothes are relatively clean with little sign of wear. They are also of a much more modern, casual sportswear, design compared to those of John Daniel and Noni who, in comparison, could be from a hundred years ago or yesterday in their style of dress (except for the gilet which seems to act like a life vest keeping John Daniel afloat in modern times). The only dirt on the young man’s clothing is the dried, caked, blood from the job he does on his butcher’s apron. His beard and hair are relatively well trimmed in comparison to his wild, mountain man, looking employer John Daniel.

The captain has outerwear of a military design. I would say it reflects the clothing of a First World War office in the trenches but I believe it is meant to evoke a timeless militaristic style really. He wears heavy boots, a serviceman’s belt of pouches and a holster with his service revolver. A large, thick, scarf is wrapped around his neck obscuring any signs of a uniform and he wears a full length woollen, olive drab coloured, trench coat so little else is visible on his person beneath it.

Staging

A rough sketch of the stage layout. I forgot to include the debris at the sides of the stage.

Throughout the play the floor is covered in a light layer of fake snow as though the interior and exterior of the butcher’s shop is gutted.

There are three walls to represent the interior of the shop. On the left wall is a cupboard where Noni keeps the trinkets she has collected and which spill out at the start of the play. On the right is a fridge door which when opened lets the actor walk through as if entering a room sized fridge. Again this too is featured at the start of the play but neither plays any purpose besides establishing the characters of Noni and Ifan William.

The rear wall is in fact technically two pieces which sit either side of a green door frame and door. These are the shop front, gutted by a previous bomb explosion it can be assumed, and a broken window. The door itself is intact with a ‘sorry we are closed’ sign on it and a set of lace curtain netting across it. These are all removed about half way through the run time once everyone is, presumably, stood outside.

A pile of broken school desks and furniture sits left of centre representing all the furniture they’ve had to break up for firewood during the ongoing harsh weather conditions on the mountain without any outside aid arriving. Hidden within this pile are two milk crates used for seats at certain points of the play. Ifan William later uses a tin box as a stool too which I think he brings up from the trapdoor.

Beyond the ‘shop’ are black, dead, trees and high piles of rock to represent the mountain range. A path leads behind the rocks which is where the captain goes, off stage, at the end of the play.

The backdrop is a curved white sheet lit in a manner to give the illusion of a heavy misty skyline beyond which nothing can be seen. It becomes brightly lit when planes fly over to silhouette the characters against it.

Overall I feel it’s very effective though I question if you could actually reduce the staging to be even more minimalist to be honest as so much of the play is in fact grounded in it’s dialogue rather than actions. Throughout the only ‘actions’ that occur are the couple wave their tools at the planes flying overhead once or twice cursing at them, an overfilled cupboard spilling, the couple dance, the captain firing his gun in frustration, Ifan William going in and out of the trapdoor, in and out of the fridge and later kicking up some dust, John Daniel when lamenting the loss of the old language scrabbling about creating a dust storm in frustration and the tea service being brought on at the end of the play. In fact you could even embellish it if you wanted to be honest without detracting from the core dynamics of the play.

An interview, featuring clips, about the play in Welsh. Turn on the auto-translation of the Closed Captions if you want to follow the comments made.

Review

The allegorical play begins with an incredibly strong echo of Dylan Thomas’ lyrical dialogue style most notably heard in Under Milk Wood when John Daniel and Noni begin reciting a list of customers and the foodstuffs they sold and enjoyed in the past as if relishing and being nourished by the language and memories they share.

Throughout John Daniels has a phrase he often uses ‘no, you’re alright’ when he wants to assure others or dismiss something troubling. You could reflect he says this because he himself is not alright though I’ve often heard fellow Welshmen, admittedly of an older generation, use the phrase in the same tone Rhys Ifans uses where it is more akin to ‘I don’t approve but I accept the situation at hand’. There is a lot of the dour Welsh humour present in the play and I wonder if non-Welsh people will ‘get it’. Only when it’s performed in England will we know. I’m sure they will but sometimes it does seem people unfamiliar with that Welsh style of humour feel it can be harsh hence the stereotype some hang onto of us being isolationist when in reality we are very warm towards visitors.

Noni is a difficult character to categorise. She collects trinkets, she laments her sons death and she loves her husband who it seems is notably older than her. The only real information we get about her past, her memories, tends to be through John Daniels recounting the birth of his son and his first encounter with Noni where they both knew they were meant to be together. She fits the Welsh archetype of a valleys girl, that is to say bubbly, chatty, but not afraid of confronting people she doesn’t agree with, however it feels she has the least substance presented to the audience. She seems secondary to the male characters and even her dead son whose ghost echoes throughout the memories of the others. While it can be said that there’s an element of this enforcing traditional stereotypes of women place being in the shadow of the men in their lives it’s not as simple as that in Wales. We have been a soft matriarchy throughout history so a woman being quiet and ‘knowing her place’ is quite alien to us and only crept into our culture through the influences of the English. So there’s an underlying question regarding her character where arguably she is the most conformist of the ‘native’ characters but we don’t have a chance to explore that aspect of her characterisation during the plays run time and it has to be portrayed via the actress’ mannerisms more so than the dialogue.

Ifan William has two scenes, one at the start is somewhat light hearted and merely acts as a set up for the sudden shift in tone towards the end. The actor has some great material to work with as he confesses his feeling to John Daniel and Noni about their son. It could feel a bit laboured by a less skilled actor so to see the shift of the character from somewhat lackadaisical to heart-rendingly broken by his memories really delivers a contrast to John Daniel and Noni. The older characters recount happy times in the past and bemoan their current circumstances while here the younger man finds trauma in the past but, having survived an assault by bigots, seems to thrive in the current circumstances having found his place in the world. So through him we have elements of discussion regarding the ‘truth’ of cultural heritage and the effects of rose tinted memories on passing it to the next generation. While John Daniel speaks of a united community under one language Ifan William presents the harsh reality of conflicting cultures and of prejudice which isn’t acknowledged by the older generation.

The captain, in contrast to the other characters, is notably different sounding not just in accent but diction and phrasing. He is an outsider but I feel the role is being played far too safely so as not to feel jarring when contrasted with the other characters tonally. If anything I would actually like the play to be a bit more bold in this to truly challenge the audience in the later part when he is asked if he is ‘on our side’ or not so they question if he is sincere or playing along for survival. The actor performs the role well but I feel maybe there needs to be some work on the role. Whether it’s to make him more of an outsider conflicting with the other characters or truly get across his desire to be on their side by gradually emulating them.

As it is I assume the intention is for the audience to decide for themselves his motives and values by the end of the play’s events. Does he shoot himself just to repeat history as his commanding officer did; did he do it because, despite his words, he truly couldn’t be on their side despite his intentions as he lacked the language and other cultural aspects to do so; was it because he didn’t seek to become like them. Could it even be the case we should interpret his behaviour as PTSD where he keeps reliving the moment he saw his commanding officer shoot herself, after giving him his orders, thus leaving him to wander in a liminal state somewhere between constantly reliving that memory as a soldier and incapable of reacclimatising to civil society (as is the case for many servicemen who suffer trauma during their service).

I think my overall question about him is, PTSD possibility aside, whether he was a soldier carrying out his duty, but faltered when the opposition was given a face, or a refugee like figure trying to escape the war and ‘join’ the others in their world view of not being defined by the conflict. He feels vaguely defined and I’m not completely certain that was intentional to the degree it appears. Although, in fairness, we never learn his name and it is certain he was meant to be culturally ‘othered’ to the shared culture and history of the other three characters as an outsider.

The staging is good but perhaps needs some refining as I noted when discussing it earlier. At times when a sense of claustrophobia is required it feels there is a bit too much space inside the shop’s interior and yet when they’re meant to be stood outside it feels far too claustrophobic ironically. I’m not sure if that’s because the Sherman’s stage wasn’t quite right for their planned layout but maybe on smaller stages the rubble on the sides (which I omitted from the stage plan though it remains throughout the performance) could be removed to give them more space in the later parts of the play. I only say this as there is a moment later in the play when John Daniels is meant to walk away from the others to ‘speak the old language to the moon’ but unfortunately he is barely 3 metres away on the stage. In fact Rhys gave a cheeky look to the audience at this point as if acknowledging it. Perhaps for that moment he can go onto the ‘mountain path’ the captain later uses leading backstage instead as that would be more effective? It’s an minor issue to be honest.

The performances are excellent but certainly I feel there might be a need to work on the pacing of dialogue or where to emphasis certain lines as sometimes there were moments of speaking over each other with little narrative purpose for it. Also while the characters are distinct I feel there needs to be more confidence in the delivery by the captain as he doesn’t seem as affected nor distinct from the others as he needs to be. As much as none of us wants to see overacting I do feel for John Daniel and Noni to fit the Welsh archetypes they are referencing they may need to be slightly more embellished with John Daniel having a slightly more intense manner with some pregnant pauses possibly.

I understand why the performance choices were made however part of me feels, when the play moves onto the Royal Court Theatre, it’s been done early to ‘tone down’ the Welshness to be more accessible and that feels counter-intuitive considering what the message of this play seems to be. I’ve seen that done in translation of various works to localise things but it never feels like a good idea in the long run. In effect it seems to have caused a Welsh playwright, writing about Welsh cultural matters obliquely, to ‘other’ his message in his own work as if self censoring which speaks volumes about how entrenched the cultural persecution of the Welsh culture and language is in our mindset as a nation.

Part of me feels the refusal to actually name Wales or Welsh in any form is possibly part of the narrative in the sense it is self censorship as the ‘Welsh Not’ was in the classroom for a time in the early twentieth century. However it also in effect makes the play more universal while still retaining the irrefutable inclusion of Welsh things such as the characters’ naming (except the captain who is only known by his military rank title and never his personal name), a reference to bara brith and other elements which seem all too obvious in context to a Welsh audience but might not to a different culture if there was a foreign production of the play. (e.g. how Welsh seems part of the ‘Elder Speech language’ in the Polish fantasy literature series The Witcher and it’s adaptions going as far as the card card in it being called Gwent).

Wales has a number of Welsh playwrights who, when doing work for television, are lauded and award winning yet to set a play in Wales seems to ghettoise it unlike if you set it in England. Perhaps that’s just me recalling my issues with Niall Griffith’s novel ‘Sheepshagger’ which felt like it could have been set in England’s west country or elsewhere rurally without losing anything as it’s so devoid of inherent ‘Welshness’ unlike this play.

I fear, in later productions, this play might have the Welsh elements edited out of it to localise it and thus lose its inherent message. As I said with my review of Gary Owen’s adaption of The Cherry Orchard, which localised Chekov’s play to 1980s Wales, there is a risk of losing part of a message or altering it in adaption which I dearly hope doesn’t occur here as discussion of the trials Wales has faced in maintaining its culture seem to be muted whenever presented to a wider audience. Certainly in my experience few people from other countries know much about us without it being tinged by English imperialism to the point they assume we are part of England and not a separate entity.

There is great potential here but as I’ve seen it so early in it’s run I feel everyone is still finding their stride in their performances and no doubt, should you go see it, they’ll have worked out those nuances so what is already a thoroughly enjoyable, evocative, play about identity will become a modern classic. Already it is getting high praise and, despite the critical tone of this review at times, I thoroughly recommend seeing it!

Easter by R.S. Thomas

Easter. I go to church
to proclaim with my fellows
I believe in the Ressurection -
of what? Here everything
is electric and automatic.
In April a myriad bulbs
are switched on as flowers
incandesce; a new generation
of creatures rehearses
its genetic code. All this is easy.
Earth is a self-regulating
machine; everything happens
because it must. My faith
is in the inevitability
of creation. There will come a day -
dust under a dry sun,
ashes under its incineration...
is there somewhere in all
the emptiness of the universe
a fertile star where the old
metaphors wil apply, where
the bugling daffodil will sound
abroad not the last post, but
a gush of music out of an empty tomb?

by R.S. Thomas
from Unpublished Poems

GoFundMe: Luxated Hip Surgery for an Estrela Mountain Dog

I have a friend whose Estrela Mountain dog has unfortunately suffered a luxated hip and needs to raise funds for the surgery. Please have a look at the campaign page and if you can donate anything it would be appreciated. Thank you.

Here is some information about the injury and what the donations are going towards.

Hi, this is Kyuubi (pronounced Queue-bee). She is a 14 month old Estrela mountain dog, originally from Portugal, that lives in Wales with her owner.

About a month ago (5/03/19) while out on her daily walk, she was playing in a river by her house when out of nowhere she yelped in excrutiating pain. She jumped out of the river but refused to put her right paw down. We carried her to the vets as an emergency and they told us she had a luxated hip – her right femur popped out of its socket. We were shocked this was so random, she didn’t fall and we didn’t see her slip.

She is insured but as the incident happened within the first 2 weeks of the policy starting, as written in the agreement, the insurance will not pay out. We managed to scrape the funds together to cover the cost of popping her hip back in (closed reduction), and understood there was a 50/50 chance of the procedure being successful. During the recovery process, we ensured that Kyuubi was on bed rest in her crate and as an extra precaution, we went for a weekly visit to the vets to check on her well-being and to make sure she was recovering well. Everything seemed fine until last weekend (23/03/19) during our weekly visit to the practice, the new vet we saw thought there was something wrong and asked for more X-rays.

The new x-rays showed that Kyuubi’s hip is still luxated and her femur is out of the socket and grinding against her hip, which is very bad for her and will require surgery to fix. The vets we use told us they offer a type of surgery called femoral head osteotomy where they cut the head of the femur, but if she had it she would never run again. Alternatively we could go to a specialist .

She has been referred to see an orthopaedic specialist next week (01/04/19), where we will be briefed on the best surgical procedure for her case.

We asked for an estimate of how much it would cost and were met with the following: “The cost of investigations and treatment can vary widely from £800-1000 for closed (non-surgical reduction) through surgical stabilisation (circa £3500) right through to total hip replacement if the damage is severe (£5800-6000)”. We already know that the damage will require surgery which is ridiculously expensive.

We are trying desperately hard to round up the money to both pay for the consultation and surgery to follow by selling anything of value around the home, selling the car and working overtime. On such a small time frame we are struggling to make the cost of the consultation, let alone the surgery.  

Kyuubi has her whole life ahead of her and loves to run about and play. She means everything to us and any donation big or small would be so overwhelmingly appreciated, from the bottom of our hearts. The proceeds will go towards the cost of surgery. Anything over that will go towards her recovery which will likely require physical therapy.  

Please help by share the crowdfunding page as much as you can. Let’s  #GetKyuubiRunningAgain    https://www.instagram.com/kyuubi_the_estrela/

Updates will be posted  regularly on her wellbeing and progress and to everyone who reads this pledge, thank you for your time. 

Quote from the GoFundMe page

Here, again is a link to the donations page should you want to make a contribution towards the cause. Please, even if you cannot donate, share the link to the page to raise awareness as every little bit helps.

My sincere thanks.