The Shape of Water’s greatest accomplishment, beyond getting made, surpassing looking as great as it does on a mere nineteen and a half million dollar budget, exceeding it’s relevant themes of acceptance in this troubled time is it’s effectiveness in executing it’s truly bizarre premise that could so easily be ridiculous or plain weird. It most certainly succeeds in the other categories but the fact that it made a concept that if it was written down or told to you, you’d probably have to hold back a smile or may think about hitting the panic button.
Guillermo Del Toro has proven himself to be one of the great living filmmakers. His works are unique in concept, meticulously thought out and lovingly brought to life which makes all have elements of, if not entirely, masterpieces. What he does here is craft an adult fairy-tale by staying true to who he is and at the same time bravely treading unfamiliar ground.
The tale begins long ago in a place far far away (at least to some), the 1960’s in Baltimore. We see a room submerged in water and a voice tells us that they’re not even quite sure how to go about telling this story, seems appropriate. In the room floats a sleeping woman that wakes from her dream, she is Eliza Esponito, she is a cleaning woman in a government facility and is mute. She enjoys movies, music and lives her hum-drum life opposite her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) one day after another, until…
A water filled tank is wheeled into the facility, the water shifts and a noise can be heard from it, Eliza taps the glass and a webbed, clawed hand reaches out. What they have in there is a creature from the Amazon that is a hybrid of man and aqua creature. It was a struggle for Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) to get it there and he takes a noticeable bit of joy in taking a cattle prod to it. Eliza’s curiosity gets the better of her and she sees the specimen in it’s room. Where some would stay away or cower she offers it a boiled egg and when it roars she stays and looks at it directly.
Sally Hawkins has to be mute for the entirety of the movie, she does sign language which is accompanied with subtitles and sometimes has someone next to her to speak out what she’s signing. But the truest communication comes from her. Words couldnt due justice to the emotion she is able to convey through her eyes, a twitch/raising of the eyebrows and the un-comfort in the way she hides away. It is the truest mastery of the art of acting to convey all of the emotions her character goes through from fear, to humorous, to her heart breaking in-front of us.
The amphibian creature is one of the great monster creations that has ever been in a movie. It’s design is familiar if you’ve seen Creature From The Black Lagoon, or even Abe Sapien from Del Toro’s Hellboy, a humanoid with webbed joints and fins, but the detail that has gone into the painting and sculpture of it distinguishes it and elevates it to a masterpiece of a character. These days it would probably be an entirely C.G.I. but this is a practical creation of makeup and prosthetic’s (with a little C.G.I. to help). However, design and makeup can only take you so far, what truly brings it to life is the man underneath it all. Doug Jones has built his career on being under makeup and embodying all kinds of creatures. With this creature he has to be a curious child, a sad victim and a macho leading man. This marks the sixth time he has collaborate with Del Toro on a project and they are clearly one of the great actor director pairings.
Shannon is here as the tall, white, chiseled American man. If he was playing this role during the time it is based he would undoubtedly be the lead. Saving the poor helpless woman from the terrifying foreign creature and serving as the ideal American specimen. However that idol was built on a lot a racism and narrow-minded Christian ideals of the time. So he is an exaggeration, though probably pretty accurate representation of what such a man would be like, racist, misogynistic and a narcissist to boot. He is the most absolutely detestable and frightening villain since Del Toro’s Captain Vidal in Pans Labyrinth.
Now for the part where it certainly becomes unconventional, the two begin to fall in love. Yes, most certainly a case of Beauty & The Beast. Unless every facet of the movie was on board and sincere to the premise then this would topple quickly and might just be regarded as one of the best shot absurd comedies. But through interactions and gestures we see two beings that are hated or unwanted from the world they find themselves in and by being together find they’re complete. The other characters certainly make a few moments about how this isn’t exactly normal, but when they see genuine love, who are they to deny it.
Alexandre Desplat composes a sweet, gracefully score that is infused in classic love songs of the time period. It is a warm score that played for that special someone that when you dance together, only the two of you work in that way. Also throughout are a few older gems that perfectly contextualize the theme and relationship.
Dividing the two perspectives are the two main colors of the movie, teal and red. Teal is coated throughout the facility and the cars and other pieces that are meant to represent the modern world, it is a new age and everyone is going crazy about the future. Red is used for romanticism and of course love. Like the clothes Eliza wears when she is so happy to be with the one that makes her feel complete, or the seats of the movie theater, a place she loves to go. Along with the rest are a plenty of other rich colors like amber, deep browns, cream and a few true blacks for contrast to make the image pop.
This, like La La Land and Baby Driver before it has love at it’s center. They area all movies that are about and were created through love. Movies that tell their tales about the pursuit and power of the greatest emotion we have and the three creators behind it that are so in love with movies themselves that pay homage to others that have inspired them but also make something entirely their own.
In the nineteen sixties in America they were all ready to head to that bright future, now we are living in it and an artist creates a work that shows the flaws in the past that at the same time highlight struggles we are dealing with now and has made something for all time. At it’s center is a tale about looking on something that others might cower at or hate but seeing the beauty and together love can overcome anything.
How lucky am I, that less than a week after seeing a theatrical hero for the first time, I was able to see the show that started it all – Red Bastard : The Original Show.
While Lie With Me focuses on love and how we all lie, the original show questions our dreams, our lack of or even fear of the truth and our lack of being interesting. What a perfect audience are the British to tackle these issues!
Red Bastard has a commanding power. Unlike other performances when audience members hesitate and struggle with being interacted with, you expect it with Red Bastard. But part of you wants to be commanded by him, you want him to interact and his clever approach to the performance is to feed off what we give. How amazing is this performer that he is unfazed by this and utalising it for his own theatrical creation.
He is mean. He is loving. He gives 0 sh**s and we love it. We are masochistic in a sense that we crave his abuse, his comedy and his surprises. Because BOY are there surprises. You can never tell when the next one will be.
It is admiring to watch his ability to push boundaries with a sense that the fundamentals are rehearsed but that Red Bastard is the master of improv.
If you ever do anything with your life – see Red Bastard. Join in. And come away with possibly one of the funniest, most enjoyably insulting performances that you will never want to end.
A room with only a table, bible and vase of flowers, Be Prepared certainly is not preparing us for what is ahead.
As the lights go down, some quirky music begins from the audience and out comes our performer, hidden within us.
Be Prepared takes a look at one man, his grief of losing his father, reminiscence of his childhood and life and his chance encounter with a stranger that brings his life and grief into perspective.
The majority of this production is a monologue; chopping and changing the story, we pick up bits and pieces of his narration and feel the tense and nervous mannerisms of the character. Ian Bonar is captivating in his production and this monologue is never boring and always engaging; taking the time to look directly at us as he talks, making us feel included and that this production is very personal.
This addictive speech is interrupted by physical breaks, highlighted by changes in light and sound. It shocks the system, shocks you out of rhythm and emanates the system interruption that grief must also give.
This combination of two theatrical forms is never boring and we sit wishing to hear more, to know the story and find out what happens. He is comical, earnest and friendly and all we want to do it sit and listen.
Ian Bonar has taken on a creative and unusual approach to story telling in theatre. Be Prepared is honest, warm and in a way relaxing to watch which is what captivating theatre should sometimes be.
Hamilton is a phenomenon. Lin Manauel Miranda’s show about the rise and fall of the founding farther Alexander Hamilton who would be immortalised by having his face on the ten dollar bill is one of the biggest shows to musical theatre in a long time. It’s fan-base has grown and grown and it has conquered America and is now taking on the rest of the world.
The London show at the Victoria Palace Theatre has grabbed and magnificently run with the baton of standard that this show has gathered. From the words on the page, the set, to the performances themselves they bring this show to life with grace and fury.
The opening number sets up almost everything we need to know. From our heroes backstory to where he is when the story stars and even his end.
The stage has the floor and rafters so that actors can ascend and descend to signify gain and loss of power. The unique aspect of it is the revolving mechanic of the floor of the stage. It is both technically impressing but also essential to the language of the play.
The rotation gives a greater geography to the limited space of the stage, now the actors can continually walk. Also it happens during more key moments so it becomes an expression of Hamilton’s life moments, when he meets someone new or a choice is to be made his world has shifted. It again serves as having Hamilton as the centre while the character and events revolve around him also the ticking of a clock that waits for no one. Along with the unique element they also use the lighting to paint the mood of the scene and represent when a character is isolated. The actors navigate the space expertly with almost nothing out of sync.
As we all know the founding fathers were all white men and married white women. For historical accuracy this cannot be disputed. However this is a contemporary piece of art so it is not so much interested in being historically accurate but more in spiritually representative of America. The casting for the Hamilton cast is very diverse, having almost everyone of every ethnicity represented on stage. If someone who is curious what Alexander Hamilton really looked like then they have only look it up.
An elements of the performance that there is an argument for being cut (but people would be hounding for blood if it was.) This is the segments with King George, they are the point of view from his perspective as he learns about Americas quest and gaining of independence. Really they don’t need to be there, yet they are so loved and funny they must. His lack of choreography is also immensely amusing, because he is dressed to the ninth all he can really do is stand there but it works by making him seem more uptight.He manages to work in some shoulder movements and he works the crowd greatly. His musical style is more like that of British rock which adds another level of diversity to the show.
The songs carry the narrative and theme. No speaking breaks, all songs, non-stop. The backing musicians play extremely well. The songs themselves area all immensely catchy and will have you repeating a few of them when you leave the theatre. Some of the top favourite are My Shot, Helpless, You’ll Be Back, Burn and others but count on you leaving with a favourite (mine’s Non-Stop).
The play as a whole is divided into two acts. The first is establishing Hamilton himself as well as a few of the others that will play big roles in this story, also about Americas fight for independence. The second act is about dealing with independence and the conflicts they have to deal with become more personal and internal.
The acting from the players is very good. There are many characters in this story and in the second act the actors switch roles to the new characters that are introduced. There is just so much to say about them that it would take up too much of the review, so I’ll just summarise by saying their performance, from the expressions, to the singing is indeed top notch.
The main feats of dancing and choreography come from the background extras. The main players in the scene don’t really bust out many impressive moves, but then again they have many lyrics to remember and sing and if they were doing something more physically taxing then they’d most likely be out of breathe and that wouldn’t be any good. They do indeed do some dancing and hand movements to stop them from becoming dull planks which keeps us looking at them.
Hamilton is the story of the American dream as well as other things and told with modern sensibilities. It is incorrect in a few historical details as others have pointed out, but this is a work of art not an accurate historical account of events. It tells it’s story succinctly through it’s chosen medium of rap with very efficient and fast lyrics being sung and the visuals on-stage from the dancing to the lighting do so many things to draw your eye that you’ll be engaged for the full three hours and then complain that it was over too soon.
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.
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 writer Dr Branwen Davies. They discussed her training, career to date, a new work in progress ‘Cut and Run’ which will be performed at Chapter Arts Centre this December and her thoughts on the arts in Wales.
Hi Branwen great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
I initially trained as an actor at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff after being involved with National Youth Theatre Wales as a teenager. I was interested in performing but realised I was a better writer than an actor and decided to focus on writing instead. My training gave me a really good grounding and introduction to theatre, plays and performance as well as the opportunity to meet some great people who I have been lucky to collaborate and work with later in life. I think actors can be great script editors – knowing what is needed and not needed in scenes and what can be conveyed without text. I think my actor training helped me become a better writer and theatre maker.
The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff.
So what got you interested in writing and the arts?
I’ve always written and I’ve always been involved in theatre in some way shape or form. I wrote plays as a child, took them to school and forced the class to perform them! I wrote whilst at RWCMD and after working as an actor for a few years decided to do a Creative Writing Masters at Bangor University. Whilst doing my MA I was commisioned by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru to co-write the Welsh language play DOMINOS that toured Wales. I’ve since been combining freelance writing work, lecturing and various theatre/performance projects with various companies in Welsh and English.
The writers of DOMINOS, Mared Swain, Branwen Davies, Manon Wyn, and Angharad Llwyd.
It’s been an eye opener talking to young people regarding the hard-hitting production of Mwgsi which is about a young girl who at the end of her A levels discovers she has Leukemia. I admire the young people’s honesty and frankness. They know what they like and don’t like and are able to communicate well their thoughts and reactions to the play. I feel it’s important that a play produced for young people is reviewed by young people – i.e the target audience and that Fran Wen – a company who aim to create exciting theatre that challenges young people with content and form approach schools and offer the opportunity. I’ve had many interesting discussions the past few weeks and enjoyed discussing what a review can be and should be and how to create a vocabulary to talk about performance and theatre and elements involved in a production in an engaging way.
I believe you have been working with older citizens. Can you tell us more about the project you have led on?
It was a privilege to work with the older citizens on the project Lleisiau/Voices with Pontio and Friars Secondary School in Bangor. We spent time with the residents at the old people’s home Plas Hedd at Maesgeirchen Bangor who specialise in care for people with Dementia. We created a verbatim piece of theatre after the students befriended the residents and talked and interviewed them. Seeing the frindships that were formed between the generations was heartwarming. Being able to see the residents as real people with stories and a past rather than patients in a chair and most importantly being able to give them a voice was very rewarding. I have never laughed and cried so much during a project. It really hit home the power of theatre, communication and engaging with the community. The stories that were shared were priceless – Mable’s fun and frolics with the Land Army, Margaret training to be a nurse and escaping from the window after lights out and Morus playing the piano whilst his father sang and his brother played the trombone. The end result was read to the friends and families of everyone involved and was a celebration really of the resident’s lives. But the process of befriending and giving the teenagers an opportunity to get to know the older generation and to share and learn from them was the real power of the project and seeing the residents light up and enjoy sharing and laughing and having fun.It was very real, very human and touching.
Gwanwynn celebrates creativity in older age, with an increasing older population in Wales is their enough support for the creativity of our older citizens?
I don’t think there is enough support for the creativity of our older citizens. There are some important and rewarding projects going on but there needs to be more. I feel we tend to forget or ignore our older citizens when they need to be celebrated. They have so much to share and we have so much to gain from them. Loneliness is such a huge problem with our elderly citizens and I feel an output for creativity would be a huge benefit to combat loneliness and eradicate the stigma of old age.
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?
Get the Chance do a great job. There are always barriers and always people fighting for equality and for more diversity. It’s the money element that worries me. The expense and cost of opportunities – even visiting theatres or booking a space! I wish there was more funding to collaborate with different artists on a research and development level. Introducing different artists to each other to experiment and play with different ways of working.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
I would like to see more funding for children and young people’s theatre – theatre that provokes without preaching. Some of the most memorable performances I have seen have been for younger audiences. I still remember some productions that came to my primary school and feel that it is a mistake to steer away from visiting schools and performing at schools. It is the only opportunity some children will have of theatre. I would like to see more funding for the less obvious and less traditional forms of theatre and theatre making too and development of new work. Would be good to take a risk with funding and support less known and less experienced artists – we miss out by playing safe. There is room to push boundaries.
What excites you about the arts in Wales?
What excites me? The talent!The practitioners and artists we have in Wales across the board – actors/directors/writers etc I just wish there was more opportunity to showcase the talent across the border and internationally.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
I have just experienced a weekend at Ty Newydd in Llanystumdwy at a writing retreat where I was mentoring 6 new young writers with Elgan Rhys for Fran Wen.
Branwen working with one of the young people at Ty Newydd.
It’s a magical place and a weekend collaborating, talking and sharing was invigorating!
Elgan Rhys working with one of the young people at Ty Newydd.
Photographic credit: Mark Douet
Performance wise I recently saw National Dance Wales and Marc Rees’s P.A.R.A.D.E – yes I’m biased because I collaborated with the text for the performance but I enjoyed the experience, excitement and the spectacle of it all.
Photographic credit: Mark Douet
And lastly to finish what are you currently working on?
Cut and Run is a work in progress that Dirty Protest are developing/performing in the run up to Christmas at Chapter as an alternative Christmas show. You can catch it at the studio in Chapter December 20th-23rd. It’s a one woman show with mosquitoes, Texan tourists and a ticking biological clock!
As part of Dirty Protest’s 10 year anniversary celebrations, the company present a development production of a new Christmas monologue, Cut and Run by Branwen Davies. Branwen wrote for Dirty Protest’s very first short play night in 2007 and this is her first full length play for the company.
Cut and Run follows Dirty Protest’s tradition of alternative Christmas offerings and will be performed at Chapter 20th – 23rd December 2017. Tickets can be booked here
Balletboyz have been a favourite of mine since my university days. Always heading to the Taliesin in Swansea, this company have never struggled to surprise me with their brilliance.
Today was of no exception.
Looking in the crowd the audience was of a mixture – dance enthusiasts like myself, an older generation who may or may not have seen them before and know their unique and modern take on dance and a huge amount of boys and young men. Beating the stereotype of ballet and dance being for girls, these masculine role models are obviously very influential.
Fourteen days comprises of 4 short pieces followed by a longer finale. As the programme states, these dances are created by a host of different choreographers, including Strictly Come Dancing’s, Craig Revel Horwood and all feature an underlying theme of balance and imbalance.
“The Title is in the Text” is our first piece by choreographer, Javier De Frutos and really draws on the theme. Set around a see saw, the dancers balance, propel and manoeuvre around it creating beautiful shapes and a sort of child-like playtime with each other . It’s simplistic, yet powerful and with elements of subtle humour with the interaction and response between them. Dressed in jumpsuits, firstly it feels mechanic and as if they are workers but the play in the dance makes them feel more childlike.
“Human Animals” by Iván Pérez changed the dynamic completely. The floral shirts with legs bare for all muscles to be seen makes this animalistic – the routine gentle, light and almost mimicking deer jumping in a forest as one. It’s repetitive but easy and lovely to watch.
To me, “Us” by Christopher Wheeldon was the highlight of the show. With only two dancers, the performance is intimate, a consistent flow and full of emotion. Along with the music by Keaton Henson, this very minimalist piece but full of vigour and emotional power resonated personally with me, leaving me in tears at the beauty of love and conflict.
“The Indicator Line” by TV star Craig Revel Horwood is in itself a surprise. There is a Soviet element to the narrative and comes across as very dictator-like but with bells on. Mostly I would expect something musical theatre based from him and that’s a little of what we get but it’s strong, powerful and full of momentum. The dancers also show a great talent in their trade when ballet and contemporary turns to tap. However there’s anger in the tap -no Fred Astaire here, this tap dancing means war.
And finally, “Fallen”by Russell Maliphant – a rebirth from it’s debut in 2013. Until I read that fact, there was something familiar about the piece but nothing less enjoyable. The whole ensemble is involved and there is always something to watch. Different scenes broadcast from different areas; crescendos come and go and levels change from all to duo to solo and back again. This piece has a fluidity to it, not just in dance but in its expression, leaving you struggling to take your eyes away.
What I love about Balletboyz is their ability to be about the dance. Yes the odd bit of staging and changing of lights adds to their composition but mostly the stage is naked, stripped bare of trickery leaving us engaged with the dancers who make every element look effortless and with sheer beauty.
Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events.