2017 marked 100 years since the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) where thousands of soldiers were killed, with approximately 3,000 casualties among the 38th Division (Welsh). To mark the centenary of the First World War The Empty Chair was commissioned as of the wider Poetry of Loss project delivered by Literature Wales. Following a hugely successful first tour in 2017, it returns to theatres and venues across Wales and London this February and March.

One of those who fell in battle was Hedd Wyn, the poet from Meirionnydd who died before being announced winner of the Chair at the National Eisteddfod in Birkenhead later that year. The empty chair was draped in black, and Hedd Wyn is still remembered in Flanders, as he is in Wales, as a potent symbol of bloodshed and loss.

This multimedia bilingual poetry show, revisits the life of Hedd Wyn and explores the nature of loss and identity through the poetry of Flemish, French and Welsh soldiers at the time. Created and performed by Ifor ap Glyn, National Poet of Wales, directed by Ian Rowlands, and with digital art by Jason Lye-Phillips, Y Gadair Wag uses poetry written by Flemish, French and Welsh soldiers during the First World War. 

The 2019 tour is funded by Yr Ysgwrn, the newly renovated home of Hedd Wyn, and the Welsh Government’s Cymru’n Cofio Wales Remembers 1914-1918 First World War Centenary Programme in partnership with S4C Yr Egin. Thousands of soldiers were killed at Passchendale, with approximately 3,000 casualties among the 38th Division (Welsh).

This performance of the Empty Chair takes place at the end of a day of reflection on the poetry of war and peace in Wales, Holy Glimmers of Hope, another project delivered by Literature Wales throughout the day at the Senedd. Starting at 7pm from the Urdd Centre in the Bay the performance started with a short film outlining the £3m restoration project to Hedd Wyn's home in Meirionnydd. His family home, a farmhouse, has been renovated and turned into a new exhibition and visitors centre to mark the impact of the war on the community.

This is followed by the multimedia perfomance by Wales' National Poet, Ifor ap Glyn. He weaves moving poetry with funny anecdotes about Hedd Wyn as a young man in Meirionnydd. The description of a mischevious, charismatic and funny young man is in stark contrast to the dark reality of war, from which he draws inspiration for his most famous poems. Ifor ap Glyn delivers Hedd Wyn's poems in Welsh, and flemish and french poems are spoken through digital recordings by native speakers, with digital art and English translations shown behind him on a screen. His only prop on stage is multipurpose, serving as a podium but most significantly, an empty chair. At the end of the performance the chair is brought to the centre of the stage and Ifor ap Glyn lays a black blanket over it before leaving the stage, as was done in memory of Hedd Wyn when he didn't stand up when his name was called at Birkenhead Eisteddfod in 1917. However, this time the blanket is in memory of the thousands of young Welsh men who lost their lives. Behind him the names of all the young Welsh Meirionnydd men who died at War are displayed. 

Throughout the performance Ifor ap Glyn talks about the reality of war through stories not only of Hedd Wyn and his friends, but also those of the refugees who fled Belgium and came to the UK - the unspoken stories. They received a warm welcome, with newspapers throughout the UK posting flemish messages to make them feel at home. Insofar parallels are drawn from the welcoming atmosphere for refugees during World War 1, with the attitude towards refugees in this day and age. Ifor ap Glyn asks 'I wonder whether the Western Mail would post a message in Arabic for the Syrian refugees?'. Through bringing the past into the present the poet brings the stories of Hedd Wyn and so many of the soldiers he fought and died alongside, to life. This poignant reflection on War through the voices and lives of European soldiers not only serves as a reminder of a very troubling time in our history, but also highlights the troubling times in which we currently live. 

TOUR DATES:

·  21 February, 7.30 pm, Canolfan Garth Olwg, Pontypridd 

Tickets: 01443 570075 / llcreception@garth-olwg.cymru 
/ www.garth-olwg.cymru

·  22 February, 7.00 pm**, London Welsh Centre, Gray’s Inn Road

Tickets: 029 2047 2266 / post@literaturewales.org

·  13 March, 1.00 pm & 7.30 pm, Galeri, Caernarfon

Tickets: 01286 685222 / www.galericaernarfon.com

·  14 March, 12.30 pm & 7.00 pm**, Yr Ysgwrn, Trawsfynydd

·  15 March, 10.30 am & 12.30 pm, Yr Ysgwrn, Trawsfynydd

Tickets: yr.ysgwrn@eryri.llyw.cymru / 01766 772508

** Bilingual performance
NOTE: Performances are in Welsh, unless stated otherwise.

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