July 14, 2005

It’s not very often that a whole audience gets its feet washed in the middle of a dramatic event. But then Llwyfan Gogledd Cymru’s latest piece is not ordinary theatre, taking place as it does high on a wooded hillside in the Gwydr Forest above the Conwy Valley. And the audience at any one point should consist of a single person.

At a fixed time you are driven by mini bus higher and higher along steep, narrow tracks to a clearing where a barefoot girl in a red cloak awaits. She explains that each person will be making a solo journey on foot through the Caerdroia of the title, the labyrinth. She also urges everyone to be open to all their senses as they move along the track. I’m sure that everyone will have a different experience so this is a very subjective response to what I discovered.

Entering what looked like a black tent I found myself enveloped in a pitch black tunnel. I felt my way along until I met the shock of human flesh but the shock faded as I was gently moved onwards. Slight panic set in as I felt the weight of the cloth roof pressing me down until, on hands and knees, I emerged into a softly lighted space. There a soothingly singing woman urged me into a comfortable hammock, covered me with a rug and gently rocked me.

As well as it being gloriously relaxing, it also gave me time to realise that I had just been born and was therefore about to set out on a journey whose end was inevitable. Don’t worry, I’m not going into that detail about everything but I hope it gives the idea that this event demands full participation.

As I followed the paths, meeting en route a tutor, a story-teller, the aforementioned feet washing, a baker, the personified memory of the farm that had originally stood on the spot and finally death itself, I tried to make sure that I was being as receptive as I could.

However there are installations at various points, Tibetan prayer flags, a web for placing things in, a giant table and chair, a circle of sheep fleeces, which are enchanting or quirky or beautiful but which I felt afterwards I should have made more use of rather than just looking at them.

It is certainly a magical journey and luckily it was a beautiful evening; I suspect it would feel very different in cold and rain.

The inevitable question arises, in what sense is this theatre? None of the characters gives a performance, with the possible exception of the storyteller whose quietly told tale subtly prepares the listener for the inevitable encounter with death. I do think that it is theatre; as well as sculpture installation and performance art; in that I felt I was the main character. I was making the journey and became protagonist as well as audience.

Whatever it might be, it is an extraordinary experience and a formidable piece of organisation. There’s nothing else quite like it, that’s for sure


Gorffennaf 14, 2005