In a week when the climate emergency feels particularly acute, sea levels are rising in Tamar Williams’s play Huno, staged in Cardiff’s pub theatre The Other Room. An often dextrous adaptation of the story of Branwen from the Mabinogi, it is set in a near future of humanitarian corridors and warring nations. Despite the protestations of her brothers, the Welsh Branwen falls in love with the Irish Math. Returning to Ireland, and echoing the myth, their idyll turns sour and catastrophe soon follows.
Elegantly directed by Dan Jones on Ruth Stringer’s impressively waterlogged set, the use of the Mabinogi allows for Williams’s play to occupy an uncanny and unnerving territory somewhere between allegory, mythos and contemporary realism. It is at its most absorbing and dramatically compelling when the myth echoes and reverberates within its retelling, rather than when parallels are explicitly narrated. It is also beautifully acted. Lowri Izzard as Branwen and David Craig as Math have a playful chemistry and Izzard especially imbues the most throwaway line with effortless acuity and grace.
There are, however, moments of dystopian imagining that deserved to be explored further. Considering the real trauma of recent Irish history, the idea of new conflict between the UK and Ireland and of future terrorist atrocities in the Republic requires greater nuance, rather than to be merely implied and non-specific, left to the register of an universal myth. But some of the play’s most pressing questions, of finding equilibrium in a world that is simultaneously flooding and on fire, are persuasively interrogated.
The melding of Welsh and English is similarly deft, doing what many productions that make use of both languages fail to achieve, which is to lean into the possibility and potential that a non-Welsh-speaking audience might not understand every line. It speaks to a theatrical confidence and sophistication that frequently characterises The Other Room’s productions.
This is one of the last shows to be staged at its current location, which, like so many other Cardiff venues recently, will soon be razed in the name of progress and concrete. Huno demonstrates its continued significance within the new writing ecology of Welsh theatre.
At The Other Room, Cardiff, until 31 July.