If Morfydd Owen had lived three weeks longer she would have been immortalised in the 27 Club. As it is she remains almost unknown outside of her native Wales Growing up in musical family she learned the piano and aged sixteen gave a performance of the Grieg piano concerto. After Cardiff University she gained a scholarship to the Royal Academy where her prizewinning record remains unequalled. Created an ARAM she was heralded as the potential Elgar of her day. With a further scholarship she developed her voice as a mezzo-soprano and in just over ten years of composing produced 180 works.
This captivating dance is a fascinating journey through this forgotten woman’s life.
In London she became a socialite, renowned for her engaging personality and beauty. Faithful to her Welsh roots as part of the Charing Cross Welsh Presbyterian Chapel she also was also part of the coterie surrounding D. H. Lawrence and Ezra Pound. As her close friendship with Eliot Crawshay-Williams developed she wrote, “I fear I have a passionate nature, and it is increasing - and I fear my power of resistance will soon fail”. He was 31, married and a Liberal MP. She was 19. Another lady’s resistance did fail, leading Eliot’s divorce and the end his political career. He went on to marry her which probably furthered the manic depression from which Morfydd increasingly suffered.
In 1917 with looming fears of being left on the shelf she married the the pioneering English voice of psychoanalysis and later Freud’s biographer the atheist Ernest Jones only six weeks after their first meeting. She enjoyed a brief honeymoon period before her musical output declined, she became tired of domesticity and the marriage became unhappy. Her death in 1918 remains controversial. Officially she died from delayed chloroform poisoning following an operation for acute appendicitis, itself carried out in strange circumstances.
It’s worth knowing all of this as I Loved You and I Loved You is a biographical contemplation. Sweetshop Revolution has had to be highly selective in choosing songs, scenes, readings and accompaniment from the wealth of material uncovered by Brian Ellsbury’s research into Morfydd Owen. He accompanies this production on the piano and soprano Ellen Williams who effortlessly renders the lyrical songs. The balance of this work may still not satisfy everyone. More songs and readings would make for a longer piece but the material is there.
Faith Prendergast, delicately portrays Morfydd’s first notes on the piano but is soon joined by her two men for an amusing scene at the fairground which visibly captures the rides and roundabouts. Darker days loom however. Karl Fargarlund-Brekke portrays an initially confident Eliot clearly enamoured of Morfydd yet frustrated and who ultimately fades through the consequences of his own actions. Eliot Daniel Whiley makes it easy to see why Morfydd would have fallen for him. Handsome and self-assured in public an agonised, writhing solo reminiscent of Munch’s ‘The Scream’ reveals inner turmoil while a second vividly illustrates his research paper ‘Anal-Erotic Character Traits’.
Conceived and directed by Sally Marie this captivating dance is a fascinating journey through this forgotten woman’s life. Perhaps I Loved You and I Loved You and the 100th anniversary of her death in 2018 will do something to reignite her reputation.