Radio’s a wonderful medium for storytelling. No restrictions on scenarios or settings, just let a good story, meticulous presentation and let the mind’s eye of the listener do the work. Over the last few years, Curious Under The Stars, a magical comedy drama about Glan Don, a mysterious village perched on the wild Welsh coast, has captivated my mind with numerous repeat listening.
As a listener, Glan Don is a Wales I imagined as a child, a Wales I’d forgotten about, a wild, magical place steeped in tradition, romance, nature and lore. Over several series, kickstarted by creator, Meic Povey before his untimely death in 2017, but continuing with the creative imaginations of Allan Harris and Annamaria Murphy, listeners have encountered mermaids, ghosts, dragons, witches and a gamut of colourful characters and situations in the series storylines.
Curious Under the Stars follows the destinies of the Druids Rest pub landlords, Gareth and Diane. Gareth, a Glan Don native returns home from London after quitting his job as a teacher and buys the Druids Rest with Diane in a hope that setting out on a new life together will save their marriage.
Joining Gareth and Diane along the way are their earthy barman, Emlyn, a living, breathing encyclopia (and narrator of the series) whose knowledge of Glan Don stretches back centuries, cook and darts player extraordinaire, Matty Evans and barmaid, Megan whose simple and straightforward, outlook on life frequently bypasses the strange goings on in the village.
The latest series, Annamaria Murphy’s The Fruits of Gwyddno finds life at The Druids Rest in turmoil as Emlyn explains to the listener in his calm Welsh tones:
“The beer is off, the cats run away with the Devil, while Gareth and Diane have separated…”
It’s hardly surprising, given that Gareth and Diane, as well as running a pub and raising their small daughter Anwen are struggling to find time to connect. The separation means that Gareth has taken a job as a supply teacher in the local school and is living in the flat above the Spar shop while Diane is now considering life away from Glan Don.
Meanwhile, a low tide reveals a sunken forest on the shores and one of the trees bears a forbidden fruit that enables the person who eats it to have a clearer perspective on life..
As with previous episodes of Curious Under The Stars, each installment features vivid narrative courtesy of Emlyn, portrayed wonderfully by Ifan Huw Dafydd. Dafydd’s vivid descriptions come to life so much, that even a big budget film interpretation would struggle to compete.
Meticulous sound scaping combined with the alternative jazz soundtrack of the Portico Quartet bring further scenes to life as both Gareth (Sion Pritchard) and Diane (Emma Sidi) deal with the surreal aspects of life in Glan Don. Gareth’s flat above the Spar, built from the timber of an 18th century shipwreck, magically sets sail on a stormy sea as Gareth is overcome by tiredness, the scenario echoing his stormy relationship with Diane.
Meanwhile Diane is far from happy with life in the magical village. Emma Sidi portrayal of Diane keeps the characters feet firmly in reality as Sion Pritchard’s Gareth attempts to reconcile with her after eating fruit from a magical tree that may give him the right words to say. Diane responds with clipped tones down the telephone:
“I don’t want a magic fruit as a husband,”
But Diane forgets that the magic of Glan Don is now her reality, as she explains to Siw Hughes’ Matty Evans that she wants to move to Cardiff.
“There’s not much as going on in Cardiff,” explains Matty, a character steeped in the magical realities of Glan Don.
“There’s theatres, cafes, life on the streets,” explains Diane.
“Like I said, there’s not as much going on,” retorts Matty.
One can agree with Matty, If Meic Povey had set Curious Under The Stars in Cardiff, I doubt the series would have acquired any of its magical qualities or retained such entertaining characters such as Matthew Gravelle’s troubled ex-soldier Gwynne, who returns from an earlier series, still characteristically referring to Gareth as “Knob” and uncovering a dangerous secret in the woods.
There is also Aimee Ffion Edwards as the Druid’s Rest’s wonderful barmaid, Megan, whose character transforms when she takes a bite of fruit from the tree and begins making several life-changing decisions, that may or may not involve her long-term boyfriend.
Sion Pritchard returns to the role of Gareth in this story (the role established over several episodes by Elis James). I have to say that one of the magical feats about Curious Under The Stars, is when a new actor is brought in to play a familiar role they sound very close to the original version, so much so, my minds eye view of the characters remains untainted.
Like all previous series of Curious Under The Stars, by the story climax, one can never be sure if we will hear from the residents of Glan Don again. I sincerely hope we do, as there always seems to be a wealth of magical stories designed to transport me away for a few hours, grounded of course with very real characters set against surreal scenarios in a magical landscape.
Check out episodes of Curious Under The Stars on BBC Sounds.
Photo: BBC Sounds