South Wales playwright Owen Thomas’ online comedy/drama series Isolationship reaches its climax this week. The series which stars Gwenllian Higginson and Gareth John Bale has chronicled the blossoming new relationship of Alys and Daf which has been interrupted by the arrival of the COVID19 pandemic. As the pair retreat to their individual homes, Daf with his Dad, Alys with her Mother, the pair have attempted to continue communication via an array of methods including phone and letter.
The series, a collection of monologues performed in isolation by the actors and produced by Bale and Thomas has been released weekly via YouTube has gained a strong following as both Daf and Alys “Isolationship” has progressed in these unprecedented times of COVID19.
Following Entertainment South Wales interview with writer Owen Thomas, Andy Howells puts questions to actors Gwenllian Higginson and Gareth John Bale about their roles in the production.
Can you give us a little bit of background of your characters in Isolationship?
Daf lives with his Dad during lockdown. They look after each other – especially after his Mum died a few years ago. He’s really fallen for Alys. He clearly misses her but tries to remain positive. He tries different things to impress her and make her happy. From baking a flan to writing a letter to attempting a TikTok dance. He also really loves his dog, Gareth Edwards!
Alys goes into lockdown having just started seeing Daf from work. She’s moved in with her mother who is quite vulnerable at the moment because she’s hurt her leg and her days are spent trying to entertain herself – knitting, polishing her mother’s cats, running, baking…the list goes on!
How did you approach the part of the character given the circumstances of starting a relationship and dealing with changes in their everyday life?
I think a lot of people were thrown into less than ideal living situations at the start of the lockdown… people forced apart from loved ones all over the country. I think it was a collective feeling. Everyone experienced the ups and downs of everyday life during this time- whatever that looked like, so I guess I started from my own perspective and tried to bring my own emotional experiences in. Owen’s writing was often beautiful and poetic which allowed a lot of joy in and I think that uplifting element was very important.
Owen is a very talented writer and a lot of the work is already on the page. It must be very frustrating to be in the position of Daf and Alys. I try to imagine what that would be like. There’s the excitement that they’ve just got together, the disappointment that they’re forced apart. It’s great that they have someone to talk to, but a feeling of helplessness that they can’t see each other or hold each other. I think a lot of people can relate to this at the moment. Not just missing a partner but family and friends too.
Are there any parallels in your life now with your character?
I really enjoy baking and I hope that I’m better than Daf at it! We have very similar dancing abilities (which you can see in Part 7)! Daf has a dog called Gareth Edwards (after his favourite rugby player) and I have a dog called Wally. He’s an English Springer Spaniel that I absolutely love to bits! Daf is also a bit of a hopeless romantic – with emphasis in the hopeless – and longs for the time he can go to the beach and drink cider round a fire at sunset. That sounds pretty perfect at the moment, doesn’t it?
I don’t think there are many parallels between myself and Alys, except for the fact that I did bake a cake every week for about 8 weeks and pretty much ate them all myself! It wasn’t good.
How are you finding playing a part in lockdown?
The practicalities of playing a part in lockdown were sometimes challenging- finding the right environment, light, balancing the camera, making sure no one walked in or shouted out…all those technical things! However, it’s been a real joy and I’ve been very lucky to have been able to work with Bale and Thomas again. Staying creative definitely gave me some focus during the lockdown period and Owen’s writing really allowed us to have some fun with it.
It’s great to remain creative. I’m very lucky to have positive people around me. It’s great to work with Owen and Gwenllian. The three of us have also been lucky enough to do some work on radio plays for RCT Theatres and Rhondda Radio. There are days when you want to be creative and others when you want to think about or do something totally different. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. You have to do what’s right for you. Obviously this is a tough time for the Arts. Who knows what the scene will look like in a year’s time? For now, the way I’m dealing with it is trying to remain positive and creative.
Prior to Isolationship you were touring with Owen Thomas’s play West. How was the experience?
Wonderful! We were very lucky to get the tour in just before lockdown. We performed in Wales, London and New York and the play was well received everywhere. It’s a beautiful story and one that I hope we can do again soon. We were meant to perform at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in LA during June so hopefully that’ll happen next year instead. I really enjoy working with Owen and performing his words.
I’ve also had a brilliant time working with Gwenllian. She’s very creative and a great team member. I think we work well together. Bethan Thomas was also brilliant on the tour. I guess she was the stage manager but she was so much more than that. A very talented person with a fantastic work ethic. We were very well supported by Angela Gould, RCT Theatres, New York Welsh, Night Out and the Arts Council of Wales. We were also given a warm welcome by all the venues on the tour. It’s this kind of teamwork and people looking out for each other that we’ll need over the coming months and years.
Yes, we were lucky to tour Wales, London and also travel to New York just before lockdown. It seems so long ago now! I was in very good company – Bethan and Gareth were brilliant to work with. West was written by Owen Thomas originally for the Welsh community in America but it really is a universal story about love, immigration, and what it means to be home. It’s all written in verse too. It really is a very special piece.
What are your tips for being creative during lockdown time?
I’d say the best thing is not to feel too pressured into being creative. Some days were just a no-go and I think that’s ok. But I did find that the best thing for me was to set some time aside after some fresh air and coffee in the morning!
Find a good writer! I think it’s entirely up to you. Being creative can mean many things. Do what you enjoy. It’s a unique situation and there’s no right or wrong way to deal with it. I think it’s important not to feel guilty about not being creative.
Moving forward what are you looking forward to most when normality returns?
Seeing friends and family. I enjoy watching live sport and going to the pub, so they’ll be high on my list too, but goodness knows when we’ll be able to do those things again. I’m looking forward to getting into a rehearsal room again. Working with others and having a laugh!
Also, who knows what sort of normality we’ll return to? I’ve seen many negative comments about 2020 so far but maybe we need to turn it into a positive. What if this is the year we realise that we need to change in order to make the world a better place?
Well I can’t wait to see friends and family and hugging them close! I can’t wait for theatre, live music, the cinema, restaurants, pubs… I’m craving it all! But yes, I think it’ll be a new normal, so we’ll have to wait a while longer to see what that looks like. I’m not rushing anywhere, that’s for sure.