A new drama podcast examines the issues of hereditary diseases and genetic testing

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Tremolo by Illumine Theater

This week, a new dramatic Welsh collaboration between science and the arts was released as a podcast, aiming to raise awareness of the issues of inherited diseases and genetic testing.

Intended mainly for young audiences aged 16 and over, Tremolo is a drama podcast produced by Illumine Theater and was launched on Spotify, Apple podcast, A M and on Genedlaethol Theater educational resource ‘Casgliad Dysgu’.

Produced in partnership with Wales Gene Park and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and supported by the Genetics Society, it will also be marketed directly to schools.

Written by Cardiff-based playwright Lisa Parry, co-director of Illumine Theatre, Tremolo is a powerful podcast and provides real insight into whether to get a genetic test and how a family copes with a diagnosis that may be hidden in their genes.

There are several diseases and conditions that can be inherited or run in families and have implications for the children or grandchildren of sufferers, but this piece looks specifically at early onset familial Alzheimer’s disease (eFAD).

Dementia is something many of us will have encountered, and with an ever aging population, many of us will face it ourselves. While the forms of the disease that strike later in life will be more familiar, some people may experience dementia praecox and, more rarely, the type that can be inherited – eFAD.

Powerful and intimate

Tremolo is presented through the eyes of Harri, a caring teenager who, like many youngsters who have just finished their final A-level exams, is excited about the future – inter-railing with his friend and then off to college to achieve his dream of becoming a neurosurgeon.

Suddenly, his world is turned upside down when he discovers not only that his beloved mother has been diagnosed with eFAD, but also that there is a 50% chance that he and his younger sister Gwenllian have it as well.

The play examines some of the early signs of the disease, and the impact of the disease on family relationships, financial pressures, daily life and dreams is explored through Harri’s eyes.

Writer Lisa Parry felt that the podcast format and solo voice would provide a powerful listening experience that would really appeal to younger listeners.

She said: “I really liked the intimacy of the podcast format – the piece lands in the listener’s brain to allow them to visualize events.

“The music is so central to the piece, and I really liked the fact that the podcast will be released via popular streaming services as well. I wanted Harri’s fragility to stand out, and with this format he speaks to listeners face to face.

“Families in our communities have to make decisions like those made by my main character, teenager ‘Harri’, and his family, and we rarely hear about it. I really hope Tremolo helps families consider genetic testing options and makes understanding these options more accessible to the general public.

Tremolo recording – image by Kirsten McTernan

Captivating

Music is an integral part of the production and Harri’s younger sister Gwenllian loves to play the harp and spends hours practicing her ‘tremolo’. As the play progresses, emotions rise as the two teenagers grasp the enormity of the situation.

Director Zoë Waterman, who serves as co-director of Illumine Theater alongside Lisa, explained the role of internationally acclaimed Welsh harpist Eira Lynn Jones, who composed and performed live harp music, bringing history and emotion to life.

She said, “In Tremolo it is Harri who takes us through the story; Voiced by the fantastic Gareth Elis, we’re inside his head as he grapples with the sudden and shocking news of his mother’s diagnosis and what it may mean for his own future.

“However, there is another brother, his younger sister Gwenllian, who is also going through this turmoil, and Lisa has written her wonderfully as a musician – playing the harp and finding her escape through her strings.

“In doing so, Lisa allowed Eira Lynn Jones to tell the story of Gwenllian through the music she plays, her relationship to this material and her connection to the harp – it gives a nice texture to the piece and gives us the stories of the two brothers side by side, vibrating from each other, like the tremolo of the title.

The fields of science and medicine are new to Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, but the company says it enjoyed working on the project and exploring the use of podcasts to bring theater to new and young audiences.

Rhian Davies, Executive Producer of Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, said, “Offering relevant creative content across different platforms is essential for Theatr Gen to move forward. We want to grow our offering so that it not only includes a live theatrical experience, but also the broader reach and longer legacy that accompanies digital platforms.

“Tremolo is also a gripping story. With the new curriculum in Wales, it’s a great opportunity for the expressive arts to connect with science and technology, and teachers can take advantage of a free, bilingual, bespoke educational resource created by Theatr Gen and Gene Park Wales for supporting this drama podcast in the Classroom.”


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