Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working (2): Ty Newydd

I’m reading a collection of short one act plays by a group of writers I’m mentoring as part of an initiative for Ty Newydd, the Writers’ Centre for Wales. The house, dating from the sixteenth century, is near the Snowdonia National park, set between the hills of Eifionydd and the sea, on a green baise lawn with what estate agents call commanding views over Cardigan Bay. It is astonishing and lovely, a perfect place for inspiration, the last home of Lloyd George.

The former prime minister and one of the architects of the Welfare State died in what is now the centre’s upstairs library. It is easy to imagine him perched high in a bed, bolstered by pillows, looking out onto the devastating view.

I’ve been teaching residential courses at Ty Newydd for around fifteen years and the Centre’s director, Sally Baker, is both resilient and visionary, eager to create new experiences for writers. She has indulged my experiments – playwrights working with visiting directors (Jenny Sealey, John McGrath, Phillip Zarrilli, Mike Pearson) – site-specific work, with a dozen writers taking over the house and grounds, making performances in every unlikely location, and the likely ones, too. She has even indulged our late night carousing and my ghost stories, particularly my insistence that Lloyd George’s spirit can be sensed in the upstairs bathroom, what had been his personal privvy. I mean no disrespect, I’m merely repeating what I’ve been told,  with a few tiny embellishments, which is to be expected at Ty Newydd, where stories take flight.

The great man is not buried in the Llanystumdwy churchyard, but down the lane from the house in the wooded valley of the Afon Dwyfor, under a huge stone. It feels Celtic and pagan and immensely appropriate. There is a hush around his memorial, as though the birds themselves have taken a moment to reflect. Whenever I walk down, there is always a writer, pen poised, breathing in the dappled air.

The mentoring course is taking place over a six month period with developmental workshops either end, March and September. The writers then develop and revise their plays between these two points of contact, with dramaturgical feedback from me on their drafts.
When we first met in March, the weekend coincided with Theatre Uncut, an initiative set up by Reclaim Productions, with theatres and groups across the UK responding to the coalition government’s spending cuts through a series of play readings, ‘bringing protest to the stage’. One of the writers on the mentoring course, Sandra Bendelow, brought our attention to the event and shared with us the seven short scripts by Lucy Kirkwood, Dennis Kelly, Laura Lomas, Anders Lustgarten, Mark Ravenhill, Jack Thorne and Clara Brennan. ‘Why don’t some of us participate in the weekend, and do a reading?’ Sandra suggested. She chose Mark Ravenhill’s script, which explored the dreams of a past generation through the 2010 student protests. Marge and Fred, figures from the past, celebrate the birth of the Welfare State whilst a contemporary character observes the plans for its dismantling.
And so we found ourselves standing around Lloyd George’s grave at dusk, reading him Ravenhill, telling him what was happening to his extraordinary achievement, the audacious dream which had been the envy of the world for so long.

Afterwards, we trailed back in the gloaming, reflective and silent.

3 responses to “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working (2): Ty Newydd

  1. I must say,
    places as film’s locations, can be the first step for a new story… a portal where dreams and reality are summoned.

    • I think that’s why retreats like Ty Newydd are so effective and inspirational. I also think of all the interviews I’ve read with novelists who blame a holiday location, or somewhere they visited incidentally as then being the source and spark for a novel…

  2. L’intégralité des articles sont vraiment plaisants

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