Category Archives: Film & TV

An Interview With Welsh Playwright Owen Thomas

Hi Owen great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I have been a Playwright for almost 20 years. My plays include ‘Benny’, ‘The Wood’, and ‘Richard Parker’. I have a lifelong love of storytelling and the rhythm of words. How the dialogue sounds to an audience is always as important to me as the strength of the narrative. 

The play I am best known for is ‘Grav’, a one-man show about the life of Welsh cultural and sporting icon, Ray Gravell. This year saw ‘Grav’ complete its 100th performance and counting.

I grew up on a farm in Mid Wales where my parents still live and work. I now live in Tongwynlais on the edge of Cardiff. I am married to Amelia, and we have twin daughters, Sofie and Brooke. I love swimming and running and, for my sins, I am a fanatical supporter of Tottenham Hotspur.

So, what got you interested in the arts?

The urge to write was always there. My earliest inspiration was my Primary School Headteacher at Bronllys Primary School, Mr Dave Cooke. He was also a writer and would occasionally play us a radio play he had written. I was transfixed by the idea that something you had written could entertain people. This was where the idea of being a writer took root.

I went to a secondary school where drama wasn’t taught and with no history of school shows. One day I asked the Head if I could write a play and put it on. The result was a rather strange effort called ‘Where Have All the Foxes Gone?’. It was staged as part of the Christmas concert and the reception to it, as well as the buzz of writing dialogue for actors, was instantly addictive.

Poetry was my first love, and I had some poems published whilst at school. I won some prizes for my writing at local eisteddfods. In my recent writing I feel I am returning to my poetic roots, and my new play, ‘West’, is certainly the most rhythmic and lyrical play that I have written.

It wasn’t until I was living in London that I had the confidence to stage a play professionally. One day I rang all the Pub Theatres in the phone book pretending I was a successful writer looking for somewhere to stage my new play. The Hen and Chickens in Highbury and Islington offered me a weekend in December 2003 and the result was my first play, ‘The Dead of Night’.

Your background is in education.  I believe you left teaching to work full time as a writer? This must have meant some risk for you in terms of you career, why did you feel the need to make this move?

I was a Head of Drama in various schools for almost 20 years and I thoroughly enjoyed the job. I still do some Freelance teaching at venues such as Welsh College. But, in my own life, as with so many other people, there had been a few reminders that your time is finite, and that if there is something you really want to do then sometimes you just have to go for it. Carpe Diem. I thought about making the leap for many years, and felt I had enjoyed enough success to encourage me to go for it. But yes, it was a huge decision and one that I didn’t take lightly.

Playwriting is my passion. It is the job I have always wanted to do. I wanted to give myself the opportunity to see how good a writer I could be if I devoted myself to it. So far, the decision has proved to be the right one. In the past year I have written two new plays, ‘West’ and ‘The Night Porter’. ‘The Night Porter’ is a life-long ambition, a good old-fashioned ghost story in the vein of ‘The Woman in Black’. I am delighted that the Arts Council of Wales have granted me a large research and development grant to bring the play to life in January 2020. We have an amazing team lined up I can’t wait to bring a chill down the spine of Welsh theatre very soon.

You have successfully written plays based around the lives of Benny Hill and the Welsh Rugby player Ray Gravell. How do you approach transposing these real lives to the stage?

I have always been fascinated by the lives of real people. The key to bringing a life to the stage is thorough research. There is a huge responsibility in ensuring that you do your homework and present an accurate depiction of your subject matter. When ‘Grav’ was launched at Parc Y Scarlets there was a moment of genuine terror just before Gareth first took to the stage to showcase an extract. The Chief Executive of the Scarlets jokingly said to a room full of dignitaries, ‘well, I hope you’ve got his right, because there’s an awful lot of people in here who loved and knew Ray.’ I went white. Thankfully the reaction to the scene was great.

Finding the voice of a person is crucial. This comes from watching all that you can, and meeting people who knew what they were like. Ray’s widow Mari and his daughters Manon and Gwennan were incredibly supportive. The trust they placed in me to do justice to someone who was so loved by them personally was the primary thought kept at the forefront of my mind.

With Ray Gravell it was easier in that he was a well-loved figure. I chose Benny Hill precisely because he is more of a marmite figure. I wanted to get under the skin of a more divisive character, and to explore the impact of society changing around a person. I have always been interested in the lives of old comedians. With Benny Hill I was intrigued by how a man who was the most famous comedian on the planet for a time had become airbrushed out of popular culture. There was some hostility when the play was first unveiled, but thankfully this dissipated when people saw the play, and Liam Tobin’s skilful central performance as Benny.

I am just about to start writing a brand-new play about another much-loved Welsh icon. The team behind it are excellent. It is somewhat under wraps at the moment so watch this space.

You frequently work with the same collaborators, Peter Doran, Artistic Director at The Torch Theatre and most notably the actor Gareth John Bale. How does this relationship work?

On a personal level we are all good friends with a lot in common, but more importantly there is a huge amount of trust between us. That is essential. As a writer you have to be prepared to hand over your work to a creative team who may well suggest cuts and alterations you may or may not agree with. If you have an open and honest relationship, then this is far less painful. I have worked with people in the beginning of my career who would put a line through writing I had spent hours pondering and shaping. This never gets easier, but if you trust the people share the same vision and passion for the project then these decisions become much easier.

The journey we have been on as a creative team has been incredible, taking us from an initial conversation about ‘Grav’ at the Torch, to New York and our performance this year for the Welsh Rugby team. I can honestly say that throughout this process we have never had a cross word. We all believed in the project and each other. Peter and I went on to work on ‘The Wood’, a play commemorating the Battle of Mametz Wood in World War One. I was incredibly proud of this play and I hope that Peter and I will collaborate on another project in the near future.

Gareth and I have worked together for over a decade. We were first introduced through the excellent Script Slam at the Sherman Theatre. I had a 10-minute play called ‘The Window’ in the final and so was randomly paired with Gareth as the director. We hit it off immediately, and our relationship has seen us work on a wide range of projects. He is a very skilled director as well as actor, and we complement each other perfectly in the rehearsal room. My family often joke about how often I ring him. Usually once a day, often more. We have lots of plans for the future as Bale and Thomas, and are shortly heading out to the United States with a new play.

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? 

Encouraging diverse voices to feel empowered to share their stories on stage is key to this. People from all walks of life who live in 21st Century Wales need to feel confident enough to share their individual stories and experiences. We live in strange and somewhat divisive times at the moment. Theatre has always had the ability to hold a mirror up to society and pose questions. In my opinion the importance of cultivating awareness and understanding of other people’s lives and journeys has rarely been so relevant. New plays by diverse voices can play a key role in inspiring discussion, generating understanding and engineering social change.

There are a range of organisations supporting Welsh and Wales based writers, I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you?

Generally, yes, but there are a few areas where there could be some improvement. I developed as a writer through opportunities such as Script Slam at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.

I think there is room in Wales for more events like these for up and coming writers. Writing is a very insular activity, and the chance to see something you have written actually performed on stage is incredibly important in your development. Seeing actors perform your story and hearing your dialogue spoken aloud, as well as having an audience respond to your work, is key to helping you find your style and voice. These early opportunities were fundamental in teaching me how to craft dialogue, and introduced me to some of the most important people in my writing career.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

Funding for youth provision is essential. Growing up I never had access to Youth Theatre or drama lessons. Having taught the subject for so many years, I fully understand the benefits that drama can have on a young person’s life. I have set up my own Youth Theatre in Tongwynlais which is great because I also get to teach my own daughters. There are about 25 members at present, and to see the growth and development in them over the course of the first year has been really exciting. It is essential for the lifeblood of our industry that we nurture our future performers and equip them with the transformative skills that performance can provide. It is essential that drama continues to empower and embolden young people.

Can you tell us about your writing process? Where do your ideas come from?

Ideas come from a range of sources. I have always enjoyed people watching, and indeed was inspired to write ‘The Night Porter’ after glimpsing a haunted looking man sat behind a hotel front desk through a window on a gloomy night in Edinburgh. Sometimes, as with ‘Grav’ or ‘The Wood’ I am lucky enough to be approached. But it has to be something I am going to enjoy researching or something I am able to give my own unique slant. I will often research a play for ages before I start writing, building up a thorough knowledge of the subject in my head.

For ‘The Night Porter’ I wanted to properly get under the skin of how to make people scared and so I enrolled in some night classes on Ghost Stories in Literature at Cardiff University taught by the fantastic Dr Juliette Wood. Through that academic process I was able to improve my understanding of the genre, and this will hopefully add to the scream count in the audience.

I always begin a new play by free writing, getting a load of ideas down on the screen before saving it and leaving it for a week or two. I then re-read and delete the vast majority, but in there I often find the elements I want to develop and expand. I draft and redraft many times until I am satisfied. ‘West’ has undergone five drafts, with ‘Grav’ it was many more. I always try to hear an early draft spoken aloud having long understood that something might look great on the page but sound awful when spoken aloud. Failing that, I read it to the dog in the shed.

Can you describe your writing day? Do you have a process or a minimum word count?

I tend to be at my most productive first thing in the morning. I get up early and go for a walk or a run to clear my head. Then I make a pot of tea and head to the shed for 9. I tend to keep going until ‘The World at One’. The afternoon is often spent reading, researching and editing.

Owen’s Writing Shed

Music is very important, and Spotify is a godsend. The right mood can be created by who you have accompanying you in the background. Richard Hawley is one of my go to artists for this. His lyrics and music are very inspiring, and his latest album, ‘Further’ is just beautiful.

I used to set myself very strict word targets, but after a while I found I was getting more concerned with the number of words I was writing than the quality of them. As long as I leave the shed with a scene or some dialogue that didn’t exist before I went in there then I am happy. A good day could be one page or five pages – it is the quality of the writing that is important.

Is there a place you go to write?

I am lucky in that I have a shed at the bottom of the garden. It has a desk, a chair, bookshelves and pictures all over the wall. I like to be surrounded by postcards, paintings, and photographs, for inspiration. There is no WIFI in the shed which is very important. With a good WIFI connection it is very easy to disappear off into a digital rabbit hole instead of actually writing.

Writing Shed Interior

If I want company then the Park and Dare in Treorchy or Chapter are both great places. But mostly, and fuelled by a steady stream of tea, I am content to lose myself for hours in the shed.

What excites you about the arts in Wales? 

I am currently working for ‘Pick of the Fringe’ at the Edinburgh Festival. It is so exciting to see such a wealth of terrific Welsh companies showcasing exciting, innovative work across the city. Companies like Dirty Protest, Clocktower and Volcano, to name but a few, are just superb.

My wife is a graffiti artist and spoken work performer called Amelia Unity. She is part of a collective called ‘Ladies of Rage’ who are working hard to address the lack of opportunities for female performers in Hip-Hop, grime, drum & base etc. To see how inspired and empowered they are as a group, including firing up the imagination of my own teenage daughters, is terrific.

Gareth Bale and I have recently set up ‘Rebel Rebel Comedy’, a monthly comedy night at Tiny Rebel in Cardiff. I’m really enjoying getting to know the stand-up comedy scene in Wales, and through our wonderful MC, Steffan Evans, we are being introduced to the huge depth of talent that is out there. Stand-up comedians are fearless performers and I love watching them work.

Music wise, I am always in awe of Gruff Rhys. His career is so inspiring and organic. I am always excited to see what he does next. From his very early days he has yet to record an album that I haven’t loved, and his imagination is something I am very envious of. To work with him in some capacity is a long-term ambition of mine. That would be a dream come true.

Finally, after the incredible impact of Rachel O’Riordan at the Sherman, I am very excited to see where the newly appointed Artistic Director, Joe Murphy, takes the theatre to next.

Joe Murphy, Artistic Director, Sherman Theatre.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers? 

I grew up in the Britpop era and have always loved going to gigs. I am a big fan of 6 Music and recently happened to hear ‘Kebab Spider’ by the Sleaford Mods. I fell in love with it and them on the spot, and went with my wife to see them at Cardiff University earlier this year. On stage were two men in their mid-40’s, one with a lap top and one with a microphone. It was the most unbelievably visceral, and exciting live experience I have had in years. To lose yourself in a crowd and feel the joy of being in a mosh pit was something I thought I had left behind long ago. I am going to see them again in London in November and I cannot wait. Jason Williamson is far and away the best front man I have seen in years, and I would urge you to check out their documentary ‘Bunch of Kunst’ if you want to know more about them.

And finally, I believe you are about to have your new play ‘West’ premier in America. How do you think American audiences will react to your work?

Last year we were invited to the North American Festival of Wales in Washington DC with ‘Grav’. The play was well received and so I was asked to write something original for this year. 

‘West’ explores the lives of the first Welsh settlers who went over to America. It is written largely in verse and stars Gareth Bale and Gwenllian Higginson. On a superficial level it is a love story between two people who make the decision to uproot their lives. On a deeper level I wanted to explore the theme of immigration, and to hopefully show the audience that we all originated from different places. I am very proud of it, and delighted it will premiere in America.

Many thanks for your time

You are very welcome.

Top Tunes with Neil Bebber

Hi Neil. It’s great to meet you. Can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I’m a writer. It’s taken me a while to be comfortable saying that. Because I’m not from an academic background. My dad was a carpenter and I spent my formative years being led to believe that “the arts” were created by posh people, for posh people. I knew I had something to say, though. And so, after having been overlooked yet again, in favour of the tremendously talented, doe-eyed Derek Allen for the lead role in the school drama,  I decided that, unless I wanted to be “chorus” for the remainder of my life, it was time to take things into my own hands. As a parting “gift” to my school, I produced, wrote and directed the inaugural end of year School Revue, a chaotic sketch show, interspersed with bands and Spike Milligan poetry renditions.

I left that all-boys grammar school, a hellish hotbed of bullying, conformity and privilege, with 6 average O Levels, to join a Youth Training Scheme in Print and Design (having turned down a potentially lucrative, but ultimately soul destroying, banking career). But that Print and Design Training Scheme was good to me, exposing me to a previously unknown world of words and images and allowing me to quickly learn a balance between creativity and commercial viability. But, as ungrateful as it seems now, it was never overtly creative. Expressive. Risky. At school, I remember my English teacher complaining that my stories were too long and that he didn’t have time to read them. Having pointed out, with typical teenage cockiness that it was his job, he reminded me, as others often did, that I’d never amount to anything. But I’ve always found the need to prove doubters wrong a powerful motivation.

I joined poetry groups. And naively welded words together, as a form of primitive catharsis. Short poems, laden with unconscious subtext, created to accommodate my own limited attention span. But these poetry groups so often consisted of the spurned and disenfranchised of the world. Society’s sensitive rejects, confined to the sad, back rooms of usually celebratory places. So I wrote a screenplay. About a man in his late 20s, who leaves a mundane and unfulfilling life, to go travelling. It was rubbish. But I finished it. And then I wrote another. A time travel love story. About a widower who travels back in time to change his wife’s fate, so that she lives. But while he’s there, he falls for someone else. It wasn’t as rubbish as the first one, but, having received polite letters (and they were letters back then), I decided to put my aspirations on hold.

Years later, after wearing a hole in where I was from, it was time to move on. To the medium-sized smoke of Cardiff. Five months, in a city where I knew next to no one, living in the attic room of a shared house, in a sweltering room, with nothing but the sobs of the duped pensioner in the room below to remind me I wasn’t alone. Motivation enough to get out and start throwing myself into the posh life. Seeing posh art, created by posh people, for posh people. And posh theatre, written by posh people, for posh people. And nobody stared. Or looked at me like I didn’t belong. And before I knew it, I was talking to people. About art. And theatre. And they weren’t posh at all. Most of them, anyway.

One night, at the Sherman Theatre, I saw Script Slam. Five plays, by previously un-produced writers. Directed by and featuring proper professionals.

And I thought, I could do this. Seven People, seven monologues delivered by seven people with undisclosed secrets, and my first ever play, not only won the Script Slam heats, it also won the Grand Final. And soon, there I was, on stage, receiving a prize in front of my parents for writing and I thought, this is it…

Ten years later, with a London-based agent, two Guardian reviews, and countless performances of my work in Wales, London and throughout the UK, this still isn’t it. Writing the play is just the start. Then comes the re-writing, the rejections and the resolve to start all over again. But, like an addiction, you just can’t stop doing it. Because you know, that the highs of simply completing a new work are nothing compared to the incapacitating elation created by that elusive moment of acceptance.

Since making my first short film, BETWEEN, last year, I’ve discovered new ways of telling stories for the screen (big and small), too. Having had a meeting with a TV production company about my play RABBIT, I’m currently working on a treatment with a view to developing it into a six-part comedy drama. I’m also in the process of applying for development funding for my first feature. Like I said, it’s an addiction. You just can’t stop doing it. And every compelling addiction story has a killer soundtrack…

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?

Music’s always been there. My mum and dad were jivers, rockers and rollers, lucky enough to hear Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis the first time round. They saw The Beatles in Gloucester in the 60s, in a building which is now a slowly fermenting, beer-sticky Wetherspoons. At every opportunity, they’d jive, perfectly sychronised, at smoke-fogged dinner dances, then play the tunes from the night before, whilst peeling carrots to add to the other overcooked ingredients for Sunday lunch. And, slowly, every one of those anti-establishment lyrics and rhythms started to sink in. So, at the age of ten, I fell for punk. A lamb, in parent-approved, respectable gingham check, demanding 3 minutes of anarchy from the DJ at the family disco at Croyde Bay Caravan Park, so I could pogo, solo, starting with The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks, in 1978. And, though there have been giant deviations in my musical mores, there’s always been something about the energy and attitude of punk-influenced music that energises me and makes me smile.

So, at the moment, I’m listening to Idles, Slaves and Rolo Tomassi. Quick-fix anger hits, to subconsciously energise scenes. Then there’s a bit of Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, to help me reflect and introspect. And, though it’s not technically music, there’s the looped sound of the sea, coming in, and going out again, my substitute for the uninspiring sound of silence.

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? 

Narrowing it down to five is practically impossible. Like asking me to pick my top five artists. Or insects. But rules are rules, right? And, in spite of my urge to rebel against this seemingly arbitrary figure, here goes.

To help me prepare to write this article, I’ve been listening a lot to Desert Island Discs. They get to choose 8 songs. Single songs. I get 5 whole albums. As someone struggled to say once, would that it were so simple. Should I pick based on my short attention span, which would mean that I’d just choose a record by each of my “new favourite bands” for the last 5 years? Or do I consider those who might be reading this, and allow myself to be influenced by my barely latent artistic insecurities? Choosing obscure Krautrock, soundtracks from the Golden Age of Mexican Film Musicals, niche Austrian yodellers and ironic 90s pop, to offer some contrast and help portray a self-conscious sense of fun? Because I’m, like, an artist, but I literally don’t take myself too seriously.

This all seemed so much easier when I agreed to it…

OK. In no particular order, there’s Number 1 Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia by The Dandy Warhols.

I’m in Melbourne in a record shop, stopped in my travelling tracks, hearing it for the first time.I’m lying in a bath, in my tragic “bachelor” pad, on a midsummer’s night, windows open, staring at a bruised sky, dreading Friday’s “big night out”.

I’m at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, having cycled to the gig, the neon-bright colours from the stained glass window behind the stage fragmented by tears of joy, hearing it live and feeling so elated that, in that moment, nothing else mattered. This album has everything. It’s massive. It’s the soundscape of a parallel earth. A dream-like, soft-focus earth, with its ponds of pristine pop, scattered amongst its rolling hills of hypnotic rock, all floating on a sea of fuzzy psychedelia. And there’s chickens. And trumpets. It’s the friend I go to when I need reassurance about aeroplane turbulence or that the thing I’m writing is worth finishing.

2. Then there’s U2’s The Joshua Tree.

I know every word. I can hum every guitar solo. There’s a song for breaking up, fucking up and getting back up. I had that mullet. And I bought into Bono’s pain, until I was old enough to know better. But their extended performance of Bad (from The Unforgettable Fire), and Bono’s one to one with a bewildered audience member (and Wham fan) at Live Aid, will always stay with me. It’s all at once indulgent, exploitative, calculated, poetic, dramatic and beautiful.

U2 were my first serious band. The soundtrack to my later teenage years and the variety of experiences that came with them. I remember one of my first jobs, as an apprentice in a screen printing company, hunched over a lightbox, white vest, mullet and earphones playing the opening jangles of Where the Streets Have No Name (on my original Sony Walkman), goose-bumped and feeling that everything was going to be alright.

And then, much later, in the aftermath of the break up of a long relationship, wallowing in With or Without You. And, deep down, still believing the same. 

3. There was a time, when the anticipation surrounding the launch of a new release was so great that you could queue outside HMV at midnight to buy the album in the first minute of its release. I’ve done this once in my life. Having pre-warned my neighbour, I returned home with my still warm, shiny, cellophane-wrapped Fat of the Land by Prodigy.

I’m in my early 30s, purple velvet suit, black silk shirt and Musketeer hair, losing it to Firestarter on the dancefloor. In my head, I’m alone. I am a wide-eyed Keith Flint, emerging from his tunnel, unpredictable and scary as hell.

Minutes later, I’m manhandled into a disabled toilet by two bouncers, insistent on performing a full body search for illicit substances. I mean, dancing with such manic intensity, in such heavy and impractical material, on a sweltering dancefloor, could only possibly be the behaviour of a drug-addled lunatic, couldn’t it?

I’ve never taken drugs (“Alcohol’s not a drug, it’s a drink”), but whatever happens to me when I hear certain tracks on this album, must produce similar chemicals. At the time, Firestarter and Breathe almost seemed to possess me. Something empathy-inducing, car-crash compelling, in that combination of primal beats and Keith Flint’s pained pantomime-punk yelps. I remember being out with friends at Clwb. Bored. So I left in search of a new adventure. Just across Womanby Street, at The Moon Club, the pied-piper bass of Diesel Power pulled me closer. Having convinced the bouncers that I was just here for that song, I soon merged into the heaving mass, all sweat and elbows, eyes closed, smiling and lost. Thanks Keith Flint. Rest in Peace.

4. Over the last ten years, there has been less and less music that has compelled me to learn every line. Maybe that’s more to do with how we consume music now. Attention spans increasingly suited to ready-meal playlists of popular hits, without the time or patience to lose ourselves in something more challenging.

And then, along came John Grant’s Pale Green Ghosts. It’s an album of absolute, awkward honesty, overtly biographical and overflowing with painful poetry. Playwrights have to create characters to hide their flaws in, but this is a balls-out confessional. A “forgive me father” you can dance to. And where does this fit into my ongoing, never a dull moment (but sometimes I wish there was) life?

Well, this particular weekend should have been a triumphant one for me. A new play, premiered at a major London venue, with a transfer to a prestigious arts-themed festival. But everything was about to fall apart and descend into one of the worst weekends of my life. Traversing the country, emotional and feeling utterly alone, I arrived at the festival, hoping to shake off the sense of overwhelming helplessness, only to find myself feeling further excluded at a time when I craved connection. Solitary and mentally and physically shattered, music was again on hand to prop me up, wrap its arms around me and send me on my way, with a sense of hope. And this time, it was John Grant who persuaded me that all was not yet lost.

From Queen of Denmark’s “I had it up to my hairline, which keeps receding like my self confidence”, to You Don’t Have To’s “you don’t deserve to have somebody think about you”, I was comforted by empathy before having everything put into perspective by the monumental Glacier, “don’t you become paralysed with fear, when things seem particularly rough…”

5. Seriously, this isn’t fair. Five albums isn’t enough. I feel that, not that they’ll ever read this, I need to use this opportunity to say thanks for the company and inspiration to all of the following, before I mention my final choice (which, as I write this, I’m still not sure of):

Carrie – Fear of Sound

The Teardrop Explodes – Wilder

Bauhaus – Burning From the Inside

Babybird – Ugly Beautiful/There’s Something Going On

The Walkmen – Lisbon/Pussy Cats

Lou Reed and John Cale – Songs For Drella

The Vaccines – What Did You Expect from The Vaccines

Jerry Lee Lewis – Golden Hits of Jerry Lee Lewis

Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree

Tom Waits – Mule Variations

EMF – Schubert Dip

Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits

Bright Eyes – Cassadaga/I’m Wide Awake, it’s Morning

Rufus Wainwright – Want One/Want Two

Slaves – Are You Satisfied?

Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking/Ritual De Lo Habitual

Oasis – Definitely Maybe

Radiohead – The Bends

Dogs – Turn Against This Land

Rolo Tomassi – Time Will Die and Love will Bury It

Die Antwoord – Donker Mag/Ten$ion

Rammstein – Mutter

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell

Pantera – A Vulgar Display of Power

Frank – Music and Song From the Film

The Mission Soundtrack – Ennio Morricone

O.K. my 5th and final album (I realise that my approach might suggest a sense of over-inflated self importance, but this is music and it means a lot to me, so be kind!) is…

Rufus Wainwright – Want One/Want Two

This could just have easily been Tom Waits or Nick Cave or Babybird or Jane’s Addiction and I know, I know, this is technically two albums, creating a Top 6, but they were repackaged as a double album in 2005, so no rules broken. And what are rules, anyway, really?

Years before the drive-through ease of Spotify, Later with Jools Holland was my trusted introducer to “new” music. In May 2004, Rufus Wainwright performed Vibrate and, like the beneficiary of a free first crack rock, I was hooked. An incredibly beautiful song, saturated with longing and a barely dignified desperation to be loved, delivered in a voice that wavered between absolute self-assurance and disarming vulnerability. In my mid teens, I was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe. I convinced myself that she might have survived, if she’d had a friend who hadn’t harboured some sinister ulterior motive. Though I was barely equipped at the time to deal with my own issues, I imagined going back in time and unconditionally offering her my smooth, skinny shoulder to cry on.

And now, here I was, in the waistcoat and cravat wardrobe of my mid 30s, listening to Vibrate and reminded of my noble teenage fantasies.I sought out his entire back catalogue, in typically obsessive fashion. I lapped up his earlier stuff, but the theatrical emotional rollercoaster of Want One and Two was breathtaking. From the triumphant optimism of Oh What a World, to the infectiously rousing Beautiful Child, from the unrequited love of The Art Teacher to the grand, sing-a-long heartbreak of 14th Street, these albums reminded me that songs didn’t have to be inspired by rage to make me feel something.

And live, he’s even better. Whether backed by an orchestra or alone at a piano, these are songs to sing along to, about the collective human experiences of life, love and loss. All this, and he’s proper laugh-out-loud funny, too.

There’s also something inspiring about how he seems to have forgone what could potentially have been straightforward commercial success, to pursue his operatic aspirations. Maybe I see a parallel, however truly incomparable, with my shirking of a lucrative graphic design career, in favour of the dogged pursuit of my own creative writing dreams.If I ever meet him, I’ll be torn between the fake bravado of asking him to collaborate on a show and the awe-inspired verbal paralysis of unworthiness.

So, that’s my Top 5. Ask me tomorrow and it might be an entirely different one.

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? 

Why couldn’t this have been an article about my favourite, most inspiring cheeses? Which would have proved considerably less traumatic.

Ideally, I’d like to say none of the above. So I could choose Angela Surf City by The Walkmen or Perfume Genius’s Queen or Nick Cave’s People Ain’t No Good or Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Maps or Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice it’s All Right or Idles’ Danny Nedelko. But, far be it from me to, yet again, turn momentary article-based hellraiser…

The song being chosen…

As my favourite…

From the albums above…

Is…

Solid by the Dandy Warhols. There are so many incredible songs on Thirteen Tales, but the nonchalant, stoner-swagger of this song, conjures images of walking through sunset-lit, excitingly dangerous streets, without a care in the world.

“I feel cool as shit, cause I’ve got no thoughts keeping me down.” While I wait for writing success (and hope that I recognise it when it arrives) and/or untold riches, that’ll be the straightforward, spiritual mantra that I awkwardly (but resolutely) aspire to. Music will always be my empathetic friend, ready to tell me what I need to hear at exactly the right moment. It’s there to laugh with, to cry with and to dance with. It’s being inconsolable at gigs, snubbed by your idols (that’s you, Karen O, but not you, Henry Rollins), comforted after break-ups, reflective at funerals, losing it on dance floors and pushed to do one more press-up, cycle one more lap, write one more scene…. 

A Tasteful review of Magical Place by Yeah Yeah

A review by Ann Davies from RCT Creative Writers Group on the topic of topic of Taste

What’s on the Menu?

What music do you like? Tastes can vary; they can be mood shakers; a melody can bring a seemingly lost memory to mind. Emotions can be laid bare. This was the night of Yeah Yeah.

Were we ready for this high octane enhancing performance? I guess it all depended on your taste and the performing artists certainly lived up to a life of their own. What was on the Menu? as the theatre group “Yeah, Yeah” showcased their act in the lounge of the Park and Dare Theatre in Treorchy recently.

“Are you ready, Treorchy?”The Haka cry came amidst the burst of strobe lighting and the throb of music every sound resounding off the glistening disco ball overhead. Two people strode out, one male one female; they each had a story to tell. They looked like trapeze artists one with an enlarged Rod Stewart wig that looked as though it was plugged into an electric socket. With a fitted costume, accentuating her nubile body, his female partner embraced the music. Acrobatically and gymnastically the music and story was revealed as the opposing tastes for musical theatre and rock music battled it out.

Adult humour laced with music and dance. Changes of costumes – some more titillating than others were the ingredients for the night.  Their interpretation of known songs from the musicals and rock classics were exemplary. It awakened deep seated memories that you would never see or hear a song that you loved in the same way ever again. It was an experience of tasting selections of melodies like a club sandwich combining the savoury with the sweet.

During the interval, the duo presented their own adverts over the lounge speakers.

There was Swan Lake on points overwhelmed with feathers (now you know where the feathers have gone from your bed linen). The lady’s limbs were used as an air guitar; the drum set lost its setting the motorbike that raced to the music of Meatloaf. OMG was the revelation a Smorgasbord special. A spicy concoction of a recipe, boiled but scrambled, culminating in a Crockpot of creative juices that would have put Nigella to shame.

Morgan Thomas and Tori Johns were engaging in their tale. It was colourful; it was crazy, different and an entire work out for your laughter muscles. Many of the audience would still be laughing at their first encounter with the company called “Yeah, Yeah”

A tasty dish to savour long after the evening was over.

Review Persuasion, New Theatre, Cardiff By Barbara Michaels

Adaptation: Barbara Landis, from the novel by Jane Austen

Lyrics: Barbara Landis

Musical Director and Conductor: Linda Madonia

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

A musical adaptation of a Jane Austen novel –   one might be forgiven for thinking whatever next!  Somewhat surprisingly to this hardened critic, Persuasion the musical version actually does work, although whether it contributes a great deal to the understanding of the mores of the time which is so intrinsic to Austen ‘s work, is questionable.  More D’Oyly Carte than Austen, and, on occasion, tipping over the edge of comedy into farce, for my money Jane Austen it ain’t.   That is not to say it is without merit.

Playwright Barbara Landis, whose adaptation this is of the last complete novel that the illustrious Jane wrote, has striven to keep the magic of Austen’s elegant prose by donning a mob cap and sitting at the side of the stage reading some of the passages from the novel.  This could conceivably have worked, had Landis not chosen to add in such elements as rolling eyes and gestures which detract rather than enhance her performance.

 Add to this that Landis also plays the central character of Anne Elliott, so at regular intervals throughout throws off said mob cap and shawl (various) to join the action centre stage. It is Anne’s on-off romance with Captain Wentworth played by Jeff Diebold, that is at the heart of Austen’s novel.  Much rests on the role of Anne, and Landis does not differentiate sufficiently between the younger and more mature Anne although full credit must go to her for remaining faithful to the original inasmuch as keeping to much of the original dialogue and music appropriate to the era.  BUT, and sadly it is a big but:  in pinpointing the provincial snobbery, class consciousness and ignorance of the era with a heavy sprinkling of comedic touches, the essence of Austen has been lost.

This is a pity, as there is nevertheless much to commend here when viewed in its own right i.e. stand-alone as an independent piece of musical theatre.  The music and choreography make a major contribution,  with music faithful to the era and, in the second half, with spirited Irish dancing by Peter Dzik and Ian Schwartz (query: Irish dancers normally do not move any part of their upper body including their arms) and a couple of ballroom scenes from the pump room in Bath.  As Anne’s father Sir Walter Elliot, John B. Boss gives a suitably over the top performance which shows his relish for the role, while Anne Marie Lewis’s portrayal of hypochondria as Anne’s sister Mary is a classic.  Maggie Clennon Reberg’s Lady Russell, godmother to Anne- a cross between Downton Abbey and a Fairy Godmother – is a joy; a welcome portrayal of what real class, á la Austen, looks like.

Excellent backdrops projected on screen throughout add an authentic touch, with those in the latter half of the Cobb at Lyme Regis and the Pump Room at Bath being particularly good.   Overall, a fun evening albeit somewhat of a hybrid based on the work of one of our greatest literary novelists.

Performance on Saturday, 4th August 2019

Radio Rhondda Visits The Rhondda Fach By Ann Davies

Music echoed around the valley, the time had come. Radio Rhondda had come to the Rhondda Fach with its supporters and volunteers. The hills surrounding the area, nestled between the villages of Tylorstown and Ferndale were alive with the sounds of people enjoying themselves as the music reached out on the airwaves. Community radio had come to the communities of the Rhondda Fach.

A beautiful sunny day, the pleasant and atmospheric venue of the Scoops & Smiles Diner/Parlour in Oakland Terrace which had been the premises of the former Lockyer and Pacey Garage and forecourt.   How many cars had been bought or stopped to refuel there over the years? Present day traffic hooted as they drove past; water fountains were available to all (as were toilet facilities) plus a cool area inside the Diner or at the rear of the building.

Colourful balloons adorned the area provided by ‘Just for you’ of Ferndale, there were stalls offering information on Cancer Research and Dwr Cymru/Welsh Water as they continue their essential work throughout the area renewing water pipes. Representatives from the Police were also present. The central part of the programme was the Official launch of Radio Rhondda in the Rhondda Fach, which was performed by the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Susan Morgans (Ferndale Ward) and Councillor Jack Harries (Maerdy Ward).  The diner offered all the delights and descriptive flavours of ice cream in cones and tubs – marshmallows on crepes – plus their usual food fare. Children dug deep into sweet bottles that were offered to them, finding themselves lucky to receive various extra goodies. Face painting with the logo of the station was available. Free key rings and notices promoted the event. A Raffle was held with prizes donated by local businesses.

Commentators promoted the Radio station, introducing their main programme holders and interviewing local people. There was a miscellany of music provided by their own presenters, including Lorraine Jones and a chat about gardening from Terry Walton. Musical compositions were provided by the group Fiddlers Elbow (where were you, Gerhard Kress?) The Arts Factory Ferndale duo of Ben and Louise provided a melody of songs which received phone calls from people who knew them having tuned into the station. Thanks and appreciation to Louise for mentioning our group RCT Creative Writers.

It was a warm day, which offered entertainment and conversations with people who soon became friends. Sun cream and Sunhats were the essential requirements on this day.

Thank you to Radio Rhondda and all who supported and volunteered for this event. Please come again.

Perhaps like WAM (Mike Church) and Voices from the Bridge (Rob Cullen) you should go “On Tour”  People in the Rhondda Fach are friendly and creative persons although we often feel forgotten!

Top Tunes with Christian Patterson

Hi Christian, great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Born and raised by my maternal grandparents in Clydach, Swansea. I’m an actor, writer and director. I trained at Welsh College of Music and Drama and did what most graduates do after leaving college…moved to London! I missed Wales way too much and now live in Alltwen with my wife (Actress Michelle McTernan) my son Dylan and my dog Dodger.

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 LOVE MUSIC! There’s pretty much something playing all the time…whether it’s in the background or something I specifically want to listen to. My wife is going through a bit of a Nina Simone period at the moment so the house is pretty much a Simone Zone! I have to say I’m a big Nina Simone fan (I saw her live at the Royal Festival Hall…she was INCREDIBLE!) so that’s fine by me.

Left to my own devices my music tastes are incredibly varied and eclectic. I achieved a life long ambition recently and managed to see Nile Rodgers and Chic live! IT WAS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! So, at the moment I’m pretty much a disco devotee! Having said that I love songs that speak to you or capture a period in time…my son introduced me to a song called ‘Ban Drill’ by Krept & Konan and I found it really moving. It’s a great track. I’ve also discovered something about myself whilst compiling this list…I’m very ‘Riff’ led!

Music is also a big part of my professional career with the forthcoming tour of Peggy’s Song from National Theatre Wales. I was really drawn to this play for 3 reasons…written by Kath Chandler, directed by Phil Clark and the beautiful, bittersweet characters at the heart of it.

I play Danny Walkman, a local hospital DJ who loves him job. Music is so much more important to him that just songs…it’s his friend, his family, his passion and his life. He loves people and he truly believes they feel the same way about him…until he meets Peggy! Danny & Peggy have nothing and everything in common…they are two lonely people who only have each other… and the challenge to figure out Peggy’s Song!

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. Here Comes the Sun – Obviously I love the Beatles version but the Louise Dearman version has a very special place in my heart. We lost our son Harry in a tragic accident when he was just 5 years old. We played Louise’s version as Harry’s coffin entered the church. That song means a lot to me because it is intrinsically linked to my memories of Harry.

2. Sweet Home Alabama – I have always LOVED this track! As soon as I hear the counting at the top of the song I’m already getting excited about hearing the guitar riff! It is just AMAZING! It is also linked to memory for me. My father died a few weeks before his 52nd birthday…he loved this song and we listened to it on many car journeys! I remember the journey to his funeral. I was sat in front of the funeral car and even though I was deeply upset I was keeping it together…then…as the crematorium doors open I heard Sweet Home Alabama and burst into tears. Music does that.

3. Le Freak – It would be almost impossible for me to not include a Nile Rodgers and Chic song! I think Nile Rodgers is a bona fide musical genius! When I saw him live I couldn’t take my eyes off him! It was a real “You are my hero!” moment! The entire gig was totally magical and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. I was born in 1972 so disco was a huge part of my youth…I loved it then and I still love it now!

4. Superstition – Stevie Wonder is another one of those people that I think is a true genius! For me the guitar riff of Superstition is one of if not the greatest guitar riffs of all time! I could choose so many Stevie Wonder tracks but Superstition is a real classic!

5. Immigrant Song – One word…WOW! The first time I heard this track I felt like I already knew it! The riff (told you…Riff led tastes!) is the absolute epitome of rock, the vocal is incredible…it has it all! It’s only 2m 26s…I can’t listen to it just the once! Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are ROCK GODS! 

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? 

This is tough. Very tough. They all mean so much to me for so many different reasons. I suppose I’d have to choose a track that I can put on repeat and be happy every time I hear it. I’m going to go with Sweet Home Alabama…I think it is an incredible track…it makes me feel happy. Yep! That’s the one!

Peggy’s Song tour Wales later this year. You can book tickets at the links below

Riverfront Newport – 25 September, 7.45pm BOOK NOW

Pontardawe Arts Centre – 26 September, 7.30pm & 27 September, 1pm & 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon – 1 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Grand Pavilion, Porthcawl – 2 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Theatr Hafren, Newtown – 3 October, 7.45pm

Taliesin Arts Centre,  Swansea – 4 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Theatr Richard Burton, Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff – 5 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Borough Theatre, Abergavenny – 7 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Blackwood Miners Institute – 8 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Torch Theatre, Milford Haven – 9 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Ffwrnes, Llanelli – 10 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Lyric, Carmarthen – 11 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW



Review Kinky Boots, Wales Millennium Centre by Barbara Michaels

Music and lyrics: Cyndi Lauper

Based on the book by Harvey Fierstein

Director and choreographer: Jerry Mitchell

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Plaudits for this musical, based on the book by Harvey Fierstein and the 2000 British film, are thick on the ground – and deservedly so.  Brash, bright and beautiful throughout, Kinky Boots tells the story of one Charlie Price.  An unwanted inheritance from his father leaves Charlie running a shoe manufacturing company in Northampton and forming a partnership with cabaret performer and drag queen Lola.  When the business is threatened with closure and bankruptcy Lola saves the day by suggesting the manufacture of high-heeled boots for drag performers. Et voilà!

Some great songs, including those with a message and others which are pure joie de vivre, pack a punch.  Kinky Boots is so much more than just another musical.  At the heart of it – and what a big heart it is – is a subject which nowadays is, for the most part, treated empathetically, which was not always the case in some communities not that long ago.  I refer to transgender – often in the news of late.  The story tackles it head on, with the occasional heartbreak yet with fun and verve, dished out by an amazing cast who earned a standing ovation last night in the Donald Gordon theatre in the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.

As Charlie, Joel Harper-Jackson proves, after a slow start, that he can both act and sing, coming into his own in the second half with a rendering of Soul of A Man which tugs at the heart strings.  But it has to be said, it is Kayi Ushe’s Lola that steals the show. Ushe gives a scintillating performance as the drag queen and, equally telling, when he appears in male clothing. Lola’s singing of Hold Me in Your Heart as the show nears its close is heart-rending.

Demitri Lampa cuts the mustard as Don, managing to steer clear of the pitfalls of such a role i.e. portraying a so-called masculine prototype with beer belly and a set of out-moded ideas. Adam Price as the factory manager George makes this cameo role his own, although the joke wears a bit thin towards the end of the show.  Coronation Street’s Paula Lane as the factory girl sweet on Charlie and Helen Ternent as his erstwhile fiancée Nicola provide an extra fillip. 

As for the Angels – the dancers at Lola’s club – wow!  Brilliant and believable they sing and dance throughout showing amazing talent and especially outstanding in What A Woman Wants, sung with Lola, Don and factory girl Pat in Act II.  Everybody Says Yeah, sung by Charlie, Lola and the Angels with full ensemble, which brings the first half to a close is another gem. You couldn’t wish for better. All aided and abetted by great music, wonderful costumes and David Rockwell’s atmospheric set.  Sit back and enjoy the magic that is Kinky Boots.

An Interview with Playwright Emily White

Hi Emily great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?


I grew up in Powys in the countryside on the outskirts of various small villages and towns (we moved a lot) although my mum now lives in Carmarthenshire in the countryside.  I started off wanting to be an actress and moved to London and trained at RADA when I was in my early twenties.  I acted professionally for some years, mostly in theatre and ran a theatre company with some friends for a while that did fringe shows in pub theatres in London and then I got to my mid-thirties and decided I needed to do something different so I went to University in York and did an MA in theatre writing, directing and performance.  When I decided to become a mature student I didn’t really have a new career in mind, I just wanted a degree because when I was at RADA you didn’t get one.  I was never particularly studious in High School (although I was always good at English and Drama) and I hadn’t written an essay since GCSE’s so I was amazed and thrilled to discover I was really good at it and that I really loved the playwriting part of the course especially.  I left with a distinction and hangover and haven’t stopped writing since.

So what got you interested in the arts?

My parents split up when I was two years old and my dad went back to London where he was from and my mum and I went to live in Wales.  My dad came from a working class background where no one in his family were interested in the arts but somehow he developed a love of the theatre and used to go to loads of plays and get the cheap seats way up in the gods and he also loves books and films and art, and passed all that on to me.  When I was three he got us cheap seats to see Peter Pan at the National Theatre and I was totally enthralled by it and apparently when we left the theatre I said ‘that’s what I want to do dad.’ So from then on whenever I went to visit him in London he would take me to the theatre, he’d take me to see Shakespeare, Chekhov, Tom Stoppard, Samuel Beckett and I just loved it, not that I totally understood everything that was going on but there was something magical about it all the same.  


My mum encouraged me to join Mid Powys Youth Theatre and Powys Dance when I was a teenager and I was really lucky to have some fabulous teachers and directors working with me who were really inspiring and got us all to work really hard and research whatever we were doing a show about – for example we did a show called ‘Frida and Diego’ about Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera so you had a bunch of kids in Wales learning about Mexican revolutionary painters and Mexican culture and Mexican dancing – totally mad and brilliant (not sure our accents were that authentic though!).  Mid Powys Youth Theatre won the National Youth Theatre awards twice and we got to come up to London to perform at the National Theatre – which was so exciting for all of us as teenagers as you can imagine.  


And my dance teacher at Powys Dance gave me my first professional job; touring a dance piece around Wales – which was during my GCSE’s so I’d finish and exam and leg it out the school gates to jump in a tour bus, go and perform and be back in school the next day for another exam.  I couldn’t have done any of that without the support of my parents so I’m really grateful to them for encouraging me to pursue the things I loved.  


Your new play Pavilion opens at Theatr Clwyd this autumn before then playing at The Riverfront in Newport. The production  has a wonderful tag line of “Dance.Drink.Fight.Snog” please tell us more!

The play is set in an old run down Pavilion where the local Friday night disco takes place every week and the whole community is out because the Pavilion is about to be closed down.  There has also been a protest that day about the High School being closed and merged with another school in a nearby town – so everyone’s a bit on edge.  One of the unique things about growing up in a small town is there’s only one place to go out and dance, so young and old have to socialise with one another and everyone knows everyone which makes for great drama and comedy.  So it’s a play about the effects of austerity on a rural community but it’s also a loud, raucous, all singing, all dancing, funny night out in a town full of larger than life characters.  


Pavilion takes place in a “small town in a forgotten corner of Wales.” As a Welsh writer how do you feel Wales has been represented on stage and screen recently?

We don’t see nearly enough stories about the Nations on our screens and stages and personally I think it’s important that we do, I feel representing the whole of the UK should be part of the diversity that theatre and television and film are aiming for.  We have a divided country at the moment so the arts has a really important role to play in representing the parts of the UK that feel invisible and unheard – people within the London bubble need to see our stories too.  How else will we begin to understand one another?


I’m interested in learning about other cultures and it’s been wonderful to see productions like Nine Night, Leave Taking or The Barbershop Chronicles and see a new audience in those theatres that are really excited to see their lives being represented on stage, I found it very moving to see that happening, I was watching the audience as much as I was watching the plays.  I’d hope audiences would be interested in learning about Wales: a country right on their doorstep with a fascinating history and it’s own language that they know very little about.  I have lived in London for 21 years now and in the theatre especially it’s rare to see a Welsh play about Wales, or a Scottish play about Scotland, Ireland gets a little bit more of a look in.  Things are starting to improve on television with the BBC encouraging writers in both the regions and the Nations by creating writing groups that help them into the industry – I was part of the BBC Wales ‘Welsh Voices’ group this year in Cardiff. 

And of course we have a very exciting boom of production companies starting up in Cardiff which have brought us some great TV shows like Keeping Faith and Hinterland – may they lead to many more!  As far as films go Submarine was fab, Craig Roberts has written and directed some interesting films recently and Pride was wonderful (although I would have preferred a few more Welsh actors).  

Tamara Harvey and the team at Theatr Clwyd have really invested and supported Welsh Playwrights. How did you become aware of the theatre and Tamara’s work supporting Welsh writers?


When I’d finished a second draft of Pavilion I contacted a tutor of mine at RADA, Lloyd Trott, he does a lot of work with emerging writers and arranged a table read, and workshop with RADA graduates and students.  He suggested we arrange a rehearsed reading and that I invite Tamara to come along.  She came up and saw the reading and then finally after a long hiatus she called me totally out of the blue (a year later) and said she wanted to do my play.  One of the most exciting phone calls of my life! 


I didn’t have an agent at the time so I had sent the play to every British theatre that had open submissions and received really glowing feedback from all of them but it was always ‘We loved it, it’s like a modern day Under Milk Wood but it’s not for us, good luck.’  Part of the problem being it’s a massive cast of eleven actors which costs a lot, theatre’s don’t have any money and I’m a totally unknown writer – so I really stacked the odds against myself ever getting this play on – looking back I should have written a play with two people in one room talking but unfortunately that is not the play I wanted to write!  So Tamara and Theatr Clwyd have really done something quite unheard of and amazing by deciding to put it on regardless of those things I am eternally grateful to them for their support.

Theatr Clwyd, Artistic Director, Tamara Harvey

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? 


Well I feel I’ve answered this slightly already.  There is a barrier in Welsh writers getting our work on outside of Wales.  But I also think poverty is an issue – we need funding to be able support emerging writers and directors from working class backgrounds.  If you’re from a really poor family, you can’t afford to be part of a residency if it’s not paid or it doesn’t help with accommodation that’s going to be a big deterrent.  


In terms of public access, the lack of transport to the small number of theatres there are is a barrier – Theatr Clwyd is an incredible theatre but it is hard to get to if you don’t own a car – the council used to fund a local taxi company to lay on three buses a week that would collect anyone that couldn’t get to the theatre but with all the funding cuts that service is now gone.  I think that’s a crying shame for the theatre and for the audience because it meant that the elderly, the disabled, young people who can’t drive yet and just people who couldn’t afford a car, could go for a night out.  When I was a teenager we lived in a small town and my mum had to get rid of our car for a number of years because she was unemployed and there was no way to get anywhere to go and see anything.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

That’s such a difficult question because there’s loads of things I would like to fund.  But I think youth engagement is really important so I would want to put funding into that – funding to make sure that every child has access to a youth theatre, a dance centre, an art class or a writing class, music whatever it may be – and crucially enough funding that the organisation is subsidised so that children whose parents are on benefits can still afford to go.  All these groups allow young people to meet each other and encourage them to express themselves and to think about the world and their part in it.  Art encourages empathy and there’s nothing more important than that right now.  

What excites you about the arts in Wales? 

I think it’s a really exciting time for the arts in Wales.  The theatre scene in Cardiff has grown so much since I was a young, from home grown companies like Dirty Protest, Hijinx, and Chippylane to small venues like The Other Room and because of this there are a lot more Welsh writers around making their mark.  The new BBC Wales building and the television production company boom means there are more jobs in that sector in Wales than there has ever been so getting into the production side of the business is now a real possibility for young people in Wales and doesn’t feel so out of reach.  Theatr Clwyd are making great work in co-production with London theatre’s so is The Sherman, and NTW is touring round Wales taking projects to places that don’t have easy access to a theatre of their own – all really important, plus all these theatre’s are working with new writers which is fantastic. 

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers? 

Another really difficult question because I’ve seen so much great work this year.  But I guess the show which I can’t get out of my head is Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland – a writer from Northern Ireland – which was on at The Royal Court earlier this year.  The premise of the play is: an old unionist in Belfast is suffering with dementia and believes his new baby granddaughter to be a reincarnation of Gerry Adams. 


It was a surreal, obviously hilarious and at the same time deeply disturbing play that was an examination of blind hatred.  The play could only really end one way and he certainly didn’t chicken out. You spent the entire play crying with laughter but with this growing unease at what was coming.  He had us in the palm of his hand.  It also made me realise I don’t know nearly as much as I should about Northern Ireland and then we’re back to what I was saying earlier about diversity and representation.

I love a play that is politically charged but manages to still be funny and entertaining.  That balance of drama and comedy is, such an effective way to get an audience lured in and invested.  Humour is so important.  I talked about it for weeks afterwards.

Review Mark Watson, Theatr Clwyd by Russell Williams

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

To begin, Mark, unlike other comedians, does not have a warm-up act; he takes on the role himself as he likes to use this time to get the feel for his audience.

Mister Watson is not your usual joke-a-minute comedian, instead he takes a more subtle approach; his gags disguised along the way in what seem to be quite personal, relatable life stories.

He speaks warmly of his children and the difficulties navigating their childhood using audience participation from people who have experienced some of the same occurrences, with some hilarious outcomes. He also talks of his ex-wife and divorce in the same manner, again with very funny outcomes from the audience inclusion.

During the interval there are cards laid on for the public to ask Mark questions or make any statements they would like him to acknowledge, the outcomes of these cards and Mark’s reactions to them are ‘throw your head back and roar’ material.

To wrap up, Mark Watson was warm, friendly and exceedingly funny. He loves his audience and his time on the stage. I would recommend Mark’s show without hesitation.

Thanks, Mark, for a great night! I did not stop laughing!

Review Tolkien by Jonathan Evans

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

With a lot of the great artist, you can look into their lives and find a key moment or time in their lives that greatly affected them and can be found throughout their work. H.P. Lovecraft’s father was put in a mental asylum, Akira Kurosawa was witness to the mass of dead bodies in the Great Kanto Earthquake, and Alfred Hitchcock was traumatised at a young age when his mother told a policeman to put him in a jail cell for an afternoon.

Not all artists need an origin story like this but many do have a key incident in their lives that can be found within their work. Tolkien tells the story of the man that would reshape the Fantasy genre and make one of the biggest impacts on literature and what events shaped him to be able to write them.

An important element that should be talked about with any bio picture, do you need to know about the person or their work before going in? I believe if the movie is of any true merit then no, you shouldn’t have to be in the know before entering the movie theatre, a movie should be able to stand on its own without homework beforehand. That said, the people that do know about the person’s life and work will probably find themselves more at home and able to fill in the blanks and connect when certain words are said. But a good bio should please the fans and be just as engaging for someone who knows nothing about it (and if it really does its job, it’ll turn them into fans).

Opening the movie is our main character in one of the worst places during one of the worst times, the trenches during the First World War. We see him in the midst of a fever while bombs are going off, bullets are flying and muds splattering around him, but he tells his ward that he needs to get closer to the action to find his friend, he needs to make sure he’s alright. We then are taken back, to when the man was a boy and enjoyed time in the forest playing with his brother, reading and making up stories.

Due to the death of their mother, they are sent to a special school because of the benefit of a patron. While there young John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is clearly greatly intelligent, well versed in literature and very comfortable with a book in front of him (as well as able to speak Latin and other languages). While at this school he gathers three friends, Geoffery (Anthony Boyle), Robert (Patrick Gibson) and Christopher (Tom Glyn-Carney). Together they form a friendship built on the appreciation of the arts and dedicate themselves to changing the world through art, each with their respective field, literature, music, poem, painting, and music.

Nicholas Holt himself is responsible for bringing this wonderful portrayal to life, the script gives him plenty to sink his teeth into but a good script can only help an actor so much. Holt is able to hone in on the characters passion for words and language and the way he observes beauty in the world and is entranced by it but is also compelled to tell stories that make the character come alive. There’s also some joking around and tender emotional moments in there for texture than make it a fully realised performance of a character.

Nicholas Hoult in the film TOLKIEN. Photo by David Appleby. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

if you know Tolkeins work or have at least seen The Lord of The Rings movies then you can probably grasp those stories are about humble people that start off in a simple place and enjoy the simple things. Then some great evil comes to threaten everything and they are thrown into a world of looming evil, of fire and mud. This contrast is present here in the movie, from a rich world of cake, tea, and art to a shaking unstable landscape that seems to have abandoned hope and civilization. What Tolkein and this movie does is take the two and link them for we understand the scale that humanity is capable of.

An element that would usually be the weakest element of another movie is the romance part of the narrative. Tolkien had a wife that he spent his life with and I’m sure it was a perfectly happy marriage. But with these movies, it seems like they need to throw that in there to make sure the movie checks all the boxes. Action? Check! Drama? Check! Song? Check! Romance? Check! But there is one here and it flourishes! It’s a wonderful layering in the movie, the character and enjoyable experience in its own right. This works because a) the characters were written with things in common and b) the actors themselves (Lily Collins) have chemistry together so they elevate the material of the script to something that you engage with. Furthermore, this is not a standard fairy-tale told on tracks, these people have similar interests as well as disagree and have arguments, like real people. Do I see it as being tagged on later in development? Yes, but they also made it work. 

Biopics are in no short supply these days but few of them really know what story they are telling, just a collage of events from the subjects life stitched together and we are pushed through it. This movie knows what it wants to say “Where did this great writer who changed a genre get his inspiration?” We learn and understand the man and are moved by it. This is a movie that looks on a mans life and knows where to focus itself.