THE Finborough Theatre’s revival of Emlyn Williams’s The Wind of Heaven is a triumph – an overwhelming one. A pre-Christmas treat with a Christmas undertone for good measure (what more could you ask for). Two hours of immersive and intense theatre, in parts quite mesmerising, in others rather sad.
It’s a tale of a 13 year-old child who brings hope to a grey Welsh village (Blestin) with his Christ-like ways, a hitherto joyless community riven by a nasty cocktail of illness, faithlessness and tragedy that has left it with no young children. A Welsh mountain village without a church, slowly withering on the vine. Decaying.
The new ‘Messiah’ is Gwyn (Bruno Ben Tovim on press night) who floats around the village almost ethereally. He and mother Bet (Louise Breckon-Richards) work in the home of Dilys Parry (Rhiannon Neads), an individual who has lost both her faith and husband (to war). She’s sour. Bitterly so. At one point, she wails in despair, her pain piercing like a thunderclap.
Yet her life is hauled out of the mundane by the arrival of Ambrose (a magnificent Jamie Wilkes), a flamboyant circus owner who has heard there is an individual in the village enthused with a whiff of magic and (magical) music. Ideal fodder, he thinks, for his Birmingham based circus. A money making opportunity. Assisting him in his search is the incredibly polite and upright Pitter (David Whitworth). Ying and Yang.
What follows is a series of conversions and ‘miracles’ that transform the lives of Ambrose (a Welshman by birth) and dowdy Dilys – as well as quell a cholera epidemic (it’s 1856, just after the end of the Crimean War). Dilys’s niece Menna (Kristy Philipps) – the only villager to cast grey aside in favour of eye catching yellow outfits – also experiences a personal resurrection moment. Joyous.
There is temptation along the way in the form of the confident and persuasive Mrs Lake (Melissa Woodbridge) who travels to Blestin in the hope of winning back her man (Ambrose). Will he return to type? Or will he remain on the path of virtue? Completing the cast is Evan (Seiriol Tomos), a kindly villager who guides Ambrose towards Gwyn.
There are magic moments aplenty, appropriate for a play about the second coming. Welsh singing of the highest order (Rhiannon Neads excels), some haunting music (Rhiannon Drake and Julian Starr) and lovely touches – none more so than when Ambrose hands out lit model houses at the end symbolising the village’s resurrection. The greyness of village life – until Gwyn weaves his magic – is intensified by the bland costumes (Isobel Pellow) and perpetual dusk-like light (Ryan Joseph Stafford). All very effective – you can almost smell the mountains and be oppressed by what is before you.
Skilfully directed by Will Maynard, The Wind of Heaven – getting its first airing for 75 years – is another feather in the cap for Finborough’s artistic director Neil McPherson. If Emyln Williams, who lived for many years within walking distance of the Finborough Theatre, were still alive, he’d be mighty proud of the revival that Maynard and a mighty strong cast has served up. Not a weak link in a production that squeezes superb performances out of both Neads and Wilkes as the play’s central characters. Woodbridge’s cameo as Mrs Lake is also a treat to behold.
Photos by Stefan Hanegraaf