Martin Morley

A Life in Theatre & Television Design

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Where possible I have given photo credits. For those I have over looked I hope I have not given offence. Most of the rehearsal photos are my own taken with a simple point and shoot camera.

Theatr Cymru 1973-84

‘Pethe Brau’ was my first design for Theatr Cymru. I did it as a Summer project while still at the Liverpool Playhouse. By the next year I was resident designer with the company and stayed until 1984 when it collapsed. In its hey day it was the premier Welsh Language Theatre company touring throughout Wales. Although never really mastering the language the Welsh culture has become central to me, and has given a rich variety of theatrical experiences. David Lyn was the first director that I collaborated with but over the years there were many more. Wilbert Lloyd Roberts who guided the company through many turbulent but exciting times; Nesta Harris, Gruff Jones and Grey Evans did many productions between them and Malcolm Taylor who directed the highly successful revival of “Under Milk Wood”, to name but few. One of the great pleasures of working with Theatr Cymru was designing the plays of Gwenlyn Parry. I had the opportunity of designing the premiers of ‘Y Ffin’, ‘Y Twr’ and ‘Sal’, each very different, each very challenging.

‘Torri Gair’ was the first production that Theatr Cymru mounted with Emily Davies as artistic director. It was a very interesting and stimulating period, but one dogged with controversy and eventually, at the beginning of 1984 the company closed. An attempt was made to model the company on European lines with a dedicated ensemble of actors and a clear move away from a populist approach, however, the project never came to fruition. Ceri Sherlock was the associate director and directed a number of very fine productions, notably ‘Tair Chwaer’ by Checkov and a most unusual production of Gwenlyn Parry’s ‘Ty ar y Tywod’

‘Noa’, the Christmas production of 1982 , replaced the traditional pantomime. This was not a popular move, though as is so often the case, most rewarding to work on. The company during this period never produced a popular success. Eventually economics caught up with it and it went under one afternoon in early January 1984.

Extract from ‘ Musings of a Jobbing Designer.

David Lyn did two notable productions in the mainstream apart from ‘Pethe Brau’: ‘Y Twr’ by Gwenlyn Parry and ‘Esther’ by Saunders Lewis. To each he brought a fresh and theatrical vision. Working on ‘Esther’ is one of the enduring highlights of my career. I had started designing the play in traditional fashion. It is a Biblical story and a literal reading of the stage directions would result in a sub Cecil B de Mille style production, which in our hearts neither of us wanted. I had sent David some drawings which he used as note-paper to set out his idea of the play as a play within a play set in a nazi prison camp. The way he set out his controversial vision, which at first I felt was just a gimmick, will always live with me as real example of a directors vision shedding light on a text. It took me out of my comfort zone. Another key collaborator was Gareth Jones, the company’s quite extraordinary lighting designer. Over a number of shows he was developing beautiful and subtle ways of lighting touring theatre, usually involving exposed lighting rigs and a large number of small open white lanterns, and ‘Esther’ was the culmination of his style.

Working on these productions with regular casts and very talented technical crew built a genuine company spirit which lasted over a considerable length of time, but inevitably in the end cracks appeared and a certain lethargy set in which led to a quick decline. The birth of S4C, (the Welsh 4th Channel) also had a profound effect as now there was an abundance of well paid work that theatre companies found it very hard to match. For the last two years of the company’s existence, 1982 –83, it was led by Emily Davies, assisted by Ceri Sherlock and promised much and in fact produced some of it’s best work. Ceri Sherlock’s re-thinking of Gwenlyn Parry’s ‘Ty ar y Tywod

and his ravishing production of Checkov’s ‘Tair Chwaer’ ( ‘Three Sister’) spring to mind, but the attempt to try to model the company on ensemble lines was dogged by controversy of the worst sort and for some one working on the inside at that time felt like being under siege. One day in early January 1984, the Art’s Council pulled the plug and the ship sank.

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Not one of Cwmni Theatr Cymru’s better productions, but I have a soft spot for these costume drawings for’Ar Hyd y Nos’.

The records of Theatr Cymru also known as Cwmni Theatr Cymru are held at the Gwynedd Archives, Caernarfon. These include, programmes, posters, scripts and much more.

A few of Theatr Cymru’s productions including ‘Pethe Brau’ and ‘Esther’, mentioned in the text.

A selection of Theatr Cymru programme covers.

‘Drws Priodas’ character studies

Multi portrait of Wilbert Lloyd Roberts, founder and artistic director of Theatr Cymru. Acrylic painting auctioned to raise funds for his Pontio Statue. £175 raised.