Kate Griffin visits Cardiff’s St David’s Hall to review the Welsh-language musical Y Mab Darogan.
Owain Glyndŵr has made his mark on history. But despite the streets, pubs, ships and rugby team named after him, not all of us know much beyond the fact that he led a rebellion against English rule in Wales. Welsh-language musical Y Mab Darogan brings the full story to the stage, breathing life into events from the late Middle Ages. It covers all the highs and lows, from his success in battle to the establishment of an internationally recognised Welsh state…and his eventual downfall.
The production was first created for the National Eisteddfod in 1981, marking the first ever performance by Cwmni Theatr Maldwyn. To celebrate their 40th anniversary, the company revived the play for a tour in autumn 2022 and promptly sold out every date. Now a second mini-tour is under way.
Glyndŵr is often portrayed in popular culture as a rebel and a fighter, but Geraint Roberts brings out the statesman in him. His Glyndŵr is level-headed, cautious, only too aware of the impact his decisions can have. Catrin Jones as wife Marged has fantastic emotional range, particularly with the number “Heno sylweddolais”/”Tonight I’ve realised”. Mention must also go to Richard Rees as the Bard, a character based on real-life mediaeval poet Iolo Goch. His narrator figure drives the plot forward.
Perhaps the most affecting sequence is the Castle Harlech section, in which Glyndŵr’s son Gruffydd (Pwyll ap Llŷr) cheerfully leaves for battle while Elin (Catrin Aur Evans) begs him not to go. After Gruffydd’s death we see the double grief of his mother and his lover. Glyndŵr wants to grieve too, but he isn’t allowed to do so – there is work to do.
The current production of Y Mab Darogan has a chorus of over 80 singers, and these numbers allow for glorious on-stage energy and fantastic harmonies. There are plenty of catchy songs here, but the standout number is “Ie Glyndŵr!”/“Yes Glyndŵr!” a song of defiance and hope for the future. The show in Cardiff ended with a standing ovation and two encores.
The real Glyndŵr was never captured after his disappearance, despite a hefty bounty on his head. There is a story that he remains in hiding to this day, and that if Wales is under attack again he will come back and lead the fight. The legend may not be literally true, but Y Mab Darogan represents a triumphant return for a true hero.
- Y Mab Darogan is at Hafren Newtown on Friday 5th May.
- There is also a special matinee for schools at the Hafren on Friday 5 May.