Focus Wales in one of the nation’s premier music showcase festivals. Held in Wrexham, it brings together some of the best people in the music industry for three days of talks, meetings, and, of course, musical sets. The best of both emerging and more established talent from Wales and beyond featured on various stages around the town centre. Headliners on Friday night, 9Bach were excellent, as per usual. But apart from these giants of the Welsh folk scene, who else stood out? Here are my personal ‘ones to watch’ from this year’s festival:
Hailing from Snowdonia and currently studying in Leeds,
Hannah Willwood and her band created the most incredible sound during their
set. Blending jazz, folk and indie, her music is at once familiar yet fresh and
unique. With resonances of an earlier era, it is a sound that intrigues,
mesmerises, and captivates. This girl is going places.
If I had to pick a winner for Best Performance at this
year’s festival, I would award it to Katie Mac. The singer-songwriter from
Huyton played an absolute blinder from start to finish. She delivered such an
enthralling set that I became completely absorbed in the experience. Here was a
prime example of quality songwriting overlaid with some incredibly accomplished
He proved popular with the Old Bar No.7 crowd. And it wasn’t
just his interaction with the audience that made this performer standout. Take
a listen to Albert Jones and you will find a vocal that is incredibly soulful and
wonderfully versatile. Comparisons with James Morrison are inevitable. But to
try and pin down his sound is much more difficult. Whether blues, country, folk
or pop, it seems that Jones can turn his hand to anything. A really engaging
What a stonker of a set from The Dunwells. Full of energy, enthusiasm and real excitement, every
song seemed to be a crowd-pleasing anthem. They not only succeeded in winning
over a raucous, increasingly drink-fuelled crowd. They managed to encourage
some well-judged audience participation that only added to the feel-good
factor, rounding off the festival (for me at least) in style.
If God Were a Woman / Beta Test
The inaugural Focus Wales Short Film Festival had an excellent shortlist of eight films. All independent, all made to a high standard, my personal front-runners were If God Were a Woman and Beta Test. The former is a provocative and thought-provoking spoken word from Evrah Rose, made all the more so by the choice of director Joe Edwards to film in a derelict Church. The latter is an American production that is very much in the mould of Black Mirror. It sees Eric Holt enter into a simulated world to relive some of his favourite memories. But then a glitch in the programme leaves him facing much darker stuff.
Artist’s Festival (YAF) is a week-long, annual event run by The Other Room,
Cardiff’s only pub theatre. For the festival, the theatre invites between 35-50
participants from Wales’ emerging creative scene into their doors to gain
invaluable experience working with their peers.
initiative is open to actors, writers, directors and stage managers and aims to
provide an opportunity to explore their chosen discipline, encourage
collaboration and artistic risk-taking. The participants are shown the value of
hard work with an intense, but rewarding, week. They’re given the opportunity
to work with new, contemporary work. But the ultimate aim is for participants
to gain confidence, grow and keep creating beyond YAF.
starts with various workshops and talks from The Other Room’s staff and
industry professionals from a broad range of backgrounds. These workshops
include casting, starting and maintaining a company, arts council applications,
marketing, community theatre as well as sessions for skill-sharing and
networking. They also have specific workshops within their respective
disciplines with industry professionals.
The participants are then introduced to their companies, comprised of a group of actors, one director and one writer, and start working towards their end-of-week goals. Actors and directors present a performance of a given commissioned script and a dramatic rehearsed reading of their writer’s script. Writers write that ten-minute play whilst stage managers make it all happen.
The actors workshop this year was with Keiron Self and had a
specific focus on how an actor interprets text. The actors from YAF tell me
this was vital for the short rehearsal period they had. You don’t have long to
get to know your character, and it’s especially important in shorter pieces
where characters rely more on performance for characterisation.
Once the actors are in the
rehearsal room they have a couple of days to get off book before their first
performance. Something some saw as a somewhat daunting task, having never done
it in such a short space of time before. However, they realise it’s perfectly
possible and that the experience is vital for them moving forward. Especially
when preparing for auditions or working in the fringe environment where time to
learn lines is limited.
The performances at the end of the week come and go, but it’s
really about the experience of the week, of putting yourself out there and on
stage that seems to last beyond the week for the actors.
The directors had a workshop with Simon Harris, who focused
on doing text work before rehearsals and working with new writing. The
directors tell me this was great experience going in. Often their teaching has
focused on working in the room and once again, the workshop complimented the
direction process for the week.
The directors also have a production meeting with stage
managers where they set out their vision and discuss the possibilities. This is
something few of the directors had done before and again, it’s something that
really helps with their personal growth.
Directors also expressed the experience of being able to work
with a writer and have them in the room. Directing for rehearsed reading is something
that kept coming up also. Directing with a specific focus on displaying the
writing, which is different from directing the commissioned piece. Directing
both during the week is a valuable experience to take away.
The trust and support given to directors to control not one,
but two pieces of theatre, be placed in a room full of actors and deliver their
own vision is something the directors also spoke highly of. The support from
The Other Room’s artistic director Dan Jones and YAF producer Claire Bottomly was
a big part of the director’s experience.
As previously mentioned, the directors and stage managers
have a production meeting near the start of the week. For the stage managers
this is something none of them had done in this way before and is extremely
helpful moving into YAF.
The stage managers are very hands-on during the week. With the
support of a professional stage manager, in 2019 being Kristian Rhodes, they
effectively make the shows happen. Bringing the director’s visions to life by
sorting set, sourcing props and arranging lighting and sound. They’re present
in some of the rehearsal process and get to tech a run of the final
Overall, the experience is positive for the stage managers.
They’re constantly busy and feel like they’re just on the job. But, crucially,
have that support from a senior stage manager and The Other Room staff.
The writers start their week in a writing workshop with a
professional playwright. This year, and the year I did it in 2017, it was with
Matthew Bulgo. Bulgo is an excellent playwright and I can say from experience, very
good at leading a workshop. He focuses this one on structure and writing for
short-form, which is key for the week moving forward. All writers expressed how
helpful this was on many levels.
Bulgo also returns to offer feedback, which is also offered
by The Other Room’s staff throughout the week.
The writers spend the first half of the festival writing a
ten-minute play. Something that sounds quite scary at first, but from watching
the scripts performed at the end, easily possible to a good standard.
Writers then go into the rehearsal room on the Friday and Saturday
to see their scripts rehearsed. This is a new experience for some, as is what
happens in the afternoon on the Saturday when their scripts are performed in a
dramatic rehearsed reading.
The writers seem to be the most stressed during the week, but as a result the most relieved and happiest at the end when they see their work. It’s an intense but rewarding week and in some cases the writers take their scripts and develop them further.
Speaking to participants from all disciplines, it’s clear
they’re there for similar reasons. To make connections and friends, learn,
explore, grow, reignite a passion, re-motivate, progress ideas, bounce off
others, practice professionalism and a collaborative process in a supportive
By the end it’s clear the week has been valuable, often in
more ways than they realise. It gives participants a sense of pride if they
need it or helps to ground them if they’re more critical. To realise that not
everything has to be a masterpiece, and anything produced within a week won’t
be perfect. But that it can be done. It shows them that this can be done and
all it takes is a bit of hard work and the knowledge, which YAF provides, to do
When I did the Young Artists Festival in 2017, it didn’t seem
much different. The main difference is it seems more focused on creating an
environment of collaboration. Not that it wasn’t there in 2017. It’s hard to
really progress YAF every year, because it’s always been a really great week
for anyone involved. They’ve always been aware that people are different and
always tried to cater to everyone, making young artists feel comfortable in an
environment that, for many, is fairly alien – the world of professional theatre
Post is a solo, immersive play written and performed by Xavier de Sousa. Xavier’s play is an intimate and vocal production that creates a traditionally Portuguese and friendly atmosphere. There’s nothing more accommodating then attending a show that has tasty smells fuming in to your nostrils and discovering different methods of cooking and learning about new ethnic dishes, whilst getting served.
Post is all about joining Xavier at a grand table for some delicious portuguese food and merrily discussing hot topics around the dinner table whilst you eat. Xavier chose four people to voluntarily accompany him at the dining table on set which had a variety of sweet smelling foods such as homemade bread, soup, Green wine and Cachaca, which is a strong Portuguese spirit he served for shots.
Once the beautifully infused scents, tastes and imagery of the set began to feel like a warm heavenly paradise, Xavier was ready to present his questions. After he’d selectively chosen who to be seated around the table to discuss national matters, it got a lot more interesting and compelling. The primal talk was on challenges the nation faces, especially as we are heading towards Brexit.
The semi-focus revolved around factors in political and geographical landscapes. It was great to see Xavier invite down different ethnic groups to the table as this made the show even more crucial to watch. The conversations were far from demoralising to hear as they were all uniquely angled. Answered with the intention to help openly express, relate it individually or encourage significant family memories.
Post is a play that exploits different topics in a safe, non-judgmental environment exploring what it means to be and feel a migrant in this day and age. As well as conforming to a culture to gain acceptance, followed by the exposure of non-friendly and ignorant people, who feel more confident to be openly racist and discriminative towards opposing ethnic minorities during this moment in history.
Xavier did a great job in keeping the humour alive and not excluding the audience by offering and serving food whilst conversations commenced! Xavier defiantly made a great host! Overall Post was fun and engaging to experience as whether you were involved in the conversation or not, the topics were self-identifying to all.
In the deep underbelly of the vaults, we are lead into a almost parisian but definite tomb that sways with the changing of times.
There are corners with dark and erie images of dirt and skulls, a glimpse of the universe in a coffin, shrines and so on. We are gently lead through these in the damp, and dusty wannabe catacombs.
The Church of the Sturdy Virgin is an immersive experience of the dead but also of humility. We are prompted to take it all very seriously but there are times of poking fun at the dead and the way different people grieve, celebrating death, and sometimes we are even poked at. But we are engaged and told to take this seriously and so, we are dutiful.
Split into ‘families’ we are taken on journeys to experience the different elements of burial, death, the afterlife from a comedy duo who show you how to embalm a member of the audience, to selecting a eulogy for our dearly departed that can be satirical, heartfelt or just societal.
The performers are always on point – they encompass their characters into their entire entity, enjoying the freedom of ad lib and engagement with the audience right from meeting us in the queue to the end when we leave, asking us to ‘Stay Sturdy’. At one moment there seems to be a confrontation from the ‘religious’ of the church and the more ‘spiritual’ yet this isn’t explored much more than a slight outburst and a mention of differences. I felt that this would have been great to explore some more – to show more of a darker, deeper and controversial side behind The Church of the Sturdy Virgin.
Over all I had a great time – I went in feeling apprehensive, as the wimp in me who shys away from horror films and shudders at the thought of ghosts, thought that I would find myself immersed in something my nerves just wouldn’t cope with. However, while subtle elements of this, The Church of the Sturdy Virgin was also fun, hilarious and did well to not only immerse us in their world, but break us out of our British shells and interact more.
Hi Adele, great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
I am a theatre and opera director. I am from Port Talbot originally and live in Cardiff now. I’m about to make my Royal Opera House debut with Handel’s Berenice.
This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?
I am obsessively listening to Berenice as I’m about to direct it! So my iPod is pretty much given over to that and to some of Handel’s other operas. It’s good to get a sense of where this piece fits into his wider body of work.
But the latest thing that I saw and was blown away by was a gig by Hen Ogledd. Their album, Mogic, has just come out and it’s just sensational. I’m a vinyl lover, so I’ll be listening to it on the record player!
We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why? 1
Magical Mystery Tour – The Beatles
I’m going to immediately preface this by saying that this is by no means The Beatles’ best album (for me, that’s Revolver) but it is the one that changed my life. I was struggling to fit in in my teens in a world of grey concrete and everyone in head to toe adidas block colour tracksuit and gangster rap. After one very late night of underage drinking, a friend took me back to his house and said “check this out”. He put the film of Magical Mystery Tour on and immediately my entire world opened up. The colour, the surreality, the clothes and, of course, the music! I became obsessed with the backwards tapeloops, the kaleidoscope camera, the technicolour kaftans. I binned the tracksuit and immediately became a 60s throwback. That one encounter opened up everything to me: art, counter culture, the music scene, a whole world of new friends. And I can still quote that film word for word.
His ‘N’ Hers – Pulp
When my school mates did all start listening to Oasis and Blur I was firmly in the 3rd camp: I was a massive Pulp fan. Different Class is the album that cemented them as working class hero for the wierdo amongst us, and This is Hardcore saw them reach the pinnacle of their orchestral ambition, but His ‘N’ Hers is my favourite. It captures something very real about being an outsider in the 90s: when charity shops were packed full of incredible 60s clothing for pennies, the seedy glamour of the beachside dirty weekend B n Bs along Mumbles road, sticky indie clubs and lager and lime. It’s an album that celebrates the trashy, sexy, the working class. Jarvis Cocker is still my hero and nothing makes me dance and cry at the same time like “Do you Remember the First time”.
Work and Non-Work – Broadcast
I wrestled between this and Dots and Loops by Stereolab (which is a masterpiece) but Broadcast just pips them for me. Warp records seemed to be the coolest thing on the planet, and Broadcast’s music touched a nostalgic nerve for a period I didn’t even know. Their music seemed to be the subconscious by product of an alternative past: the mulch creepiness of Dario Argento’s fits, the sun saturated photography, the trippy wierdness of Public Information films. This album is incredibly beautiful and cinematic: every song on it lends itself to a film that has never been made. And perhaps the thing that pushes Broadcast’s work up the list for me is the tragic death of their singer and heart of the group Trish Keenan. She was a fashion icon and a poetic mind who went too soon.
The Hissing of Summer Lawns – Joni Mitchell
One night my boyfriend and I were driving very late down a pitch Black Country lane and we were listening to a radio show of Prince’s favourite songs. Suddenly this piece came on and it was so overwhelmingly beautiful, so totally perfect that we had to stop the car and just sit there in the dark listening. That song was Edith and the Kingpin from this strange and haunting album by the one and only Joni Mitchell. Poetically, every listen glistens with new meaning and her use of language is so incredible. “The helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof/ Like a dragonfly on a tomb”. Exquisite. Especially coming at you through that pure voice.
Wozzeck – Berg
I discovered that I wanted to direct for stage when I sat down and watched Richard Jones’s production of Berg’s complex and terrifyingly hard opera based on the Buchner play. That production tore away any concepts I had of what theatre could be. The world on stage was so strange, so complete, and the performers were incredible musicians and amazing actors (Christopher Purves’ performance in that was one of immense human detail. All while singing some of the hardest music you’ve every heard over a full orchestra). Now I’m finally directing opera, this production is still the benchmark for me of what can be achieved. It’s really worth listening to: yes the music’s complex, but the tragedy of the story is brilliantly served here. Please note the version Adele describes is not available online. Instead we present The Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra, The Chorus of the Hamburg State Opera, Conducted by Bruno Maderna, Directed for television by Joachim Hess. Set design: Herbert Kirchhoff Costumes: Helmut Jürgens Recorded 1970, Hamburg State Opera.
Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?
I’m going to chose Babies from His N’ Hers because I think it shows how complex pop music can be. Melancholic, strangely profound: it captures the sense of teenage boredom on a rainy Tuesday evening between school and… But it also never fails to get everyone on the dance floor, and it builds into a euphoric, semi-spiritual exorcism of raw sexuality and kitchen sink drama. I can’t listen to this without dancing!
Hi Lleucu great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
I was raised in Talgarreg, Ceredigion and went to Ysgol Dyffryn Teifi in Llandysul. While still at school my friends and I set up the Welsh-language rock festival, Roc y Cnapan, in Ffostrasol. We had amazing bands such as Y Cyrff (who later became Catatonia), Ffa Coffi Pawb (later, Super Furry Animals), Crumblowers, Cerrig Melys and Datblygu playing in front of thousands of young people who came to the festival from all over Wales. After school I travelled around South America for a while and studied English literature at New College, Oxford. After working at various media and arts companies I ended up where I am now in Literature Wales. Poetry, spoken word and hip-hop have always inspired me, and I love the way these genres have developed and intersected over the years.
This chat is
specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and
professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?
These days I’m enjoying listening to Kendrick Lamar, Cardi B, Stormzy, Dave (the young political rapper from London. Check out his song Question Time) – exciting music with a message and an edge.
There’s also a lot of great music coming from Wales, such as Los Blancos, Adwaith, Y Pencadlys. And Olion by Mr has been playing endlessly in our house for the last couple of months.
We are interviewing a
range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5
records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why?
1 Velvet Underground & Nico – a funny, louche and weird album with surprisingly catchy songs. I listened to it a lot as a teenager (and still do), and it made me fantasise about moving to New York, wear black and live in a loft.
2 Ride On by Christy Moore – my friends and family can vouch that this gets played a lot in our house and I know every single word to every song. His voice is hauntingly beautiful.
3 It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy – extremely influential album when I was younger and the band still sounds as fresh and urgent now. I saw them play at the Tramshed a couple of years ago and they were amazing.
4 Libertino by Datblygu – without a doubt the most influential and exciting band ever in the Welsh-language, if not in any language. The combination of the musical genius of Patricia Morgan and the poetic desolation of Dave R Edwards makes any of Datblygu’s albums worthy of intense listening.
5 Gold: Greatest Hits by ABBA – dancing round the kitchen to ABBA songs is a tradition I’ve proudly passed on to my children. Fun, classy, catchy, genius pop disco tunes which should be part of everybody’s lives.
Just to put you on the spot could you choose
one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?
A toss-up between Cân i Gymru from Libertino by Datblygu and Dancing Queen by ABBA. Or perhaps Ride On by Christy Moore, or Don’t Believe the Hype by Public Enemy. I really can’t choose!L
In the article below a range of Welsh and Wales based creatives share with us a selection of cultural events they are looking forward to this year. Thanks to all of our contributors.
Connor Allen, Writer and Actor.
My cultural highlights for 2019 would have to include Betrayal at the Harold Pinter Theatre starring Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Cox. One of my favourite Pinter plays and one hell of a cast, so it should be great!
Another one I’m ecstatic for is Tree by Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah at the Manchester International Festival. The vision of both those artists is nothing short of superb so we are in for a treat whatever they create.
And speaking of the Manchester International Festival Skepta is doing an immersive experience called Dystopia987 and even if you’re not a lover of grime I can bet that it’ll be worth the watch.
Closer to home in Wales I’m looking forward to Mathew Bourne’s Romeo & Juliet coming to the Wales Millennium Centre as previous productions from Mr Bourne have been astounding in terms of choreography and storytelling so I am very much looking forward to his take on Romeo & Juliet.
Also I’m very eager to watch Tigerface by Justin Cliffe at The OtherRoom in Cardiff. I’ve no doubt that it will be an awesome piece and being that I missed previous sharing’s of it I am excited to see the piece in its entirety.
A personal hope of mine for 2019 is that more people and companies are taking risks, especially with minority groups. We’ve played it safe for many years now. Let’s shake it up. And also accepting other people’s views even if they are different from our own. We all come from different walks of life and with that we bring different views and opinions. Let’s show compassion and accept or at least acknowledge other people’s views. We can all learn and grow from each other.
Meredydd Barker, Playwright.
From the 14thof June to the 10thof November, Tate Liverpool is hosting the first, major UK exhibition of artist and activist Keith Haring. Because his work decorates T-shirts and tea towels it tends to be forgotten how subversive he was. This is a superb opportunity to be reminded of how urgent his response was to issues such political dictatorship, racism, homophobia, drug addiction, capitalism and the environment. He died 28 years ago but is as relevant as he’s ever been.
It didn’t happen last year but I will get to see The Idles live this year; I will, I will, I will…
If I make it, I will be 50 in September and hope to be in Chicago to celebrate. There’ll be a World Music Festival on at the time – think Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, but in Chicago – so I’ll dip in and out of that while going to as many shows, plays, bars as I can. Nothing planned for definite, but I think just going to Chicago – and New York beforehand – counts as a cultural event.
I’ve just bought tickets to see Ruby Wax – How to be Human: The Show, “answers every question you’ve ever had about evolution, thoughts, emotions, the body, addictions, relationships, sex, kids, the future and compassion.” I think she’s astonishing, one of the great documentary makers of our time and times.
I always promise myself that I’ll go the Machynlleth Comedy Festival and it never happens, but I am going to make a super-human effort to get there this year.
As for me I’m writing a play called The Huntsman for the brilliant Torch Theatre in Milford Haven. It’s pencilled in for perfomances this Autumn. I’m piecing together the first draft as I write. I have to remind myself to breathe as I do so. It’s about Pembrokeshire when serial killer John Cooper was at large. And along with a brilliant film-maker called Nick Swannell I’ve just begun the process of starting a film company called The Holding Cell. I’m very excited about that indeed.
Be Excited. Be Bold. Be Kind. That, I hope, will be the themes for this year, and these horribly uncertain times.
Mawgaine Tarrant-Cornish, Casting Associate, National Theatre Wales.
First up I’m excited about BLUE, a new play by Rhys Warrington which has a stellar cast. It’s at Chapter from next week.
At NTW, I’ve been working with Mike Brookes to cast STORM 3: TOGETHER AND ALONE and I can’t wait to see these performers together on stage in March. They’ll be taking over a venue in Newport with this experimental show about how we figure out our place in the world.
Also in March, NEW, from Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, will hit the Sherman Theatre. It’s your chance to catch this year’s graduating actors collaborating on four brand new plays by up and coming British playwrights. For Wales’ offering, Hannah Noone will direct Jacob Hodgkinson’s BETWEEN ETERNITY AND TIME.
As part of Diffusion 2019, in April, Matt Wright and Janire Najera will create an immersive visual score for JUNIPER, Slowly Rolling Camera’s latest album, which they’ll play live.
At National Museum Wales, the Women in Focus exhibition
continues into June. Part One introduced me to Charlotte James and her Ffasiwn Project with Clémentine
Schneidermann so I’m looking forward to discovering many a new girl crush
in Part Two: Women in Front of the Lens.
I’d love to see DYSTOPIA987 by Skepta at MIF this summer and there’ll be loads more to get excited about in that programme, I’m sure.
Artes Mundi Tour with John Wilson. I have been campaigning for many years to try and get John Wilson to curate and lead a BSL tour at one of our brilliant museums/galleries. John is one of the most experienced Deaf curators in the UK and for him to come to Wales to led the Artes Mundi exhibition at the National Museum, Cardiff was fantastic!
The event took place two weeks ago and sold out pretty quickly. My background and passion is visual arts and to see this happening in Wales was a personal dream for me. I have been to hundreds of exhibition tours and I usually only understand about 20/30% of what is spoken, for this tour I understood 100%.
I think having a Deaf curator makes a bigger impact because of the language they use and it resonated with a Deaf audience. There was a real mixture of people in attendance; some have never been to a museum before, some attending liked Art but have limited opportunities to see an accessible tour, some just wanted to see John. The feedback was really positive and I hope to bring John back more for more BSL tours in other museums around Wales. You can read and exclusive interview with John and Jonny about this event here.
Mr and Mrs Clark ‘Louder Is Not Always Clearer’. I might be biased because I am involved in this but it is going on another tour from May to June then will be heading for a month at the Edinburgh Fringe at the Summerhall. Louder Is Not Always Clearer has also been selected for the national rural touring and will be visiting rural communities in the UK. Exciting times and we are looking forward seeing wider and more diverse audiences!
Cardiff Deaf Centre Arts Festival – After it’s success 5 years ago for young deaf people, it is back again in April at the WMC with a range of exciting Deaf artists running workshops.
Hijinx and Frantic Assembly ‘Into the Light” at Sherman Theatre. Always exciting to watch both organisations but to see the two combined… wow!- I am looking forward to see more disabled-led events in 2019. Kaite O’Rieily’s ‘Peeling’ directed by Taking Flight looks interesting as well as the brilliant Graeae’s new production of Sarah Kane’s ‘Blasted’. I am very excited to hear Deafinitely Theatre are creating their version of ‘Horrible Histories’ called ‘Dreadful Deaf’ which is going to be touring later in the year. I am really excited to see what Paula Garfield (Director of Deafinitaly Theatre) is going to do with this. I am sure it will be fun, visual, accessible and mad!
I am also hoping to see Extraordinary Bodies new fully inclusive outdoor touring show ‘What I am Worth’. British Paraorchestra’s ‘Nature Of Why’ is touring and will be coming to WMC. They are the world’s only large-scale ensemble for professional disabled musicians so I am very excited they are coming to Wales.- I have been looking at festivals where we can take our 2 year old daughter along so we are going to head back to the Blue Lagoon Festival in West Wales which we have been many times and its brilliant. We are also thinking (if i can get tickets) of going to the Just So Festival because it looks amazing. I have never been to the Machynlleth Festival so I have made sure it is on my list to visit this year.
Branwen Davies, Writer.
My cultural delights or highlights for 2019? I’m still recovering from the cultural smorgasbord of 2018! The end of the year in particular was a whirlwind of exciting and engaging work that inspired and moved me. I’m still discussing and thinking about some of my favourites – Clean Break’s ‘Thick as Thieves’ at Theatr Clwyd, John Rea’s ‘Atgyfodi’ at Sain Ffagan, the Sherman’s production of Meic Povey’s ‘Fel Anifail,’ good cop, bad cop’s ‘Phantom Rides Again’ at Chapter and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s verbatim musical ‘Nyrsys.’
Other theatre productions I don’t want to miss this year are Fran Wen’s powerful one woman show ‘Anweledig.’ Be Aware’s Turkish/Welsh production ‘Y Brain/Kargalar.’Cwmni Pluen’s ‘Woof’ and Ed Thomas’s new play ‘On Bear Ridge’ (a co-production between NTW and the Royal Court). As one of the Dirty Protest gang I’m excited that we have a new production touring in the spring. Sian Owen’s one woman show ‘How To Be Brave’ is set in Newport and is a love story to the city. On the art front I’m intrigued to see the work on show and the work being developed at Shift and Rugart/Celfryg and the possibilities of these contemporary art spaces at the Capitol Shopping Centre on Queen Street. Another highlight I’m looking forward to is London Sinfonietta Synergy Vocals at St David’s Hall (Steve Reich being hailed as one of ‘the most original music thinkers of our time’)
I want to enjoy more live music this year. I just hope there will still be vibrant and individual venues left to be able to do so. I’m heartbroken that Buffalo and Gwdihw in Cardiff have been forced to close down.
I recently saw Cate Le Bon at The Gate, Lleuwen is performing a series of acoustic gigs in chapels across Wales following the release of her new album ‘Gwn Glân Beibl Budr,’ and Mr (Mark Roberts + Band) is also touring. I love his first solo album, Oesoedd.
My personal hope is to collaborate more with different artists who work differently to me and to have more creative discussions. I’m keen to work more with music and sound and challenge the way I write and create. I’m also keen to explore the possibilities of political plays in Wales. Where are our political plays especially in the current political turmoil we’re facing in Wales and beyond?
Peter Doran, Artistic Director, Torch Theatre.
2019 will start with a theatrical explosion for me, I’ve booked for Wise Children, the first production of Emma Rice’s new company at Bristol Old Vic. Emma Rice is one of the most exciting directors in the UK, her work with Kneehigh was phenomenal. I directed Brief Encounter at the Torch a couple of years ago, unashamedly based on her production with Kneehigh and was probably one of the highlights of my career as a director. Wise Children, I’m told has all the hallmarks of a knee-high production and with two fantastic Welsh actors in the cast, Katy Owen and Gareth Snook and no bridge tolls to pay, this will be a cracking start to the year.
Laura Penneycard and Liam Tobin in Torch Theatre production of Brief Encounter by Emma Rice.
From a Torch perspective, we have Grav back for it’s fifth tour, it’s now like welcoming an old friend back to the theatre; staff, audiences, they all love Grav, it creates such a great atmosphere in the theatre; it’ll be great having him back at the Torch and to take him to London for a short run at the Hope Theatre in Islington! Who would’ve thought that a play about a boy from Mynedd y Garreg would perform in New York, Washington DC and London all in the space of twelve months.
Gareth Ford Elliot, Get the Chance critic and playwright.
My personal highlights of what I’m looking forward to are the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival and The Other Room’s Spring Fringe. It will be excellent to see so much work in the first half of the year in Cardiff.
As for specific projects, Spilt Milk’s ‘Five Green Bottles’ by Joe Wiltshire-Smith looks to be an absolute hit. It was a brilliant show at last year’s Cardiff Fringe and to see it with a few extra months work and some changes is a very exciting prospect. Wiltshire-Smith is one of the upcoming Cardiff-based writers and working with Spilt Milk who have contributed so much to Cardiff’s arts scene in the last two years is a combination not to be missed.
David Evans, Head of Production, National Theatre Wales.
I am intrigued to see the The Mirror Crack’d – the WMC’s Co-Production with Wiltshire Creative that will be on at The New Theatre, Cardiff. Agatha Christie shows have been the staple of mid scale touring for years, populated by people “off the telly” in the twilight of their careers. But this is apparently a completely new take on the hoary old country house murders and I am fascinated to see what they have done.
After “Now the Hero” I am eager to see anything that Marc Rees is up to, I don’t know what his plans for 2019 are but whatever they are I will be there.
Matthew Gough, Faculty of Creative Industries, USW, Senior Lecturer Dance
I’ve been looking forward to 2019 for some time, it will bring the first graduates from BA Hons Dance, at the University of South Wales. Some 20 years after my own graduation I will be watching our students with pride as they present their dissertations (March), Perform at MAP festival, and Agor Drysau (March), a repertoire night with work from Wales based choreographers (April), and our end of semester performances at Dance House Cardiff (April, & May). National Dance Company of Wales, and Groundwork Pro are both in a period of new leadership and their plans for future delivery are exciting and progressive. A number of dance artists have (re)established themselves in Wales and, the sector will benefit from the diverse perspectives, and experience they bring. Cardiff Dance Festival always brings a richly curated, international focus to the sector, and I anticipate the next edition will bring more dance delights (November). Overall I look forwards to the Welsh dance sector, adapting, reimagining, and revitalising itself depicts the challenges, and uncertainty that we know 2019 will bring.
Rebecca Jane Hammond, Artistic Director Chippy Lane.
I think topping ‘2018’ will be difficult as there was so much work of great quality being developed and produced. New companies thriving, venues reaching wider audiences and winning awards and most importantly the community rallying together to ensure our work is met with joy and love and great support for one another.
My cultural highlight for 2019: NEW: 2019, Between Eternity and Time Written by our Jacob Hodgkinson, directed by Hannah Noone, commissioned by Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and Sherman Theatre “I am beyond excited to see this team of collaborators working together and Jacob’s writing getting the recognition it so deeply deserves in Cardiff and London.”
19 – 21 Mar, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama 2 – 5 Apr, The Gate Theatre, Notting Hill, London
As for our own cultural highlight it’s important I mention BLUE, Chippy Lane’s second production and first foray into new writing. Boasting an authentic Welsh and Wales-based creative team and published by Methuen Drama (Bloomsbury Publishing). This is an enormous achievement for a company not yet three years old. We will also continue our other projects and initiatives by producing more of Chippy Lane’s Podcast and running our Welsh Female Writers Group. We hope you can continue to support us as we continue to create great theatre and provide opportunity.
Paul Jenkins, Theatre Director/Dramaturg/Writer.
I’m looking forward to new plays from Elgan Rhys & Ed Thomas. Woof, directed by Gethin Evans, is first up at The Sherman and is sure to be a theatrical force from the creative force from the creative team behind Mags last year. Then the brilliant Ed Thomas, whose gritty surrealism defined Welsh theatre in the 90s makes a welcome return with NTW. On a personal note I’ve been inspired by the locals of Taibach while recording responses to the Banksy that appeared over Xmas. This street art asks difficult questions about the economic foundations of Port Talbot and yet has been embraced by the entire community. Freelance theatre-makers like myself rely on the big producing theatres to pick up exciting ideas & support emerging talent, so I’m very much hoping the Banksy story will find a good home and become an essential highlight of 2019.
Zosia Jo, Dance Artist.
Most of the things I am looking forward to in 2019 are still awaiting their funding! Cardiff Dance Festival for example, and my own production- Songs for the Body- which will be a promenade live action concept album with dance, music and spoken word taking over Chapter in October half term.
However one thing that is confirmed is Groundwork Pro’s funding and they will be offering workshops, events, classes and residencies for dance and movement artists throughout 2019. There will be so much opportunity for discussion, training, sharing and professional development. I am really excited to be part of it.
Angharad Lee, Director.
Firstly, I am looking forward to seeing Hadestow which tells a version of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, a musical adaptation of the folk Opera concept album by Anais Mitchell.
I am silly excited about attending an intimate evening with Stephen Schwarts in Manchester. It’s the first he has done in the UK. I am thrilled to see Wales Millennium Centre devote their Curious Season to mental health later in the year and can’t wait to see what’s in store there. Draw Me Close at the Young Vic looks fascinating also.
Having had a frantic year last year, most of my own creative enegrgies this year are being ploughed into the new BA (Hons) in Musical Theatre Course which will be up and running this September. It’s the first ever undergraduate course in Musical Theatre in Wales and am delighted to be a part of it. Details here,get in touch if you think you would like to apply and come and chat .
In the meantime I am directing Pippin by Stephen Schwartz and The World Goes ‘Round, both with the fabulous students at Canolfan Berfformio Cymru, UWTSD. Leeway Productons’ 10 Minute Musicals will be rolled out again a little later in the year with some fabulous partners including RCT Theatres who work so hard as a team. We are also thrilled to be working on a lovely Welsh Language production with some young people from Merthyr in the Summer. Hopefully, this year will feel a little more relaxed than last year!
David Mercatali, Director.
My highlight of the year ahead is to see the continued development of the 15-18 year olds in my Introduction to Playwriting group at the Sherman Theatre. Mentored by 3 brilliant writers, Matt Hartley, Branwen Davies and Brad Birch, their work is already showing so much talent and I can’t wait to see what they do this year. My personal hope is to see more new plays produced for longer runs in Wales. There’s many exciting voices with stories to tell.
Rachel Pedley Millar, Artistic Director, Avant Cymru.
Happy 2019 everyone. Avant have an important year lined up, where we have a focus on mental health and well-being. Our Hip Hop theatre piece has a focus on mental health and we hope to head to New York to attend the Hip Hop for metal health conference held by Doug E Fresh and partners. We aim to undertake research on ‘how art can aid those living with mental health conditions?’ Working with other artists (including Sadlers Wells) and our community in RCT.
The Valleys have a celebrity year with it being 80 years since Llewellyn wrote ‘How Green Is My Valley’, we want to find out ‘How Green is Our Valley Now? We are always interested in what everyone in our community has to say. Including other artist and we hear Motherlode have exciting plans this year and we can’t wait to hear more about them.
Have a happy, healthy New year everyone. “For all sad words of mouth or pen, the saddest are these: it might have been.” – John Whittier.
Fearghus Ó Conchúir, Artistic Director, National Dance Company Wales.
As a newcomer to Wales, there’s a lot for me to learn about, lots to see. Starting closest to home, some of the events I already know I’m looking forward are in our varied activity at NDCWales: our Awakeningprogramme that tours Wales and England in the Spring with magical new work by Brazilian choreographer, Fernando Melo and by our resident choreographer, Caroline Finn, as well as the Roots programme that will tour across Wales in the Autumn with pieces by new choreographic talent.
As a recently-arrived Artistic Director, I’m mostly at a stage where I get to be an excited cheerleader for other people’s work in our programmes, but I’m also happy that in 2019, I’ll get to make work myself, with the company’s professional dancers, with other artists and with different groups across Wales who will all inform the new piece. I knew about Cardiff Dance Festival before I came here, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in this year’s programme. And one more dance highlight for me will be the BBC’s #DancePassion on 5th April when the BBC’s social media channels will showcase dance in the UK, with livestreaming (including from NDCWales) and the chance for audiences to interact. I’m looking forward to seeing the diversity of dance that this event will bring to the BBC’s wide public.
Because I’m interested in what bodies get to be visible and to fulfil their potential, I’m inspired by work that shows me what’s possible and pushes me to expand my vision. For that reason, Mission Control, NTW’s collaboration with Hijinx that will be performed in November is something for me to look forward to with its cast of professional neurodivergent and learning-disabled actors as well as members of the Only Boys Aloud choirs. I won’t get to see Splish Splash, the NTW collaboration with Oily Cart that’s made exclusively for children in special schools across Wales and England, but I love that it’s going on and that it’s going to be a cultural highlight for people who mightn’t be included in other events.
Jasmine Okai, Assistant Producer, Fio.
Fio: Futures’ production of Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Fear and Misery of the Third Reich’ showcasing in RawFfest April 2019. This timeless story of the rise of fascism is unfortunately still as pertinent today as it was in the 1940s. Brecht’s play presents a series of vignettes on the everyday lives of German citizens, including Jewish people, living under this oppressive regime of Nazi fascism during World War II. After the success of ‘The Island’ UK tour in October 2018, Fio have since established Fio’s Young Company, Fio: Futures, who will be bringing these important stories to the stage.
William Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, as reimagined by Jo Clifford. Shakespeare productions are a classic and, some would argue, integral faction of theatre. What makes this production so exciting is that while keeping the main story of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, Jo Clifford uses gender reversal within the main characters to switch up the dynamics of the play. How refreshing!
Catherine Paskell, Theatre Director.
Believe. If I Could Turn Back Time. Just Like Jesse James. Gypsies Tramps and Thieves. Bang Bang. I can’t wait to see Cher’s concert. Her tour in October 2019 will be her first live UK dates in 14 years. Her songs, her films, her outfits, her political activism, her Twitter feed. Her music video for If I Could Turn Back Time was too much even for MTV because we could see her tattooed bum cheeks either side of her thong as she straddled that cannon and strutted in front of the navy – so it was the first video to be banned by the channel. Cher’s career and musical evolution embodies the transitions of American cultural forms. She is outspoken, honest and authentic as an older woman in a male-dominated field. It’s going to be an ambitious, theatrical and entertaining show – Cher is my cultural highlight of 2019.
Films – Toy Story 4, and Star Wars IX. I mean, do I need to justify those? Reuben Ostlund’s Triangle of Sadness starts shooting 2019 but I’m not sure it’ll be released.
Theatre – Richard III by Headlong will be brilliant. And it’s great that Ed Thomas has taken a break from counting money to write another play so I’m excited about ‘On Bear Ridge’ by National Theatre Wales. Berberian Sound Studio created by designer Tom Scutt and playwright Joel Horwood at the Donmar warehouse. Home, I’m Darling at Theatre Clwyd, I missed it first time around. The Funeral Director by Imam Qureshi won the Papatango Competition this year and is being toured by ETC. Nos Sadwrn O Hyd by Roger Williams is a brilliant monologue revived in Welsh for the first time by Theatr Gen.
TV – What We Do In The Shadows has been turned into a TV show released in 2019. I’m also super excited about Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone, and a new True Detective series. Channel 4 have produced a new 4 parter from Lucy Kirkwood about the porn industry called Adult Material, fellow Cynon Valley boy Gareth Evans has his first TV series out Gangs of London on HBO and Sky Atlantic.
Event – Blue Dot at Joddrell is a brilliant mix of science, astronomy big ideas and music – Gruff Rhys and Hot Chip play this year under the mighty Lovell Telescope. It looks amazing.
Catrin Rogers, Press and PR Manager, National Theatre Wales.
I’ve booked tickets to see WNO’s The Magic Flute, and I have high hopes for that. They’ve just announced their next season, including the return of Bryn Terfel, which is great.
I’ll try to catch at least one of Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s touring plays, by Catrin Dafydd and Roger Williams – two writers I admire very much – in the Spring.
I’ve also booked tickets to see National Dance Company Wales’ Spring tour, Awakening. It includes Tundra, which I’ve seen many times but never, ever tire of – honestly, it takes my breath away every time I see it.
In the coming weeks I’ll go with my family to catch the Artes Mundi Exhibition, which I’ve been reading a lot about.
2019 is set to be another fantastic year for the arts. Even though the production won’t be until 2020 I’m excited to see what project will be chosen from National Theatre Wales’ Radical Creatures callout, I think it’s a great initiative and a great choice for female identifying and non binary artists to take more of centre stage in the current arts scene.
From a more selfish point of view my theatre company, CB4 Theatre, will be presenting our inaugural production 10,316, a new devised piece marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. We’re all so excited to get stuck in to the already thriving grassroots arts scene here in Cardiff, so watch this space for dates!
Aside from the arts, 2019 is definitely going to be a bumpy year. With Brexit looming and pressing social issues plaguing the country I really hope that art can do what it does best; listen, respond, discuss, create, inspire, protest. At a time where it’s easy to give into divisions I think it’s more important than ever for the arts world to take a strong stand against hatred and fascism.
Music-wise, I’ll keep my usual eye on Warp, Hyperdub, and Heavenly. Nubya Garcia is playing Clwb in May, so I’ll try to get down to see her. Mostly though I’ll still be dreaming of SFA making another album and hoping Doves get their arses in gear after the dates they’re playing.
In art, I’m looking forward to seeing how John Abell’s new place, RUG develops over the coming year. 2019 also looks like it’s going to be a brilliant year for new fiction, and the novel I’m most excited about is Niven Govinden’s ‘This Brutal House’, which has been described as a queer protest novel set in the drag ball community of New York City and, therefore, fierce as all fuck.
As far as theatre goes, How To Be Brave by Sîan Owen is coming via Dirty Protest and I am doubly excited to see this full scale show, especially as it is set in my adopted home of Newport and pitches up in the one and only Le Pub. As for my personal hopes: I just hope there is a miracle of some sort that puts a halt to the madness we can see coming our way, and Liverpool and Manchester City lose every game they play between now and the end of the season.
Abdul Shayek, Artistic Director Fio.
So for me, 2019 has started off with a bang- one of my cultural highlights has already happened, Sri Lanka and the Galle Literature Festival, where the amazing spoken word artist Nicole May performed! It also featured writers such as Sir David Hare, Mohammed Hanif and Vahni Capildeo amongst others who I had the pleasure of meeting. I was also lucky enough to find out about the amazing arts and cultural activities taking place across the South Asia region, supported or directly delivered by the British Council, as I joined their bi-annual Arts regional meeting, in my capacity as an Arts Advisor.
Personally, the next cultural highlight will be my trip to Australia as part of the British Council Australia Intersect Programme. It was brilliant when my counterparts came over to the UK, which included a visit to Cardiff in 2018. Now it’s the turn of the UK participants to visit Australia, learn and understand what the diversity and inclusion picture looks like. We will be visiting Sydney and Melbourne and meeting with a range of cultural leaders. We will also be part of the Fair Play Symposium
Other than that I have a number of other projects and ideas that are currently in motion, all very exciting and some have international elements to them, however, quite a few are funding dependent, so fingers and toes crossed. Other cultural highlights for me include: Manchester International Festival in general, but really looking forward to Trees by Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah and the collaboration between Flexn and Young Identity will be very exciting.
I am really looking forward to seeing King Hedley II at Theatre Royal Stratford East with Lenny Henry. In Wales, I am really looking forward to Rawffest and in Cardiff at the WMC, I am sure it will do what it was initially set up to do and really engage young people from a diverse range of backgrounds. I am also really looking forward to Mission Control the NTW and Hijinx – collaboration. In terms of non-theatre highlights, I can’t wait to see the final season of Game of Thrones, also looking forward to Star Wars IX and the remake of the Lion King. In terms of gigs, I am hoping to catch Tank and the Bangas on their European tour, Anderson Paak when he visits London and Skepta at Manchester International Festival. I’m sure there will be loads more cultural offers which will entertain, inspire and most importantly keep me nourished during 2019!!!!!
George Soave, Producer, He/Him/They/Them, The Other Room.
We are kicking off 2019 with an almighty bang. Spring Fringe is the latest addition to our programme here at The Other Room. February and March, traditionally the home to our self-produced work, will now be occupied by eight weeks of imaginative and bold Fringe Theatre. Spring Fringe will champion home-grown companies and provide a platform for non-native touring companies to perform their breakthrough work here in Cardiff. Presenting work from Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Cardiff Fringe and others from across the UK and internationally! Our diverse programme will present eight productions over eight weeks that capture the essence of the fringe – telling imaginative stories in ingenious ways.
What about our self about our self-produced work? The Other Room will remain champions of well-made, daring modern drama and are as committed as ever to producing our own work – if anything we’re pushing the artistic envelope even further in 2019 and this Autumn will see our self- produced work return so watch this space.
And that’s not all! In the spirit of the fringe, this Spring we are embracing our Cardiffian cultural cousins… the rugby. There’s no avoiding that each spring Cardiff is ignited by the Six Nations Championship, so we thought, if you can’t beat them join them! All five of the Welsh rugby matches will be screened in both Porter’s bar and in the theatre as a part of our Spring Fringe programme. So come on in and enjoy a play, a pint and a match.
Kully Thiarai, Artistic Director, National Theatre Wales.
I’m biased I know, but I’m looking forward to Ed Thomas’ new play ‘On Bear Ridge’ that will open at The Sherman in September. He has written a beautiful, poetic and poignant work.
Taking Flight Theatre Company’s production of Peeling by Kaite O’Reilly is touring Wales so I planning to catch that on the road somewhere. I missed it when it was first produced by Graeae Theatre Company many years ago.
More immediately Artes Mundi 8 has had another great year and finishes soon so catch it while you can! National Museum, Cardiff is also showing the rarely displayed drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci as part of a UK wide simultaneous exhibition.
I’m very excited by Yoko Ono’s Bells for Peace that will be opening event for Manchester International Festival in July. Thousands of diverse voices and an orchestra of bells sending a message of peace to the World seems like a very apt thing to be doing in 2019. In the same festival Idris Elba and Kwami Kwei-Armah will be making a new work called TREE – sounds like a great collaboration to me, combining music, dance and film.
Rachel Trezise, Novelist and Playwright.
Finally this year I get to road test a piece of my own work that’s been on my table for seven years, a play about the Pontypridd boxer Freddie Welsh, said to be one of the inspirations behind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. I’m going to be working with RCT Theatres and Motherlode Theatre to determine if the work is suitable for public consumption.
Also I’m really looking forward to travelling to Northern Ireland where my monologue ‘Cotton Fingers’, commissioned by NTW for the NHS70 Festival last year, will open in May. The monologue is set in Belfast and concerns abortion laws in Northern Ireland but I haven’t been to Belfast for twenty years.
Most of all I’m looking forward to the publication of short story-master Amy Hempel’s new collection ‘Sing To It’ in late March, her first new work in over a decade. My personal hope for the year is that the UK, and Wales in particular, manages to get through the Brexit withdrawal process without much more trauma. We should know by the end of the year whether the tunnel that connects the Rhondda to the Afan Valley will be able to open as a cycling and walking track. I think that would be a great thing for both valleys.
Get the Chance critic, Sian Thomas
I’m awfully excited for the third How To Train Your Dragon movie. I really enjoyed the films through my teens and have actually managed to make that enjoyment infect others, too. It’ll be nice to see a cushy family film with the family this year.
Personal hopes are to read at least 20 books this year – and review the ones that take my fancy (not the ones I have to read for uni, haha). I’m looking forward to this because it means I’ll easily work on two new year’s resolutions: read more, and review more!
Ahead of the 2018 Brecon Baroque Festival, Roger Barrington had the chance to chat to it’s Artistic Director, Rachel Podger about what to expect this year and also about her own flourishing career as one of the world’s leading violinists.
The Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with Rachel Boulton, Artistic Director of Motherlode, they discussed her background, thoughts on the arts in Wales and Motherlodes new production ‘Exodus’ which premiers at the Coliseum Theatre, Aberdare on the 5th of October before touring.
Philip Ridley’s acclaimed one-act 2000 play, “Vincent River” tells the story of a mother whose son Vincent has been murdered in a homophobic attack. In the aftermath, she learns about her son’s homosexuality. An interview with Director Luke Hereford.
The Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with Sarah Rogers, Artistic Director of Ransack Dance, they discussed her background, thoughts on the arts in Wales and her new production ‘Murmur’, taking place on Fri 14th September 2018 at Memo Arts Centre, Barry.
The director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with playwright and actor Joe Wiltshire Smith.They discussed his background, creative opportunities for young people in Bridgend, his new play Five Green Bottles and his thoughts on the arts in Wales.
The director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with Aleksandra (Nikolajev) Jones. They discussed her background and training, a current project Gravida and her thoughts on the arts in Wales.
We asked our team to choose their personal three cultural events of 2018 along with a favourite performance and/or organisation. Enjoy reading their individual responses below.
2018 has been quite a year; when I submit my thesis on New Year’s, it will be the culmination of four years of intense research, and quite the end of an era (and hopefully the start of a new one). So I’m lucky that, in between the furious bouts of writing and the dreaded editing, I’ve been distracted by some truly brilliant productions, too many to narrow down – from the vicious Motherf**ker with the Hat to the inventively-staged Turn of the Screw and the impressive evocation of character in This is Elvis and At Last: The Etta James Story, 2018’s theatre and dance landscape has provided an embarrassment of riches. So I’m going to cheat a little bit in narrowing down to my ‘top 3’…
No two productions have made me laugh this year more than these two – and though they share a common thread of entertaining ingenuity, they’re vastly different from each other. The former showcased the talent of Mischief Theatre’s on-the-spot improvisational skills, the latter was a tightly-wound machine of script, song and silliness. Both of these productions demonstrated how creative and clever the craftsmanship of theatre is – all while making you laugh too!
I love a good musical, and these are two of my favourites in recent memory. The original Young Frankenstein movie is in my top 3 movies ever, so I worried a musical version with a whole new cast could never do justice to the original – well, it did with bells on! Brilliant songs, spectacular setpieces and an original evocation of that original cast made this a must-see. And I have such special memories of seeing Rock of Ages for the first time, so it always has a place in my heart – it’s also one of the only truly great jukebox musicals I’ve seen, and this new cast reinvigorated an already raucous, rip-roaring ride! Can’t wait to see it a fourth time…
These two productions utterly blew me away with their beautiful, haunting performances – both reimagined old classics in new, intriguing ways and were utterly gripping from start to finish. There are moments in both shows that I will never forget, and without doubt they are the best productions of 2018 for me.
Personal Highlight: It’s only appropriate, given my research into Frankenstein and the bicentennial of the novel’s publication, that I started and ended 2017 with Frankenstein-related productions – Young Frankenstein on the West End in January and Cascade Dance Theatre’s Frankenstein on the tail end of November. So my personal highlight of this year would be presenting my research in Bologna for the Frankenstein bicentennial conference. I’m so grateful to Prof Anthony Mandal and the CRECS/ RomText team for this wonderful opportunity.
Venue of 2018:The Sherman Theatre’s dedication to inclusivity, accessibility and innovation remains unmatched in my opinion, and their post-show panels are always a joy to be a part of. Many thanks to Tim Howe for involving me.
Company of 2018: Cascade Dance Theatre’s Frankenstein did the impossible – reimagined Mary Shelley’s classic almost wordlessly, in imaginative new ways with stunning moments and dark, modern twists. Bravo!
For number three I’ll say Cheer by Kitty Hughes at The Other Room. This was fun and alternative and out of the things I reviewed, definitely one of the best.
For number two I’d have to say Humanequin by Kelly Jones at Wales Millennium Centre. This was an important piece of theatre and despite not being the best was definitely the most important piece I saw this year.
For things I’ve reviewed I would definitely have to say Cardiff Boy by Kevin Jones at The Other Room is number one. This was the best all-round show I saw outside of the Edinburgh Fringe this year. Every aspect of it was brilliant and it’s up there with one of my favourite shows I’ve ever seen.
For the cultural events, things I didn’t review, I will say Five Green Bottles by Joe Wiltshire-Smith and Spilt Milk Theatre as part of the Cardiff Fringe Festival. This was an excellent script produced independently. Joe is one of the best upcoming writers in Wales and Spilt Milk are one of the most passionate theatre companies. Together they produced an amazing show which I can’t wait to see again, developed, at the Sherman Theatre in 2019.
With underlying serious issues about the struggles and problems of working class Valleys people, Rachael Boulton and her team have created a funny, clever, relevant and thought provoking piece of theatre that strikes a chord with its audience; a reaction that can be heard in their laughter and the warmth of their response. Suspend your disbelief and climb aboard Exodus airways, it’s better than Easyjet!
All credit must go to what must have been an incredible amount of hard work from all of the performers, creators and collaborators. I was unexpectedly riveted to the story they told and absorbed in the whole aspect of the show.
Best thing in 2018 overall was listening to Bruce Springstein’s autobiography (actually published in 2017) which I had on Audible and listened to it twice. What an amazing story – and such a fantastic storyteller. All my life I wasn’t a fan until I read this book.
My favourite arts event I have attended this year was Casgliad hosted by Youth Arts Network Cymru! Such a brilliant weekend with so many awesome creatives!
Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella
I’ve only seen two ballets ever and this was the best one. I followed the story and I really liked the subtle changes they made to it and the way it was performed. Lovely show.
Had to include the Fringe! It was the most fun thing I did this summer! Because god I just really really adore this event and I really hope it’ll be back next year – I always love testing out my writing on an audience there. It’s such a safe space and such a confidence booster! Lovely atmosphere, people, and always a lovely summery evening!
Still because he recognised me, the group, and my old review. Loved feeling seen by an author I admire. The story was fab, the representation was great, and it was a lovely book to read to take one’d mind off things. Also ended with a great cliffhanger! I get so excited when he tweets about new books of this series come up. So this is definitely my #1!
My cultural event:
The fact that I wrote 100,000 words of the second draft of my novel!! I’m just super, super proud of myself. There’s not much to be told: I work on it when I can, work on it slow and steadily, make sure everything is okay, and it’s building itself up into something (hopefully) spectacular!
My Three Best of 2018
With such a plethora of good theatre now available to us in Wales, it is difficult to select just three among the cornucopia of events that has been on offer – from the grandeur of Welsh National Opera, up there with the best in the world, to more humble productions working to tight budgets. For my money, here goes:
The multi-talented Rachel O’Riordan’s last production for the Sherman before departing for the Lyric Theatre in London. O’Riordan pulled all the stops out, with the result that this was fun – as a Christmas show should be – but also showed the dark side of Lewis Carroll’s well-known story. Musical numbers were a delight, with several of the characters on stage musicians and rising to the challenge. Not staged as a musical, but one waiting in the wings perhaps? A cunningly designed black and white set allowed for the full range of Carroll’s famous characters – White Rabbit, Mad hatter and even the Caterpillar – to be displayed to advantage.
This new production of a classic breathed fresh life into thetrue-life story of Eva Peron with a brand-new cast who more than justified their selection. Following in the footsteps of Elaine Paige who made the role her own was never going to be an easy task and Lucy O’Byrne’s heart-rendingperformance of ‘Don’t Cry for me, Argentina’ at what was Eva’s last appearance before her death brought tears to the eyes. It was also good to see some of the emerging talent coming out of Wales in the shape of Swansea-born Mike Sterling as Peron.
First on my list is WNO’s La Traviata A revival, true, but excellently staged and performed and with Verdi’s wonderful score rendered with a master touch with two sopranos experienced in their roles and Roland Woods’ sonorous baritone lending gravitas to the role of Germont pater, how could it fail to please? An opportunity for the remarkable WNO chorus to shine and for the ladies among them to enjoy wearing elegant ballgowns. The excellent director David McVicar wisely chose to keep to the traditional, with a sumptuous period setting whose opulence reeked of decadence.
For me, it has to be musical theatre and The King and I, which I saw in London. A sheer joy from start to finish, with Kelli O’Hara as Mrs Anna and Ken Watanabe as the King of Siam taking on the iconic roles made famous by Yul Bryner and Deborah Kerr and performing them with enthusiasm and expertise. First class. Enhanced for me, I have to admit, in that I was accompanied by a posse of grandchildren helping me to celebrate a big birthday!
Theatre Clwyd and Sherman Theatre excelled this year with Lord Of the Flies, with its all female savage cast had me jumping out of my skin and seat whilst offering a critical insight to the frailties of humanity.
However it is the rip roaring, toe tapping hand flapping Great Gatsby from Theatr Clwyd/Guild of Misrule that topped the bill for me in 2018. This innotive, interactive piece held in a run down pub in town was totally engrossing, a brilliant use of venue and a talented cast not just of professionals but community too. (More of this in 2019 please Theatr Clwyd!)
On the whole 2018 was pretty dull in the cinema however one film stood out as been worth the trip to the big screen ” Marvels Infinity Wars” I am an Averger fan girl and this film ticked all the right boxes, it was the ending to the origional Averngers story arch, all the Marvel films todate were building up to this battle … it was worth the wait and the bitter end just left me wanting more. Of course this doesn’t see the end of the Avengers, but it will be the end for some of the best loved characters and the begining for some new… I only hope the sad passing of the wonderful Stan Lee does not mean we loose the style and wit the MU has created.
E. M. BLESS’ON III
The Black History Month grand finale at RWCMD was my personal cultural event of 2018 because it attracted a broad spectrum of the community. Attended by many dignitaries including the outgoing First Minister – Carwyn Jones AM, newly-elected First Minister – Mark Drakeford AM, Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport – Vaughan Gething AM, young people and several elders from various communities in South East, West and North Wales, it was a celebration of diversity in Wales.
From its humble beginnings as Un Bore Mercher on S4C, I could never have imagined that this drama would prove to be so popular with UK audiences. Subsequently broadcast in the English-language on BBC1 Wales, it would become the most downloaded show ever on BBC iPlayer before being shown on primetime BBC1 in the summer. Deservedly sweeping the board at the BAFTA Cymru Awards, I will be outraged if Eve Myles is not at least nominated for a BAFTA in 2019. Her portrayal of Faith Howells, whose world is rocked by the disappearance of her husband, is deeply emotional and utterly captivating. This is surely her defining role.
If I had to pick one album to recommend from 2018, it would Wild Silence by The Wandering Hearts. When I first heard it, it was their incredibly refreshing and genre-blending sound that captured my attention. The more I’ve listened to the album, the more the lyrics have come to the fore and I’ve discovered another fascinating layer to their fabulous array of songs. To finish the year seeing them live in Liverpool confirmed my belief that these guys are destined for bigger things.
My theatre highlight this year has been this co-production between Theatr Clwyd and the National Theatre. With its life-size house for a set, its bold and brash set design, and its wonderful costumes, the overall look is enough to pull you into its 1950s world. Starring Katherine Parkinson and Richard Harrington as the couple living it up in a lifestyle of nostalgia, its saccharine exterior slowly melts away to reveal a darker and very pertinent narrative that will have you firmly gripped from beginning to end. Another triumph for Artistic Director of Theatr Clwyd, Tamara Harvey and her team.
If there was ever a time we needed a WOW festival, it’s in 2018. Women of the World celebrates women and girls and takes a frank and at times challenging look at the obstacles faced by women.
It’s a global movement akin to the ‘V Day’ celebrations I have been lucky enough to be a part of elsewhere in the globe. This would be the first ‘full-blown’ version of the festival to take place in Wales (between 24th-25th November) and the first bilingual version of the festival. Both V Day and Women of the World celebrations aren’t purely about one topic, one issue – this year’s WOW Fest held everything from workshops on fixing bicycles to polemical clowning and talks/workshops on homelessness, self-care, black women’s hair, boxing, movement and storytelling.
This is very much about helping women to discover something new, finding solutions and new ideas to tackle problems old and new. It’s not a conference or a symposium, but a place you come to meet, connect with others and be inspired to take part.
Founded in 2010 by Southbank Centre’s Artistic Director, Jude Kelly CBE, it’s the biggest gathering of women and girls around the globe, reaching over 2 million people in 20 cities across 5 continents. It cooks up a series of varied, entertaining and challenging talks, debates, live music and performance, activism and comedy, along with mentoring and pop up events to create an eclectic and localised version of the larger global movement.
The 2018 WOW experience in Wales took place at Chapter Arts Centre, a smaller but perhaps more homely venue than a previous version of the festival was held in 2016 – at the Wales Millennium Centre. This year’s version featured a line up including Gwenno Saunders, Charlotte Church, Sian Evans, Lula Mehbratu (The Digital Migrant), Sahar Al-Faifi, Sian James former MP, Gemma Price (Boxing Pretty), Anna Hursey, Shahien Taj OBE, Lucy Owen (BBC Wales) and LayFullStop.
The staff handling the festival were wonderful, everyone from the lively chap checking me in, despite my apparent lack of ability to talk and articulate sentences that day, the ‘caped crusader’ volunteers donning glittery WOW capes, who brought so much pep and joy to the proceedings and helping headless chicken types like me navigate their way around. Then of course the regular Chapter staff who do so much to make everyone feel welcome.
It’s a lovely open space, but intimate enough not to feel intimidating unlike the labyrinth-like WMC, in which even the most regular of customers can still feel a bit lost and overwhelmed. Due to my Thanksgiving celebrations that weekend (perhaps this had something to do with my not being able to speak when I arrived), I unfortunately missed the majority of the festival and arrived towards the end of the final day, around 3.30pm.
There was still lots to see, lots going on and there was no sign of anyone’s enthusiasm waning. There was a lively, energetic atmosphere in Chapter’s Café Bar and members of the ‘Only Menopause Allowed’ choir were getting ready to perform. I caught the majority of the moving accounts of women affected by the Grenfell and Aberfan disasters during a panel discussion in Chapter’s Cinema 1 space.
Hosted by festival founder Jude Kelly, this was a sensitive but ultimately eye-opening account of the experiences of the women at the centre of both tragedies. We heard the terrible story of a panelist’s sibling whose family were torn apart by the death of her sister who went to school on the last day of term over 50 years ago and never came home.
Her father had been Chair of the Aberfan Memorial Site and spent his entire life fighting for justice for families in Aberfan after the NCB decided that £500 was a sufficient amount to compensate for the lost life of a child. To add insult to injury, the victims were forced to pay from their own fundraising fund for the NCB to remove the slurry and waste that had killed and injured so many.
This was a sobering account of both tragedies, where the guest speakers spoke with grace, real compassion for the other panelists and determination to see justice for the victims. They were not giving up the fight – and 52 years later, the daughter of the Chair of the Aberfan Memorial site had taken up the baton from her father and continues to campaign.
The Grenfell representatives who’d come down from London to tell their story spoke of being side-lined by local authorities, abandoned by the Government and belittled by large global charities. Theirs was a story of women the world over – organisers, do-ers, campaigners, nurturers – being rendered voiceless by individuals and organisations that assumed they knew better.
Like Aberfan, the fundraising efforts in Grenfell were mishandled by outside forces. Donations which had poured in from the public disappeared without trace, no explanation given about their whereabouts. Families struggled to gain access to funds and slowly – another community lost faith in those who were meant to protect them, more than 50 years after this happened to a community over 200 miles away.
The kinship these survivors and campaigners showed on stage was clear and their dignity and fortitude was incredibly moving. After leaving the Cinema/discussion, it was clear that the content of the talk had clearly affected some audience members, who left the Cinema weeping or being comforted by friends and relatives.
With limited time remaining, I decided to explore upstairs in the hopes of catching an act which had caught my attention in the programme. LayFullStop (I’d never heard of her before) is a female hip-hop/soul artist from Manchester via Birmingham. Accompanied on Stage by Woddy Green, who she has collaborated with on a number of tracks, I was surprised that such a small and unassuming young girl could possess such an incredible sultry voice and ferocious bars.
She’s been honing her talents with well-known collectives Cul De Sac and Roots Raddix and has built a cult following since 2016. It’s been a while since I have been in the loop when it comes to music and musical trends and probably more than 20 years (or more!) since I actively bought hip-hop music or read about it in ‘The Source.’ Apart from attending a Biggie Smalls Memorial Concert in my late teens and listening to Snoop Dog on Spotify now and again, that’s about as far as my knowledge goes these days.
LayFullStop amazed me, I had only intended to pop in for a quick listen but watched her entire set from start to finish. If you’ve ever had a passing appreciation for Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill or Lil Kim, you will love her. This was an utterly refreshing musical style and approach for those who like me find the ‘style over substance’ direction of hip-hop and music in general, a bit distasteful, fake or even tiresome. Her sound is slick – and far from the blingy, flashy humble (or not-so-humble) bragging which tends to dominate hip-hop performed by men, LayFullStop lets the music do the talking, rather than her style.
Her tracks are a sweet fusion of silky jazz, nostalgic soul and UK hip-hop, delivered with wit and panache from a small but fierce Mancunian. It’s rare for artists to skip so effortlessly from punchy hip-hop to sweet singing voice, but more than that – her lyrics are gold, focusing not on the more material and shallow aspects you tend to find in popular culture, but of the life-enhancing elements we can all identify with: finding your inner voice and power, enjoying touch and sensual experiences as a woman, growing intellectually and spiritually.
This to me is true influence and I felt richer for being part of it…she’s been on repeat on Soundcloud since the weekend. Women: I urge you to listen to this phenomenal woman from Manchester.
When you listen to her singing ‘Intact (Cradle Me)’, ‘Kansas’ and ‘Bohemian Queen’ you will be fixing your crown and sitting up a little straighter before facing the world.
Even in such a small snippet, this festival was a tonic for the sisterly soul. Thank you LayFullStop and WOW Fest for giving me some courage and hope on a rainy, grey weekend – if this is what the future looks like, then we’re in good hands.
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