Theatr Pena’s latest production, Woman of Flowers, visited Newport’s Riverfront Theatre as part of its current Welsh tour on Thursday evening.
Re-imagining the Mabinogi myth of Blodeuwedd, writer Siôn Eirian has combined Saunders Lewis’ 1948 Welsh language verse drama of the same name with original material to create a dark fantasy of epic proportions for the stage.
Following Theatr Pena’s most recent productions, The Royal Bed (another Lewis play vividly reworked by Siôn Eirian) and Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, the company’s mission statement, “to create unique and meaningful performance experiences for audiences and opportunities in theatre for women”, has never been stronger.
A multi-layered play, Woman of Flowers tells the story of Blodeuwedd, a human female being, created from flower petals by the embittered goddess Arianrhod and the malevolent wizard Gwydion.
Blodeuwedd has been created for the sole purpose to be a wife to the cursed young warrior prince, Llew. However, the pairs unity is in trouble, for even a warrior prince is no match for a wild-hearted free spirit such as Blodeuwedd who seeks attention from the huntsman, Lord Gronw.
As Blodeuwedd and Gronw’s lustful yearnings spark to a flame, treachery is born, and elsewhere another battle rages between the forces of Arianrhod and Gwydion.
Utilising on-stage projections to set a scene or create an atmosphere, Woman of Flowers brushes aside the use of furniture to allow its performers to make full use of the stage area with minimal props via dramatic performance and beautiful choreography.
While Kay Haynes’ lighting and Peter Knight’s music add to the story-line’s atmospherics, Holly McCarthy’s costume designs imaginatively fuse classic and contemporary styles creating an irresistibly wondrous palette of sound and vision to compliment the productions strong cast.
Sara Gregory breezes on to the stage in the opening moments as the beautiful free-spirit, Blodeuwedd and continues to build upon her role throughout the production. Blodeuwedd has become a wife before she has learned to be a girl, so is therefore made up of a turmoil of mixed emotions and wild desires. Gregory brings the role to life combining wild emotion with performance and dance. She continues to surprise the audience as the story unfolds displaying all manners of unpredictable behaviour while making the part very much her own. Certainly, it would be difficult to imagine the role played so perfect by any other actress.
Building on the stories back plot is Betsan Llwyd as Arianrhod and Eiry Thomas as Gwydion. At first, it appears that the pairs suggested appearance and relationship is simply a battle of good against evil. However, their story digs deeper and reveals fragility and flaws embedded in both characters, which ultimately has ramifications on the unfolding events around them. Both Llwyd and Thomas give strong and empowering performances, Thomas particularly appearing to relish the chance to play a role in complete contrast to her previous Theatr Pena performances and ultimately playing the role of a villain so well.
Lending strong support is Olwen Rees, who gives an endearing portrayal of Blodeuwedd’s maid, Rhagnell, a character that is frequently subject to cruelty but remaining steadfast and loyal.
Rhys Meredith plays the huntsman Lord Gronw, who succumbs to Blodeuwedd’s charms and ultimately becomes embroiled in a treacherous plot against Llew played by Oliver Morgan-Thomas. Both characters display a conflict of a male emotions towards Blodeuwedd, As Meredith’s Gronw displays lust, desire and eventual disinterest, Morgan-Thomas’s Llew is loving, needing, vengeful and ultimately forgiving. Both actors work a magic and chemistry in their scenes with Sara Gregory and come into their own almost simultaneously as their characters transform when an act of betrayal takes place.
As enthralling as an episode of Game of Thrones, Woman of Flowers brings Saunders Lewis magnificently into modern day story-telling by been immersive edge of the seat theatre at its best. A credit to director, Erica Eirian and the creative team of Theatr Pena, Woman of Flowers is a unique and meaningful performance experience for audiences indeed!
Production photos by Simon Gough Photography and Costume images by Holly McCarthy