Fel Anifail review – an unnerving world of shadows and secrets

Sherman theatre, Cardiff
A couple stranded in an unsettling rural landscape are haunted by the past in Meic Povey’s richly poetic drama

Defi (Wyn Bowen Harries) and Mair (Morfudd Hughes) are haunted by a tragedy that occurred more than 30 years ago. Now in the winter of their days, both are marooned in a claustrophobic, purgatorial landscape. Jac Ifan Moore’s precise and lyrical staging is the first revival of a play by Meic Povey since his death in December 2017. (His posthumously staged final play, Dwyn i Gof, is currently touring Wales.)

Povey was recognised as one of Wales’s foremost stage and screen writers and Fel Anifail reverberates with his preoccupations including the long-buried family secret and an ambivalence towards those who dared abandon their rural origins. The dialogue is richly poetic in its quotidian rhythms and imagery.

While Defi is the showiest role, Hughes’s Mair mesmerises. It is a deftly measured, quietly fierce performance; I could have watched her scrape the meat off chicken bones for hours. Her final low guttural drone with hands outstretched – part-hymn, part-incantation – suggests that she keeps the Earth rotating by sheer force of will.

This adroit and subtle feminist turn is the production’s most striking feature. Almost 25 years since its premiere, the play’s oppressive 1960s rural society that shadows Defi and Mair’s anguish is perhaps no longer the shared cultural memory of a contemporary Cardiff audience. There is a risk that it might appear dated. But this uncanny, creepily unnerving staging – with an evocative design by Rebecca Wood – makes as strong a case as any for the work’s continued significance.

• At the Sherman theatre, Cardiff, until 20 October.


Gareth Llŷr Evans

The GuardianTramp

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