‘Christmas Revels’ finally makes it to Wales

Reviews

12.14.2015

Xmas_Mummer.jpg

ROGER IDE:  The Red Dragon (representing Wales) chases the White Dragon (England) in “The Christmas Revels” at Sanders Theatre.

By Jeffrey Gantz Globe Correspondent  December 15, 2015

CAMBRIDGE — Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” is such an iconic evocation of the holidays, it’s a wonder that, in Revels’ 45-year history, there hasn’t been a Welsh “Christmas Revels” till now. All the more so since Wales has a rich mythology and singing tradition, and since both Revels music director George Emlen and Susan Cooper, author of “The Shortest Day” and many other Revels lyrics, have Welsh roots. No matter: “A Welsh Celebration of the Winter Solstice” makes up for lost time.

Jeremy Barnett’s set, as usual in Revels productions, does a lot with a little. There’s a small brick house with a shingled roof and a turret, a pair of wooden benches, a couple of rock outcroppings, and a huge bank of scudding, tilted clouds that seem especially Thomas-esque. The house opens to reveal a hearth, a breakfront with many shelves of crockery, and whatnots with photographs. Heidi A. Hermiller’s working-class costumes give the performers a kind of weathered humility.

The conceit of this Welsh “Revels” is that it’s taking place in a village not so different from the one Thomas describes, and from time to time interlocutor Billy Meleady recites from Thomas’s story and the Revels players act it out. There’s also a nod to Welsh mythology in the story of birth of the legendary bard Taliesin.

Revels puts its special stamp on this material from the outset. The village men enter, in darkness, down the Sanders Theatre aisles, wearing miner’s helmets and headlamps, to be greeted by their women and children on stage. Meleady, explaining the difference between north and south Wales, points out slyly that in the north, “they all speak Welsh — especially if you don’t.” And the familiar “Men of Harlech” has hilarious new lyrics written by Cooper. The various traditional lyrics describe the seven-year siege of Harlech Castle in the 1460s; this new version, sung by men wearing red-and-white-striped mufflers, starts, “Men of Harlech, homeward riding, we sure gave that team a hiding,” a teasing reference to Wales’s 28-25 victory over England in this summer’s Rugby World Cup.

The usual “Christmas Revels” staples are in place: “The Lord of the Dance” closing out the first half of the program; the “Abbots Bromley Horn Dance”; the audience singalong of “Dona Nobis Pacem”; the reading of “The Shortest Day”; and the concluding “Sussex Mummers’ Carol.” The Welsh numbers include “Ar Hyd y Nos” (“All Through the Night”) and “Llwyn Onn” (“The Ash Grove”). The Pinewoods Morris Men, in black and cornstalk yellow, contribute a rowdy “Border Morris Dance.” The Caerphilly Children reenact, in “Dryw Bach” (“Little Wren”), the ritual procession of the wren on St. Stephen’s Day and offer a Welsh version of “Frog Went A-Courting.” In the “Mari Lwyd” (“Gray Mare”) segment, wassailers have to rhyme for their supper.

The highlight of every “Christmas Revels” is invariably the mummers’ play, and this year is no exception. The traditional English mummers’ play pits St. George against the Dragon. In this Welsh version, it’s Meleady’s Irish Knight who comes out spoiling for a fight, but his wooden sword is no match for the bluster, or the swagger stick, of Steve Vaughan’s helmeted English White Dragon, who sports a handlebar mustache on his stiff upper lip and a Union Jack at the end of his tail. When David (Daniel Sheldon), the patron saint of Wales, has no better luck, the Red Dragon of Wales (Alexander Hall) comes to the rescue. The plot of a mummers’ play calls for the hero — here St. David — to die and be reborn. Usually the players ask is there a doctor in the house; in this production, however, the Fool Minister (Joshua Mackay Smith) simply places a leek — another symbol of Wales — on David’s breast and he comes back to life.

The storytellers — Meleady joined by Noni Lewis and Emma Crane Jaster — are animated; it’s a delight to see Lewis, as the enchantress Ceridwen, hopping after Jaster’s Gwion Bach, who will be swallowed and reborn as Taliesin. There’s fine solo singing, in Welsh and English, from David Coffin and Cristi Catt, and a kinetic clogging sequence from the Cardigan Chorus Dancers. “One Christmas was so much like another” is how Thomas starts his story, but every “Christmas Revels” is refreshingly different.

share this story on social media

Related Stories
See More
Blogs
11.23.2021
Thanks Giving

Read More

Blogs
10.08.2021
Meet Arkansas Light, Christmas Revels Production Stage Manager

Read More

Blogs
09.22.2021
Artist Spotlight: Ken Field

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
01.26.2021
Volunteer Spotlight: Haley Fisher

Read More

Reviews
12.29.2020
The Sleepless Critic Review: Christmas Revels 50th virtual anniversary delivers mirth, merriment,

Read More

Reviews
12.23.2020
Review: Christmas Classics – Virtual Editions and Good as New!!

Read More

Reviews
12.19.2020
Boston Globe Review: This virtual Christmas Revels is a virtual triumph

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
11.10.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: Rachel Grygorcewicz

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
10.29.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: Nick Browse

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
10.01.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: Ross Hall

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
08.26.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: Harvey Cohen

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
08.05.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: Cathie Ghorbani

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
07.07.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: Mari Young

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
06.30.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: Julie Smith

Read More

Blogs
05.19.2020
David Zooms to Perkins

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
05.13.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: John Recroft

Read More

Blogs
04.30.2020
MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!

Read More

Reviews
12.19.2019
Review: Christmas Revels Brings Its Special Cheer to Depression Era America

Read More

Reviews
12.19.2019
BWW Review: THE CHRISTMAS REVELS: A Long Tradition of Community Forged Through

Read More

Reviews
12.17.2019
Theater Review: The Christmas Revels – American Version

Read More

Reviews
12.16.2019
REVIEW: Nearly 50, Christmas Revels is better than ever

Read More

Reviews
12.14.2019
REVIEW: This Christmas Revels goes to the American heartland

Read More

Blogs
11.21.2019
Thanksgiving

Read More

Blogs
06.21.2019
Solstice Duality

Read More

Blogs
03.19.2019
Happy Spring!

Read More

Reviews
12.20.2018
REVIEW: Christmas Revels Celebrates the ‘Other’ Great White North

Read More

Reviews
12.18.2018
REVIEW: ‘The Christmas Revels’ points north

Read More

Reviews
12.18.2018
Theater Review: The Christmas Revels – A Wonderful Nordic Celebration

Read More

Blogs
11.12.2018
Just Add Audience

Read More

Blogs
06.21.2018
The Longest Day

Read More

Blogs
05.16.2018
A Magical Experience: The Making of a CD

Read More

Blogs
02.14.2018
Malibu 2018

Read More

Reviews
12.27.2017
REVIEW: Revels’ ‘Venetian Celebration’ glitters

Read More

Reviews
12.13.2017
REVIEW: Old World Music, Comedy from Renaissance Era Lights Up Christmas Revels

Read More

Blogs
12.12.2017
St. Nicholas in Bohemia: Mikulas Eve

Read More

Reviews
12.10.2017
REVIEW: A handsome ‘Christmas Revels’ brings the party to Venice

Read More

Reviews
12.01.2017
A liberating holiday performance

Read More

Blogs
11.30.2017
The Master of the Revels

Read More

Blogs
06.21.2017
The Solstice Stands Revealed

Read More

Announcements
06.15.2017
Revels is here! Revels is here!

Read More

Blogs
05.24.2017
Striding Arches

Read More

Blogs
04.18.2017
Moonlighting with Shakespeare

Read More

Blogs
02.23.2017
What Blizzard?

Read More

Reviews
12.14.2016
Christmas Revels Enchants with Celebration of Acadian, Cajun Cultures

Read More

Announcements
12.12.2016
The Holy and the Broken Hallelujah Or How I learned to stop

Read More

Reviews
12.12.2016
This Acadian-Cajun Christmas Revels lets the good times roll

Read More

Reviews
12.04.2016
Annual Christmas Revels’ production fills the stage with delight

Read More

Blogs
06.06.2016
A Music Director Reflects

Read More

Blogs
04.11.2016
Fenway’s Ritual Earth

Read More

Announcements
03.08.2016
Welcome to Our New Music Director

Read More

Blogs
02.17.2016
Reflections on Malibu

Read More

Reviews
12.14.2015
‘Christmas Revels’ finally makes it to Wales

Read More

Blogs
12.10.2015
Christmas Revels – Looking Back and Looking Forward

Read More

Blogs
10.26.2015
Dylan Thomas: the intersection where poetry and drama meet

Read More

Announcements
09.16.2015
Revels Music Director George Emlen Announces His Retirement

Read More

Blogs
08.24.2015
Giving Voice

Read More

Blogs
07.17.2015
A Revels Director in Wales

Read More

Blogs
06.19.2015
Summer solstice: the year’s circus act

Read More

Reviews
06.12.2015
The Boston Globe profiles harpist Maeve Gilchrist and Revels FRINGE

Read More

Announcements
05.27.2015
Reporting on Education at Revels

Read More

Blogs
05.11.2015
The Great Flying Machine Race

Read More

Blogs
05.01.2015
The Wheel of the World

Read More

Blogs
04.13.2015
What’s Your Version of the Revels Elephant?

Read More

Announcements
01.26.2015
Farewell from Steve

Read More

Announcements
01.14.2015
Summer Camp

Read More

Reviews
12.17.2014
Fuse Theater Review: The Christmas Revels – Charming English Music Hall Edition

Read More

Reviews
12.17.2014
The Boston Globe Review: For Christmas Revels, a welcome return to Victorian

Read More

Reviews
12.16.2014
Events Insider Review: Christmas Revels Brings Victorian Dance Hall Celebration to Sanders

Read More

Reviews
12.15.2014
TAB Newspapers Theater Review: Revels transports audiences to Victorian England

Read More

Blogs
12.11.2014
The Crystal Palace

Read More

Blogs
09.16.2014
Don’t Blame Persephone

Read More

Blogs
07.07.2014
From the FRINGE: Who’s Maeve Listening to?

Read More

Blogs
06.20.2014
Solstice Fires

Read More

Blogs
04.25.2014
Patriot’s Day – My Favorite Holiday

Read More

Announcements
04.14.2014
A Forum on Arts Funding

Read More

Blogs
03.18.2014
Spring Forward

Read More

Blogs
03.03.2014
The Itinerant Musician

Read More

Announcements
02.05.2014
Welcome to the Revels blog

Read More

Stay up to date
with Revels.
Sign up to receive email updates on performances, events, and news coming from Revels.