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Branwen: Dadeni | Wales Millennium Centre

Mythological tales ought to make for thrilling musicals - they're epic melodramas with high stakes and themes of strong virtue - and yet in Branwen: Dadeni, one of Wales' most impressive and dynamic of legends has been reduced to a tedious slog of repetitive noise and little movement.

The prospect of an entirely Welsh musical about a tradition Welsh tale is truly an exciting one - one may expect a dramatic musical of dazzling proportions and heartfelt emotion. Yet, Fran Wen's production of Branwen: Dadeni sadly has resulted in a bloated mess of genre, tone and plot. While the attempt is at times admirable, and the show does hold some promise, this is unfortunately a show that appears to have no concept of what it wants to be, flipping from violence to humour, rock opera to rap and a constant desire to confuse its audience.

The main flaw this show faces, comes in the form of its score; Branwen: Dadeni joins the pantheon of generic and forgettable contemporary musicals, and its repetitive sounding score by Seirol Davies frequently begged the question whether each song was another reprise, or just the same sounding four-chord belty ballad. The occasional song stood out - the opening number for act two was a particularly thrilling almost metal sounding piece, yet it seemed so at odds with the rest of the dreary score that it failed to contribute much of meaning to the entire soundtrack. Also different were the sporadic rapping hip hop numbers, which appeared desperate to answer the question, 'what if Hamilton was Welsh'. Equally disappointing was the thin orchestra, which while the use of harp was a pleasant touch, a 5 person band felt far too insubstantial for a production of this scale, and the lack of varied textured throughout the score only worsened the repetitive nature of its music.

Credit does, however, have to be given to the cast who are on the whole incredible strong, and lend a much needed gravitas to otherwise weak and insubstantial material. Caitlin Drake as Efnisien delivered a particularly impressive vocal performance, creating at times a shocking sense of tragedy that stood out against the monotonal dreariness of the rest of the piece. Tomos Eames also left an impression as Bendigeidfran, projecting a royally beautiful tone across the theatre. Perhaps the most baffling directorial choice of the production was the complete neglect of the ensemble: for virtually the entirety of the first act the ensemble simply stood in a line singing backing vocals, and after a very limited use within the second act returned to their stoic solitary nature. While the ensemble could have been used to create intrigue and more visual interest, their lack of inclusion left the stage feeling very bare, adding even more to the plodding nature of the show.

With this being an entirely Welsh production, and myself a person who doesn't know the slightest bit of Welsh, it's important to note that this wasn't an easy watch for me. While there were subtitles, they were entirely inadequate with only two small screens located very high above the stage and to the very far right. This made it both very hard to read the subtitles, and even more impossible to simultaneously read them and watch the action on stage. What this resulted in was a very cloudy and confusing plot, and a viewing experience that was far more of a chore than enjoyable. If the show promises itself to be accessible for both Welsh and English speakers - as the advertising stresses - then perhaps the production ought to reconsider its captioning, and integrate it more cohesively and more accessibly into the show.

This is a show with a lot of potential: there's an intriguing and novel concept, some brilliant moment of staging and a story that has all the hallmarks of engaging musical theatre. Yet, the score undermines many of the strong ideas with its indecisive and unremarkable tonality. Despite 'dadeni' translating to rebirth, it unfortunately feels like there is very little life within this new musical.

Branwen: Dadeni runs at Wales Millennium Centre until 11th November, before moving onto Aberystwyth Arts Centre and Pontio, Bangor. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


AD | Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | Photography provided by Wales Millennium Centre 


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