September 27, 2018
By Almir Koldzic and Tom Green
Reflections on a production by National Theatre of Wales (NTW), September 2018
On a warm evening in Tenby, on the Pembrokeshire coast, listening to a text about “things that would be left behind” as we walked down the hill towards the sea, it was possible simply to enjoy the beauty of the language and the town.
Although the context had already been set at the start of the production – a tower of TV screens flickering with scenes of recent mass migration and political rhetoric, and songs of hope and fear – it was almost tranquil to be outside, headphones on, as a voice listed the everyday items in a home much like one’s own that might never be seen again.
Tide Whisperer took the audience on an extraordinary journey, but it was rooted in our own experiences and perspective.
Having walked across the beach we boarded small boats where the voice in our headphones now spoke of a nightmarish journey across the sea. This was not an attempt to re-create the experience – how could it? But to be on the water together, sea splashing up over the edge, was an invitation to listen harder and think more deeply.
Each story on the journey around the town had it’s own remarkable power. All were based on real experiences but were written by playwright Louise Wallwein. This lent coherence and also artistic distance, creating a space for us, the audience, to be involved.
Tenby itself, from town to sea to harbour walls, was a central character. Sometimes it was just itself, sometimes it was Greece or the Pacific. But at the end, as a character deported as part of the recent Windrush scandal appealed to us to “stand with me” it seemed to represent the whole nation of Wales and beyond.
Under the direction of Kully Thiarai, the play had clearly had a huge impact on Tenby. Eating fish and chips in town before the show we overheard two local people saying how fabulous and moving it was, and NTW staff reported that each day 30 or 40 people would come to their base and want to talk more about what they had seen.
The technical challenge for an immersive piece of theatre with an audience of up to 300 people each night over a wide landscape, including the sea, was immense. But surely the most remarkable achievement for Tide Whisperer was to bring together such diverse stories, voices and characters and to make them feel urgently relevant to an audience in not only in Tenby but to everyone, everywhere.