The Corn is Green

In 2022, I had one of the more unexpected and entertaining experiences to bubble up out of working for SaySomethinginWelsh.

One of our Iaith ar Daith graduates, Joanna Scanlan (who won a best actress BAFTA for her hugely powerful work in ‘After Love’) messaged me to ask if I would help out a friend of hers who wanted to make sure that the north-east Welsh accents were right for a stage production of ‘The Corn is Green’ at the National Theatre in London. 

I’ve been working hard on saying ‘no’ to projects which aren’t on the main path for building SaySomethinginWelsh – going in too many different directions at once has always been a weakness of mine – and I managed to message Joanna back to say I didn’t think I was the right person. Saying ‘no’ felt like an important step forward in my personal development.

It was only a very small step, though. Joanna is not very fond of the word ‘no’. She called me, and I discovered that my new skill only stretched as far as written messages – on a live call, my ability to say ‘no’ vanished like the morning mist. 

I’m so glad Joanna didn’t accept my ‘no’! I ended up visiting the National Theatre three times during rehearsals, and getting to work with the extraordinarily talented Penny Dyer, who has done all sorts of fascinating projects, including ‘The Last Kingdom’ (which Catrin and I loved when we’d run out of ‘Vikings’) and once lying underneath a table just out of shot to coach Tom Cruise on his Russian accent. It was a steep and fascinating learning curve.

I felt full to overflowing with imposter syndrome the whole way through, but it was a glorious experience. Penny told me that the director, Dominic Cooke, was well-known for only working with friendly, positive people, and the atmosphere at rehearsals was a joy to witness. I embarrassed myself mildly by being slightly starstruck by Richard Lynch – when I explained to the others that he was a very well-known baddy in Pobol y Cwm, he said ‘I prefer to think he’s misunderstood’. Richard was a genuinely wonderful person, and ended up providing a new recording of our southern course, which has been enormously valuable. I also blotted my copybook by not knowing who Nicola Walker was, and telling her after one rehearsal that I thought she was building towards a really powerful performance. Putting that down in words makes me wince all over again.

All the actors I worked with were so friendly and positive and hard-working, by the time Catrin and I went down to watch the opening night, I was a bag of nerves, wanting them all to be absolutely perfect. When Richard nailed ‘Nos dawch’ instead of the more normal ‘nos da’ for him, I may even have given a very little fist pump quietly to myself. And the transformation from the last rehearsal I’d seen to the first night was breath-taking, all the playing with space and structure and props that I hadn’t seen before. I knew immediately that I wanted to come down for the last night as well.

The Corn is Green progranne
Aran Jones - information

David Marsland, the stage manager, was so kind that he gave us an extra couple of tickets for Catrin’s parents to come with us to the final night. Catrin’s mother Rose, who was 90, turned out to remember the film of ‘The Corn is Green’, so that became a mad-cap family trip to London, arriving out of breath just before the curtain went up. Then, thanks to David, we were able to take Catrin’s parents through to the after-show party, where her mother held court. The cast were delighted to meet their ideal target audience, a 90 year old Welsh speaker who remembered the film and had come all the way from Pwllheli to see the production – that was why they’d worked so hard on their accents – and they were all so lovely to Rose. Nicola Walker even gave Rose her leading lady flowers! When the party spilled out onto the South Bank, we could see people walking past wondering who Rose was, surrounded in her wheelchair by stars of stage and screen. It was very hard to persuade her to leave. 

I told Joanna that she’d gotten me well and truly bitten by the theatre bug, although it might be a little late in life for me to change careers. At the moment, I’m doing a bit of work with Rithvik Andugula, who is pushing himself extremely hard with his Welsh for a lead rôle in ‘Branwen: y Dadeni’, and once again I can’t wait for opening night. I told Joanna that I’d loved the experience so much, it had made me want to try and write for stage – she warned me that wasn’t going to be a very fast route back to the National Theatre! I don’t know if I could actually learn to write for stage, but I do know that any bits of coaching I get to help people with theatre productions, I’m always going to love. 

Oh, and several weeks after I thought all the fun was over, I got a postcard from Nicola Walker. ‘I love every second of Welsh language speaking we get to hear on the stage, it’s completely thrilling.’ Penny was right about Dominic – he only works with the loveliest people.

Aran Jones