Theatre will never be an English language exclusive, but even for those with English as our native – and only – language, in the UK it often feels like it is. Performances often experiment with foreign tongues – in the South West this last year, witches have gotten to grips with Gaelic and Russian has been whispered on the Ice Road – yet, it’s always an experiment, not an experience. In such an anglocentric world, it’s all too easy to forget that other languages are also native languages, and we even have one just across the water in the South West: Welsh.
Arts Council Wales are backing a Welsh Language adaptation of an August Strindberg classic from RCT Theatres about gender, class, and the engendered war between idealisation and degradation. The titular Miss Julie is the archaic but frustratingly ageless trope of the damaged, degenerate woman in drama, but actor and director Gareth John Bale acknowledges that the ‘playwright’s attitude towards feminism [is] as relevant now as it was when the play was written in 1888. Perhaps more so.’
Playing Miss Julie’s Machiavellian charmer, the valet, Jean, opposite Gwenllian Higginson, Gareth John Bale is well aware of the play’s provocativeness, in all senses of the word: ‘the characters in the play present a challenge to the actors playing them. The temptation is to see them as one-dimensional but there is so much more to them than that. We intend to dig a little deeper.’
This production will inaugurate a tradition of touring plays translated into the Welsh Language nationally, and it’s something that’s important to impede the degeneration of native languages. So, as Miss Julie and Jean play their dangerous game of ‘what if’, lets ask something similar of more ‘wonderful, naturalistic’ plays performed in Wales: ‘what if it was in Welsh?’