Tom Kemp enjoys the musical of Branwen: Dadeni based on the Mabinogion from the Wales Millennium Centre.
Adapting the myth of Branwen, Daughter of Llŷr, the key protagonist of the second branch of the Mabinogion, is certainly an ambitious endeavour. But Branwen: Dadeni, an original co-production between Wales Millennium Centre and Frân-Wen directed by Gethin Evans, offers an action-packed feast for the eyes and ears, with Welshness and feminism at its core.
Mared Williams delivers a consistently stunning performance as Branwen, the titular heroine. Her performance is complimented by Rithvik Andugula, full of swagger yet authoritative as Matholwch, King of Ireland. Andulga’s solid vocal range, mixed with elements of rap, is a welcomed blast of energy to the whole evening.
Gillian Elisa, Welsh legend of stage and screen, gives a brilliant performance (as expected) as the witty, yet dark and cunning Ena, Matholwch’s serpent. Caitlin Drake’s gender-flipped portrayal of Efnisien, the sadistic anti-hero, continued to grow on me as the performance went on, and by the end of the second act, I was in awe of her ability to portray such a complex character with ease.
Whilst act one delivers a solid reimagining of the story co-written by Seiriol Davies, Hanna Jarman and Elgan Rhys, the second act is murkier and much harder to follow. Whether due to poor writing or direction choices, the section felt underdeveloped at times.
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Elin Steel’s modern concrete set and striking costumes bring a refreshing air of contemporary relevance to the traditional story arc, and Geraint Owens’ musical direction and supervision must be commended, with formidable vocals from the whole cast. Seiriol Davies’ music and lyrics are delivered exceptionally. At times, however, the sound design seemed to flounder, leading to moments where the band overpowers the vocals completely, which makes it challenging to follow the plot.
Branwen: Dadeni is evidence that there is space for Welsh language culture and history within the arts. Self-described as ‘an epic new Welsh language musical’, it certainly is that. This is by far the most epic piece of Welsh language theatre that I have ever seen, on par with the scale of a West End show.
Although Branwen: Dadeni is written, developed and performed all in Welsh, there are English captions to the side and above the stage that makes the production an accessible experience for non-fluent Welsh speakers. This inspiring production is brimming with Welsh language creativity, and I can only hope future productions can build on this impressive achievement.
Branwen: Dadeni will now continue on a sold-out tour of Wales, stopping at Aberystwyth Arts Centre during the 15 – 17 of November before reaching its close in Pontio, Bangor for the 22 – 25 of November.