A Review of Mewn Cymeriad’s latest show for children by Ffion Clwyd Edwards

Being in the audience for my first live performance for many years (thanks to the pandemic) was a breath of fresh air at one of Denbighshire’s Libraries recently, to watch a new ‘Mewn Cymeriad’s’ show starring the vibrant character Hari Hanes.

The minute the show started, primary school pupils from across Denbighshire were in the hands of the versatile actor, a familiar face to many S4C viewers thanks to his long standing role at Rownd a Rownd, Siôn Emyr. Originally from Ysbyty Ifan, the actor has now set up his home a stone’s throw from the library, in the historic town of Denbigh.

The teachers who accompanied the pupils had no expectations of the show, anymore than I did, but the hour long acting, storytelling, task sharing, performing, reciting, reading and the use of mime by Hari Hanes and the children, was a breath of fresh air.

It is always difficult to bring children out of their shell, and even worse, after two volatile years where we’ve harped on at them to keep their distance and cover their faces, which, in my mind has done nothing to build a child’s confidence. In addition, maintaining children’s interest when the language standards between pupils varies is challenging, but Siôn Emyr sailed through it, responding naturally to a question or two in English, and moving swiftly back into Welsh, completely seamlessly. His approachable nature with  children with more profound learning needs who interrupted the running of some elements of the performance, was completely commendable. His experience and professionalism as an actor came to the fore.

The children’s faces, as they came to the ‘stage’ in small groups to read sentences from Wales’s historical giants, were animated. I’ll never forget the heartfelt flourish of the group who raised Princess Gwenllian’s sword high into in the air as their shouts reached the distance from Denbigh Library down to the bottom of Vale Street, in town: “Er mwyn Gwenllian [For the sake of Gwenllian]. It was a moving tribute just days before International Women’s Day.

The show is based on Ifan Morgan Jones excellent book ’10 Stori o Hanes Cymru’ [also available in English – 10 stories from Welsh History] and the children from Denbighshire schools will definitely leave this show with more knowledge and a better understanding of their Welshness, Wales heroes and a snippet of our national history. Through this interactive show, I learned more about the Newport, Barry and Cardiff Riots of 1919 and heard the story of Eileen Beasley who stood up for linguistic justice by insisting on receiving a tax statement in Welsh in the 1950s. I also found out who Alfred Russell Wallace was, the Welshman from Llanbadog in Monmouth who developed the concept of evolution at the same time as Darwin himself. Scarcely believed Wales would own such an achievement!

It would, no doubt, benefit my knowledge, as an adult, to pop into Siop Clwyd in Denbigh to buy a ’10 Stori o Hanes Cymru’ book in memory to that little girl from the Conwy Valley I once was, who received very little Welsh history lessons at my school in the 1980s, thanks to the Anglicised policies of Westminster Government!

These young Denbighshire children have been blessed and I must commend Menter Iaith Sir Ddinbych and the County’s Libraries service for their vision in organising and facilitating the Mewn Cymeriad performances. The youngsters are reminded, after being away for so long, of the wealth on offer at their local library, while at the same time, opening their eyes to their Welsh history and heritage in such an inspiring way. And as the cherry on top, the school staff were scrambling to see who the publishers of this colourful Welsh historical cartoon book for youngsters was, so they, themselves could order their copies for the school, following the show.