Review

MY BODY WELSH

Writers : Steffan Donnelly and Tara Robinson
Cast : Steffan Donnelly and Jordan Mallory-Skinner

MY BODY WELSH Play Review


Deepa Punjani



 MY BODY WELSH Review


Identities are complex and tenuous. They define us as well as re-cast us. They can be lost and found. They can be transitory or may even elude us. They are co-dependent on several factors ranging from the primal idea of tribe to the modern concept of nation with many, many things in between to negotiate. Identity also makes a compelling subject for the arts and literature to explore.

A recent micro festival on Wales and Welsh culture in Mumbai presented such an opportunity. One of the events that stood out at the NGMA (National Gallery of Modern Art) was the play MY BODY WELSH by the award-winning Invertigo Theatre Company, an associate company of Pontio Arts and Innovation Centre in North Wales.

For various reasons Scotland prominently figures in conversations about the UK, but that is not exactly the case with Wales and Northern Ireland. All three exist in their own right with a great degree of autonomy, even as they are claimed as an intrinsic part of Great Britain. Identities are steeped in culture but culture is also a matter of appropriation and hegemony. History tells us that and Geography has proved to be a convenient handmaiden of power and politics, effectively sealing the question on land and ownership. The flags invariably follow.

Against this background, MY BODY WELSH, is a superb mix of notions of identity, culture, and ownership, in an entrancing articulation by actor Steffan Donnelly, who is Artistic Director of Invertigo, and has co-written the play with Tara Robinson. The "tall and skinny" body here is a remarkable site of performance in itself and by itself, fortified by its telling design of scattered vessels of water: pots, bottles, urns, vases...all carriers whose symbolism is integral to the narrative as well as to the creative soundscape of the production.


Steffan Donnelly makes an absorbing storyteller, moving seamlessly from one character to the other, and is finely supported by live sound designer Jordan Mallory-Skinner. This is also a highly interactive piece of theatre with its audience, and Steffan Donnelly is very comfortable and assured in this interaction. It may seem a simple story and a simple production on the surface of it, but the undercurrents, both in its content and style, are ingenious as myth and mystery combine to present a portrait of Wales that is humorous, ironic, and reflective.

The bi-linguistic nature of the piece in English and Welsh is appreciable in this particular context, sensitising and sensitive, playing on the eternal themes of local and foreign, insider and outsider, individual and citizen. The seemingly simple story, mystery-like, about the warring families of Jones and David, and the skeleton at the bottom of the well, playfully described as a "myth-stery of skeletal proportions", is like a parable of the individual and the nation; of the public and the private; and ultimately, of the Welsh and the British.

*The play has been published by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama. It was invited to be staged at the International Theatre Festival of Kerala in 2018 and has been staged at various places.

*Deepa Punjani has been writing on theatre and performance for close to two decades. She represents the Indian National Section of Theatre Critics, which is part of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) that has over 50 participating countries.

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