Medical records from the old Denbigh mental health hospital in North Wales have inspired a new Welsh language play touring this Spring.
In 2012, following a request by psychiatric doctors in Bangor, Frân Wen theatre company used medical records from the former Victorian asylum as inspiration for a live theatre production.
Fast forward six years, and that story – Anweledig – is set to hit Wales’ largest theatres this February and March.
Written by acclaimed author Aled Jones Williams, the Welsh language show stars Bangor born actress Ffion Dafis who plays the part of Glenda, a bank clerk diagnosed with severe depression who’s admitted into Denbigh mental health hospital.
Delivered in monologue, the play follows her heartrending, traumatic and hopeful journey.
“This is the first time I’ve performed on my own on a main-stage production so I’m really excited (and nervous),” said Ffion Dafis.
“Having been six years in the making, developing the show has been a natural evolution. We started off with work-in-progress performances in small intimate venues but as Aled developed the script further, it became clear that Glenda’s story needed the main stage setting.
“We’re going to use the large space to our advantage – yes, I’m out there on my own but you won’t be disappointed when you see how the whole set, projections and music have been designed around my character.
“We can’t wait to share the whole story for the first and last time.”
We witness Glenda’s personal anguish as she confronts the illness and faces life outside of hospital – we learn that the road to recovery is not straightforward.
The author’s script draws on his own experiences, “Anweledig helps us to understand, humanize and sympathise with how people experience depression,” said Aled Jones Williams.
“When I was ill there were lots of people who would help me, but as I got better people found it more difficult. There’s a line in the play where it says that illness is strangely straightforward, but healing is often messy.
I was easier to treat when I was ill, but then people would expect me to jump up and say “Right, I’m fine now,” – but I wasn’t.
The other thing is the relapse. It will happen. Everybody slips but you don’t go back to the same place.”
“Getting better is a process, not a one day event.”
Director Sara Lloyd is convinced that people will walk from the auditorium having enjoyed the experience:
“I want them to walk out thinking a bit differently about the illness. Hopefully they will be entertained, they will laugh and cry, but they will feel more positive about depression.
“Every single member of our audience will be able to relate to it in some way or another. Depression and mental health are issues that have touched us all.”
“Aled is an honour and a delight to work with because he is such a generous author, always ready to discuss all aspects of his work.
“His work entertains because his natural humour always shines through – he knows this world, the dark and the light, and there is something very real about it.
“There is always a deeper meaning to his work, always multi-layered and his scripts are like pieces of music, his rhythm is a delight to listen to and that’s what carries the audience through the story.”
Alongside the production, Frân Wen have commissioned the artist Mirain Fflur, who’ll use the show’s narrative and stories from the old hospital as inspiration for an exhibition that will run alongside every show.
The production and exhibition will take place at Pontio Bangor (19 – 22 Feb), Aberystwyth Arts Centre (5 – 8 March), Sherman Theatre in Cardiff (12 – 13 March), Ffwrnes Llanelli (18 – 21 March) and Stiwt Rhosllanerchrugog (26 – 27 March).
Tickets and further information visit www.franwen.com