… or ‘the politics of The Royal Bed’ – this being the title of Sion Eirian’s English-language adaptation of the Saunders Lewis play Siwan. Yes, it’s a play that puts the female perspective centre stage; yes it’s a good part for a mature woman, yes it’s about medieval Wales, yes Sion Eirian’s translation shares all this with a wider audience. Well worth going to the premiere at Newport’s Riverfront theatre in mid February, or catching it on its Welsh tour.
But. I can’t help feeling it’s a pity that modern drama about the period still focusses on Siwan’s affair with the young Marcher lord William de Breos and its emotional fallout. It’s the same episode that forms the centrepiece of Edith Pargeter (aka Ellis Peters)’s novel The Green Branch and Sharon Kay Penman’s Here be Dragons. There was so much more to Siwan than that. Illegitimate daughter of King John of England, she was married to Llywelyn ab Iorwerth of Wales when she was only 15, as part of a peace treaty. Her knowledge of the framework of power at the English court was invaluable to her husband. She was able to act as his channel of communication first with John and then with her half-brother Henry III, and she was a major power behind the scenes in a crucial period of the struggle for Welsh independence.
It’s a pity to neglect all that in favour of a love affair.