Pixar’s Coco reminds us that this studio and the people working in it are creating some of the best, all ages animation out there right now and for years to come. That they are able to take colour and sounds and manipulate them to craft a journeys and characters that invoke laughs and tears within us.
Opening the movie is a story of a family told to us through the visuals of cut-out flags. So the visuals and information is very clear and smoothly delivered. It begins with a father, his wife and their child living their lives, the father wants to live his life of playing music for the people, so he leaves his wife and daughter. The mother doesn’t let this get her down so she becomes a master shoemaker and bans all music from her life, which becomes the way of her family.
The mother passes on and she is remembered for their Day of The Dead. The daughter remains as the very old Coco (Ana Ofelia Muruia, who the movie is named after), she doesn’t register much and mostly just sits in her wheel-chair. The head of the family is definitely the grandmother (Renee Victor). Everyone in the family is committed to the craft of making shoes and remembers their dearly departed loved ones, except for their great-great grandfather who abandoned them. But the youngest in the family Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) loves music and wants to spend his life playing guitar and idolizes the deceased musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Miguel loves his family but also loves music and wont feel complete if he doesn’t pursue it. Going against his families wishes he enters a music competition, his grandmother smashed his guitar so he needs to find another, he sneaks into Ernesto’s memorial to use his, being that tonight is the Day of the Dead with one strum of the guitar Miguel is transported into the perspective of the dead.
Now his quest begins to find a way back to the land of the living before the sun rises, because if he doesn’t get out before then he’ll be stuck there forever. Through his journey he acquires companions (which must happen), there is Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) a spirit that wants to get to the world of the living to see his daughter one last time and Dante a street dog that serves as his animal guide.
To say that the movie is well animated and the textures are convincing almost seems like a given. It’s Pixar, they’ve never delivered a movie that is lackluster in terms of the visual technology. As the years proceed the technology develops the graphics become sharper and sharper. What is more important than the mere sharpness of everything is the way it is used to clearly express emotions. They way you see a character’s face have an emotion clearly expressed and then it turns to something else shows an understanding on how to convey it to an audience.
Michael Giacchino creates a rousing Latino based score. Filled with trumpets and acoustic guitars.
I wont ruin anything but he does something were a song gets played again in different context and it is a masterful use of tone. I did find it ironic that there was a musical score playing over the scenes with the family, perhaps it would be better if the scene was completely without music while with the family.
Being that the majority of the movie takes place in this land and the people in it are skeletons they truly show their ability to work within limitations. I do feel a bit weird seeing skulls express, because they cant, because of their bones. But I digress, they get a vast amount of different character designs from skulls having them all shaped differently, they have a distinctive movement and pose and work in just about all the physical jokes you can out of skeletons, jaws dropping, eyes popping out, limbs being pulled off etc.
This movie comes out so close to The Book of Life. However this also goes to show how movies can distinguish themselves from merely the concept stage.
I have seen my share of movies and am aware of most of their tricks and the way things unfold. I don’t consider myself the hardest to please but I’m not the easiest of targets. However if a movie truly invokes a reaction from me then it means it has indeed done it’s job. In this movie I laughed an appropriate amount, was rather awed by the visuals and when it got near the end I did indeed shed tears (twice). This is a sign of the movies effectiveness and sincerity with it’s material.
Coco is the story about the love from your family, perusing your goals despite the odds and living your life so that the ones that remain when your gone have something to remember. No other culture exists that is about embracing what life has to offer while being aware of it’s inevitable end, so while were all here, lets make it worth it.
It seems like 2018 is going to be another great year for new theatre in Wales. Having seen a development stage of Cwmni Pluen’s next show, I’m really looking forward to seeing a final production from them this autumn. Pluen has a definitive performance style which I’m always excited to see. They’re also working in collaboration with charities during the development of the piece which I think sets a great precedent for future companies making new work. I also can’t wait to see National Theatre Wales’ Love Letter to the NHS. While the NHS is under siege from; medical companies charging them a fortune for treatment; government cuts; surgery closures; and an all time waiting list high; it’s important more than ever to support and celebrate our National Health Service in face of adversity.
My personal hope for the year is to successfully tour Motherlode’s next production Exodus. The piece was developed in Aberdare with generous support from our long term collaborators and co producers RCT Theatres and will be part of their year long 80th birthday celebrations, which includes lots of new work by exciting artists. Exodus is also supported by Creu Cymru, Bristol Old Vic, Night Out Wales and Chapter, touring to 12 venues across Wales before running in London. Gulp… I just hope we pull it off!”
Gareth Coles, Voluntary Arts Wales Director / Cyfarwyddwr Celfyddydau Gwirfoddol Cymru
Recently I’ve been losing myself in the acoustic EPs of the guitarist Yvette Young who also writes and performs with the band Covet. She will be releasing a piano EP early this year, and having heard some snippets, I can’t wait to hear the whole thing.
On a personal creative note, I’m hoping to develop my drawing this year. I seem to have spent most of 2017 hurriedly sketching, but having developed the habit of drawing daily, it’s time I started working on some longer and more thoughtful pieces. I have also just started playing the piano again after many years’ hiatus, so I’m hoping my rusty playing will become slightly less objectionable by the end of the year.
Simon Coates, National Theatre Wales’, Head of Creative Development
The Terra Firma Spring Tour by NDCWales including the mesmeric Tundra by Roy Assaf. EXPERIMENTICA Festival at Chapter will back again for another year of live art from all over the UK and further afield in April.
And finally I am hoping to make it along to Abercych to join one of their experimental Twmpaths with Simon Whitehead and his collaborators.
Geoff Cripps, Board Member, Theatr na Nog, Creu Cymru and musician with Allan y Fan
At the end of January I am delighted and privileged to return to Glasgow as one of the 180 delegates to Showcase Scotland – a very important element within the world’s greatest mid-winter music festival. The five days I will spend here will definitely kick away any lingering vestiges of mid-winter blues! Don’t know yet which artists I will see/hear in total but I am pleased that in the festival’s 25th anniversary year the Showcase Scotland partner is Ireland. Still hoping that one year Wales will create something of lasting value like this event which has had such a powerful impact on the development of Scottish Artists in an international setting.
I have yet to pick what to see closer to home in the valleys but am looking forward to visiting RCT Theatres, The Borough Theatre and Blackwood Miner’s Institute on several occasions during the year.
My personal hopes for 2018 include doing my best to ensure that Theatr na nÓg builds on the great achievements of 2017, that Creu Cymru continues to be the essential organisation for the theatres and arts centres of Wales and, on a real personal note, that my band Allan Yn Y Fan have our most successful concert ever in Blackwood Miner’s Institute on 28th March!
I am sure that every other contributor will make their feelings known about “Brexit”, “POTUS”, the “Maybot” etc. etc but I am deliberately trying to keep this light-hearted.
Let’s hope that despite everything the Arts In Wales continue to deliver life-changing experiences, uncover nascent talent, connect more deeply with their communities and audiences. Finally I hope that BBC Wales finally delivers a year-round coverage of the Arts In Wales.
My personal hope is to be continued to be inspired and surprised by writers and artists pushing boundaries and creating work that moves me and reminds me what it is to be human.
Peter Doran, Artistic Director, Torch Theatre Company
On a personal level, I’m really looking forward to directing our next production, The Wood by Owen Thomas; its always exciting to tackle a new piece of writing, one never really knows if it will quite come off as expected or hoped. Giving the success we had with Owen’s last play Grav (shortly to go to New York), we have high hopes but we know that there’s a great deal of hard work in front of us. I’m also working on it with two actors, whom I’ve never directed before (Ifan Huw Dafydd and Gwydion Rhys), so that gives an extra frisson.
Elsewhere, I always look forward to Vamos coming to the Torch; Vamos are a full mask company who do wonderful work, this season they are touring a piece about the war in Afganistan called A Brave Face, one to look out for. I loved Liverpool Everyman’s repertory season last year and I’ll be interested to see if the second season is as successful – A Clockwork Orange sticks out as a highlight for me.
My personal hopes? That the true value of art and culture is appreciated and not seen as the icing on top of the cake. It’s not a commodity that can take it’s stand in the market place and compete; it has to be nurtured, supported, fed – if not, it will wither away and die.
Tom Goddard, Artist and Criw Celf Coordinator
In a time when Netflix is elevated to the role of religion, Shezad Dawood’s Leviathan satisfies our obsession with marathon box set watching, with this ten part film series. First at last year’s Venice Biennale and the series continues now at Mostyn, Llandudno in March.
Ragnar Kjartansson, Artes Mundi 6 nominee, will return to Wales to present a brand-new performance piece, The Sky in a Room which will feature a series of revolving local organists performing the 1959 hit song “Il Cielo In Una Stanza” (The Sky in a Room) on the 1774 Sir Watkins Williams Wynn organ.
Chapter’s Experimentica, will roll into town again in April and is always guaranteed to raise a smile and challenge in equal measure with a real range of refreshing voices and ideas from the world of live art. NS Harsha,Artes Mundi 3 winner, will return to Wales at Glynn Vivian in Summer 2018 presenting screening printing, installation, sculpture and drawings.
Glynn Vivian will also be opening late once a month offering performance, music, workshops as well as curatorial opportunities for young people.
Simon Harris, Playwright and Director of Lucid
It would be a bit matey of me to select 2018 highlights from Wales, so the two things outside of Wales that I’d really like to see are Chris Goode’s staging of Derek Jarman’s Jubilee which has been at the Royal Exchange n Manchester and is going to the Lyric Hammersmith. Because punk’s not dead. The other is Dead Centre’s new production at the Schaubuhne of Shakespeare’s Last Play – partly to see the work and partly to go to Berlin as I’ve never been there and I’d like to go before the world ends.
I’m a little overwhelmed by how far away we are from how I’d like things to be in 2018. There’s so much to do in so many areas, it would be easy to give in and give up. But I’m drawn to some of the determined spirits out there and so my main hope for the sector is that we move to a more productive, more innovative, less hierarchical approach to making work. I would like to see some of the fake differences between Arts Council Wales portfolio and the remaining group of artists and companies done away with. I’d like to see individuals and companies allowed to apply for larger sums and for more extended periods of work, instead of one-off projects. Most of all I’d like to some vision that can lead to the release of the amazing potential of artists in Wales and their work. Oh, and a bit more honest dialogue and a lot less self-referential, self-congratulatory bulls**t.
Steffan Jones-Hughes, Director Oriel Davies
There’s so much exciting art to see in 2018!
January sees Nova open at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. An exciting exhibition of young contemporary artists originated by the Royal Cambrian Academy. Look out for inaugural award winner Paul Eastwood, and also Catrin Menai, Rory Duckhouse, and AJ Stockwell. Aberystwyth Arts Centre- 25.1-1.4 2018
February I can’t wait to see The Sky in a Room by Icelandic Artist, Ragnar Kjartansson. The exciting performance will see a series of revolving organists performing the 1959 hit song “Il Cielo In Una Stanza” (The Sky in a Room) on the 1774 Sir Watkins Williams Wynn organ, and will run from 3 February to 11 March at National Museum Cardiff.
June sees The Oriel Davies Open inviting artists from Wales, UK and internationally through Open Call to show work. I’m on the selection panel along with Jane Simpson (artist & Director Galerie Simpson), Matthew Collings (writer and curator), Sacha Craddack (curator and writer. TBC), and Alex Boyd Jones, Curator OD. Oriel Davies Open 2018 23 June – 5 September.
My personal hopes are that 2018 will be a time of unleashing potential, harnessing prosperity and celebrating the power of community within society.
Paul Kaynes, Chief Executive Officer, National Dance Company Wales
Firstly the home team: NDCW are about to set off on our long Spring tour taking in all of Wales, the UK, Austria and Germany with works by Resident Choreographer Caroline Finn (in Cardiff you have another chance to see her beautiful, haunting FOLK) and the mesmerising Tundra by Marcos Morau – already an international hit. Later this year watch out for a contemporary dance-opera we’re presenting with Music Theatre Wales in October/November. It’s a beautiful work.
To finally see every organisation in Wales tackling all barriers to access, rather than relying on one or two organisations. Saying this, we have to upskill those creating the work at grassroots level for this to be achievable, so I hope to see lots of money being ploughed into this.
I hope my production of the musical The Last 5 Years comes to fruition and tours Wales Autumn 2018 as this has access at its heart and supports BSL as a culture.
I look forward to seeing our Opera Bites event expanding a little as well as some exciting developments with our 10 Minute Musicals project come to fruition. We have a sharing of this work at Millennium Centre, February 25th, Blackwood Miners Institute, February 27th and then we are sharing it at Focus Wales 2018 which is hugely exciting for this project and all the artists involved.
There is a piece I started to develop last year with Eddie Ladd based on Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy which we hope to pick up this year. It’s a piece very dear to me therefore I hope we make this work for us. Building in this there may be another exciting collaboration with Eddie in the pipeline. Watch this space. Our work compliments each other wonderfully.
I hope to see more of my daughter this year, drink less rose wine and get back into the gym at more regular intervals. I am also hoping to renovate my kitchen and become a better cook!! I have also vowed to explore the landscape I live within this year and reconnecting with nature a little.
Bethan Marlow, Writer
2018 feels like a fresh year. There’s a lot of courage in the air, people are standing up and shouting out, dirty secrets are no longer protected and new manifestos are being drawn. I’m crossing all my fingers that this also means that we’ll see fresh and courageous cultural activity all over Wales in all languages.
I hope we all, and I’m very much including myself here, have the courage to dig deep and create what we need and want to create this year. Not what we think people will go and see or what we think will tick funding boxes but what our guts are screaming for us to make.
David Mercatali, Associate Director, Sherman Theatre
I am hugely excited to be working with the fantastic Welsh writer Katherine Chandler and the next generation of acting talent on the world premiere of Buddy. The play is part of NEW:2018 and is a co-production between RWCMD and Sherman Theatre.My wish for the New Year would be for anyone living in Cardiff who hasn’t been to the theatre yet to give it a go!
My personal hopes for 2018; In light of the funding threats to my local arts centre at Pontardawe, I hope that the people who make these detrimental decisions recognise the importance of the arts and their effect on our wellbeing. I hope that communities begin to make more use of all local arts centres and that artists and creatives have the freedom and funding to encourage and inspire those that are blind to its relevance in our society today.
Mae son bod cynhyrchiadau newydd ar y gweill gan Mercury, Neontopia a Triongl, a gobeithio bydd Na’Nog yn atgyfodi Nye and Jennie gan i mi ei fethu yn y Metropole yn Abertileri,a pwy a wyr pa ddanteithion daw i’n diddanu pan ddaw’r Eisteddfod i Gaerdydd ym mis Awst.
O’m rhan fy hun mae gen i brosiectau gyda’r Theatr Genedlaethol, Na’Nog, Theatrau RCT a Canoe a dwi’n gobeithio bydd fy sioe un menyw am Rachel Roberts (Yn Gymraeg) yn digwydd o’r diwedd!
I am looking forward to Theatr Genedlaethol’s latest productionY Tad ( Le Pere) by Florian Zeller trans. Geraint Lovgreen (Touring 21 Feb- 16 March) with Dyfan Roberts as the father. Dyfan and I began our careers together back in 1970! Also Theatr Pena’s production Women of Flowers by Sion Eirian after Saunders Lewis (Touring 1Feb-9 March) with the amazing Sara Lloyd Gregory as Blodeuwedd. I shall venture to Pontrhydfendigaid for a poetic and cinematic recreation by Mike Pearson and Mike Brookes as they embark on a three year project with NTW under the title The Storm Cycle with Nothing Remains The Same (15-17 Feb) and they promise seating- indoors! And fireworks! In a timely production about minority languages Theatr Gwalia presents Inheriting The Gods by Carmen Stephens about a relationship between a young man from the Wampanoag tribe and a young Welsh Woman and is touring Feb 26-March 24. The amazing Dirty Protest celebrate their tenth birthday with Mark Williams’ play Lightspeed from Pembroke Dock (Touring 4 April-5 May).
I hear that Mercury, Neontopia and Triongl are preparing exciting things and I hope Na’Nog will revive Nye and Jennie as I missed it at the Metropole in Abertillery, and who knows what delicacies the Eisteddfod will bring when it comes to Cardiff in August!
I have writing and performing projects with Theatr Genedlaethol, Na’Nog, RCT Theatres and Canoe and I really hope my one woman show about Rachel Roberts (in Welsh) will happen this year!
Catherine Paskell, Independent Theatre Director
I’m looking forward to loads of new original performance work happening in Wales this year, but if I had to pick only two, I would choose:
Jordan Brookes Body Of Work at Chapter on 2 June. I saw this show in Edinburgh, and Jordan was nominated for the 2017 Last Minute.Com Edinburgh Comedy Award for best show. That’s what the Perrier Award is now called, so it’s a pretty big deal and this was a pretty awesome show. It was one of the best comedy shows I saw in Edinburgh last year when Dirty Protest was there with Sugar Baby. I love Jordan’s comedy – I first saw him when he was living in Cardiff a few years ago and it was fantastic to see his work get the recognition he deserves. He’s on the performance art-end of comedy (but without being up its arse) and he’s one of my favourite weirdos.
Also, I really cannot wait for Split Britches’ Unexploded Ordances at the Wales Millenium Centre for a week this March. Peggy Shaw is a world renowned artist and I saw her show with Clod Ensemble Must: The Inside Story ten years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe. It made an impact on me then as she transfixed a Victorian anatomy theatre with a raw story full of poetry and heart and pain and medicine and art. It’s a real privilege for us to see artists of this calibre creating original work in Wales and this experience will be a must see, or rather as it’s interactive art: a “must do”.
Rachel Pedley Miller, Artistic Director, Avant Cymru
In 2018 Avant Cymru are planning a busy year with Forget Me Not in January and Blue Scar in the summer.
We are working with Rufus Mufasa on her album launch on the 16th of January. Looking forward to working with Rufus and Unity further on Welsh Hip Hop projects.
Jac Ifan Moore, Director and Co-Director of Powderhouse
Theatre Dublin Carol – Sherman Theatre
Coming up in a few weeks at the Sherman. Connor McPherson, killer cast and directed by Matthew Xia. Come on, what more d’you want?
All But Gone – The Other Room
I’m really excited to see what Dan Jones will do now that he’s at the helm of The Other Room. This will be his first production as AD, and it’s a chance to see how he’s going to put his mark on that ambitious company.
Book Tribe – Sebastian Junger
Collection of essays that span history, autobiography, anthropology and psychology. What we can learn from tribal societies, what we’ve lost, and why in the modern world we’re still craving companionship and meaning.Film
The Shape of Water – Dir. Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro’s latest film gets its UK release in February, and I’m looking forward to his particular mix of strangeness. Set to the bleak backdrop of 1960’s Baltimore, it’s apparently a love story between a mute woman and a water god. Yes please.
Lucy Owen, Journalist and writer
I’m looking forward to the Cardiff Kids Literature Festival in April this year. There will be loads of events going on and it’s a great chance to meet authors and illustrators and inspire children to pick up a book.
I am super excited that a book I’ve written for 6 – 8 year olds will be published in September too. It’s called ‘The Sea House’ and I’m really hoping children will love all the characters, particularly my favourite – a brave, sparkly little fish called Fabulous!
Marc Rees Creator and curator of installation and performance
You might have seen my crestfallen face captured on the news when it was announced that Swansea didn’t win the UK City of Culture crown for 2021? Perhaps if we’d gone with the abbreviated SUKCOC ( Swansea UK City Of Culture ) it might have been a different story?I really did think that it was Swansea’s time to shine and to quote the city’s very own big haired 80’s pop icon … we could have turned it around . However there are still exciting plans afoot and one that is very close to my heart is still under wraps till the end of January but I want to mention it as it’s certainly something that I’m really looking forward to getting my teeth into in 2018.
Essentially it’s an immersive Requiem that will kickstart the Swansea International Festival 2018 – written by a twice Oscar nominated composer with a libretto by a BAFTA Cymru winning writer, sung by a world renowned choir and with a wrap around narrative led by the formidable force that is Eddie Ladd. Watch this camouflaged space.
For 2018 I’m very much looking forward to hearing more cultural stories being told by people of a diverse background. Great things are happening already but there’s still such a way to go. ‘Fio’ are doing some amazing work right now providing opportunities for BAME actors, writers and directors to showcase work and are providing a great accessible outlet.
I’m involved in TWO amazing plays with full diverse teams this year. One of them which tells a story from voices we don’t often hear from. I am working with phenomenal actors all from diverse backgrounds and I cannot wait! The plays are wonderful and I’m really honoured to be a part of it all! The theatres we are performing in are equally brilliant! Wales is a place of character, diversity and rich culture. So I look forward to us continuing to move forward within the arts and really show what we are made of.
Keiron Self, Actor and Playwright
I’m very much looking forward to Light Speed from Pembroke Dock, a family friendly and Star Wars friendly theatre show from Dirty Protest as part of their 10th anniversary. I have been lucky enough to have a few pieces perfomed by them and their stalwart crew and have a soft spot in my heart for all involved. I also saw an Rand D of the show and it touched a nostalgic string in my heart, it being about fathers and sons and a certain sic-fi film – essentially a taste of my youth.
I’m also looking forward to films coming out in February The Shape of Water Guillermo Del Toro’s new fantasy masterpiece about a love affair between a woman and a Black Lagoon-esque creature in Cold War America. I’m a great fan of Del Toro, especially Pan’s Labyrinth, and this ranks right up there next to them. Also in February Lady Bird is a film from Greta Gerwig, a fantastic indie actress making her directorial debut with a well observed coming of age talk between a mother and a daughter starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.
I’m very much looking forward to a bumper year of culture in 2018. Many people interested in the arts in Wales will already be filling up their diaries.
One of the events I’m especially looking forward to is the National Eisteddfod (3-11 August, Cardiff), as it takes place this year right outside my office window in Cardiff Bay. For the first time in decades, the “Maes” (the festival site) will not be held in a field, and visitors will be able to come in and out as they chose, paying for each event individually. The “no-fence” Eisteddfod offers exciting opportunities to try out new activities, appealing to a wide range of audiences and celebrating the best of Welsh culture in all its forms.
For a relatively small country, Wales punches well above its weight in terms of literature festivals. As well as the world-renowned Hay Festival (24 May – 3 June), many more have appeared in recent years, including the excellent Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival (21-29 April) and the Cardiff Book Festival (7-9 September 2018). I’m particularly looking forward to the newest addition to the calendar, the Seren Poetry Festival at the Cornerstone building in Cardiff (16-18 February).
Pembrokeshire should take the prize for being the most bountiful county, with literature festivals in Solva (The Edge Festival – 2-5 August), Llangwm (10-12 August) and Rhosygilwen (PENfro Book Festival – September). These festivals would not take place without the dedicated efforts of community activists who believe in bringing people together and sharing a love for words. And the success of many depend on their brilliant local independent book shops.
If your dream is to take part in one of these festivals as a featured writer one day, then you should consider booking on one of the courses at Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre: www.tynewydd.wales. The many highlights include a Creative Writing for Welsh Learners course (16-18 March with Bethan Gwanas and Eilir Jones), Songs and Lyric Writing (9-14 April with Willy Russell and Stewart Henderson), Poetry: Writing about Life (20-25 August with Lemn Sissay, Sophie McKeand and Zoë Skoulding) and Writing a Novel (24-28 September with Louise de Bernière and Wales Book of the Year winner Alys Conran). There is something for everyone this year at this very special place.
I’m looking forward to seeing the completion of the epic 50ft mural by artistPete Fowler on the iconic Water Tower at Cardiff Central Station. Inspired by the stories of the Mabinogi, the mural is part of the Weird and Wonderful Wales project by Literature Wales and Cadw. The work began before Christmas, but was suspended because of bad weather. The work will continue soon and remain in place throughout 2018, when visitors from all across the globe will see it when they visit Cardiff for events such as the Volvo Ocean Race as part of Year of the Sea.
The Wales Book of the Year award is set to be another great event this year, with the ceremony scheduled to take place in the summer. Announcements will be made in March – so keep an eye out on Literature Wales’ website for details. In the meantime, I was thrilled to see that last year’s winner Pigeon(Parthian Books) by Alys Conran, is being serialised in the Western Mail. Also, the Roland Mathias Poetry Evening will take place on 23 February at The Muse, Brecon, featuring John Freeman, winner of last year’s Wales Book of the Year Roland Mathias Poetry Award, with Jonathan Edwards chairing the event.
Last year the National Poet of Wales, Ifor ap Glyn, with funding from Welsh Government and support by Cymru’n Cofio Wales Remembers (1914-1918), created and toured a multi-lingual multi-media show on poet Hedd Wyn called Y Gadair Wag/ The Empty Chair, directed by Ian Rowlands. It premiered at Yr Ysgwrn, the poet’s home at Trawsfynydd which recently opened as a visitor’s centre. By popular demand, the hope is to tour more extensively in 2018, taking in locations throughout Wales, as well as the UK and Ireland. 2018 will see the announcement by Literature Wales of a new Young People’s Laureate, as Sophie McKeand’s hugely successful two-year stint comes to an end in spring.
2018 marks 70 years since the creation of the NHS, which was established by the great Welsh politician and orator Aneurin Bevan. It’s worth keeping an eye out for cultural celebrations of this significant milestone, including a series of productions throughout Wales by the two national theatre companies, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and National Theatre Wales.
In other art-forms, I’m looking forward to the return of Festival of the Voice to the Wales Millennium Centre (7-17 June), the Urdd Eisteddfod celebration of youth culture at Builth Wells (28 May – 2 June), the Swansea International Festival (October 2018) and the international art prize Artes Mundi at National Museum Wales (from 27 October). National Dance Company Wales’ Terra Firma tour takes place in Spring and will be well worth a look. Last year I very much enjoyed the collaborative concerts between the orchestras of WNO and BBC NOW, and I hope to catch a few this year as well. I can also highly recommend Rungano Nyoni’s debut award-winning film funded by Ffilm Cymru Wales, I Am Not A Witch, which will be out on DVD in February.
Like many others, I was very disappointed that Wales missed out on qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, having enjoyed myself immensely in France in 2016. However, this year I can kick back, enjoy the games relatively stress-free, and pick a couple of nice countries to support. Come on Iceland!
Alastair Sill, Audio Describer for Theatre
I’m really looking forward to watching Owen Thomas’ new play, The Wood by The Torch Theatre. The Wood is inspired by a true story and commemorates the centenary of World War I. Yes, I can’t wait for that one. Another highlight has to be the Festival of Voice between 7th June and 17th June, at locations around Cardiff, created by the Wales Millennium Centre. I really want to try and get down to The Other Room this year because there’s nothing else like it in Cardiff. And anything by Gagglebabble is always fantastic!
Then personally first of all, I hope I have a happy, healthy and fun year with my two boys and girlfriend. Second, I hope York City FC find promotion to the National League, the first step back to the football league. And last, I hope to record lots of funny little anecdotes from my two boys and write a children’s story inspired by their unique craziness!
Jennifer Ruth Sturt, Assistant Producer, Wales Millennium Centre
Thinking ahead to what 2018 has in store is at once terrifying and overwhelmingly exciting. This year is set to be full on, but hugely inspiring year for us at the Centre. With the launch of two new seasons of programmed work in the Weston Studio and ffresh alongside the return of our biannual international arts festival, Festival of Voice. This year, we’re creating a number of co-productions with some incredible Welsh artists and companies and I’m really proud to be part of the team helping to make them happen. As Cardiff embraces it’s title of Music City, the in-house Festival of Voice team have created a programme of work that really celebrates voice in all it’s guises and alongside an ambitious Creative Learning programme allows us to explore the positive impact of collective singing and creative expression. With just six months to go, I can’t wait for what this year’s festival has in store.
Personally, I’m looking forward to many more adventures in 2018 with plans to travel to New Zealand and Canada, see my best friend get married and all being well, get back out on the road and finally get a half marathon under my belt- fingers crossed.
Geinor Styles, Artistic Director, Theatr na nÓg
My cultural highlights would be anything Theatr na nÓg does – obvs… and also the things I am looking forward to seeing and then probably missing because I’ve double booked myself or completely forgotten they were on…
So if someone can remind me then that would be great…
Then the show I will definitely want to see before it heads off to New York, because I missed it the first couple of times round is Grav, an amazing achievement for a theatre company in far west Wales – The Torch to get it to the stage in New York after sell out shows here in Wales and Edinburgh. Congratulations to the creative team for taking a true Welsh hero and exporting it far and wide.
Even though I hate overhyped shows, I must see Hamilton this year. I think the story is incredible and an important one to hear and see in this strange uncertain time. – even though he did the music to Moana!
I also hear that Fleetwood Mac are going to tour this year specially for my birthday, so be rude not to!
Adele Thomas, Director
The play I’m most looking forward to in 2018 is John by Annie Baker, in a new production at the National Theatre. Annie is probably our greatest living dramatist. She writes with a delicacy and a humanity that make Checkhov look positively cartoonish. Her plays The Flick and Circle Mirror Transformation are amongst my favourite evenings in the theatre, and James McDonald (who directed Circle Mirror Transformation) is directing John, which makes it doubly exciting. I can’t tell you anything about what the play’s about.
My New Years Resolution is “Avoid the Algorithm”. So much internet noise and being in the industry means that by the time you’ve read the endless marketing and faced the constant stream of twitter criticism you go into the theatre too equipped to watch the play. Imagine being in the first audience for Macbeth or The Cherry Orchard or Blasted or Machinal. You would be entering the auditorium with true openness. As an audience member you might be shocked or bored or moved to tears, but your experience would be an truly honest one, a direct and unadulterated relationship between you and the play. What a gorgeous idea
Sami Thorpe, co-founder Elbow Room Theatre Company and BSL Interpreter
Sami shares her thoughts in BSL in the video below
There is so much to look forward to in 2018. I cannot wait to see Jonny Cotsen’s ‘Louder is Not Always Clearer’, it’s so important to see diverse stories on the stage and, as someone who has been involved with the Deaf community for a number of years, I’m very excited by it. I’m also looking forward to the drag acts coming to Cardiff this year, especially Klub Kids’ ‘The Twisted Circus’, which I shall be fangirling all over!
My personal hope for 2018 is that as an industry we work together to continue to diversify our audiences, sharing ideas and good practice is key. Be brave, take risks, learn and grow.
Nickie Miles-Wildin, RTYDS, Resident Assistant Director, Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre
I’m sat at my desk at The Royal Exchange Theatre and there’s so much that I’m looking forward to this year. Being Resident Assistant Director in this amazing building is opening up many great opportunities for me. My highlights are Frankenstein directed by Matthew Xia. 200 years after its publication in January 2018 Matthew is directing a new version by April De Angelis – a writer whose work I enjoy. (Playhouse Creatures is brilliant) Being assistant director on this show I am already in the depths of research and know that the cast is going to truly bring the story to life on our stage.
I’m also looking forward to working with the Young Company up here on their production of Mix Tape. Working closely with Matt Hassall – Programme Leader for the Young Company and composer James Frewer, Manchester will be given its own mix tape.
In the summer I can’t wait to be my alter ego Beryl as I tour a handful of festivals with Bingo Lingo alongside my co-star Daryl and his alter ego Cyril. It’s Bingo on a Paralympic Scale. The Without Walls festivals are an absolute joy to be at and to discover new work.
For me 2018 will be one of exciting creative work indoors at the theatre and a summer of amazing interactive playful outdoor work.
And Deaf actor Nadia Nadarajah being part of the new ensemble company at the Globe. Hopefully we’ll see more Deaf and Disabled creatives leading the way.
Matthew Xia, Director
I’m really looking forward to making some work across England and Wales this year. I’m starting with Dublin Carol – the Conor McPherson play about an alcoholic Undertaker being confronted with the life he has lived, and the others he has broken. It’s playing at Sherman Theatre in Cardiff from the 5th of February for two weeks. I then head up to the Manchester Royal Exchange to make a brand new Frankenstein adapted for the stage by April de’Angelis before directing the premier of the Alfred Fagon Award winning play Shebeen by Nottingham writer Mufaro Makubika. The show, starring Karl Collins will be presented at the Nottingham Playhouse and Theatre Royal Stratford East in June.
Get that Chance has interviewed a range of creatives from/or based in Wales in 2017. We caught up with some of them again recently to ask them for their own cultural highlight of 2017. If you click on the links below it will take you to an interview with each contributor.
As an audience member I still remember event Killology at Sherman Theatre when Sion Young gestured at the end of Act 1. I nearly didn’t return for Act II, the power behind the movement still stays with me today. Very powerful acting and directing.
On tour with Killer Cells, I sat opposite a woman at the end of one of the performances, her friend held her shoulders and we talked for an hour about her experience of loss and of having found out she too had a high level of UNK Killer Cells. The opportunity to share and come together with another individual who had experienced loss in the same way as you had, was empowering for us both – theatre making us feel less isolated in society.
Working with Ann Davies, who has been a community champion for years, who is now having her work (at the age of 65) performed for the first time in the public domain. After years of being isolated as carer and after suffering at the hands of a dodgy home start building scheme, seeing her confidence grow and her feeling more confident, has been a happy result of collaboration.
Well I’ve been on maternity leave most of the year so haven’t seen anything unfortunately but I’ve absolutely loved returning to work with such a wonderfully supportive creative team on Flossy and Boo, The Alternativity. I haven’t laughed so much during meetings or felt so at ease discussing concepts and ideas!
Gareth Coles / Voluntary Arts Wales Director / Cyfarwyddwr Celfyddydau Gwirfoddol Cymru
My cultural highlight of 2017 was an exhibition in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, which I returned to many times. Displayed in a darkened room, Nature’s Song: Chinese Bird and Flower Painting, was a breathtaking collection of beautiful ink paintings. As an artist myself, with a regrettable tendency to overwork my drawings and get lost in details, I learned so much about the expressive and economical use of a single brush stroke: representing shimmering leaves and blades of grass, and evoking whole landscapes.
I would have to go for the National Theatre’s productions of Angels in America. Firstly what a dream to see such an iconic piece of theatre in such a wonderful space. Secondly, the imagery Tony Kushner writes is spellbinding and how they staggering, breathtakingly captured these images was extraordinarily. How can you not like a piece of theatre which has this line written in it? ‘I don’t understand why I am not dead? When your heart breaks, you should die’.
Patrick Jones, Poet and playwright
Comedy Mark Thomas
TV Motherland. People Just Do Nothing
Poetry Pascale Petit Mama Amazonica
Music Godspeed You Black Emperor Luciferian Towers
BooK The Poetry Pharmacy by William Sieghart
Theatre Touch by Vicky Jones (Soho Theatre)
Poetic and profane, the Jean Michel Basqiuat retrospective at The Barbican stood out. Not only were we given insight into the man and the 80’s New York art scene, the paintings had room to speak for themselves.
My professional cultural highlight (for work that I was involved in) was Disgo Distaw Owain Glyndwr Silent Disco by Light Ladd & Emberton – an entertaining and meaningful production which engaged hundreds of people, and has since been nominated for a tourism business innovation award.
My personal cultural highlight was reading His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet with CardiffRead – an absorbing and detailed book about a historical murder that built to an intense climax, through twists and turns, and at the end, left the reader as the judge… It was nominated for and should have won the Booker prize!
To choose one personal cultural highlight when despite all else culture has delivered so many uplifting and joyous moments in my life is invidious but (and apologies to Celtic Connections Glasgow, Shrewsbury Folk Festival, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band, Girl from the North Country, Rhiannon Giddens, Black RATs’ One Man Two Guv’nors and Nye & Jennie) my singular choice has to be Theatr na nÓg’s “Eye of the Storm” at Taliesin Arts Centre Swansea last month. Inspirational, realistic, provocative and all delivered by a superbly talented cast bouncing off a superb script from Geinor Styles and a wonderful soundtrack penned by Amy Wadge. I maybe now the proud chair of that company but this would have made it anyway on merit!
My cultural highlight for 2017 was Alice Birch’s Anatomy of a Suicide which played at London’s Royal Court – breathtaking in the way it dealt with a tricky subject matter with such heart and rigour as well as being formally inventive as three timelines play out simultaneously I both enjoyed the production at the time and have returned to it in my mind since. I hope that in 2018 I will write something half as good – the memory of it spurs me on.
My cultural highlight of 2017 was Tai Bach Panto in Port Talbot. This year was Cinderella’s Golden Ball which marked the pantos 50th anniversary. Written, produced, directed and performed by a cast of mainly steelworkers (who work their socks off for the love of it!) It brings the town together for a good old knees up. Debaucherous, anarchic and definitely not for kids – I laughed so hard my face hurt!
Alex Griffin-Griffiths in Dirty Protest’s Sugar Baby by Alan Harris. Sion Daniel Young in Killology directed by Rachel O’Riordan and written by Gary Owen at the Sherman. Lastly Seanmhair by Hywel John directed by Kate Wasserberg at The Other Room.
My cultural/personal highlights of 2017 were 1) Seeing Anatomy of a Suicide at the Royal Court 2) Being invited onto the Emerging Writers Programme at The Bush and 3) Securing funding from Arts Council Wales to research the need for a Queer Arts Collective in Wales.
My cultural highlight of 2017 has to be an extraordinary weekend spent in Hwacheon, South Korea, in September, where I was lucky enough to watch Welsh, Korean, Japanese and Indian artists collaborate with each other and the local community, as part of our Artists’ Playground residency. Seeing all these great artistic minds swapping ideas, trying new approaches, finding common ground and different perspectives – often despite real language barriers – was awe-inspiring.
For me – Reasons to be Cheerful from Graeae – uplifting and deeply unashamedly political. Slava’s Snow Show – always stunning – always magical! And finishing on a high with the wonderful Likely Story’s The Giant Who Has No Heart in His Body. Oh and I also enjoyed Flossy and Boo’s Alternativity… great to see some strong female led work and wonderful to see so much clowning!
Joe Fletcher, Lighting Designer and scenographer
I would have a special mention for Sugar Baby written by Alan Harris and produced by Dirty Protest at Edinburgh. Also the screening of Macbeth in cinemas by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and the screening of PARADE by National Dance Company Wales on BBC4 all rather rather special!
Gavin Porter Film Maker and Clore Fellow
My Welsh highlight was RATS, written and directed by Kyle Legall, a theatre production and director that isn’t afraid to break conventions. My national highlight was Barber Shop Chronicles at the National Theatre, an intelligent, energetic and beautifully written show.
Matthew Bulgo Actor and Playwright
My cultural highlight for 2017 was PALMYRA at Summerhall during the Edinburgh Fringe. In turn both hilarious and arresting, witty and profound.
We asked our team to choose their three cultural highlights of the year, along with a favourite event and/or organisation. Enjoy reading their individual responses below.
Young Critic, Gareth Williams
Junkyard: A New Musical (Theatr Clwyd, Mold) Real, raw, inventive, inspiring; provoking and entertaining social commentary; one of the most original pieces of theatre I think I’ve come across this year, with an exceptional cast, script, and set design.
Alice in Wonderland (Storyhouse, Chester)
A truly charming and inventive take on this well-known tale; a talented cast who brought the characters of Lewis Carroll’s beloved children’s classic to life in vivid detail; perfect family viewing; the standout show of Storyhouse’s opening season.
Broken (BBC Drama Series)
Sean Bean was excellent as the passionate yet broken priest trying to make a difference in a Northern working-class community; as always from writer Jimmy McGovern, a piece which dealt with contemporary social issues in an engaging, challenging and no-nonsense way; a beautiful portrait of contemporary Christian faith.
The opening of Storyhouse in Chester
A wonderful addition to the North Wales/North West England arts scene. A stunning building with a beautiful theatre, modern cinema, integrated library, and plenty of communal spaces. An arts space that is truly for the community, that is already making a positive impact on the city and its people through various projects, shows and initiatives.
Community Critic Kevin Johnson
Hamlet. Andrew Scott gave what I can only described as an Irish Hamlet, sad, bittersweet and quietly morose. He sees the humour through the madness and the sorrow, yet his heartbreak was always just behind his eyes. Like some romantic hero of legend, dark and brooding, he used this masterfully to make us care for the Dane all the more.
The setting was modern, innovative and intriguing. The play began with coverage of the funeral straight from a Danish cable news channel. The play within the play took centre stage, the cast sitting in the front row among us, their faces thrown by video onto screens around the auditorium. A clever use of old and new. They wore tuxedos as if at the opera, and were covered by cameras as such.
In other modern twists Polonius had dementia, Rosencranz and Guilderstern were a couple, and both Hamlet and his mother spoke with Irish accents, unlike Claudius. A superb and thoughtful production that gave me new insight into the play.
My second choice is Angels In America, the first London revival since the original in 1992. With Andrew Garfield taking the lead of Prior Walter, this was a huge play, both in ambition, talent and scope. Performed in two parts, it’s just over eight hours in total, but amazingly the time went by so fast.
Garfield won the Evening Standard Award for Best Actor but Nathan Lane is equally as good as the venal Roy Cohn, hurling racist insults from his sick bed at his nurse, and threatening his doctors with lawsuits, it was still hard not to be moved as he fought for his life using every dirty trick in the book.
Although I thought it slightly bloated, and perhaps too self-indulgent in places, the sheer audacity of the play steamrollers over such quibbles. This was a tour de force if ever there was one.
My third production is The Cherry Orchard, a homegrown reworking of Chekhov set in Pembroke in 1982. It made me so proud to see such a great play from a Welsh company, easily the equal of anything I’ve seen in the West End.
I’ve been a fan of writer Gary Owen since seeing Iphigenia In Splott, and Killology, also Sherman Theatre productions, and this was the ‘cherry’ on the cake, pun intended! The whole cast contributed to making it truly memorable, with Mathew Bulgo in particular creating a nuanced performance that defied good or bad and was just human.
Unsurprisingly then, my favourite company and venue of the year was the Sherman Theatre. As a theatregoer, I’ve been welcomed by every member of staff, it’s foyer is roomy and full of comfy chairs and sofas, and they continually produce work of the highest order, on both the small theatre and the large. Outstanding.
My cultural highlight of the year is a little unusual, given so many wonderful choices, but I’ve chosen Slava’s Snow Show. Premiering in 1992, it has toured all over the world, usually at Christmas. I’ve missed seeing it so many times, so when it played the Millennium Centre I was determined to catch it. And catch it I did.
Simply put, I was enchanted. When I tell you that I don’t like clowns, and that the entire cast are dressed as sad, world-weary clowns, you can see what an achievement this was!
There was no dialogue as such, no plot, and I can’t even begin to describe what went on, yet it evoked such joy and wonder in me that I remembered what it was like to be a child again. Suitable for ages 3-90, I’ve never seen anything that unites all the generations this way.
Created by Slava Polunin, a Russian clown and mime, its won several awards around the world, including the Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience. I think that sums it up nicely.
This is difficult as this year, I was very selective and so was privileged to experience some truly brilliant performances. With one exception. My top top event, was the Hot Tub extravaganza and in part because of my involvement and also because it was so outside my ken. Talking about our engagement with the arts here in Wales and as inconvenient wimmin of a certain age, was most refreshing!
A Judgement in Stone– A classic murder mystery that left the audience on the edge of their seats. An amateur sleuths idea of heaven.
My Cultural event of 2017. Celebrating the New Year in London watching Cinderella the Pantomime at the London Palladium and watching the fireworks from along the river bank.
My company of 2017 is Cinderella at the London Palladium. A stellar cast that really did bring everything to the pantomime. With names including Paul O’Grady, Julian Clary, Lee Mead and many more it was ‘the’ theatre experience of 2017.
I would like to highlight the work of Rachel Pedley and Avant Cymru during 2017.
A venue of great importance to me during 2017 has been The Factory, Jenkin Street, Porth RCT.
Community Critic, Hannah Goslin
Running Wild, Theatre Royal Plymouth
The production took a book from the well known writer Michael Morpurgo (of War Horse fame) and just like War Horse, transformed the stage with great creativity to take us to different places, and make us believe that the animals were real on stage with intricate puppetry.
Flossy and Boo: The Alternativity, The Other Room, Cardiff
This show brings a different taste to the usual Christmas shows full of kids entertainment and religious entail. Flossy and Boo create and exciting, fun and fully adult show to get you in the Christmas spirit but laugh at it satirically. Full of unusual concepts, music and lots of comedy, The Alternativity really gets you in the mood for Christmas.
Fourteen Days, BalletBoyz, Exeter Northcott
An arrangement of dance pieces, all with different concepts, BalletBoyz manage to astound yet again with their seamless movement, great acting and wonderful stamina. Balletboyz seem to only get better and better.
My Company of 2017 must be BalletBoyz. They are just incredible!
The best exhibition I have seen this year is : Swaps – David Hurn – An outstanding and important exhibition at the National Museum Wales .
Young Critic, Sian Thomas
Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival, particularly the event in mid July (but all the events were stunning) where I read some of my own work. I met great people and had a wonderful time and it has definitely shaped my year. I’ve become more confident with sharing my own work and have enjoyed events later into the night too, which isn’t something I did enjoy before this festival.
Layton’s Mystery Journey. Even though I didn’t enjoy the game I think playing it and experiencing a franchise I’ve loved in the past in the present was important for me. It made me realise that things don’t always survive my rosé-tinted glasses of nostalgia, and upon taking them off I’ve grown a little as a person. I know my interests much better, I know what upsets me in media much better, and I know my inner circle of friends much better, based on how we all reacted. Sometime positive can come from something initially negative, and I’m glad something has.
Iain Thomas’ “300 Things I Hope”, something I read very early on in the year and something that has been the brightest spot of almost literal sunshine on my bookshelf ever since! It’s a book I’ve traded with friends so we can see which ones stick out to us, it’s a book that spurred me on in my own below-the-radar poetry endeavours, the book that hundreds of sticky notes stick out off, and it’s the book that I like to pull down every so often and flip to a page and remember exactly why I love it.
My company of 2017 would again be Cardiff Fringe. Discovered it this summer and have been attending the monthly fringe cafes in The Gate ever since! It’s been a great time and one I hope to carry on attending. I look forward to see where it goes in 2018!
My personal cultural highlight would probably be the day I finished the first draft of my book – August 12th, 2017! I’m making progress on my goals! I’m on a second draft right now, and could not be more thankful for this year. I’ve had a really great one!
The best company for me in 2017 is Fio for pushing the boundaries of theatre and creating thoughtful and impactful pieced by working with community groups. They also incorporate hard to reach voices in to their work.
The best venue for me in 2017 is Sherman Theatre for the work they do in supporting new voices in theatre, and the efforts they go to in order to make theatre an inclusive, accessible experience.
But I suppose two of my biggest personal highlights this year were finally getting to see the American Folk/Indie group Bon Iver. I’ve followed them for many years and never been able to get tickets for as they typically sell out instantly and cause websites to crash, etc. I once even considered flying to Hong Kong to see them on their Asian tour before realising that was a bonkers idea. My husband surprised me twice this year with tickets to see Bon Iver headline the Forbidden Fruit Festival in Dublin in June, then again in September at Blackpool Winter Gardens. My husband isn’t the biggest Justin Vernon/Bon Iver fan but it meant the absolute world to me. Through the concerts, I was also introduced to the work of Lisa Hannigan and The Staves, which I’ve really enjoyed since the Dublin concert. I wouldn’t say I am massively up to date, experimental or fashionable when it comes to music – I like what I like, but despite the horrendous rain and mud, these two concerts were so meaningful for me. I’ve promised my husband I won’t make him sit through any more whiny Justin Vernon music in 2018. But this of course now means I will be dragged to some kind of weird Cajun/Zydeko/Blues music fest. There’s always a trade-off!
Young Critic, Vicky Lord
Woman in Black. New Theatre, Cardiff. It was something truly different. Obviously it was still scary to the point of terrifying but there were just so many layers of meaning that were left unsaid so that the audience could figure them out it was just truly flawless.
In terms of inspirational organisations in 2017, I’d pick National Museum Wales for being genuinely collaborative and inclusive. I have loved their 2017 programming (especially Artes Mundi, Gillian Aires, Agatha Christie photos and Who Decides?) I am also following the exciting developments and vision for St Fagans.
Artes Mundi was personal cultural event of 2017. I found Lamia Joreige’s Beirut piece really interesting and loved Bedwyr Williams’ Big Cities – I think I went back to see the exhibition four times I enjoyed it so much!
I’d have to nominate Sherman Theatre for my venue of 2017. We on the Law and Literature module at Cardiff have been linked up with Sherman Theatre since 2016, and they have been nothing but supportive, encouraging and welcoming – we have even built in their plays, performances and most recently a post show discussion panel into our module – and I was honoured to be on the post show discussion panel for The Cherry Orchard. They have also kindly come in to speak to our students at lectures – most recently Tim Howe, Communities and Engagement coordinator, led a very successful session on Law, Theatre and Performance, and our Law and Lit students were highly interested and engaged.
My favourite cultural event of the year was Pride 2017/ Return of the Big Weekend. It was my first Pride and it was utterly joyous, especially (or perhaps deliberately & defiantly in spite of) all the dreadful things that happened earlier in the year & the year before. It was beautifully, joyously defiant.
Young Critic, Eloise Stingemore
Funny Girl, Wales Millennium Centre. Sheridan Smith was outstanding, any misconceptions I had about her being the right person for the role where blown out of the water the minute she belted out the first song of the show.
Grease, Wales Millennium Centre. A show that I never wanted to end, a truly spectacular musical in every sense of the word, I want to hand jive baby for days after.
Dinosaur Babies, National Museum of Wales. A truly amazing exhibition for all ages and is worthy of going on tour all across the country with ‘made in wales’ (and with a little bit of help from America) being proudly stamped on it.
My personal cultural of event 2017 was the way the whole of Wales not just the Capital got behind our boys in wishing and dreaming them in qualifying for the World Cup. It seemed that the papers and even just people on the streets whether the be commuting to and from work or having a drink in the pub where talking about it and with so much pride that it made my proud to be Welsh.
The director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with Artist Emily Jones. They discussed her training, being named runner-up in the Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize 2017 for graphic short story: Dennis and June and her most recent work for Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.
Hi Emily great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hello, I grew up in Tyneside but I’ve lived in Cardiff for many years now. I studied illustration for children’s books at art college as that’s the branch of illustration I’m really passionate about. Although, I do enjoy drawing cartoons of Donald Trump and other political figures that I find ludicrous! Being an illustrator isn’t my full time job as I prefer the balance of being able to draw and paint when I want, without the worry or pressure of relying on it for an income.
So what got you interested in Illustration?
I had two lovely teachers in primary school and they encouraged me to draw. They made me realise that you could draw pictures for a living. I loved picture books in particular and I had my favourite illustrators who I aspired to be like. I think I’ve always been fascinated with images and how someone has created them.
How has your career as an illustrator developed?
A few years ago, I began renting out an art studio so I had the space to work in a more professional manner rather than just working at home in front of the TV. This really changed things and along with posting my work on social media, I have slowly but surely become busier and better.
Your personalised pet portraits are particularly popular with your work appearing in 1000 Dog Portraits by Rockport Publishers? Can you tell our readers how you got involved in pet portraits? Do you have a favourite animal to illustrate?
I painted my partner’s dog Scooby and it all started from there. I showed the painting to a few people and before long I was being asked to paint their cat or dog. I think painting pets is a great way for any artist to get commissioned as it’s artwork that is really accessible for people to buy. I love painting all sorts of animal but the more animated the creature is, the more fun I find it to be.
Well I begin by doing a lot of research on how other artists have illustrated these classic stories. I then do my best to create an image which is original as well as instantly recognisable. The images have to grab attention of both children and adults and hopefully it will make people want to see the show.
The image for Hud Y Crochan Uwd/The Magic Porridge Pot, Sherman Theatre.
Your Wind in the Willows illustration has been developed into an animated trailer this year. Is this a first for you?
Yes it was and it was brilliant to see the image move! The artwork I create for Sherman Theatre is always created in separate layers. This enables the designers to move around the different components to fit whatever format the advert will appear; be it posters, flyers, web-banners etc. Of course, this also enabled the designers to create an animated trailer which is just awesome!
Do you have any illustrators or artists that inspire you?
There are tons! Quentin Blake has always been there as a favourite, as has Edward Gorey. They are experts at depicting characters with seemingly simple pen lines. Shaun Tan’s work is incredible and I wish I had a fraction of his talent! I love Júlia Sardà, David Roberts, Isabelle Arsenault, Alex T. Smith, Michael Sowa, Mateo Dineen, Rebecca Dautremer. They are a just a few! I study their work and try to figure out how they do what they do. They make me feel totally inferior but at the same time, inspire me and enthuse me to create my next best piece; which is definitely a good thing.
Images by Júlia Sardà, Shaun Tan, Edward Gorey and Quinten Blake
Congratulations on being named runner-up in the Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize 2017 for your Graphic short story: Dennis and June. This work is in a digital medium can you discuss how this differs from your painted work?
I recently bought a Huion Graphics tablet so I can draw and colour digitally. It makes illustrating in this comic style so much faster. When I heard about the graphic novel competition, I knew I’d have to create it digitally as painting the way I do, takes so long. Plus, the comic style suits the story much better. Creating digital work has a freedom to it. Mistakes can be easily erased and colouring is instant but physically painting an image will probably always be my favourite way to illustrate.
An image from Dennis and June you can read the full story at the link above
If any of our readers are aspiring illustrators what advice could you offer them?
Draw as often as possible. It seems obvious but you have to practice. Drawing from life is a brilliant way to improve your skills and develop your style. Having a recognisable style is important and it’s something I haven’t mastered yet. But the more work I do, the more I learn and develop. I just wish there was more time in the day to draw!
What do you have planned for the future?
Well, I’ve been having various successes in illustration competitions and I’m hoping this will lead to greater things in the publishing world. I have a couple of children’s books to work on, more images for children’s theatre and when I find the time, I’ll create another graphic story.
I’ve created images for The Sherman for a while now and it’s always a proud moment seeing my artwork representing their shows. The Sherman has given me huge confidence in regards to my ability as an illustrator and I hope to work with them for years to come.
Image for Hugan Fach Goch/Little Red Riding Hood
Image for Alice in Wonderland
Thanks for your time Emily.
You can check out more or Emily’s work at the link
Corona pop man (photo: Alan George, oldmerthyrtydfil.com)
The ‘Welsh Hills Works’ or Thomas and Evans of Porth, were the Universal Providers of most essential grocery items, with its Corona Pops, Stone Ginger Beer, Lemonade and other beverages being known as “absolutely unequalled for purity and flavour” from the late 19th century into the middle/late 20th century. This vast business empire was affectionately known throughout the Rhondda Valleys simply as “T & E’s”or Terry Stores.
In this the 21st century the Welsh Hills Works can be defined as a diverse and creative multimedia organisation with community ideologies, providing a stepping stone for the creative industry and a social enterprise network. It promotes artwork through its workshops, provides workspace that can be used by local artists as well as professional photographers/artists in its Art in the Attic. In recent years it has held various televised popular music programmes plus the original S4C production of the Jonathan Davies Sports Programme entitled “Jonathan’.
All Art is Subjective, Right? was the question asked by a group of creative artists whose Exhibition “An Interpretation of Art” was presented from Monday, 30 October to Friday, November 17, in The Robert Maskrey Gallery at The Factory. The Gallery itself is situated on the top floor of the Factory, it is accessed by four flights of stairs – a stair lift is available – and as with all Art Exhibitions held at this venue, it is entitled Art in the Attic. The Gallery is open Mondays to Fridays from 10 am to 4 pm.
On Friday, 3 November an invite to view was given to all. It was a great exhibition combining all local art in contemporary forms. All artwork are PriceOnAsking (POA). Artists exhibiting were:
Barbara Castle, Jeff Rowlands, Gervaise James, Jane Fox, Rhys Burton, Eric Thomas, Dawn Hoban, David Hoban, Joanna Israel, David Roberts and Oneill Meredith.
From the glistening glassware, the ceramic houses, the in depth landscapes that you could almost walk into, combined with contemporary displays. The use of clay moulded into exquisite sculptures that made you think, the vast array of photographic views that took your breath away, comparable to the face that appeared almost to be alive, like an ancient Pharaoh or Poseidon emerging from the Ocean. It was an eye catching event that held everyone captive. It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, this Exhibition showed the magnificence of creativity within the locality.
The Gallery itself was crowded with many relatives, friends plus people who knew their ‘Andy Warhol’s’ from their child’s ‘artistic’ blobs. The atmosphere was alive with the colours of the rainbow as the bronze bust of Dylan Thomas (£3000) created by Oneill Meredith, greeted everyone on entry. It was seemingly apt that the bust was placed close to the table offering wines, fruit juice or water. Next to an array of food lay a book where you were invited to make known your comments about the Exhibition; you nibbled as you deliberated. The number of people attending up to the time of the private view had been upwards of 90 which showed the strength of interest and knowledge of a reflective audience in the work of the local artists.
My one query on the night was
How did they manage to get all the pieces up the four flights of stairs, safely and securely, to the Gallery.
The swift answer came from husband and wife artists Dawn and David Hoban “Very carefully”
Dawn’s work shown was an accomplished collection of oils on the Fragility of Life and a series of Still Life in Brighter Colours, with her three Ceramic Collections entitled Progress with a Question Mark?. The assembly of which reinforced the Artist’s views of the history of the Rhondda Valleys and its people.
The Entertainment was provided by three musicians Gerhard, Phil and Rob, who, as they were all wearing hats, finally named themselves “MenInHats”.
The Gallery glittered, the audience as one provided compliments as families expressed the pride in their family members. The music played on well into the night.
William Evans (1864 – 1934) came to the Valleys a raw country lad from Pembrokeshire; he was a stranger to the heavy industrial changes that were affecting the area’s ancient industry of farming. It may be the tallest of the remaining existing buildings of Porth, (bearing on its turret side the title of Welsh Hills, the first brand name of the mineral waters produced by Williams Evans), as The Factory as it is now known is the heartbeat of the town. It throbs with life, as in a new era it rises with the development of the Rhondda Valleys.
Why not pop into the POP Factory Porth and see for yourself?
Creative Listening followed Advantages of Age successful season of hot tub salons in London. Advantages of Age received funding from Arts Council of England and were recently featured in The Sunday Times and this first event was, for all intents and purposes, the launch of Advantages of Age, Wales. Thanks to Suzanne Noble from Advantages of Age for her support for this first event.
You can read a blog post from Leslie Herman Jones on the background to this first event, here
In Leslie’s words “We will be a gathering of human beings investing a few hours on a Saturday afternoon in September sitting in and around a hot tub exploring what creative listening means.”
We can share a video of this first event and some of the participants responses below. Many thank to everyone who supported.
What effect, if any, has this Gwanwyn Festival event had on you?
Made me think more imaginatively about how we talk to each other, how we listen – I’m used to using creative activities to engage people so that they feel relaxed and safe and can then discuss harder subjects but a hot tub? Wow. Well outside my comfort zone but it worked!
It was really great to get together with ladies of different ages to share our perspectives on a topic of common interest. It has helped my confidence presenting myself and my take on things to a larger audience. It has also helped my listening skills as so many of us had something to say and share so it was a great opportunity to practice the pause.
This opportunity has stimulated my thinking and encouraged me to rekindle the importance of creativity in my life. Sharing time with like minded people, most of whom I’d not met before, in such an unusual setting, was indeed food for thought! I would say that the event has definitely strengthened my belief in myself as a person who thrives on creativity on a daily basis. Since the event, I feel I have pursued ideas and ventures which might not have happened otherwise.
It made me more aware of the importance of listening and the value and power of being listened to.
It was an incredible experience. It really opened my mind to other ideas, and to be a lot braver.
Please tell us in your own words about your experiences today and how you feel they have benefitted your creativity and wellbeing. If there was any way the event could have been improved please let us know that as well.
I was initially very uncomfortable with the idea of sitting in a hot tub with strangers – too far fetched for me – but I actually loved it. The meditation piece beforehand was definitely not me but I understand the thinking behind it and the value it might have for others. We needed more time – we just touched on our subjects – there was so much more to say. It was very well facilitated and organised by Lesley; a very professional and accomplished event and I was very pleased to have been a part of it.
As an Aries I am often a person who does a lot of the talking and favours leadership and presentation so it was an interesting challenge to be immersed in this informal group setting to work on my creative listening. I enjoyed the whole event, the hot tub, the lovely new friends I made and the examples they presented of how they use their creative listening skills in their every day lives; which really inspired me to join more groups and take part in more local creative activities. The hot tub was the perfect place to get to know each other and relax so that we could take part in a non-pressurised environment and the snacks and refreshments were wonderful and lovingly prepared. I enjoyed sharing my thoughts on the act of conscious listening and felt that what I had to contribute (metaphysical/esoteric perspective) was well received by most. This was also a great chance for business networking as well as making new friends and improving my health and well being. I think the next session could be a little more structured so each person could bring something they have prepared so that we don’t fall over our words.
I was naturally a little nervous about exposing my views on creativity and talking openly in a hot tub with people I hadn’t met before. The introduction to the event was well delivered by Leslie and we were put at our ease as she explained the purpose and makeup of the event and what could be expected. We had a getting to know you activity and by the time we entered the hot tub, the atmosphere was relaxed and there was an upbeat sense of expectancy. The physical sensation of the warm bubbly water in the fresh light rainy open air was quite exhilarating and in a very short time, we were relaxed and engaged as a group. The act of speaking and listening flowed well and Leslie facilitated the conversation very efficiently so that everyone had a chance to express views and to engage with one another. She was highly skilled in allowing a relaxed conversation to take place, as well as encouraging focus on the themes of creativity and listening. As a facilitator Leslie was mindful of the timescale and brought the conversation to a natural close. By doing so, there was no doubt that the topic we had begun to explore could be developed and continued and this was a very positive outcome of my experience of the event.
I enjoyed meeting new people and listening to their stories. I felt a bit more alive and stimulated at the end of the experience.
I was so so nervous. And then more nervous! I am not very good at meeting new people even if there are people there I know. I did not know really what to expect but as I arrived I immediately felt I had done the right thing. Leslie was incredibly encouraging, kind and welcoming. I was still feeling uncomfortable during the discussion and ‘meditation’ but it felt similar to going to one of those serious situations where everything seems so serious you just want to laugh and I realised that others too were delving into the unknown.. I say ‘do something that scares you’ to the people I encourage and support in the week, and thought I should self prescribe. It was the fear of wearing.my swimsuit, a fear of sitting in water, very close to load of strangers which actually petrified me, the fear of people looking at me – a fear I have whether in a swimsuit, which I discovered had lost all its elasticity, or fully clothed. But once in pool, after hilarious clambering in a non-lady-like fashion, and supported on the arm of a very good friend with a great sense of humour. The fall of laughter, much of it my own, made me realise that actually I was starting to have a really good time. The focus was actually about being in a hot tub, relaxed and free to discuss creative listening, and god was I focused on listening, rather hoping that the incredibly floating ability of my upper regions would not pull focus. The gander of ladies, incredibly intelligent, bright, charismatic, funny, kind and quirky in and out of the pool made me realise how lucky I was to be there. The discussion took us in a direction I never really felt confident to discuss, but I was, and people were listening. Learning needs thrown to the side, my inability to sometimes get my words out, fear of failure and sounding like a right numpty forgotten, the discussions were helpful, interesting, thought provoking and engaging. The time went too quick and if I was going to make suggestions for the future, make it a whole day experience or even a weekend. I have made new friends, I am starting to look at the world in a different light and if I was going to suggest anything for the future it would be ‘more please!’
The director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with Photographer/Videographer/ AV designer and Projection Mapper Jorge Lizalde. They discussed his training in Spain, his most recent work with Lucid Theatre Company on Little Wolf and his thoughts on the arts in Wales.
Hi Jorge, great to meet you can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hi, I am Spanish and was born in Zaragoza and moved 12 years ago to the UK when I finished my art studies in Salamanca and then Madrid. When I arrived in the UK I worked for four years as a cinema projectionist at Vue Cinemas at the Angel (London) as well as The French Institute (London) where the projection is still old school, swapping film reels every hour over two projectors, a job that I loved but digital cinema has killed it. In 2009 I moved to Cardiff and since then I have been freelancing as Photographer/Videographer and most recently as an AV designer and Projection Mapper.
So what got you interested in the arts?
My grandfather Jose Luis Cano (on my mother’s side) was a famous watercolour painter from where I come from, his son, Jose Luis Cano (both my grand father and uncle, share the same name as it’s a Spanish tradition to name your son after your father.) my uncle, is a well known painter/illustrator, he creates the satiric daily drawings on the local newspaper, Heraldo De Aragon. My grandfather had an art studio, known as Studio Cano that’s why I trade commercially with that name, which is my second surname, in Spain we keep both surnames from the father and the mothers side. The different people I encountered at Studio Cano learned different painting styles and disciplines at the studio. I spent a lot of my childhood and teenage years there, painting, drawing, etc. It is where I got ready for my University access as in Spain to study a BA in Fine Arts you need to know how to draw a life model as part of your A Levels. At Uni I learned many different disciplines of painting, sculpture and drawing as studies are quiet traditional, making my own canvas, paints, etc. My father was into photography just as an amateur but his brother was a commercial photographer. I didn’t really got interested in photography until my father passed away 18 years ago and I was passed down his heritage and his equipment at the end of my first year at Uni. In addition, many friends of my parents are ceramists, architects, etc. Art was always around, so I guess it was inevitable that my brother (classical/flamenco guitarist) and myself would finally become involved in the arts as a career.
Jorge Lizalde, “Mnemonic” at G39 gallery
You have a wide variety of film and photographic skills. When you are photographing a theatrical production how do you approach the process of taking an image?
With every shot I treat it as individual, my camera settings and focus are manually set so I have total control of the shot. Having started as self-taught on film, before digital photography took over, has helped me to have a good understanding of the tech, so I just have to pay attention to what’s going on in front of me (actor interactions, movements, reactions, expressions etc.) I don’t like to retouch pictures afterwards in post-production, I just readjust the white-balance that sometimes the camera can get wrong. Foe example theatre lights can have new LEDs which can be can be really tricky on temperature and contrast, but what you see on the picture is normally what I initially capture. What I do particularly like is to move around a lot as this gives me some perspective and creates more interesting shots that just an on the spot view from the auditorium. From a dress rehearsal session I can get around 150 usable shots, its then the job of the producer or the person in charge of marketing to choose the final images.
Credit: Gamta School by Jorge Lizalde | studiocano.co.uk
What makes a good image for a theatre production?
A well composed and focused picture of a scenario or situation that through the actors expressions tells you exactly what’s going on. If on top of that it gives you a sense of the stage or space that to me is a hell of a picture.
Credit: Roberto Zucco – August 012 by Jorge Lizalde | studiocano.co.uk
You also design and map Audio Visual projection for live performance, with new technologies this is a rapidly developing area, how do you see this art form developing?
LePage is known for some great experimentation and mapping projections, that production is 17 years, believe it or not! What it is really developing fast it is the technology is becoming faster and cheaper. What a projector could give you 10 years ago in terms of quality for £25,000 you can have it now for just £1,400 and in a 1/5 of the size too. It’s the same with computers, they are faster to process the video codecs, I can edit and program a video on the middle of the tech session if needed, something unthinkable a couple of years ago, so AV is no longer part of a privileged group with lots of money it can be also part of small budget productions or projects.
Untitled.mp4Credit: Clockwork Orange / Curve Theatre – AV Mapping by Jorge Lizalde | studiocano.co.uk
Continuing this theme of embracing new technologies you also utilise drone camera footage in your work, most recently in “Little Wolf” by Lucid Theatre Company. Can you tell us how you have developed your skills in this area and again how you see this art form developing in the future?
I bought my drone this summer for my own project about Brexit and what it means to be an EU citizen today in the UK, as at the moment I feel we don’t belong to any land. The model I bought has some great features as well as a quality image, you can control it with the hand. I took it this summer to Finland where I was part of Oulu Hack Week organised by Taikabox, three days of experimenting with new technologies and dance where we tested it and created a little presentation or dance piece with it.
Now I am developing and experimenting a bit more with its possibilities and limits for the stage. I will have a hack day with Lara Ward at the end of November and hopefully refine its use in the future to create a little performance with it . Since I bought it I haven’t stoped using it, for example as you mention with Little Wolf where I created some footage overlooking water, – a swimming pool, a lake and the sea, it was really helpful. It’s still early days to say where this tech will go but it has become cheap and really fast so I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone owns one, even if it is just for selfies which it is what my little drone was designed for in the first place!
Credit: Little Wolf / Lucid – Av mapping by Jorge Lizalde | studiocano.co.uk
Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision Are you aware of any barriers to equality and diversity for either Welsh or Wales based artists/creatives?
Yes I am really aware, I am Spanish and have an accent that in many cases is judged as not educated or a knowledgeable person. I haven’t been able to get some jobs because of it. At the beginning it was annoying when people tried to maximise their mouth motion and slow their pronunciation when talking to me because they think I didn’t understand but now I just do the same to them if they do, I slow my talking and maximise my pronunciation, maybe that’s why I don’t get the jobs but who wants to work with someone that diminishes you by your accent? Also, I have been involved with Taking Flight Theatre Company
As well as other theatre companies developing live subtitles, I have been working on creating theatre which is more accessible to all audiences. I believe I am the only person in the UK using the software I am working with, or at least this is what a programmer recently told me! It is software created for film cinema subtitles but I adapted to theatre. It can be projected over projections, it can be programmed to be part of the stage and interact with actors, it can be shared in any device, Android or Apple, phone or pads and via a local network which can be used in a promenade performance without access to the internet. In addition I am developing live speech to text subtitles (same language or a live translation of it as for example Welsh-English or Spanish- English) but the technology is not there yet, hopefully with the development of home assistants like Google Home and Amazon Alexa the interpretation of the language will get faster and better.
Credit: Yuri / August 012 | Subtitles and picture by Jorge Lizalde | studiocano.co.uk
There are a range of organisations supporting Welsh and Wales based artists and creatives, I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you?
I think it is pretty healthy, a bit more funding would be great, especially after so many years of having cuts in the arts budgets. The only problem I am facing this days is, I am in my late 30s so there are no prizes or opportunities for that age or not as many, most are focused on early career or under 30s. If you are a mid 30s or early 40s creative and want to start an art career there are not many opportunities to build a good portfolio and be quickly part of the art community.
Credit: Own Installation, “Editing my father” at Ffotogallery
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
To choose an specific area would be to discriminate against the others. I never understood targeting specific areas, all areas, race, social, cultural backgrounds, etc should be considered every year for equally and fund them according to the excellence of the projects and their outcomes. If that means some stablished organisations loose funding after many years receiving it because independent or small projects are creating better projects to present, so be it.
Credit: “Cymru & I” Collaboration with Japanese choreographer Yo Nakamura
What really excites me it is the size of the art community, it is not big, so you soon know most of the artists working in Wales. This also makes it really accessible, and that gives you great freedom to experiment and collaborate with other artists and start new projects or enterprises. It creates opportunities for pop up exhibitions, zines, performances, etc. I don’t think there are enough links with work which is part of a performance or the theatre/artistic community with visual or more modern arts groups but hopefully in the future there will be more collaborative work between art galleries – g39, Ffotogallery and Chapter – with the performance festivals – Festival of Voice, Cardiff Dance Festival – or venues like the WMC or Chapter – as well as artists from both backgrounds. When they have collaborated in the past at events such as Experimentica or Artes Mundi there are more interesting projects happening and everybody really gains from it, creatively and culturally.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
I have always been interested on working with lights and mapping lights structures these are getting more and more interesting, especially with LEDs stripes, with them you can have as many different colours and sync as you like. A good example of it is Robert Hencke’s Lumiere III laser lights installation which I saw at the Barbican main theatre at the beginning of this year and it was one of the greatest art experiences I have ever seen.
Thanks for your time Jorge.
You can find more information about Jorge and his work at the links below. Personal Commercial
Hi Abdul, would you mind by starting by giving a quick background of yourself for our readers?
Yes of course! I moved from London to Wales in 2011 and worked for National Theatre Wales as a creative associate. In 2013 I left and started my own new projects – I created Fio from the foundations of an organisation I ran in London called Youth Of Creative Arts. Fio is based in Cardiff and is an arts charity with the aim of creating new interest in art projects and developing people within the arts.
At Fio, we want to make productions that start conversations over important issues, which can be seen with our previous productions as well as our currently-running Death and the Maiden. Fio’s motto is “Fio makes fearless theatre: work that tears down stereotypes and challenges injustice.”
Considering your move from London to Cardiff, did you personally feel that there was a need for a boost in cultural diversity in the Welsh arts scene?
When I moved to Wales I could see a hugely diverse community around me. But many culturally-diverse artists aren’t made prominent on the Welsh arts scene and aren’t given the same platforms as others. I created Fio to try and boost these people up and bring them an opportunity. Fio’s production last year, The Mountaintop, aimed to tackle race issues and how much they may or may not have changed. Despite being focused on the Black American community, it resonates across the world where there is underrepresent Afro-Caribbean community.
In a world concerned with TV, film and social media, do you worry that there is a struggle to keep theatre alive?
I don’t think theatre is going anywhere. The live nature and the fact the audience is involved in productions and are living it as the actors are has such a powerful impact. There is a bigger sense of real-life empathy that you don’t get in the same way through a screen. Therefore, theatre will not disappear. Historically, performance has always been a way to enable communities to hold a mirror up to themselves and allows them to purge themselves of some of their issues and questions. Theatre always provokes you to think about topical issues and debate. It’s a shared experience, you’re there as a group and you share the experience together.
What has it been like, being the director of a play that touches so many on a personal level? With themes like rape and abuse, there is a large responsibility placed on your shoulders.
As a production team, we are very concerned with supporting actors and audiences that could be affected by the themes the play raises. We want to talk about it but also provide a safe space for thinking around abuse and dealing with democracy after a dictatorship. Gender politics has a huge part to play in the show too. We want the production to force us to have those conversations. It’s been an interesting process as a creative team, thinking about how to do it right and how to safeguard those participating in those conversations in the first place. We want to do it in a way that is constructive. We’re going to have some Q&As with people who have experience civil war, rape and other themes of the play to enable the safe-guarded conversation. Also, on the 1st -3rd November we are running a female-only project. Fusion is meant to encourage a safe space for women to get together and respond to the personal themes we want to raise in discussions. It will be at St David’s Hall and will really delve into what being a female in wales is like.
The play is preoccupied with truth, democracy and dictatorships (as many as other themes). When regarding the world as we know it right now, what do you think topical themes such as these can do for cultural understanding of politics? Can they inspire change?
Yeah, the play tackles these themes but also tries to discuss issues on a personal level, such as abuse and raw torture. We want to ask: how does a whole nation recover with democracy after a dictatorship? How do victims move on from governmental abuse? Recent events such as the Weinstein case raises the conversation about issues such as abuse of power and the male-dominated world women have to live in. What happens when women are subjected to sexual abuse and how is it viewed through the lens of the mainstream? How can we empower women to feel like they can talk about it? We want to know how to identify and start being able to rectify issues of these nature.
Thanks for talking with me, Abdul.
Death and the Maiden is being shown in The Other Room, Cardiff from the 31st October until 11th November.
A new photography gallery has been introduced at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, and to launch it, an exhibition of photographs from the vast David Hurn Collection is on display.
Thomas Babington Macaulay, the eminent British historian and politician, when referring to John Milton wrote, ‘[his words] are words of enchantment. No sooner are they pronounced, than the past is present and the distant near… and all the burial-places of memory give up their dead’. The same could be applied to documentary photography and its cousin photojournalism.
We all know that memory plays tricks. At 9.15. am on 21st October 1966, a huge piece of water-saturated debris accumulated from a century’s heap of coal spoil, descended upon Pantglas Junior School and other buildings in the Welsh village of Aberfan. In the aftermath, 116 children and 28 adults had perished, victims initially of the greed and indifference of the original mine owners, and latterly, the National Coal Board.
As a ten-year old boy, (the same age as many of the victims), this had, and continues to have, a profound influence on me. “There by the grace of God” is an appropriate thought. At the exact time of the disaster, I was seated in my classroom, safe and sound in an environment that all children should feel at school, only separated by the Brecon Beacons from Aberfan. I remember passing through Aberfan the following evening, returning from Cardiff, and seeing the floodlights set up for the rescuers in an ever-diminishing sense of hope of pulling out any of the victims alive. Was it my mother, or a friend of my mother’s, who came across an obviously distressed elderly lady in recon market, who after enquiring if she was alright, said that her granddaughter was a young student at that school. The unreliability of memory.
David Hurn, an established 32-year old documentary photographer at the time, felt that he had to be there. Not only to capture the scene, but to try and portray the anger felt by so many, as to why this tragedy occurred.
The sombre scene, heightened by the grim realism of using back and white film, gives a very strong message. Two schoolfriends look down at the scene of the disaster, with, (possibly the elder one) having his arm placed around the other. Are they brothers? Are they classmates of some of the victims, coming to terms with the realisation that they won’t ever see their friends again? Does it also show the strong bond of community, prevalent in the Valleys of South Wales to this day? An “us against the world” mentality, which would be a very suitable and understandable feeling after what had happened here. Is this a spontaneous photograph, or did David Hurn set it up as a composition? Documentary photographers rarely do this, so I would expect Mr. Hurn to answer in the negative. Does it really matter if he did, because for me, it neither degrades or elevates the power of this photograph. How can the viewer look at it, in terms of memory? Possibly as a revenant, a ghost-like spirit returning to this exact time and place, or as a stranger, going back to an area that he/she once knew, but alienated from it through the passage of time and physical difference to the landscape?
At this point, I should point out that this photograph does NOT appear in the exhibition currently on display at the National Museum of Wales. David Hurn, although born in Redhill in Surrey, eight two years ago, is considered to be a Welsh photographer. Brought up in Cardiff, as a young boy he paid a considerable amount of time visiting the Art Galley of this wonderful museum, and it left a very strong mark on him, because earlier this year, he donated two fabulous collections. The one, amounting to around 1,500 of his own work and the other, the subject of this exhibition, prints that he had swapped with other photographers whose work he admires. The photograph above does from part of the donated body of his own work, and I enquired with Bronwen Colquhoun, the recently appointed Senior Curator of the Photograph Department at the NMW, as to whether, at some time, it will be on display, and she answered in the affirmative. The reason why it appears in this review is to hopefully illustrate how powerful an image of documentary photography can be. All other photographs that appear here, do form part of the exhibition.
The display is located in one large room and is set up in such a way, (although it is not readily apparent to the viewer unless they are very well acquainted with David Hurn’s collection of swaps), that it forms a logical pattern.
The starting point should be a photograph that David Hurn, as an unknown photographer acquired from the already famous Chilean photographer Sergio Larrain. David was photographing pigeons at Trafalgar Square in London in 1958, when he was approached by another photographer doing the same thing. This photographer turned out to be Larrain, someone who David hugely admired at that time, and continued to do so, after forging a strong friendship, until the Chilean’s death in 2012. David couldn’t believe his luck. Not only did he gain the opportunity to meet one of his idols. Sergio was very complimentary about the way that he was going about taking his photographs. Over a coffee, Sergio told David that he felt that he had a future ahead as a professional photographer, but he felt a little skeptical, as he preferred to capture everyday life rather than important newsworthy events. After admiring some prints that Sergio had taken, he was given some of them as a gift, a very unusual occurrence at that time. So, this is where what has become a collection second to none, and valued at over three and a half million pounds.
SERGIO LARRAINE – ‘From the Monument
‘A Los Dos Congresos’
Buenos Aires 1957-58
The question as to whether the result is either a spontaneous shot or contrived, doesn’t come into question with the next photograph that I am referring to, that is, unless they super-glued the bird’s feet to the ground.
ELLIOTT ERWITT -Florida Keys 1968
Erwitt is known for his ironic and absurdist photographs and the humour in this photograph is there for everyone to see. It illustrates the opportunistic nature and photographer’s eye to perfection.
HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON -Henri Matisse in his studio with his doves, 1944
Henri Cartier-Bresson is regarded as one of the great photographer in history of candid shots. In the next photograph, we see such a print of the French modernist artist Henri Matisse, holding and surrounded by doves. The peace and tranquility that Cartier-Bresson captures is almost poetic.
It used to be considered for a photographer to sign his work, a rather pompous act of self-grandeur. This print has a dedication, “for David H l’ami Henri C-B” a method sometimes used to get around this signature problem. Cartier-Bresson was another photography who David greatly admires. When the Frenchman visited David’s flat to view some of his prints, it was almost if God himself had walked in, he recollects in a filmed interview.
As David’s fame increases, he became braver in asking photographers to swap prints. This is exactly what he did when he approached Dorothy Lange on a trip to the US. Lange you may know, is famous for her “dust bowl” photographs taken in the American Prairies at the height of the Great Depression. Her iconic photography “Migrant Mother”, perhaps more than any other image, eipitomises this period of American history, also immortalized in John Steinbeck’s, “The Grapes of Wrath”.
DOROTHEA LANGE – White Angel Breadline San Francisco, 1932
The grimness of this time is captured in this photograph that Dorothy swapped with David. You see a shabbily dress middle-aged man, (maybe wearing his only clothes) facing the camera and a group of other men turned the other way around. The man is clutching a mug. Could this be his only procession? The photograph gives the impression of resigned hopelessness. The other figures possibly representing how society has turned its back on the subject of this image.
As you enter the room, if you turn your attention to the left side wall, you will see a small group of photographs that represent photographers who started out the same time as David trying to establish themselves in a highly competitive market. These people and David used to get together in coffee bars in London in the 1950’s and offer critical opinion, and offer support to one another. The photos on view represent the work of John Bulmer, Patrick Ward, Ian Berry, Philip Jones Griffiths and Sir Don McCullin.
JOHN BULMER -Untitled from the Series North, 1960’s
On the Internet, this colour photograph has a different title “Woman Hanging out Washing) Tipton. This town is Halifax.
PATRICK WARD – Blackpool 1960’s or 1970’s
This photograph taken on a windy day in October with the waves crashing in and a deck chair attendant taking shelter from the wind by surrounding himself with his hirable goods reading a book. Blackpool pier is in the background. Is there anywhere more desolate than a British seaside resort out of season? For that matter, in season also! Ward captures this feeling, and you can’t help wondering, why is this man bothering? Perhaps he has no choice.
IAN BERRY -New Year’s Eve at Trafalgar Square 1960
The pursed lips of the young lady in the foreground asks, is she just about to do the kissing or is she waiting for her partner to kiss her.
Berry was the only photographer to capture the massacre at Sharpeville, but here we see him capturing an intimate scene in happier times.
PHILIP JONES GRIFFITHS -Vietnam, 1967
This image shows a Vietnamese woman tagged with the designation VNC (Vietnamese civilian). This powerful photograph suggests to me the degradation and reduction of the value of humanity, labelling in such a way that you might do with a suitcase or an exhibit in a museum. Jones Griffiths, a fellow Welsh photographer made his name covering the Vietnam War.
SIR DON MCCULLIN – Biafra 1968
This poignant photograph shows a young twenty-four-year-old woman with a suckling baby who is looking for milk that she can’t obviously provide through the emaciated condition.
David comments on this photograph by describing this woman’s dignity of expression. You feel that if anyone can get through this and come out on the right side, then she is that woman. He also compliments the skill of his friend Don by saying that the trust that the subject has for the photographer is exemplified by the fact that she is looking directly at the photographer, allowing such an intimate portrait to be taken.
In 1965, David was asked to apply for membership of Magnum Photographs. This commercial body was founded in Paris in 1947. Among the co-founders were Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capra. The latter you may recall took arguably the most powerful image of war, “The Falling Soldier” taken during the Spanish Civil War. Capra, whose life was tragically cut short at the age of 40, when he stepped on a land-mine during the First Indochina War, in 1954 swapped this photo with David.
ROBERT CAPRA – French woman who has had a baby fathered by a German soldier, being marched through the streets after being punished by having her head shaved. Chartres, France 1944
What struck me about this photograph is the stark image of the baby, tenderly being held by this mother, on contrast to the hatred and derision of the crowds. Innocence the Baby versus. War -Hatred as a result of conflict.
Magnum Photos is still flourishing today and provides a marketplace for photographers who was members to sell their work. It also, according to Cartier-Bresson is “ Magnum is a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually”. The criteria for membership is strictly enforced and passes through two stages – Associate and Full Membership. David became an Associate member in 1965 and a full member two years later.
As you enter the exhibition, you are greeted by a huge number of photographs, all taken by members of Magnum Photos. Photographers such as Eve Arnold, Martin Parr, Peter Marlow and Thomas Hoepker to name a few.
EVE ARNOLD A Baby’s first five minutes, 1959
The stark black background accentuates the tender and intimate touching of a baby’s tiny fragile hand. A photograph that touchingly shows the unique bond between mother and child.
MARTIN PARR – New Brighton 1983-86
Martin Parr, another long-term friend of David, took a set of photographs depicting the Wirral seaside resort of New Brighton, once a prominent location for day-trippers and tourists to the town, now in a state of decline, but still having an active scene.
PETER MARLOW -David Beckham London, 1999
A candid photograph of a relaxed looking David Beckham at the height of his pomp.
THOMAS HOEPKER – Andy Warhol in his ‘Factory’Union Square 1981
One of a set of quirky photographs taken in NYC of this iconic subject.
In 1973, David turned to teaching and founded the School of Documentary Photography in Newport, Gwent. A section to the right of the room is dedicated to some of his students who were able to forge successful careers in photography. A photograph that particularly interested me is by Abergavenny-born Sue Packer and adorns the cover image of her publication, “Cheltenham Ladies – A Portrait of Cheltenham Ladies College.
SUE PACKER – Cheltenham Ladies, 1984
There are no smiling adolescent young ladies here. In fact, you could almost accuse them of being sullen in some instances. Is this a statement of the difficult road ahead of them, possibly as females when setting out on their careers? Cheltenham Ladies College is one of the most prestigious public school institutions for girls in England. Does their privileged backgrounds account for their provocative expresses? Could it be a sexual provocation? It is an intriguing photograph and not difficult to see why it has been the subject of a David Hurn swap.
David’s reputation is such nowadays that to be asked to swap a photograph with him, is a testament to your own arrival as a photographer of renown.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID HURN IN THE EXHIBITION
Although the exhibition is not about photographs that David Hurn took himself, Bronwen Colquhoun managed to persuade him to include three of then. In order to tie in with the theme of the exhibition, these photographs are the ones that David is asked to swap himself.
Taken from Arizona Trip, a forthcoming publication, (November 2017), of a collection of photographs that David took at the back end of the 1970’s in that state. The photograph captures a landscape that will be eradicated when building developers move in shortly after it was taken.
This magnificent collection of 700 + swaps, many which are presented in this exhibition is a remarkable coup for the National Museum of Wales. In his own words, David says that he only would donate these collections if the NMW started its own dedicated gallery for photography. Photograph galleries are a relatively recent feature, beginning in the late 1960’s as purely commercial enterprises. Galleries in terms of providing a viewing platform for the pleasure and education of the viewers came later, but it is still a little surprising that it has taken the NMW so long to set up its own gallery. Bronwen Colquhoun says that the intention is for exhibitions to change at roughly six-monthly intervals and drawn from a rich treasury of photographs showing Welsh cultural, historical, industrial and social life. The David Hurn Swaps Collection is the perfect instrument to kick-start this important new feature at the National Museum of Wales.
David Hurn will be conducting a talk about the Collection at the museum on the 20th October 2017. Admission is free, but I have been informed that it is advisable to book now to avoid disappointment as demand has been very high.