Category Archives: Art

The Devil’s Violin performing “Stolen” at Neuadd Dyfi

Tonight I went to see Stolen at the Neuadd Dyfi by The Devil’s Violin.  I booked myself in with a very open mind but with no clear idea of what it would be all about.  Here’s the description that was given on the Neuadd Dyfi website:

The Devil’s Violin return with an enchanting blend of words and music. Brimming with dreamlike images that will haunt you long after the performance ends, The Devil’s Violin will take you on an epic journey to The Land Of No Return.  The essence of all cinema, theatre and literature is a gripping tale well told. Using live music and the spoken word, The Devil’s Violin return us to that essence.  Nothing is as detailed and rich as the world we can create with our own minds… Daniel Morden transports you to the Land of No Return, his story telling enhanced by the hypnotic string accompaniment of Sarah Moody and Oliver Wilson-Dickson.  The ensemble take you on an epic journey through a dream like land where you will encounter a King turned to stone, an old woman living in the claw of a giant cockerel and a glass man filled with wasps. www.thedevilsviolin.co.uk

Stolen somewhat defies adequate description.  As the picture above shows, The Devil’s violin consists of three performers, a narrator (Daniel Morden), a violinist (Oliver Wilson-Dickson) and a cellist (Sarah Moody).  The narrator tells the story of the youngest and least courageous of three princes who goes on quest to retrieve the stolen Bird of Hope to restore the eyesight of his father, the king.  Along the way he finds similarly troubled people, all of whom have also been victims of the Pale King, who resides in the Land of No Return.   The young prince promises to search for help for these tragic beings in the Land of No Return.  Along the way he hears many stories, tells one of his own and he becomes a story in his own right.

Daniel Morden takes on all the parts in the narrative, be it a bird, a prince, an old woman or a princess, and there is a lot of humour threaded throughout, with lots of laughs from the audience.  The story is interwoven with music, sometimes the marvellous tunes being left to tell their own parts of the tangled tale, sometimes wild and joyous, often melancholy, sometimes doom-laden, but always phenomenally beautiful.  Pieces of it reminded me of Tartini’s Devil’s Sonata, but there were also layers of Irish fiddle music.  The interplay of the violin and the cello was simply superb, and the finesse of both the individual performances and the precision of their synergy was remarkable.

Just before the interval the audience was asked to make a decision about how the dilemma in the story that the prince tells in the Land of No Return should be resolved.  At the beginning of the second part, the lights were left up and members of the audience shouted out their preferred solution to the dilemma.  It was great fun to hear some of the more outrageous suggestions, and as Daniel Morden pointed out, there was a real gender division in the proposed outcomes!  There is a poetic ending, and the story comes to a satisfying close.  Overall, it was a mosaic of fable, parable, allegory, myth, yarn and poetry, delivered with humour, skill and real style and flair.

I had only been to the Neuadd Dyfi once to join the older people’s exercise spot on a Monday afternoon, which is in the large, light-filled back room, so I was by no means sure what to expect of the theatre venue.   My thanks to Aberdovey resident David Inman, who recommended the performances at the Neauadd to me, and he was spot on – it was a delight.  Comfortable chairs in well spaced rows were laid out in a crescent formation to face the stage, which was beautifully lit.  The acoustics are good and the atmosphere friendly and charged with anticipation. Everyone seems to know everyone else!  A swift glance around suggested that was a wide age mix, mainly of the over-40s, more generally the over-50s, but there was a smattering of younger people and even children there too.  Nice to have the mix.  There was a bar selling hot and cold drinks, including wine and beer, and the dress was generally smart-casual, relaxed.  I sat next to Gwenda, who is off to Bala tomorrow on the 57th anniversary of her wedding day to see the chapel where she was married.  What a super idea.

My thanks to The Devil’s Violin for a great evening, and to the Neuadd Dyfi’s Des George and his team for organizing it.   It was a splendid evening.  You can find out more about The Devil’s Violin, including their upcoming schedule, on their website.

I enjoyed the whole experience enormously and have already bought my ticket for The Mid Wales Opera’s SmallStages performance of A Spanish Hour:  Ravel’s L’heure espagnole, first performed in 1911.  See more about the performance on their website here, and you can book via the Neuadd Dyfi website here.

The story behind the memorial to 3 Troop 10 (1A) in Penhelyg Park

I went in to the Aberdyfi Literary Institute today to become a member, and picked up a number of leaflets, one of which was entitled “The Story behind the Monument.  Penhelyg Park Aberdyfi.”  There is no author cited so I cannot credit him or her, but it is an excellent account of the history behind the monument. The monument, shown right, reads:

FOR THE MEMBERS OF
3 TROOP 10 (1A)
COMMANDO
WHO WERE
WARMLY WELCOMED
IN ABERDYFI
WHILE TRAINING
FOR SPECIAL DUTIES
IN BATTLE
1942-1943
TWENTY WERE
KILLED IN ACTION

The main thrust of the story is that the Number 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando unit, with its headquarters at Harlech, was made up of a number of volunteer troops, each representing a different European nationality, all dedicated to Allied interests, with each based at a different place in Britain.  Most remarkable of them all, however, was No.3 Troop, which was formed in 1942 and was made up of of German and Austrian nationals, “enemy aliens” who were many Jewish, as well as a few others who were either European (mainly Czech and Hungarian) or stateless, all of whom had fled the Nazi regime as it began to gain strength.  The members of the troop, once trained, were used for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, affiliated to other troops either on the front line or behind enemy lines.  The Troop never fought as a unit.  The idea was the inspiration of the Chief of Combined Operations, Earl Mountbatten.   3 Troop came to Aberdovey to be trained.  Whereas other troops were given the name of their nationality (e.g. No.2 Dutch Troop) No.3 was named X Troop by Winston Churchill, the X standing for an unknown quantity, a reflection of how bold the idea was considered to be.

Captain Brian Hilton Jones. Source: The Commando Veterans Association

Over 350 refugees volunteered for 3 Troop, of whom 86 were selected in the first intake.  Eventually around 130 men served in 3 Troop 10 (1A).  As well as being completely fluent in German, they had to be capable of achieving the highest Commando skills.  Most were aged between 18 and 25, many had been resident in Britain for some time, and some of them had served in the unarmed Pioneer Corps, which focused mainly on light engineering work.  There was no fanfare accompanying their arrival.  Their role was a secret one.  Each individual had taken a British name as a nommes de guerre and been given an identity backed up by all the necessary documentation.  Only the policeman was informed of the true purpose of the Troop, and they were billeted in private homes and integrated with village society.  Two of 3 Troop married local girls. Initially none of them were eligible to become officers, a restriction that was removed after they had proved themselves, in 1944, after which 18 became officers.  Their Commanding Officer was Bryan Hilton-Jones from Caernarfon who was a graduate in Modern Languages from Cambridge, and rated as a good leader of men.  The leaflet says that he was a fitness fanatic, and saw to it that their training was incredibly wide-ranging, everything from physical aptitude, weapons training and intelligence to housebreaking, lock-picking and demolition.

3 Troop members had been involved in numerous fighting, the invasions of Normandy and Sicily, small raids, and various other campaigns.  Twenty were killed in action and twenty two were wounded or disabled.  An article on the BBC website by Ron Goldstein, which is also well worth a read, lists the honours that were awarded to 3 Troop:  one MC, one MM, one Croix de Guerre, one MBE, one BEM, one Certificate of Commendation and three Mentioned in Despatches. He goes on to say that “the number of awards are derisory considering their exploits and the inevitable death sentence they faced if captured – not to mention the danger to any of their surviving relatives in Nazi Europe. Many details of the men were known to the Gestapo and reprisals would have been immediate.”  This was probably because, fighting as individuals alongside other units, they never fought as a unit and were therefore not in a position to be put forward for honours by their own Commanding Officer.

The English version of the memorial plaque in the sea wall of the park

The monument was installed in 1999, unveiled by the former Lord Lieutenant of Gwynedd, Mr Meuric Reese CBE, in the presence of twenty eight 3 Troop survivors, on 15th May of that year.   It was designed, carved and inscribed by John Neilson letter carver, lettering designer and callipgrapher of Pentrecwn, Oswestry.  With his skill at incorporating letters into works of art, he was the perfect choice for this particular memorial.  For more examples of his work see the Arts Connection / Cyswllt Celf website.  Another monument to 3 Troop 10 is a grove of trees at Ashton Wold in Northamptonshire, described by Ron Goldstein planted George Lane aka Lanyi, the first officer and MC of No. 3 Jewish Troop, by his wife.

For anyone who would like to read the full version of the leaflet, together with its recommended further reading, there are copies in the Aberdyfi Literary Institute, or you can download the PDF: 3 Troop 10 leaflet entire.

You may also be interested in the transcript of a speech delivered by Colin Anson, formerly Claus Leopold Octavio Ascher, on the 4th September 2007 at the Imperial War Museum.  The speech described his experience as a member of No 10 (IA) Commando 3 troop, given when he attended a reunion of refugees from Nazism who served in the British Forces in WW2. It gives insights into some of the work he carried out as part of 3 Troop.   The transcript is on the Commando Veterans website.

More very useful information about training and deployment of 3 Troop 10 is given in the book Leadership, Management and Command: Rethinking D-Day By K. Grint , the relevant section of which is available on Google Books.

Penhelyg Park with the memorial at the far end

Penhelyg Park with the memorial at the far end