Rhys Ifans takes to stage in Wales for ‘special’ homecoming

Rhys Ifans in rehearsal Image copyright Mark Douet
Image caption Rhys Ifans in rehearsal – he said it was “special” to be back performing in Wales

Rhys Ifans is back on the stage in Wales for the first time in more than 20 years and says he is “loving being home”.

Ifans stars in On Bear Ridge, a co-production between National Theatre Wales and the Royal Court theatre.

It is being staged at the Sherman in Cardiff before transferring to London next month.

Notting Hill and Twin Town star Ifans said it was “special” to be back in Wales.

Image copyright Mark Douet
Image caption Rehearsals for On Bear Ridge

It is his first appearance on stage at the Sherman, a theatre he knows very well from the stalls.

“I’ve performed in the bar a few times, back in the day” he jokes. “I’ve seen many, many plays here. It’s great to be back on stage in Wales, the last time was at Theatr Clwyd more than 20 years ago – I can’t lie, I’m loving being home.”

Image copyright Mark Douet
Image caption Rhys Ifans, who plays John Daniel, and Rakie Ayola, who plays Noni

Ifans plays butcher John Daniel in a shop in an imagined village in Wales, deserted by war. He shares his remote existence with Noni, played by Cardiff-born actress Rakie Ayola.

Characters in On Bear Ridge include a slaughterman who lives with the family and a captain who has lost his battalion “and all sense of what it is to be a human being”.

“When I first read it, I described it as a ‘quantum play’ – it happens simultaneously in the past, present and future,” said Ifans.

Image caption Dress rehearsal on stage before Friday’s opening night

“It’s about how we engage with memory, utilise memory to sooth, stimulate or to sedate and what a frail entity memory is, how undependable it is often, how we use it to tell stories and continue trauma.

“But it’s also very vivid, vital, emotional and very funny, human and very relatable”.

Ayola said she fell in love with the play a few pages in and her return to the Sherman will also mark her 30th year as an actor, in her home city.

“I’m getting waves of nostalgia that almost knock me off my feet, it’s lovely.”

Image copyright Mark Douet
Image caption Ed Thomas said he enjoyed the freedom of writing the play

Writer Ed Thomas – co-creator of BBC Wales TV crime drama Hinterland – based the play – a “tragic farce” on memories of his childhood and family at Penwyllt in the upper Swansea valley.

“The play is a narrative based on themes I’ve been obsessed with – identity, memory, absurdist humour, resilience and joy,” he says.

“Theatre’s where I started and theatre’s the most fertile place to mess around with shape. Hinterland was a police genre, and you stray away from those genre rules at your peril, but with a play you can be far more playful…it doesn’t have to follow the accepted rules, it’s freer.

“And also the world is pretty bonkers at the moment so it felt if I didn’t write it now, I’d always find an excuse not to.”

Image copyright Mark Douet
Image caption Rhys Ifans was brought up in Ruthin but moved to Cardiff after college

Ifans, 52, said he was very affected by the writing and knew he wanted to do it.

“It feels special to me because I grew up with Ed’s writing – The House of America – I would have watched his plays in this theatre,” he said.

“So it’s amazing he’s had such a long sabbatical – I believe he had to buy a shed to write this play!”

Thomas confirms the shed – and that the play was written in long-hand “because it still feels like me”. “There’s a lot of paper in my shed, I may have to burn some of the early drafts.”

Ifans believes it speaks beyond Wales.

“To take this play, which has a Welsh voice but international eyes on a dawn raid over the border is a wonderful feeling,” he said. “Although the voices in this play are Welsh, the themes are human.”

On Bear Ridge is at the Sherman in Cardiff until 5 October and then at the Royal Court Theatre, London from 24 October to 23 November.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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