'It's Really Thrilling Seeing Things Embodied Better Than I Imagined' She May Be Renowned for Her Poetry but Now Gwyneth Lewis Has Written Her First Stage Drama. as Sherman Cymru Prepare to Premiere Clytemnestra, She Tells Karen Price How She Was Inspired by a Greek Myth
Byline: Karen Price
* NSIDE a large and airy rehearsal room at Sherman Cymru in Cardiff, three actors are being put through their paces. Matthew Bulgo, Adam Redmore and Eiry Thomas are rehearsing a scene from the company's new production, Clytemnestra.
As you watch them leaping up and down ladders joined to the three metal structures which dominate the room, you get a flavour of the energy and physicality of the piece.
Inspired by a Greek myth, it's the first theatre drama to be penned by Gwyneth Lewis, the former National Poet of Wales - and the writer behind the inscription on the front of the iconic Wales Millennium Centre - who has amassed awards and critical acclaim for her work.
She admits that the main challenge has been imagining her characters coming to life on the stage.
"I got repetitive strain injury," she says of writing so many words. "I think my poetry's fairly theatrical so it's not been a huge stretch, but what is different is thinking about bodies in a space. But it's been a very exciting learning process - I've always loved the theatre.
"I've tried to push it so I've asked the director to do some very difficult things - I've given her stage instructions like 'Cassandra walks on water'. I don't see why I should have all the difficulty," she smiles.
Clytemnestra's story is taken from Greek legend and shows human behaviour pushed to the extreme by war and hunger. Lewis' play is set in the future when oil has run out and wars are being waged for food.
Agamemnon, head of his tribe, has been away securing new trade routes and gives his daughter, Iphigenia, in marriage to an eastern tribe. They rape and kill her and he sends her ashes back home to his wife Clytemnestra, played by Jaye Griffiths. But how far will she go for justice? Featuring a cast of nine, movement is as important as the words. And while the sets are stark, the costumes are lavish.
Lewis, who started work on the project more than three years ago, studied Greek tragedy when she was at university.
"Finally it's come in handy," she laughs. "I've done 10 versions and it's changed a lot. The great surprise was that I thought I'd have nightmares doing this as it's dark - it's about human beings in extreme situations. But it had the opposite effect as it's very energising. It's been really great stuff to think about."
While Lewis is aware that many people may think a Greek tragedy may be challenging for audiences, she's keen to point out that it's accessible. …