The Corn is Green by Emlyn Williams. The Lyttleton, the National Theatre, London to 11 June 2022. 3***. William Russell

Dominic Cooke has taken Emlyn Williams’ semi autobiographical play about a dedicated schoolmistress in a Welsh mining village educating a young miner so that he gets a scholarship to Oxford and escapes his destiny down the pit by the scruff of the neck, given it a good shake and turned it from a four square drama confined to one room into something else altogether. It opens with Morgan Evans partying somewhere elegant with a young flapper and then the backcloth of elegant windows rises and we see a bare stage. This Morgan – Williams, of course – starts to read the stage directions of the play and bits of furniture are brought on, the cast assembles as needed and the play begins with a choir of Wesl minsters singing sweetly in and around the acting area. It is as near as one can get to a choir singing in blackface these days and sing very well they do, sounding extremely Welsh. Miss Moffatt arrives, decides to set up shop teaching the young boys who go down thepit how to read and write, enlists the help of a local spinster and comes up against the resistance of the English squire who believes it is a man’s world and down his pit is where the Welsh should be. Miss Molffat has a Cockney maid who has a delinquent teenage daughter. Anyway by playing the little woman she gets the Squire on her side, and in Act Two, now transformed into a proper set, young Morgan impregnates the maid’s daughter and wins a scholarship to university. Throughout it all the other Morgan wanders round reading the stage directions and at the end the two Morgans dance together. It is an interesting conception but it destroys the play as written and turns it into something else altogether. Nicola Walker makes a slightly strident Miss Moffatt and while a fine actress she has not made the role her own. Striding about in fetching skirts and blouses she remains insignificant. The play is really about her not Morgan Evans and if she is not there at its centre fighting the conventions of the time this reduces such power as the play still posesses. The two Morgans are acceptably done, but some of the other performances are most peculiar – the squire is a straight imitation of Nigel Bruce in the 1945 Hollywood movie, which actually told the tale very well -and that choir almost turns it into a musical, one expects a Miss Moffat’s Turn at the end. Of course plays can be treated in all sorts of ways – Shakespeare is a case in point. But sometimes you need to respect the conventions within which the dramatist was telling the story and this is that kind of play. It is a three act work, which was the habit in the 1930s, constructed to have a curtain at two points in the story and you tamper with the construction at your peril. It can impress an audience who will decide that the revising done adds up to daring theatre – and possibly it is – but only if the play in its new format works. For me it did not and that choir really was the last straw. We’ll keep a welcome on the hillsides, we’ll keep a welcome in the vales…….Harry Secombe where were you when you were needed. It may be a dead play but this production does not resurrect it.

Glyn Thomas: Adam Baker.
Bessie Watty: Saffron Coomber.
Emlyn Williams: Gareth David-Loyd.
Morgan Evans: Iwan Davies.
Will Hughes: Sion Emlyn.
Singer: Ben Francis.
Idwal Morris: Gwion Glyn.
Ensemble: megan Grech.
Singer: Matthew Hargreaves/
John Owen: Jonathan Hawkins.
Singer: Sieffan Hughs.
Singer: John Ieuan Jones.
Miner: Gareth Kennerley.
Mr John Goronwy Jones: Richard Lynch.
Mrs Wally: Jo McInnes.
Singer: Kristian Morse.
Miner: Thomas Moya.
Miss Ronberry: Alice Orr-Ewing.
Ensemble: Debra Penny.
Miner: Stefan Rizzi.
Ensemble: Rebecca Todd.
Miss Moffat: Nicola Walker.
Singer: Peter Willcock.
Robbart Robbatch.
Te Squire: Rufus Wright.

Director: Dominic Cooke.
Set & Costume Design: ULTZ.
Production Photographs: Johan Persson.
Choreographer: Bill Deamer.
Company Dialect Work: Penny Dyer.
Company Voice Work: Jeanette Nelson.
Sound Designer: Christopher Small.
Music Arrangements & Direction: Will Stuart.
Sound Designer: Christopher Shutt.
Welsh Language Consultant: Aran Jones.

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