Ahead of the launch of Theatr Pena’s tour of Sion Eirian’s play The Royal Bed, Andy Howells chats to director Erica Eirian about the production.
Theatr Pena’s third co-production with The Riverfront in association with the Torch Theatre Milford Haven is a classic Welsh story. The Royal Bed by Sion Eirian, an English language adaptation of Siwan by Saunders Lewis, will premiere at Newport Riverfront on Wednesday February 11 and continue until February 14.
The play was originally commissioned by BBC Radio 4 in 1993. Theatr Pena’s 2015 touring production is The Royal Bed’s stage premier and a rare opportunity for theatre audiences in Wales to experience the Welsh classic in English.
“It’s our first national tour,” says director Erica Eirian, “We’re going to 18 venues in all, including The Riverfront. The Riverfront is our co-producer and provide our rehearsal space and lots of support, so we open here for our usual Wednesday to Saturday six performance run including two matinee's and then we go on tour for six weeks.” The Royal Bed will visit other venues across Wales in the coming weeks including Abergavenny, Abertillery and Blackwood.
Theatr Pena was set up in 2008 driven by an uncompromising determination to stage revivals of some the world’s best classic plays and develops a commitment to creating opportunities for women in theatre. The Royal Bed follows other major productions by the company including The House of Bernada Alba, The Trojan Women, The Maids and The Killing of Sister George.
“Ironically this is the first production that has men,” says Erica, “We are not exclusively women. We simply try to choose our material which gives opportunities. The central character in this is Siwan and it’s her story we follow.”
Set around Easter 1230 when an uneasy truce exists between a divided Wales and England and at the court of the charismatic Prince of North Wales a catastrophe is about to unfold and dreams of a united Wales will crumble. At the centre of the drama is Siwan, the illegitimate daughter of King John and passionate, outspoken and politically astute wife of Llywelyn the Great. Set in Medieval Wales, the play tells the story of her adulterous affair with the young Marcher Lord, Gwilyn Brewys, and the terrible revenge exacted by her enraged husband when he discovers the lovers in the royal bed, the consequences of which reverberate down the centuries to contemporary Wales.
“Essentially what the play is about is the struggle and the tension between personal desire and public political duty,” says Erica who believes the aspects are central to much of Saunders Lewis’ work, “In this we have a young woman who has spent 20 years constricted by duty and responsibility as a wife and as a political and royal consort, who in the moment wants to taste passion and desire and so she gives into that with repercussions, but equally Llywelyn gives into rage”
The Royal Bed will feature BAFTA Cymru award winner Eiry Thomas as Siwan, Hannah O’Leary as Alis, with Francois Pandolfo as Gwilym Brewis and Russell Gomer as Llywelyn. The production also features live music from mezzo soprano Buddug Verona James and Celtic harpist Delyth Jenkins.
The Royal Bed will run at Newport Riverfront from Wednesday February 11 at 7.45pm with further presentations on Thursday February 12 at 2.30pm & 7.45pm, Friday February 13 at 7.45pm and Saturday February 14 at 2.30pm & 7.45pm Tickets -£12.50, concessions - £10.50, students - £6.50 Call 01633 656679 for ticket details.