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Theatr na nÓg flying the flag for Wales and Wallace

NEATH based Theatr na nÓg have been spreading their magic in Makassar by performing their play “You Should Ask Wallace” in partnership with The British Council and in collaboration with Indonesian artist Abdi Karya.

This unique opportunity is a celebration of Wallacea Week 2019 and the publication of Alfred Russel Wallace’s book The Malay Archipelago. The original play, created by this Welsh Theatre company, tells the inspiring story of Alfred Russel Wallace, who was born in Usk and travelled the world collecting and detailing the variety of species.

In 1854 he arrived in Indonesia, where in1858 wrote his theory of evolution by natural selection. The British Council invited award-winning Theatr na nÓg to take part in the Festival of Inspiration, Education and the Arts to celebrate the diversity of the Wallacea region and held in Makassar from the 22nd -28th of November 2019.

Theatr na nÓg’s Artistic Director Geinor Styles said :- “It has been an incredible opportunity for us not only to tell the Welsh story of Wallace but to immerse ourselves in this incredibly diverse culture. Exactly as Wallace would have done all those years ago.”

“To collaborate with artists from the region where Wallace travelled and explored has given the experience another dimension. It is as much their story as ours. Wallace belongs wherever he goes. And so should the play” Styles added.

The play has been adapted to include the story of the characters that assisted Wallace at the time, namely Ali and Baderoon. Creating a bilingual production in English and Bahasar. Styles explained that Wallace would have immersed himself in the culture and the language of which there are over 750 different languages in this rich and diverse region. So it was important for this new production to have both English and Bahasar side by side. This offered a new and exciting challenge for the company, who work bilingually only in Welsh and English.

The rehearsal process was conducted in both languages, with Styles and Abdi Karya, an artist from Makassar collaborating with actors Yosua Raharjo Pilli and Vicran Iskandar Putra and also Hildawaty who performed as the Bird of Paradise, one of the most significant discoveries that Wallace made.

Abdi Karya is keen to add that: “This collaboration, which is devised, is based on Wallace’s legacy about cultural diversity and its people, and we found that he had the same respect for culture as he did for the species he collected. And the diversity of Indonesian artists involved is represented by the origin of region where Wallace used to stay and discover those exact species.”

The reaction from audiences in Makassar seeing “Wallace” return was incredible. It was only overshadowed by the appearance of Ali his trusted assistant who came from Borneo and travelled with Wallace in the Malay Archipelago for eight years, who the audiences took to their hearts.

In addition to the performances the company held workshops with students, where Ioan Hefin performed extracts of the play, and Styles discussed how she wrote and researched the play which is accessible for all ages yet illustrates one of the most important and complex theories in science – the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Ioan Hefin the actor who created the role of Wallace also learnt the parts of the script in Bahasar. “The way in which the story of Wallace captures an audience has always filled me with pride. Being able to cross the Wallace line has shown me that this inspiring story, with its origins in Wales, is now on a global stage. To witness that journey has been an amazing privilege.”

“In a time of extraordinary changes in our climate, the theory of evolution by natural selection has a deep resonance especially to people living here in one of the most important regions in the world for bio-diversity. We all have a responsibility to take immediate action.”

The hope is that the play which originated in Wales will be performed in The Malay Archipelgo for years to come, and that Wallace’s legacy will live on for future generations.

This terrific opportunity tops a great year for this small Neath based company where they started the year with another British Council invitation to present their hit musical “Eye of the Storm” in Hong Kong and which has just completed a UK tour captivating audiences and receiving rave reviews.

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