Evans's Caractacus

As a prominent local journalist, in 1904 Evans was in a position to ensure that considerable publicity was devoted to the four pioneering performances of his new play Caractacus or Caradog by the pupils of Abergele County School, the last transferring from the school hall to the Public Hall in Colwyn Bay. After the performances, the Caernarfon paper The Welsh Leader: A Weekly Record of Education and Local Government in Wales published a special commemorative issue, almost certainly written by Evans himself, which was then reprinted as an entirely independent volume resplendent with photographs of the performance, (Figure 12.1 and Figure 12.2) taken by ‘Mr T. Wills Jones of Rhyl’, and a portrait of Evans as its frontispiece.2" It includes an interview with the Head Master, Mr Jeremiah Williams M.A. He explained that he wanted to engage his pupils in a more challenging and interesting Christmas entertainment than the traditional concert or semi-performance of scenes from Shakespeare. He decided to be adventurous and actually stage a complete play connected with Welsh history, because his school was keen ‘to foster an interest in Welsh History and Literature, and we are doing all that is possible to develop the school on Welsh National lines’.21 Unsurprisingly, given the history of anti-theatricalism in Wales, he failed to find a suitable text until he met Beriah Evans, whose Welsh-Language drama Llewelyn ein Llyw Olaf had recently been performed at the Princes’ Theatre in

The Rescue oh Claudia by Princb Ahvihagus. (Scene I.J

Seme from Mr. RerCah Ei'anJ HMorical Play “ CARATACUR." ач produced by the Abergele County School Company. (MatlMgM Photo by Mr. T. WilU Jone», Rhyl).

ARVIRAGÜSft (A farvw Pa*'betH

rod! Feiddfwch ch'w/.]

FIGURE 12.1 Production photographs by MrTWills Jones of Rhyl in The Welsh Leader: A Weekly Record of Education and Local Government in Wales (1904). Images reproduced from The Welsh Historical Drama and How to Produce it: Being the Actual Experience of the Abergele County School Company in the Production of“Caractacus”, reproduced by courtesy of the British Library.

Llandudno. Evans had explained that ‘he was writing a whole series of Welsh Historical Plays on characters from Caradog to Harri Tudor’, and that Caractacus, which featured ‘a Musical Scene with original music specially composed by Mr J.T. Rees, Mus. Bac. of Aberystwyth could be got read in a month’s time’.22

The commemorative volume is designed to encourage other schools to follow suit by listing the advantages of patriotic theatricals for ordinary children. Besides those five spectacular photographs, it includes interviews with the music mistress in charge of training the chorus, choreographical diagrams and advice on the creation of costumes and scenery. The Head Master proudly remarks that his pupils have received invitations to perform the play at Liverpool, Porthmadog, Caernarfon, Bangor, Denbigh, Rhyl and Ruthin. The experience had increased his pupils’ interest in the past history of Wales, but had also increased the standard of intelligence: ‘There is a new zest, not only in historical, but in other studies. It is as though their outlook had been suddenly broadened, and their intelligent appreciation of facts quickened.’ This improvement in knowledge base and cognitive skills had applied not only to the lucky performers, but to all the other pupils as well. Then Williams introduced a telling martial simile to explain the ideological potency of participation in patriotic theatricals at an impressionable age:

HE WHOTEMPTED THEE, THOU TRAITRESS DOUBLE DYED . (Caradog. Iti.aRh demtiwr hwn, daw rtielldith byd!

Dos! GarnFradwres feLLdigedig Pfydain!)

Thb Betrayal,—Caratacus curses Cartismaxdua. (Scene IV.

FIGURE 12.2 Production photographs by Mr T. Wills Jones of Rhyl in The Welsh Leader A Weekly Record of Education and Local Government in Wales (1904). Images reproduced from The Welsh Historical Drama and How to Produce it: Being the Actual Experience of the Abergele County School Company in the Production of“Caractacus”, reproduced by courtesy of the British Library.

Just as a new recruit enters his first campaign a raw lad and conies out a man, so our pupils, many of them, have suddenly sprung from being mere school children to the position of brightly intelligent youths and maidens ... The lessons of patriotism, of loyalty, of truthfulness, of mutual duties and responsibilities, are insensibly but most effectively inculcated.23

Ten years later, this metaphorically recruited generation of children was to be asked by the British government, in which Lloyd George was the most eloquent advocate of war, to offer themselves up to the recruiting officer in reality.

Evans was convinced that the creation of a new tradition of Welsh historical drama held exceptional educational promise as well as being a useful instrument in the inculcation of patriotism. He was also aware that a country with no experience of fully staged amateur theatre might find the prospect of putting on a play intimidating. The Head Master insists that staging such a performance was far less difficult than he had anticipated: he believed that that nine out of ten County Schools in Wales, and ‘scores’ of local Literary and Dramatic Societies, would be up to the challenge. He had himself been invited to arrange a repeat performance before HRH Princess Louise (the King’s eldest daughter).24

The play is complicated. Sub-plots include the scheme of Vellocatus, weapon bearer to King Venutius of the Brigantes, to seduce his master’s wife and betray Britain to the Romans. There are two inter-cultural love affairs. Claudius’ daughter Genwissa, who has been accompanying the Roman army on its British campaign, falls for Caradog’s brother Afarwy, while Caradog’s daughter Gwladys is destined to marry a Roman officer named Pudens.

But there is also substantial martial action and a suspenseful suggestion of semi-continuous fighting offstage between Britons and their Roman invaders. The Emperor Claudius himself appears on stage as early as in Scene I, set in an English forest, when he is persuaded against facing the Britons in immediate battle. Caradog appears in Scene II to regret that the Britons are in retreat. In Scene III, Gwladys saves the captured Roman ambassador Pudens, who works on behalf of the General Ostorius, from being tortured by Britons.

But in Scene IV, we arrive in Wales at ‘Caradog’s Camp in the Country of the Silures’. Here there is an important dialogue between Caradog and Pudens about the political situation. Amongst the British chiefs there are many who were once favourable to Roman involvement in their affairs, but they have all become followers of Caradog, determined to remain free of Rome and retain absolute sovereignty. After a long speech in which Caradog emphasises the strength of the British fastnesses in Snowdon and Anglesey, his loyal Britons sing a patriotic song with distinct echoes of‘Rule Britannia’, of which this is an English translation:

No! No! Britain answers no!

Britain will not be enslaved! No! No!

Britain’s heroes will play their part!

Britain stands on behalf of the weak!

No! No! Britain answers No!

Brave Britons never shall be slaves to anyone!25

The most spectacular scene is V, in a ‘Druidic circle in the centre of a forest’, and, like Mason’s Caractacus, it puts the goddess Andraste at the centre of the Britons’ religion. A procession, dances and hymns precede the dramatic selection of Gwladys’ daughter as willing sacrificial offering. She is rescued from the altar by Pudens.

Scene VI returns us to England, where Caradog is betrayed, albeit reluctantly by his cousin Aregwedd under the influence of the evil Vellocatus. And the final Scene VII opens on the crowded Field of Mars in Rome, where Claudius and Agrippina receive the captives and spoils from Britain. Caradog refuses to kneel before Claudius, delivers a paraphrase of his famous speech from Tacitus’ Annals 12.37 and is freed, while the treacherous Vellocatus and Aregwedd are condemned.

Two years after the success of the Abergele school play, the Elgar/Acworth cantata itself arrived triumphantly at the centre of Welsh people’s celebration of their national self-definition. In 1906, Caractacus provided the two highlightsof the Royal National Eisteddfod, held as often at Caernarfon, in the enormous pavilion which had been built for the purpose in 1877. For the first time in Eisteddfod history, the programme included a spoken drama, Evans’ Welsh-language Caractacus under a variant name, Pendragon Prydain. This title was presumably used to distinguish it from Elgar’s Caractacus, an evening concert performance of which took place at the festival’s climax. The cantata featured a specially convened 270-strong festival chorus consisting entirely of local townspeople, well-known Welsh soloists and the band of the Portsmouth Royal Marines Light Infantry. It ‘gave very great satisfaction to the vast audience assembled’.26

A long article in the North Wales Express is sensitive to the ambiguity surrounding Caractacus’ national affiliation. It addresses the potential problem that Elgar’s Caractacus ‘is an English work, of course’, and notes that ‘curiously ... both the first Welsh drama to be connected with the Eisteddfod and the chief choral work this year treated of the same hero. But the writer concludes that Elgar’s cantata was as welcome as Beriah Evans’ drama by commenting that

there was no Cymro in last evening’s performance who did not feel that the music was instinct with that undefinable greatness associated in his mind with his country’s glorious though pathetic past. Sir Edward Elgar has commenced his invasion of musical Wales.

He particularly applauds Elgar’s version for its imaginative reference to a future ‘potent Britain’ which will rise ‘in majesty’ to sway ‘Empires Caesar never knew’.27

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