Category Archives: Literature

Looking ahead in 2018 Culture, Creativity and Change!

In this article we look forward to a range of cultural highlights in 2018. Thanks to all of the creative artists involved for their own personal response.

Connor Allen, Actor and Playwright

I would have to say that one cultural highlight for 2018 that I cant wait for is Dennis Kelly’s Girls and Boys at The Royal Court directed by Lyndsey Turner. Last year I had the pleasure of watching Hamlet directed by Lyndsey Turner and it was breathtaking. So her vision partnered with Kelly’s writing can only bring great and spectacular things (hopefully!)

One for me closer to home is to see what brilliant work National Theatre Wales bring out for the anniversary of the NHS.

My personal hope for 2018 is to get my play about homelessness I have been writing, funded and performed. that would be a massive personal achievement for me.


Merdeydd Barker, Playwright

I don’t plan because I like to wonder in the morning what I’ll go and see that night, but as far as theatre in 2018 is concerned, Owen Thomas’ The Wood at The Torch, Lisa Parry’s 2023 at Chapter and Maxine Peake in Beckett’s Happy Days at The Royal Exchange; those three in a very crowded field along with hoping for surprises in Edinburgh come August.

In contemporary art – whatever that means – Ragnar Kjartansson is at the National Museum Cardiff with a new performance piece (co-commissioned with Artes Mundi) called The Sky In The Room. It is a piece which will be played by a revolving roster of organists and sounds beautifully bonkers.

At some point this year I will see The Idles live because they want us to, as they say, “dance and laugh and sing in the face of adversity.” 2018 is going to need them and their beautiful clamour.

Rachel Boulton, Artistic Director, Motherlode Theatre

It seems like 2018 is going to be another great year for new theatre in Wales. Having seen a development stage of Cwmni Pluen’s next show, I’m really looking forward to seeing a final production from them this autumn. Pluen has a definitive performance style which I’m always excited to see. They’re also working in collaboration with charities during the development of the piece which I think sets a great precedent for future companies making new work. I also can’t wait to see National Theatre Wales’ Love Letter to the NHS. While the NHS is under siege from; medical companies charging them a fortune for treatment; government cuts; surgery closures; and an all time waiting list high; it’s important more than ever to support and celebrate our National Health Service in face of adversity.

My personal hope for the year is to successfully tour Motherlode’s next production Exodus. The piece was developed in Aberdare with generous support from our long term collaborators and co producers RCT Theatres and will be part of their year long 80th birthday celebrations, which includes lots of new work by exciting artists. Exodus is also supported by Creu Cymru, Bristol Old Vic, Night Out Wales and Chapter, touring to 12 venues across Wales before running in London. Gulp… I just hope we pull it off!”

Matthew Bulgo, Actor and Playwright 

I’m really looking forward to seeing Louder is Not Always Clearer from Johnny Cotsen in February. I was disappointed to miss the work-in-progress of this as part of Experimentica last year so I’m glad I’ve got a second chance.

Elsewhere, I’m really looking forward to catching The Birthday Party (one of my favourite plays) in the West-end which has a stellar cast including Toby Jones and also The Twilight Zone from American playwright Anne Washburn which is at the Almeida. Later in the year, I’m really looking forward to catching Eyam at Shakespeare’s Globe which has been written by the very talented Matt Hartley and is being directed by Wales’ own Adele Thomas.

Gareth Coles, Voluntary Arts Wales Director / Cyfarwyddwr Celfyddydau Gwirfoddol Cymru

Recently I’ve been losing myself in the acoustic EPs of the guitarist Yvette Young who also writes and performs with the band Covet. She will be releasing a piano EP early this year, and having heard some snippets, I can’t wait to hear the whole thing.

On a personal creative note, I’m hoping to develop my drawing this year. I seem to have spent most of 2017 hurriedly sketching, but having developed the habit of drawing daily, it’s time I started working on some longer and more thoughtful pieces. I have also just started playing the piano again after many years’ hiatus, so I’m hoping my rusty playing will become slightly less objectionable by the end of the year.

Simon Coates, National Theatre Wales’, Head of Creative Development

Jonny Cotsen with Mr and Mrs Clark producing and touring Louder is not Always Clearer, a project I had the pleasure of supporting the development of in its early days with NTW.

Festival of the Voice in June for more incredible vocalists and a no-holds-barred look at the power of the voice. As well as our own NHS70 Festival of course, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s Nyrsys by Bethan Marlow marking the 70th anniversary of the NHS.

The Terra Firma Spring Tour by NDCWales including the mesmeric Tundra by Roy Assaf. EXPERIMENTICA Festival at Chapter will back again for another year of live art from all over the UK and further afield in April.

And finally I am hoping to make it along to Abercych to join one of their experimental Twmpaths with Simon Whitehead and his collaborators.

Geoff Cripps, Board Member, Theatr na Nog, Creu Cymru and musician with Allan y Fan

The Cultural Events in 2018 that I am already booked into and greatly looking forward to seeing starts on Saturday 6th January with a visit to The Old Vic to see Rhys Ifans as Scrooge in the acclaimed production of “A Christmas Carol.” Just a few days later and we are off to the Bristol Old Vic to rendezvous with Emma Rice’s “The Little Match Girl”.

At the end of January I am delighted and privileged to return to Glasgow as one of the 180 delegates to Showcase Scotland – a very important element within the world’s greatest mid-winter music festival. The five days I will spend here will definitely kick away any lingering vestiges of mid-winter blues! Don’t know yet which artists I will see/hear in total but I am pleased that in the festival’s 25th anniversary year the Showcase Scotland partner is Ireland. Still hoping that one year Wales will create something of lasting value like this event which has had such a powerful impact on the development of Scottish Artists in an international setting.

Later in March I will definitely be re-visiting one of my favourite productions of 2017 – The Old Vic’s “Girl From The North Country” – now transferred to the Noel Coward Theatre in the West End. Go see it if you think Bob Dylan is a genius, go and see it if you don’t know what all the fuss is about and marvel at what Conor McPherson has concocted.

Encouraged by my own top management I am looking forward to seeing two inspirational dance productions at the WMC in April from Birmingham Royal Ballet and May from Sir Mathew Bourne’s New Adventures.

I have yet to pick what to see closer to home in the valleys but am looking forward to visiting RCT Theatres, The Borough Theatre and Blackwood Miner’s Institute on several occasions during the year.

My personal hopes for 2018 include doing my best to ensure that Theatr na nÓg builds on the great achievements of 2017, that Creu Cymru continues to be the essential organisation for the theatres and arts centres of Wales and, on a real personal note, that my band Allan Yn Y Fan have our most successful concert ever in Blackwood Miner’s Institute on 28th March!

I am sure that every other contributor will make their feelings known about “Brexit”, “POTUS”, the “Maybot” etc. etc but I am deliberately trying to keep this light-hearted.

Let’s hope that despite everything the Arts In Wales continue to deliver life-changing experiences, uncover nascent talent, connect more deeply with their communities and audiences. Finally I hope that BBC Wales finally delivers a year-round coverage of the Arts In Wales.

Dr Branwen Davies, Playwright

My Cultural highlights for 2018 so far are:

Theatr Geneaethol’s Y Tad

Pirates of the Carabina’s Relentless Unstoppabble Human Machine at Pontio Bangor January 16th-21st

Dirty Protest’s Lightspeed from Pembroke Dock by Mark Williams touring Wales in April and May

V&A’s Frida Kahlo Making Herself Up exhibition opening in June 2018.

My personal hope is to be continued to be inspired and surprised by writers and artists pushing boundaries and creating work that moves me and reminds me what it is to be human.

Peter Doran, Artistic Director, Torch Theatre Company

On a personal level, I’m really looking forward to directing our next production, The Wood by Owen Thomas; its always exciting to tackle a new piece of writing, one never really knows if it will quite come off as expected or hoped. Giving the success we had with Owen’s last play Grav (shortly to go to New York), we have high hopes but we know that there’s a great deal of hard work in front of us. I’m also working on it with two actors, whom I’ve never directed before (Ifan Huw Dafydd and Gwydion Rhys), so that gives an extra frisson.

Elsewhere, I always look forward to Vamos coming to the Torch; Vamos are a full mask company who do wonderful work, this season they are touring a piece about the war in Afganistan called A Brave Face, one to look out for. I loved Liverpool Everyman’s repertory season last year and I’ll be interested to see if the second season is as successful – A Clockwork Orange sticks out as a highlight for me.

NTW are coming to Pembrokeshire with The Tide Whisper – theatre in a boat off the Pembrokeshire Coast; you won’t get a better or more dramatic backdrop, let’s hope they compliment each other.

My personal hopes? That the true value of art and culture is appreciated and not seen as the icing on top of the cake. It’s not a commodity that can take it’s stand in the market place and compete; it has to be nurtured, supported, fed – if not, it will wither away and die.

Tom Goddard, Artist and Criw Celf Coordinator

In a time when Netflix is elevated to the role of religion, Shezad Dawood’s Leviathan satisfies our obsession with marathon box set watching, with this ten part film series. First at last year’s Venice Biennale and the series continues now at Mostyn, Llandudno in March.

Cardiff’s James Richards, who represented Wales in Venice last year, will be bringing Music for the Gift back home to Chapter opening at the end of February.

Ragnar Kjartansson, Artes Mundi 6 nominee, will return to Wales to present a brand-new performance piece, The Sky in a Room which will feature a series of revolving local organists performing the 1959 hit song “Il Cielo In Una Stanza” (The Sky in a Room) on the 1774 Sir Watkins Williams Wynn organ.

Chapter’s Experimentica, will roll into town again in April and is always guaranteed to raise a smile and challenge in equal measure with a real range of refreshing voices and ideas from the world of live art.  NS Harsha, Artes Mundi 3 winner, will return to Wales at Glynn Vivian in Summer 2018 presenting screening printing, installation, sculpture and drawings.

Glynn Vivian will also be opening late once a month offering performance, music, workshops as well as curatorial opportunities for young people.

Simon Harris, Playwright and Director of Lucid 

It would be a bit matey of me to select 2018 highlights from Wales, so the two things outside of Wales that I’d really like to see are Chris Goode’s staging of Derek Jarman’s Jubilee which has been at the Royal Exchange n Manchester and is going to the Lyric Hammersmith. Because punk’s not dead. The other is Dead Centre’s new production at the Schaubuhne of Shakespeare’s Last Play – partly to see the work and partly to go to Berlin as I’ve never been there and I’d like to go before the world ends.

I’m a little overwhelmed by how far away we are from how I’d like things to be in 2018. There’s so much to do in so many areas, it would be easy to give in and give up. But I’m drawn to some of the determined spirits out there and so my main hope for the sector is that we move to a more productive, more innovative, less hierarchical approach to making work. I would like to see some of the fake differences between Arts Council Wales portfolio and the remaining group of artists and companies done away with. I’d like to see individuals and companies allowed to apply for larger sums and for more extended periods of work, instead of one-off projects. Most of all I’d like to some vision that can lead to the release of the amazing potential of artists in Wales and their work. Oh, and a bit more honest dialogue and a lot less self-referential, self-congratulatory bulls**t.

Steffan Jones-Hughes, Director Oriel Davies

There’s so much exciting art to see in 2018!

January sees Nova open at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. An exciting exhibition of young contemporary artists originated by the Royal Cambrian Academy. Look out for inaugural award winner Paul Eastwood, and also Catrin Menai, Rory Duckhouse, and AJ Stockwell. Aberystwyth Arts Centre- 25.1-1.4 2018

February I can’t wait to see The Sky in a Room by Icelandic Artist, Ragnar Kjartansson. The exciting performance will see a series of revolving organists performing the 1959 hit song “Il Cielo In Una Stanza” (The Sky in a Room) on the 1774 Sir Watkins Williams Wynn organ, and will run from 3 February to 11 March at National Museum Cardiff.

Photographer Mike Perry’s exhibition Land/Sea opens at Mostyn, Llandudno in March and the Ffotogallery tour continues to Aberystwyth Arts Centre.

April: the moment everyone in Wrexham has been waiting for: The opening of Tŷ Pawb, the new galleries and market and cultural centre with Dydd Llun Pawb and the launch of “Is this Planet Earth?” curated by Angela Kingston and touring later in the year to Aberystwyth Arts Centre.

June sees The Oriel Davies Open inviting artists from Wales, UK and internationally through Open Call to show work. I’m on the selection panel along with Jane Simpson (artist & Director Galerie Simpson), Matthew Collings (writer and curator), Sacha Craddack (curator and writer. TBC), and Alex Boyd Jones, Curator OD. Oriel Davies Open 2018 23 June – 5 September.

In July Liverpool Biennial is back for a tenth edition with Beautiful World, where are you? Artists and audiences can reflect on a world of social, political and economic turmoil. Liverpool Biennial 2018  Beautiful world, where are you? 14 July – 28 October

The first week of August is always set aside for Y Lle Celf at The Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru held this year at the Senedd, in Cardiff Bay

September at Oriel Davies Legion Projects (artist-curators Matthew Hughes and Una Hellewould) will explore witchcraft through curation of a group exhibition, inviting a diverse set of contemporary artistic practices to respond to key ideas around witchcraft.
Witchcraft project Oriel Davies 15 September – 7 November

October sees the opening of Artes Mundi 8 at the National Museum in Cardiff

My personal hopes are that 2018 will be a time of unleashing potential, harnessing prosperity and celebrating the power of community within society.

Paul Kaynes, Chief Executive Officer, National Dance Company Wales

Firstly the home team: NDCW are about to set off on our long Spring tour taking in all of Wales, the UK, Austria and Germany with works by Resident Choreographer Caroline Finn (in Cardiff you have another chance to see her beautiful, haunting FOLK) and the mesmerising Tundra by Marcos Morau – already an international hit. Later this year watch out for a contemporary dance-opera we’re presenting with Music Theatre Wales in October/November. It’s a beautiful work.

But what else? Artist James Richards’ mysterious work for the Venice Biennale last year is coming to Chapter in February and I’m interested in seeing again his exploration of hidden gay histories. Our former dancer and choreographer, Matteo Marfoglia, makes rich work of personal histories full of emotion and surprise, so I’ll be there for any performances. And I’ve already got my tickets for the RSC’s Cicero plays (Imperium) based on Robert Harris’s wonderful books, for WNO’s Don Giovanni in February and BBC NOW’s concert of work by Messiaen and Debussy in March. I’ll have to travel to London to see Ballet BC’s Emily Molnar new work based on works by Emily Dickinson and Jeanette Winterson: sounds intriguing. There’s a new Kate Atkinson novel coming up (always worth it) and a film adaptation of Sarah Waters’ creepy A Little Stranger. 2018 seems like it’s going to be a great year, at least culturally! Politically, all bets are off.

Angharad Lee, Theatre Director, Educator, Facilitator and Lecturer.

Cultural Highlights 2018:

2018 London International Mime Festival. Anything and everything that is shown here. Go go go…..

Personal hopes for 2018:

To finally see every organisation in Wales tackling all barriers to access, rather than relying on one or two  organisations. Saying this, we have to upskill those creating the work at grassroots level for this to be achievable, so I hope to see lots of money being ploughed into this.

I hope my production of the musical The Last 5 Years comes to fruition and tours Wales Autumn 2018 as this has access at its heart and supports BSL as a culture.

I look forward to seeing our Opera Bites event expanding a little as well as some exciting developments with our 10 Minute Musicals project come to fruition. We have a sharing of this work at Millennium Centre, February 25th, Blackwood Miners Institute, February 27th and then we are sharing it at Focus Wales 2018 which is hugely exciting for this project and all the artists involved.

There is a piece I started to develop last year with Eddie Ladd based on Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy which we hope to pick up this year. It’s a piece very dear to me therefore I hope we make this work for us. Building in this there may be another exciting collaboration with Eddie in the pipeline. Watch this space. Our work compliments each other wonderfully.

I hope to see more of my daughter this year, drink less rose wine and get back into the gym at more regular intervals. I am also hoping to renovate my kitchen and become a better cook!! I have also vowed to explore the landscape I live within this year and reconnecting with nature a little.

Bethan Marlow, Writer

2018 feels like a fresh year. There’s a lot of courage in the air, people are standing up and shouting out, dirty secrets are no longer protected and new manifestos are being drawn. I’m crossing all my fingers that this also means that we’ll see fresh and courageous cultural activity all over Wales in all languages.

Some things are already drawing my attention like Mr and Mrs Clark’s “Louder is Not Always Clearer” with Johnny Cotsen

NTW’s Sisters and Common Wealth’s “Radical Acts”. I’m excited that this year promises a lot of developmental support for creatives both new and established with National Theatre Wales’ “Creative Development” and Theatr Genedlaethol’s “Theatr Gen Creu”. And speaking of change, I’m very excited to visit the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol this year with it’s new experiment of having no boundaries which will hopefully create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all of us living in Wales.

I hope we all, and I’m very much including myself here, have the courage to dig deep and create what we need and want to create this year. Not what we think people will go and see or what we think will tick funding boxes but what our guts are screaming for us to make.

David Mercatali, Associate Director, Sherman Theatre

I am hugely excited to be working with the fantastic Welsh writer Katherine Chandler and the next generation of acting talent on the world premiere of Buddy. The play is part of NEW:2018 and is a co-production between RWCMD and Sherman Theatre.My wish for the New Year would be for anyone living in Cardiff who hasn’t been to the theatre yet to give it a go!

Michelle McTernan Actor and Playwright

I’m looking forward to so many cultural delights during 2018. It starts with an R&D for my first play “Bruises” which won the Script Slam at Pontardawe Arts Centre. Then my husband Christian Patterson opens at The Donmar Warehouse in “The Way of the World”. So I’ll be off to London where I hope to take in a few more plays. Here, I’m also looking forward to seeing The Wood by Owen Thomas, Nye and Jenny by Meredydd Barker and Dublin Carol by Conor McPherson at Sherman Theatre.

My personal hopes for 2018; In light of the funding threats to my local arts centre at Pontardawe, I hope that the people who make these detrimental decisions recognise the importance of the arts and their effect on our wellbeing. I hope that communities begin to make more use of all local arts centres and that artists and creatives have the freedom and funding to encourage and inspire those that are blind to its relevance in our society today.

Sharon Morgan, Actor and Writer

Dwi’n edrych ymlaen i weld Y Tad, cynhyrchiad diweddaraf y Theatr Genedlaethol gan Florian Zeller, cyfieithiad Geraint Lovgreen ( Ar daith 21 Chwef-16 Mawrth) gyda Dyfan Roberts yn y brif rhan. Cychwynnodd Dyfan a minnau’n gyrfaoedd gyda’n gilydd nol yn 1970! Hefyd cynhyrchiad Theatr Pena – Women of Flowers gan Sion Eirian ar ol Saunders Lewis (Ar daith 1 Chwef-9 Mawrth) gyda’r anhygoel Sara Lloyd Gregory fel Blodeuwedd. Dwi am fentro i Pafiliwn Bont ar gyfer ail-gread sinematig a barddonol Mike Pearson a Mike Brookes wrth iddyn nhw gychwyn ar brosiect tair blynedd gyda NTW o dan y teitl The Storm Cycle gyda Nothing Remains The Same (15-17 Chwef), a mae nhw’n addo seddau dan do! A tan gwyllt! Mewn cynhyrchiad amserol am ieithoedd lleiafrifol bydd Theatr Gwalia yn cyflwyno Inheriting The Gods Carmen Stephens am berthynas rhwng bachgen ifainc o lwyth y Wampanoag a Cymraes, a mae’r anhygoel Dirty Protest yn dathlu ei penblwyddd yn ddeg oed gyda drama Mark Williams Lightspeed from Pembroke Dock(Ar daith 4 Ebrill- 5 Fai)

Mae son bod cynhyrchiadau newydd ar y gweill gan Mercury, Neontopia a Triongl, a gobeithio bydd Na’Nog yn atgyfodi Nye and Jennie gan i mi ei fethu yn y Metropole yn Abertileri,a pwy a wyr pa ddanteithion daw i’n diddanu pan ddaw’r Eisteddfod i Gaerdydd ym mis Awst.

O’m rhan fy hun mae gen i brosiectau gyda’r Theatr Genedlaethol, Na’Nog, Theatrau RCT a Canoe a dwi’n gobeithio bydd fy sioe un menyw am Rachel Roberts (Yn Gymraeg) yn digwydd o’r diwedd!

I am looking forward to Theatr Genedlaethol’s latest production Y Tad ( Le Pere) by Florian Zeller trans. Geraint Lovgreen (Touring 21 Feb- 16 March) with Dyfan Roberts as the father. Dyfan and I began our careers together back in 1970! Also Theatr Pena’s production Women of Flowers by Sion Eirian after Saunders Lewis (Touring 1Feb-9 March) with the amazing Sara Lloyd Gregory as Blodeuwedd. I shall venture to Pontrhydfendigaid for a poetic and cinematic recreation by Mike Pearson and Mike Brookes as they embark on a three year project with NTW under the title The Storm Cycle with Nothing Remains The Same (15-17 Feb) and they promise seating- indoors! And fireworks! In a timely production about minority languages Theatr Gwalia presents Inheriting The Gods by Carmen Stephens about a relationship between a young man from the Wampanoag tribe and a young Welsh Woman and is touring Feb 26-March 24. The amazing Dirty Protest celebrate their tenth birthday with Mark Williams’ play Lightspeed from Pembroke Dock (Touring 4 April-5 May).

I hear that Mercury, Neontopia and Triongl are preparing exciting things and I hope Na’Nog will revive Nye and Jennie as I missed it at the Metropole in Abertillery, and who knows what delicacies the Eisteddfod will bring when it comes to Cardiff in August!

I have writing and performing projects with Theatr Genedlaethol, Na’Nog, RCT Theatres and Canoe and I really hope my one woman show about Rachel Roberts (in Welsh) will happen this year!

Rachel Pedley Miller, Artistic Director, Avant Cymru

In 2018 Avant Cymru are planning a busy year with Forget Me Not in January and Blue Scar in the summer.

We are working with Rufus Mufasa on her album launch on the 16th of January. Looking forward to working with Rufus and Unity further on Welsh Hip Hop projects.

We are also excited to see Sisters Acting Up at the Riverfront this month and Grav at the Sherman Theatre in February.

We are really excited that NTW have launched their new creative development strands, we also are excited to see ehat the NH70 project has to offer. So much is happening in Wales and we are excited to be a part of it. Bring on 2018!

Jac If an Moore, Director and Co-Director of Powderhouse 

Theatre
Dublin Carol – Sherman Theatre
Coming up in a few weeks at the Sherman. Connor McPherson, killer cast and directed by Matthew Xia. Come on, what more d’you want?

All But Gone – The Other Room
I’m really excited to see what Dan Jones will do now that he’s at the helm of The Other Room. This will be his first production as AD, and it’s a chance to see how he’s going to put his mark on that ambitious company.

Also…
Literally anything that’s on in London International Mime Festival,  10 Jan – 3 Feb, which for my money os one of the best times of year for theatre (don’t be put off by notions of striped t-shirts and glass boxes). Particularly looking forward to Trygve Wakenshaw’s Different Party.

Book
Tribe – Sebastian Junger
Collection of essays that span history, autobiography, anthropology and psychology. What we can learn from tribal societies, what we’ve lost, and why in the modern world we’re still craving companionship and meaning.Film

The Shape of Water – Dir. Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro’s latest film gets its UK release in February, and I’m looking forward to his particular mix of strangeness. Set to the bleak backdrop of 1960’s Baltimore, it’s apparently a love story between a mute woman and a water god. Yes please.

Lucy Owen, Journalist  and writer

I’m looking forward to the Cardiff Kids Literature  Festival in April this year. There will be loads of events going on and it’s a great chance to meet authors and illustrators and inspire children to pick up a book.

I am super excited that a book I’ve written for 6 – 8 year olds will be published in September too. It’s called ‘The Sea House’ and I’m really hoping children will love all the characters, particularly my favourite – a brave, sparkly little fish called Fabulous!

Marc Rees Creator and curator of installation and performance

You might have seen my crestfallen face captured on the news when it was announced that Swansea didn’t win the UK City of Culture crown for 2021? Perhaps if we’d gone with the abbreviated SUKCOC ( Swansea UK City Of Culture ) it might have been a different story?I really did think that it was Swansea’s time to shine and to quote the city’s very own big haired 80’s pop icon … we could have turned it around . However there are still exciting plans afoot and one that is very close to my heart is still under wraps till the end of January but I want to mention it as it’s certainly something that I’m really looking forward to getting my teeth into in 2018.

Essentially it’s an immersive Requiem that will kickstart the Swansea International Festival 2018 – written by a twice Oscar nominated composer with a libretto by a BAFTA Cymru winning writer, sung by a world renowned choir and with a wrap around narrative led by the formidable force that is Eddie Ladd. Watch this camouflaged space.

Details will be announced on 26.01.18 via

https://www.nowthehero.wales

Alexandria Riley Actress

For 2018 I’m very much looking forward to hearing more cultural stories being told by people of a diverse background. Great things are happening already but there’s still such a way to go. ‘Fio’ are doing some amazing work right now providing opportunities for BAME actors, writers and directors to showcase work and are providing a great accessible outlet.

 

I’m involved in TWO amazing plays with full diverse teams this year. One of them which tells a story from voices we don’t often hear from.  I am working with  phenomenal actors all from diverse backgrounds and I cannot wait! The plays are wonderful and  I’m really honoured to be a part of it all! The theatres we are performing in are equally brilliant! Wales is a place of character, diversity and rich culture. So I look forward to us continuing to move forward within the arts and really show what we are made of.

Keiron Self, Actor and Playwright

I’m very much looking forward to Light Speed from Pembroke Dock, a family friendly and Star Wars friendly theatre show from Dirty Protest as part of their 10th anniversary. I have been lucky enough to have a few pieces perfomed by them and their stalwart crew and have a soft spot in my heart for all involved. I also saw an Rand D of the show and it touched a nostalgic string in my heart, it being about fathers and sons and a certain sic-fi film – essentially a taste of my youth.

I’m also looking forward to films coming out in February The Shape of Water Guillermo Del Toro’s new fantasy masterpiece about a love affair between a woman and a Black Lagoon-esque creature in Cold War America. I’m a great fan of Del Toro, especially Pan’s Labyrinth, and this ranks right up there next to them. Also in February Lady Bird is a film from Greta Gerwig, a fantastic indie actress making her directorial debut with a well observed coming of age talk between a mother and a daughter starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.

Looking forward to The Dublin Carol at The Sherman and The Wood from Owen Thomas about Mametz, my play The White Feather also about World War One is being restaged by Theatr na nÓg in the Autumn so I’m obviously and selfishly excited about that too. There are many more things to get excited about of course, here’s hoping 2018 provides an exciting buzzy year for theatre and the arts throughout Wales.

Lleucu Siencyn, Chief Executive, Literature Wales

I’m very much looking forward to a bumper year of culture in 2018. Many people interested in the arts in Wales will already be filling up their diaries.

One of the events I’m especially looking forward to is the National Eisteddfod (3-11 August, Cardiff), as it takes place this year right outside my office window in Cardiff Bay. For the first time in decades, the “Maes” (the festival site) will not be held in a field, and visitors will be able to come in and out as they chose, paying for each event individually. The “no-fence” Eisteddfod offers exciting opportunities to try out new activities, appealing to a wide range of audiences and celebrating the best of Welsh culture in all its forms.

For a relatively small country, Wales punches well above its weight in terms of literature festivals. As well as the world-renowned Hay Festival (24 May – 3 June), many more have appeared in recent years, including the excellent Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival (21-29 April) and the Cardiff Book Festival (7-9 September 2018). I’m particularly looking forward to the newest addition to the calendar, the Seren Poetry Festival at the Cornerstone building in Cardiff (16-18 February).

But there’s plenty to do outside the Capital, and throughout the year you’ll find literature festivals in Laugharne (6-8 April), Llandeilo (27-29 April), Wrexham (Carnival of Words 21-28 April), Llansteffan (7-10 June), Caernarfon (Gŵyl Arall – July), Penarth (July), Caerleon (Lit on the Lawn – July), Hawarden (Gladfest – September) and Cardigan (Gŵyl y Cynhaeaf – October) – to name but a few! 2018 also sees the return and 25th anniversary of the Beyond the Border Storytelling Festival.

Pembrokeshire should take the prize for being the most bountiful county, with literature festivals in Solva (The Edge Festival – 2-5 August), Llangwm (10-12 August) and Rhosygilwen (PENfro Book Festival – September). These festivals would not take place without the dedicated efforts of community activists who believe in bringing people together and sharing a love for words. And the success of many depend on their brilliant local independent book shops.

If your dream is to take part in one of these festivals as a featured writer one day, then you should consider booking on one of the courses at Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre: www.tynewydd.wales. The many highlights include a Creative Writing for Welsh Learners course (16-18 March with Bethan Gwanas and Eilir Jones), Songs and Lyric Writing (9-14 April with Willy Russell and Stewart Henderson), Poetry: Writing about Life (20-25 August with Lemn Sissay, Sophie McKeand and Zoë Skoulding) and Writing a Novel (24-28 September with Louise de Bernière and Wales Book of the Year winner Alys Conran). There is something for everyone this year at this very special place.

I’m looking forward to seeing the completion of the epic 50ft mural by artist Pete Fowler on the iconic Water Tower at Cardiff Central Station. Inspired by the stories of the Mabinogi, the mural is part of the Weird and Wonderful Wales project by Literature Wales and Cadw. The work began before Christmas, but was suspended because of bad weather. The work will continue soon and remain in place throughout 2018, when visitors from all across the globe will see it when they visit Cardiff for events such as the Volvo Ocean Race as part of Year of the Sea.

The Wales Book of the Year award is set to be another great event this year, with the ceremony scheduled to take place in the summer. Announcements will be made in March – so keep an eye out on Literature Wales’ website for details. In the meantime, I was thrilled to see that last year’s winner Pigeon (Parthian Books) by Alys Conran, is being serialised in the Western Mail. Also, the Roland Mathias Poetry Evening will take place on 23 February at The Muse, Brecon, featuring John Freeman, winner of last year’s Wales Book of the Year Roland Mathias Poetry Award, with Jonathan Edwards chairing the event.

Last year the National Poet of Wales, Ifor ap Glyn, with funding from Welsh Government and support by Cymru’n Cofio Wales Remembers (1914-1918), created and toured a multi-lingual multi-media show on poet Hedd Wyn called Y Gadair Wag/ The Empty Chair, directed by Ian Rowlands. It premiered at Yr Ysgwrn, the poet’s home at Trawsfynydd which recently opened as a visitor’s centre. By popular demand, the hope is to tour more extensively in 2018, taking in locations throughout Wales, as well as the UK and Ireland. 2018 will see the announcement by Literature Wales of a new Young People’s Laureate, as Sophie McKeand’s hugely successful two-year stint comes to an end in spring.

2018 marks 70 years since the creation of the NHS, which was established by the great Welsh politician and orator Aneurin Bevan. It’s worth keeping an eye out for cultural celebrations of this significant milestone, including a series of productions throughout Wales by the two national theatre companies, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and National Theatre Wales.

In other art-forms, I’m looking forward to the return of Festival of the Voice to the Wales Millennium Centre (7-17 June), the Urdd Eisteddfod celebration of youth culture at Builth Wells (28 May – 2 June), the Swansea International Festival (October 2018) and the international art prize Artes Mundi at National Museum Wales (from 27 October). National Dance Company Wales’ Terra Firma tour takes place in Spring and will be well worth a look. Last year I very much enjoyed the collaborative concerts between the orchestras of WNO and BBC NOW, and I hope to catch a few this year as well. I can also highly recommend Rungano Nyoni’s debut award-winning film funded by Ffilm Cymru Wales, I Am Not A Witch, which will be out on DVD in February.

Like many others, I was very disappointed that Wales missed out on qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, having enjoyed myself immensely in France in 2016. However, this year I can kick back, enjoy the games relatively stress-free, and pick a couple of nice countries to support. Come on Iceland!

Alastair Sill, Audio Describer for Theatre

I’m really looking forward to watching Owen Thomas’ new play, The Wood by The Torch Theatre. The Wood is inspired by a true story and commemorates the centenary of World War I. Yes, I can’t wait for that one. Another highlight has to be the Festival of Voice between 7th June and 17th June, at locations around Cardiff, created by the Wales Millennium Centre. I really want to try and get down to The Other Room this year because there’s nothing else like it in Cardiff. And anything by Gagglebabble is always fantastic!

Then personally first of all, I hope I have a happy, healthy and fun year with my two boys and girlfriend. Second, I hope York City FC find promotion to the National League, the first step back to the football league. And last, I hope to record lots of funny little anecdotes from my two boys and write a children’s story inspired by their unique craziness!

Jennifer Ruth Sturt, Assistant Producer, Wales Millennium Centre

Thinking ahead to what 2018 has in store is at once terrifying and overwhelmingly exciting. This year is set to be full on, but hugely inspiring year for us at the Centre. With the launch of two new seasons of programmed work in the Weston Studio and ffresh alongside the return of our biannual international arts festival, Festival of Voice. This year, we’re creating a number of co-productions with some incredible Welsh artists and companies and I’m really proud to be part of the team helping to make them happen. As Cardiff embraces it’s title of Music City, the in-house Festival of Voice team have created a programme of work that really celebrates voice in all it’s guises and alongside an ambitious Creative Learning programme allows us to explore the positive impact of collective singing and creative expression. With just six months to go, I can’t wait for what this year’s festival has in store.

 

Personally, I’m looking forward to many more adventures in 2018 with plans to travel to New Zealand and Canada, see my best friend get married and all being well, get back out on the road and finally get a half marathon under my belt- fingers crossed.

Geinor Styles, Artistic Director, Theatr na nÓg

My cultural highlights would be anything Theatr na nÓg does – obvs… and also the things I am looking forward to seeing and then probably missing because I’ve double booked myself or completely forgotten they were on…

So if someone can remind me then that would be great…

First up is to see the genius choreographer Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at Wales Millennium Centre in April, he is without doubt the best storyteller you will see in any medium – IMHO.

The second show for me will be the hugely ambitious adaptation of Patrick Ness’s award-winning children’s novel A Monster Calls which will be brought to life at the Bristol Old Vic (31 May – 16 June) by the incredible talented director Sally Cookson. The film broke my heart, so I cannot wait to see it live on stage.

Then the show I will definitely want to see before it heads off to New York, because I missed it the first couple of times round is Grav, an amazing achievement for a theatre company in far west Wales – The Torch to get it to the stage in New York after sell out shows here in Wales and Edinburgh. Congratulations to the creative team for taking a true Welsh hero and exporting it far and wide.

Even though I hate overhyped shows, I must see Hamilton this year. I think the story is incredible and an important one to hear and see in this strange uncertain time. – even though he did the music to Moana!

The Frida Kahlo is a definite must see at the V&A exhibition in London. If I miss this then Coco by Pixar will surely satisfy my Kahlo obsession (yes, you heard it here first)

There will also be a Suffragette exhibition at Swansea Museum to celebrate 100 years of the Women getting to vote. So much has been accomplished and also so much more work to do.

I also hear that Fleetwood Mac are going to tour this year specially for my birthday, so be rude not to!

Adele Thomas, Director

The play I’m most looking forward to in 2018 is John by Annie Baker, in a new production at the National Theatre. Annie is probably our greatest living dramatist. She writes with a delicacy and a humanity that make Checkhov look positively cartoonish. Her plays The Flick and Circle Mirror Transformation are amongst my favourite evenings in the theatre, and James McDonald (who directed Circle Mirror Transformation) is directing John, which makes it doubly exciting. I can’t tell you anything about what the play’s about.

My New Years Resolution is “Avoid the Algorithm”. So much internet noise and being in the industry means that by the time you’ve read the endless marketing and faced the constant stream of twitter criticism you go into the theatre too equipped to watch the play. Imagine being in the first audience for Macbeth or The Cherry Orchard or Blasted or Machinal. You would be entering the auditorium with true openness. As an audience member you might be shocked or bored or moved to tears, but your experience would be an truly honest one, a direct and unadulterated relationship between you and the play. What a gorgeous idea

Sami Thorpe, co-founder Elbow Room Theatre Company and BSL Interpreter

Sami shares her thoughts in BSL in the video below

There is so much to look forward to in 2018. I cannot wait to see Jonny Cotsen’s ‘Louder is Not Always Clearer’, it’s so important to see diverse stories on the stage and, as someone who has been involved with the Deaf community for a number of years, I’m very excited by it. I’m also looking forward to the drag acts coming to Cardiff this year, especially Klub Kids’ ‘The Twisted Circus’, which I shall be fangirling all over!

My personal hope for 2018 is that as an industry we work together to continue to diversify our audiences, sharing ideas and good practice is key. Be brave, take risks, learn and grow.

Rachel Trezise, Novelist and Playwright

I’m really looking forward to seeing Dublin Carol at the Sherman studio in early February and also The Laugharne Weekend in early April and obviously I’m very excited about the new Manics’ album, Resistance is Futile, due in April. I’m one of the judges for the International Dylan Thomas Prize this year so I’m looking forward to reading lots of new fiction.

I’ve got a new novel called Wonderful coming out in June, my first published work since 2013 which I am both very happy and also terrified about, and more personally I hope to make some good progress on the house I’ve been trying to build for almost two years so that I get a functional writing space back by the end of the year!

Tom Wentworth, Playwright

2018 looks set to be an exciting year. Currently I’m looking forward to two exciting pieces in Wales. Jonny Cotsen’s Louder Is Not Always Clearer – I went to an early sharing and so it will be fascinating to see how it has developed. Also Kaite O’Reilly, Sara Beer and Philip Zarrilli’s collaboration richard III redux [or] ‘Sara Beer [is/not] richard III’ – it sounds as though it will be the most amazing piece performed by one of Wales’ finest actors. Further afield I can’t wait for Simon Longman’s Gundog at the Royal Court. Simon was my mentor and has become a friend so it’s especially exciting to see his work on a big stage.

Personally, I’m looking forward to my new version of Burke and Hare being performed at Newbury’s Watermill Theatre before heading off around Berkshire on tour during April/May; plus I have a short reading at The Bush Theatre in London in March as the culmination of a year on their Emerging Writers’ Group plus who knows? (I’d also like some sleep in 2018 too!)

Nickie Miles-Wildin, RTYDS, Resident Assistant Director, Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre

I’m sat at my desk at The Royal Exchange Theatre and there’s so much that I’m looking forward to this year. Being Resident Assistant Director in this amazing building is opening up many great opportunities for me. My highlights are Frankenstein directed by Matthew Xia. 200 years after its publication in January 2018 Matthew is directing a new version by April De Angelis – a writer whose work I enjoy. (Playhouse Creatures is brilliant) Being assistant director on this show I am already in the depths of research and know that the cast is going to truly bring the story to life on our stage.

I’m also looking forward to working with the Young Company up here on their production of Mix Tape. Working closely with Matt Hassall – Programme Leader for the Young Company and composer James Frewer, Manchester will be given its own mix tape.
In the summer I can’t wait to be my alter ego Beryl as I tour a handful of festivals with Bingo Lingo alongside my co-star Daryl and his alter ego Cyril. It’s Bingo on a Paralympic Scale. The Without Walls festivals are an absolute joy to be at and to discover new work.
For me 2018 will be one of exciting creative work indoors at the theatre and a summer of amazing interactive playful outdoor work.
And Deaf actor Nadia Nadarajah being part of the new ensemble company at the Globe. Hopefully we’ll see more Deaf and Disabled creatives leading the way.

Matthew Xia, Director

I’m really looking forward to making some work across England and Wales this year. I’m starting with Dublin Carol – the Conor McPherson play about an alcoholic Undertaker being confronted with the life he has lived, and the others he has broken. It’s playing at Sherman Theatre in Cardiff from the 5th of February for two weeks. I then head up to the Manchester Royal Exchange to make a brand new Frankenstein adapted for the stage by April de’Angelis before directing the premier of the Alfred Fagon Award winning play Shebeen by Nottingham writer Mufaro Makubika. The show, starring Karl Collins will be presented at the Nottingham Playhouse and Theatre Royal Stratford East in June.

As far as things on my radar this year I’m of course hoping to catch Hamilton at some point – although not at those prices. I’m hugely excited to see what seasons of work are presented by the new Artistic Directors including Kwame Kwei-Amah at the Young Vic , Nadia Fall at Stratford East and Justin Audibert at the Unicorn. I’m very excited to see Maxine Peak play Winnie in Happy Days directed by one of my favourite directors and humans, Sarah Frankcom at the Manchester Royal Exchange. I’m also thrilled that Roy Alexander Weise is presenting work at the National with Nine Nights. Other theatres worth keeping an eye on include The Yard and The Bush.

My hopes for the year are simple – let’s try not to destroy the planet, let’s remain kind.
For some of us this seems like an easy goal.

A Season in Hell (Arthur Rimbaud) Revisited by Rhys Morgan

As soon as I got round to reading this poem I knew I was in for a treat. And I wasn’t disappointed; it most certainly was a treat. It’s the classic journey into hell—a pilgrimage for the damned, the rebellious, and the lecherous. Although unlike Dante’s Inferno, where hell is described in all its horrible glory, A Season in Hell offers only a short sojourn into the underworld, a little taster. Within the poem it’s the author himself, Arthur Rimbaud, who has consigned himself to this often-tread passage into the fiery pits, but near the end he does something which no other mortal soul has managed to do: he comes back. Exactly as the title suggests, it’s about a season in hell, and in much the same way that all seasons must pass, so too does Rimbaud’s torment, as he’s momentarily offered a small glimpse of hope.

 

In being a true libertine in every sense of the word, Rimbaud was the most rebellious of artists. He also has one of the most mispronounced names in all of literature (for an accurate pronunciation, think Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Rambo’, and you’re practically there). His rebellious streak was borne out of his distain for late nineteenth century bourgeois convention, and his poetry perfectly encapsulates this defiant attitude, which is, more often than not, maniacal, savage, exotic, and utterly imposing. And like any Bohemian artist worth his salt, the content of his poetry spilled out into his everyday life, which was filled to the brim with sex, drugs and whatever the nineteenth century version of rock-and-roll was. Through his poetry he also changed the face of literature for good, effectively dragging it against its will into a new era defined by modernism, symbolism and surrealism. But the most astonishing aspect of his genius was the fact that he did all of this whilst in his late teens, before retiring as a poet at the ripe old of age of 21 (depressing, huh?). He then went on to become, of all things, an arms dealer in Colonial Africa.

 

Rimbaud.PNG

Arthur Rimbaud at 17 years of age

 

Rimbaud wrote A Season in Hell in the middle of 1873 at his family’s farmstead just outside Charleville. He was 18 years old at the time, which in a way shows throughout the poem, as it’s replete with the kinds of personal struggles and feelings of alienation that we today would associate with teenage angst. It begins almost in the style of a suicide note, with Rimbaud exclaiming that he’s about to spill his guts about the sins he’s committed throughout his short yet eventful life thus far. This is then followed by him addressing Satan directly, with the chilling line “I pass you these few foul pages from the diary of a Damned Soul.” What comes after this is an astonishing journey into Rimbaud’s psyche. He decries his Gaulish ancestry, seeing himself as being part of an inferior race whose mores are entirely at odds with the world of Christian faith and French, Bourgeois principles. He described the thought processes behind his unique style of writing, and how he felt as if he ultimately failed in his poetic endeavours as his “mind turned sour.” At one point he even alludes to swallowing vast amount of psychoactive drugs (his “poison”), before going off on a surreal reverie about his impending descent into the hellfire, where he goads Satan into burning him alive.

 

But at the heart of this struggle lies Rimbaud’s tumultuous, on-and-off-again relationship with his fellow poet Paul Verlaine, a relationship which forms a major part of A Season in Hell. Rimbaud first met Verlaine in 1871, and despite being a mere 16-year-old kid at the time, he managed to seduce Verlaine both intellectually and sexually. This sparked off an intense, drug- and alcohol-fuelled love affair which very often descended into violence, particularly in the form of knife fights (think Pete Doherty vs. Carl Barat, but far more extreme…). Eventually Verlaine, in a drunken fit of rage, shot Rimbaud in the wrist, thus ending their brief dalliance. I mean, you just couldn’t make this stuff up; it’s the greatest romantic fling ever told! Rimbaud’s feelings towards Verlaine are told in excruciating detail within the poem’s aptly titled fourth part, “Delirium 1: The Foolish Virgin – The Infernal Spouse.”

 

Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud

 

The poem ends with a shift in the seasons, and Rimbaud’s resultant return from hell. He imagines a kind of Brave New World, one stripped of the torments that had previously held him back, one without Christ or political tyrants. This can effectively be seen as his farewell to poetry, and he needed to go to hell and back in order make this adieu. This was a trip filled with maniacally surreal imagery and some of the most profound symbolism you’ll probably ever read.

 

If you’re a fan of poetry, the chances are you’ve already read A Season in Hell, and that you probably know more about it than I do; I am after all a relative newbie to poetry in general, let alone that of the French flavour. But if not, then it may very well serve as your gateway drug (pun most certainly intended) into the realm of all things poetic, so it’s definitely worth your time.

 

by Rhys Morgan

Gravity’s Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon) Revisited by Rhys Morgan

Paranoid—this is perhaps the best word with which to describe Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, both in terms of the world that it depicts and the way that it makes the reader feel throughout its (many!) pages. Much like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, this novel has us confronted with a society which owes its stability and its survival to forces of paranoid control that dictate the lives of all its inhabitants. But unlike in Orwell’s masterpiece, where these ominous forces live on to the very end of the book, Gravity’s Rainbow asks the question, ‘what happens when a society such as this one collapses?’ Well, the results are completely insane…

 

Thomas Pynchon is widely regarded as one the seminal postmodern writers of the twentieth century, and as a result his works are often dense, complicated, even maddeningly inscrutable. Gravity’s Rainbow is most certainly his most famous work of fiction. You could even say it’s his most notorious—it was denied the Pulitzer Prize in 1974 on the basis that its content was too vulgar (the panel were particularly concerned with a scene in which ‘coprophagia’ is performed, but I won’t go into that…). In being an extremely reclusive figure, nobody really knows who Pynchon is, or even what he looks like—he gives no interviews, attends no book signings or award ceremonies, and he certainly doesn’t allow any photographs of himself to be shared with the public. In fact, the latest available photograph of Pynchon dates to around the 1950s when he was in the U.S. navy. This is a man who makes even J.D. Salinger seem like a raving socialite.

 

Image result for pynchon navy

Thomas Pynchon in the navy

 

In a similar vain to pretty much all of Pynchon’s writing, Gravity’s Rainbow has no clear structure, is written in a highly experimental prose, and is utterly surreal. If you’re looking for a moving, character-driven story, then this ain’t it; it’s probably the least character-driven novel I’ve ever read. Its characters seem to have very little free will, and a lot of the time they find themselves participating in events or actions without really knowing why. Overall, they’re mere pawns in a game that Pynchon has created for them, and are being thrown in and out of environments and situations that are well beyond their control. And you never really get to know them either. Whilst you could argue that there are only a handful of protagonists and antagonists, in total there are literally hundreds of characters, some of which are mentioned briefly, only to reoccur several hundred pages later, in which case you find yourself asking, ‘who is that guy again?’ But that’s kind of the point: this is a novel that’s designed to confuse. Or more specifically it’s written in such a way as to make you feel as paranoid as its characters are. Yet having said all that, Gravity’s Rainbow is one of the most memorable reading experiences I’ve ever had, mainly because it caused me to think about reality in ways that no other novel has. In short, when reading Gravity’s Rainbow, the lines that separate the world of the novel from the world in which you yourself live become blurred and confused, and that deserves praise in itself. And despite the rather depressing subject matter that it deals with, it’s still a very entertaining and funny novel, although its humour is often vile, grotesque, and certainly not for the faint-hearted!

 

The plot begins near the end of the Second World War, in the Christmas of 1944. We follow Tyrone Slothrop, an employee of an intelligence unit based in London, whose various sexual exploits across the city are being investigated by a psychological warfare agency. Basically, wherever Slothrop has sex, a Nazi V-2 rocket lands in that exact location a couple of days later, almost as if his own penis is causing these attacks to happen. As a result of the investigations being conducted on him, Slothrop is subjected to a plethora of psychological tests, some of which include the use of psychoactive drugs. These tests are bizarre to say the least, and even lead to an extended scene where Slothrop journeys into the depths of a toilet (think Trainspotting, but weirder). After this, and for reasons that aren’t very clear at all, either to the reader or for that matter the characters themselves, Slothrop is sent to Continental Europe to investigate a new form of Nazi rocket known simply by its serial number ‘00000’. And it’s during this trip that something very drastic happens: the Second World War comes to an end. This causes the forces that had previously kept the world in balance to disintegrate entirely, and it’s as if the whole of reality explodes into multiple particles that are now hanging around in the ether, waiting for someone or something to provide them again with some semblance of order.

 

Image result for v-2 rocket

The V-2 rocket

 

Europe has now become a wasteland referred to as ‘the Zone’. It is a place of chaos where everything—whether it be nation states, races of people or animals—is in a state of becoming something else. Some of the more memorable elements of the Zone include a village that is now inhabited solely by dogs trained to kill everyone except their former masters; an army of Hereros known as the ‘Schwartzkommando’ who are determined to eradicate themselves in some form of racial suicide; and the ‘Raketen-Stadt’, a highly advanced yet surreal Fascist dystopia. The Zone is also dictated by surely one of the most terrifying antagonists in all of fiction, Captain Blicero—a former high-ranking Nazi obsessed with sex-slavery, human sacrifice and, well, death.

 

In order to understand Gravity’s Rainbow you have to keep in mind the year in which it was written, which was 1973, at the heart of the Cold War. This was a period dominated by paranoia, as nuclear war was a seemingly ever-present threat to the whole of humanity. And I think what Pynchon is trying to do with this novel is to show the reader that what he’s describing isn’t a surreal world that he himself has made up, but the world in which the reader already lives, which is itself paranoid and highly unstable. And even today, thanks to such things as technological advancement, scientific discovery, political struggle and war, our world is changing all the time, and so are the ways that we relate to it. I suppose that’s where the novel’s real plot twist comes in—it’s not about the struggles of any particular character, it’s about you, the reader, and the reality that you inhabit. You’ve been the main character in this story the whole time, and you didn’t even realise it.

 

Despite how thought-provoking it is, I can’t really see myself reading this book again, mainly due to the way that it’s written. A great writer is somebody who has total command over a text, as if he or she were a conductor directing a musical performance. But in Gravity’s Rainbow, it seems like Pynchon is weaving his way in and out of the orchestra, slapping his musicians across the face and giving them wedgies. There are parts of it that I just didn’t get at all, and I’m convinced that I wasn’t meant to get them in the first place, that they were never intended to make sense.  On the other hand, even in those instances the novel is still very funny, although, again, it’s humour does come from the gutter! This is one of the most famous—and certainly most influential—novels ever written, and I’ve never read anything like it, so on that basis it’s probably worth giving it a read at some point in your lifetime.

 

by Rhys Morgan

Review The Chimes by Sebastian Calver

The Chimes, an adaptation by David Willis and Conor Linehan

 Having walked along the Southbank, mulled wine in hand, I had no idea about how I was about to be changed by an extremely powerful piece of political theatre but more importantly relevant political theatre! Upon entering St John’s Church, Waterloo, expecting to see a congregational theatre set up, I was immediately captivated or captured by the world in which I had been invited. A simple yet focussed performance space was encouraged in the traverse with subtle hints reminding us of the Dickensian time period of the narrative. However, director Judith Roberts’ vision did more than visually encompass us in what we were about to experience. Through the use of integrated recordings of various political speeches we were subconsciously being alienated by the waffle in which we were hearing; barely audible over the power of the organ making the point that a lot of these times they aren’t even worth hearing!

Dickens’ second Christmas Story, after the infamous Christmas Carol, took a somewhat subtler route to reminding us of the dangers of neglect at Christmas. The supernatural element of the unknown still occurred in the form of teaching the protagonist; Trotty, sincerely played be Matthew Jure, a well-deserved lesson in valuing family and friends and appreciating time. The first act, with creative use of ensemble and simple, yet effective, mise en scène, took us on a powerful journey into the impoverished life of Trotty and his daughter Meg as they struggle to survive the harsh reality of London in 1844. We quickly arrive at the rising action as Trotty is caught eating Tripe, which is being rationed to women and children only, despite it being a gift from his daughter Meg – Alderman Cute, a rich gentleman, and his cult, threateningly warn Trotty and menacingly show interest in his daughter who he holds most dear; too dear to let her marry her honest, hard working courter, Richard.

Through this powerful first act, Trotty is constantly drawn towards the bells which were made for the production by Nigel Shepard from recycled aluminium scaffold poles which really resonated with me in that it makes a clear point to commercialised theatres and productions within the UK that you don’t need to spend millions in order to create a captivating story which can still create a spectacle and change an audience! The week before I took my foster brother to see a Christmas Pantomime at a local theatre and was astounded by the money that had gone into making the show entertaining and at the end when asked for donations I couldn’t help but think: if this production had never been created and all the money for resources had been donated straight to charity, yes there would have been no entertainment for children which ironically coincides with the point for this production (teaching us of the necessity for sharing Christmas) but it also would have made a massive impact in changing many lives as opposed to the huge salaries of the actors and reluctant donations of the public as they realise they still haven’t paid for parking.

Despite this production being a partnership with the homeless charity The Passage, the standard of acting was so high that there were very few moments where I wasn’t flawlessly following the story and those times were not due to the actions of the ensemble from The Passage! This was especially clear in the ensemble numbers – the connection to the text and through line of the action was incredibly clear by the likes of John Watts, Joy Aaron, Allissa Christie, Hanna Kaley, Pixie Maddison and Yvonne Wickham, who all played various characters in aiding the narrative, however it was the sincerity by which they shared this powerful story with us which made me feel changed when I left the theatre and made me think about the injustice of the way we often perceive someone who is homeless. Disregarding simple human values and giving the hard shoulder whether it be because we think they got what they deserved or because we think they are cheating us of our charity. More often this is not the case and we are blinded by our thoughts when we should be treating all people homeless or not with the same respect!

Further information on the production can be found at the link.

Under the Volcano (Malcolm Lowry) Revisited by Rhys Morgan

Under the Volcano, first published in 1947, is the second novel by the English writer Malcolm Lowry, and is perhaps one of the most fascinating—as well as exhausting—novels I’ve ever come across. By today it’s regularly considered a classic text, and is routinely placed within many of the most esteemed ‘Best Of’ lists of modern literature. It’s also one of those books that seems to be referenced by many popular artists as being a huge influence on their own life and work. Bob Dylan, for example, seems to go on about it quite a lot, while Stephen Fry has named it as one of his favourite novels of all time. When I describe this novel as ‘exhausting’, I really do mean it; it’s at once complex, heavily symbolised, and utterly insane, and very often its prose diverges into near-maddening reveries that are replete with references to historical, literary and philosophical thought. I’m not necessarily saying that this is a bad thing, it just means that it takes a little while to acclimatise to the way the novel is written and what it’s trying to do. But once you really get into it, you quickly begin to realise why it’s considered such a classic.

 

It’s almost impossible to discuss Under the Volcano without going into the background of the author beforehand, because the novel is essentially about Malcolm Lowry himself, and it’s almost as if the process of writing it was for him a form of therapy. Lowry, to say the very least, was the most raging of raging alcoholics, and his severe alcoholism penetrates every aspect of the text. Lowry apparently began drinking at the age of 14, and from thereon his alcohol consumption became steadily more severe, eventually culminating in his mental breakdown and subsequent admittance into a psychiatric hospital around ten years before the publication of Under the Volcano. The prose used throughout this novel mirrors Lowry’s alcoholic delirium remarkably well; there are large parts of the novel where it even seems as if the third-person narrator himself is, well, completely off his tits. Overall, Under the Volcano is undeniably one of the definitive texts on alcoholism in all of literary fiction.

 

Related image

Malcolm Lowry

 

The novel takes place within a single day (the 2nd of November, 1938), primarily within the small Mexican town of (ahem) Quauhnahuac, during Mexico’s annual Day of the Dead festival. The central character of the story is a man named Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic British diplomat who to the locals is known simply as ‘the Consul’. The Consul is a man whose alcoholism has become so extreme that he’s no longer able to perform basic, daily tasks such as putting his socks on. The consumption of alcohol is, for him, no longer a purely pleasurable activity; he drinks to function, and without alcohol he is, quite simply, a quivering wreck. It should come as no surprise then that the Consul is based almost wholly on Lowry, and that the novel represents a largely fictionalised account of his own experiences whilst living in Mexico. Anyway, on the morning of the Day of the Dead, while the Consul is drinking whisky at a local bar, his estranged wife Yvonne meets up with him, having just returned to Mexico with the aim of seeing whether there’s anything left of their marriage to salvage or rekindle. This sparks off the events that are about to follow, and the relationship between the Consul and Yvonne, with all its tumultuousness, plays a central role in the novel’s plot.

 

Mixed up in all of this is the Consul’s half brother Hugh, who is temporarily staying at the Consul’s house in preparation for taking a long trip elsewhere on the very day that the novel is set. Jacques Laruelle, an old friend of the Consul’s who also finds residence in Quauhnahuac, is another prominent figure in the story. Both Hugh and Jacques previously had love affairs with Yvonne during the periods in which her marriage was going downhill, and in many ways their presence at Quauhnahuac throws a spanner in the works for the Consul, who, despite his personal struggles and erratic behaviour, is desperate to get back with his wife, who he still loves dearly. The latent tensions that exist between these characters deeply interweave themselves throughout the narrative, and as the novel goes on we begin to dig deeper and deeper into their histories and biographies, and the ways in which they are each connected are revealed to us. Yet all these connections revolve around one thing: the relationship between the Consul and Yvonne, and whether it’s even possible, despite their love and respect for one another, to get their marriage back on track. We finally get an answer to this impending question in the final chapter of the novel, which, without spoiling anything, culminates in a series of events that are profound, even heart breaking. The looming presence of (ahem!) Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl—a pair of enormous, unpronounceable volcanoes situated on the outskirts of Quauhnahuac—is constant throughout (hence the novel’s title), which provides the novel with an almost hellishly brooding backdrop. And whilst Iztaccihuatl lies dormant on the horizon, Popocatepetl is still very much active, and these two volcanoes can therefore be seen as a haunting and ever-present symbol of the Consul’s and Yvonne’s marriage.

 

Image result for Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl

Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, Mexico

 

The style that Under the Volcano utilises has clear links to the kinds of literary modernism previously employed by authors such as Joyce, particularly within Ulysses (which also takes place within a single day). Although whilst Ulysses’ heavy stream of consciousness narrative gives off an almost dream-like quality, the narrative style of Under the Volcano resembles more of a nightmare—a drunken nightmare, to be more exact. In many ways the novel causes the reader to feel trapped within the same vicious circle that the Consul finds himself in, and this is due in large part to its cyclical form, where it seems as if the Consul is doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. In amongst all of this are many references to other works of fiction, including those of Shakespeare, Faust and Marlowe, which sit alongside allusions to some dense Greek mythology and the Kabbalah (including many others that I’m sure went straight over my head). I mean it’s all there—Lowry was certainly never one for simplicity!

 

While Under the Volcano is far from a simple read, it’s nonetheless a really powerfully written and truly fascinating novel. It often feels like a Rubik’s cube that needs constant care and attention in order to unlock, and almost certainly requires more than one reading in order to fully comprehend it. Yet the most interesting aspect of Under the Volcano, for me, is the way in which it takes you on a hellish journey that is constantly tossing and turning you in directions that are surprising and unexpected. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who’s yearning for a different, perhaps even challenging reading experience. So just pick it up and go along for the ride!

 

by Rhys Morgan

My 2017 Cultural Highlights

Get that Chance has interviewed a range of creatives from/or based in Wales in 2017. We caught up with some of them again recently to ask them for their own cultural highlight of 2017. If you click on the links below it will take you to an interview with each contributor.

Sami Thorpe,  co-founder Elbow Room Theatre Company 

Being a part of Hijinx’s Unity Festival is a real buzz! Lots of international inclusive and accessible work taking over one public place is truly exciting.

Rachel Pedley Miller, founding director of Avant Cymru

As an audience member I still remember event  Killology at Sherman Theatre when Sion Young gestured at the end of Act 1. I nearly didn’t return for Act II, the power behind the movement still stays with me today.  Very powerful acting and directing.

On tour with Killer Cells, I sat opposite a woman at the end of one of the performances, her friend held her shoulders and we talked for an hour about her experience of loss and of having found out she too had a high level of UNK Killer Cells. The opportunity to share and come together with another individual who had experienced loss in the same way as you had, was empowering for us both – theatre making us feel less isolated in society.

Working with Ann Davies, who has been a community champion for years, who is now having her work (at the age of 65) performed  for the first time in the public domain. After years of being isolated as carer and after suffering at the hands of a dodgy home start building scheme, seeing her confidence grow and her feeling more confident, has been a happy result of collaboration.

Bethany Seddon, theatre designer

Well I’ve been on maternity leave most of the year so haven’t seen anything unfortunately but I’ve absolutely loved returning to work with such a wonderfully supportive creative team on Flossy and Boo, The Alternativity. I haven’t laughed so much during meetings or felt so at ease discussing concepts and ideas!

Gareth Coles  /  Voluntary Arts Wales Director  /  Cyfarwyddwr Celfyddydau Gwirfoddol Cymru

My cultural highlight of 2017 was an exhibition in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, which I returned to many times. Displayed in a darkened room, Nature’s Song: Chinese Bird and Flower Painting, was a breathtaking collection of beautiful ink paintings. As an artist myself, with a regrettable tendency to overwork my drawings and get lost in details, I learned so much about the expressive and economical use of a single brush stroke: representing shimmering leaves and blades of grass, and evoking whole landscapes.
 I would have to go for the National Theatre’s productions of Angels in America. Firstly what a dream to see such an iconic piece of theatre in such a wonderful space. Secondly, the imagery Tony Kushner writes is spellbinding and how they staggering, breathtakingly captured these images was extraordinarily. How can you not like a piece of theatre which has this line written in it?  ‘I don’t understand why I am not dead? When your heart breaks, you should die’.

Patrick Jones, Poet and playwright 

Comedy Mark Thomas
TV Motherland. People Just Do Nothing
Poetry Pascale Petit Mama Amazonica
Music Godspeed You Black Emperor Luciferian Towers
BooK The Poetry Pharmacy by William Sieghart
Theatre Touch by Vicky Jones (Soho Theatre)

 

Emily Wilden, actor, writer and creator of Sunday Night Stories 

I’d like to mention the work of the Cardiff Fringe for continually producing accessible and exciting pieces of theatre for all.

Also Omidaze theatres production/school workshops of Romeo & Juliet, bringing Shakespeare and politics into schools and making it fun and understandable for children of all ages.

 

My cultural highlight was seeing Dirty Protests Sugar Baby at Summerhall Edinburgh. It was brilliant to experience a story so deeply rooted in Cardiff with people from all over the world.
Poetic and profane, the Jean Michel Basqiuat retrospective at The Barbican stood out. Not only were we given insight into the man and the 80’s New York art scene, the paintings had room to speak for themselves.

My professional cultural highlight (for work that I was involved in) was Disgo Distaw Owain Glyndwr Silent Disco by Light Ladd & Emberton – an entertaining and meaningful production which engaged hundreds of people, and has since been nominated for a tourism business innovation award.

My personal cultural highlight was reading His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet with CardiffRead – an absorbing and detailed book about a historical murder that built to an intense climax, through twists and turns, and at the end, left the reader as the judge… It was nominated for and should have won the Booker prize!

To choose one personal cultural highlight when despite all else culture has delivered so many uplifting and joyous moments in my life is invidious but (and apologies to Celtic Connections Glasgow, Shrewsbury Folk Festival, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band, Girl from the North Country, Rhiannon Giddens, Black RATs’ One Man Two Guv’nors and Nye & Jennie) my singular choice has to be Theatr na nÓg’s “Eye of the Storm” at Taliesin Arts Centre Swansea last month.  Inspirational, realistic, provocative and all delivered by a superbly talented cast bouncing off a superb script from Geinor Styles and a wonderful soundtrack penned by Amy Wadge.  I maybe now the proud chair of that company but this would have made it anyway on merit!
My cultural highlight for 2017 was Alice Birch’s Anatomy of a Suicide which played at London’s Royal Court – breathtaking in the way it dealt with a tricky subject matter with such heart and rigour as well as being formally inventive as three timelines play out simultaneously I both enjoyed the production at the time and have returned to it in my mind since. I hope that in 2018 I will write something half as good – the memory of it spurs me on.
My cultural highlight of 2017 was Tai Bach Panto in Port Talbot. This year was Cinderella’s Golden Ball which marked the pantos 50th anniversary. Written, produced, directed and performed by a cast of mainly steelworkers (who work their socks off for the love of it!) It brings the town together for a good old knees up. Debaucherous, anarchic and definitely not for kids – I laughed so hard my face hurt!
Alex Griffin-Griffiths in Dirty Protest’s Sugar Baby by Alan Harris. Sion Daniel Young in Killology directed by Rachel O’Riordan and written by Gary Owen at the Sherman. Lastly Seanmhair by Hywel John directed by Kate Wasserberg at The Other Room.

 

Kelly Jones,  writer and theatre maker

My cultural/personal highlights of 2017 were 1) Seeing Anatomy of a Suicide at the Royal Court 2) Being invited onto the Emerging Writers Programme at The Bush and 3) Securing funding from Arts Council Wales to research the need for a Queer Arts Collective in Wales.

My cultural highlight of 2017 is A Regular Little Houdini by Flying Bridge Theatre. I saw it at Chapter in late January and it’s stayed with me all year. Resourceful and heartwarming.
My cultural highlight of 2017 has to be an extraordinary weekend spent in Hwacheon, South Korea, in September, where I was lucky enough to watch Welsh, Korean, Japanese and Indian artists collaborate with each other and the local community, as part of our Artists’ Playground residency. Seeing all these great artistic minds swapping ideas, trying new approaches, finding common ground and different perspectives – often despite real language barriers – was awe-inspiring.
For me – Reasons to be Cheerful from Graeae – uplifting and deeply unashamedly political.  Slava’s Snow Show – always stunning – always magical! And finishing on a high with  the wonderful Likely Story’s The Giant Who Has No Heart in His Body.  Oh and I also enjoyed Flossy and Boo’s Alternativity… great to see some strong female led work and wonderful to see so much clowning!
 Joe Fletcher, Lighting Designer and scenographer
I would have a special mention for Sugar Baby written by Alan Harris and produced by Dirty Protest at Edinburgh. Also the screening of Macbeth in cinemas by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and the screening of PARADE by National Dance Company Wales on BBC4 all rather rather special!
Gavin Porter Film Maker and Clore Fellow
My Welsh highlight was RATS, written and directed by Kyle Legall, a theatre production and  director that isn’t afraid to break conventions. My national highlight was Barber Shop Chronicles at the National Theatre, an intelligent, energetic and beautifully written show.
Matthew Bulgo Actor and Playwright
My cultural highlight for 2017 was PALMYRA at Summerhall during the Edinburgh Fringe. In turn both hilarious and arresting, witty and profound.

The Get the Chance team choose their Cultural Highlights of 2017

We asked our team to choose their three cultural highlights of the year, along with a favourite event and/or organisation. Enjoy reading their individual responses below.

Young Critic,  Gareth Williams

Junkyard: A New Musical (Theatr Clwyd, Mold) Real, raw, inventive, inspiring; provoking and entertaining social commentary; one of the most original pieces of theatre I think I’ve come across this year, with an exceptional cast, script, and set design.

Alice in Wonderland (Storyhouse, Chester)
A truly charming and inventive take on this well-known tale; a talented cast who brought the characters of Lewis Carroll’s beloved children’s classic to life in vivid detail; perfect family viewing; the standout show of Storyhouse’s opening season.

Broken (BBC Drama Series)
Sean Bean was excellent as the passionate yet broken priest trying to make a difference in a Northern working-class community; as always from writer Jimmy McGovern, a piece which dealt with contemporary social issues in an engaging, challenging and no-nonsense way; a beautiful portrait of contemporary Christian faith.

The opening of Storyhouse in Chester

A wonderful addition to the North Wales/North West England arts scene. A stunning building with a beautiful theatre, modern cinema, integrated library, and plenty of communal spaces. An arts space that is truly for the community, that is already making a positive impact on the city and its people through various projects, shows and initiatives.

Community Critic Kevin Johnson

Hamlet. Andrew Scott gave what I can only described as an Irish Hamlet, sad, bittersweet and quietly morose. He sees the humour through the madness and the sorrow, yet his heartbreak was always just behind his eyes. Like some romantic hero of legend, dark and brooding, he used this masterfully to make us care for the Dane all the more.

The setting was modern, innovative and intriguing. The play began with coverage of the funeral straight from a Danish cable news channel. The play within the play took centre stage, the cast sitting in the front row among us, their faces thrown by video onto screens around the auditorium. A clever use of old and new. They wore tuxedos as if at the opera, and were covered by cameras as such.

In other modern twists Polonius had dementia, Rosencranz and Guilderstern were a couple, and both Hamlet and his mother spoke with Irish accents, unlike Claudius. A superb and thoughtful production that gave me new insight into the play.

My second choice is Angels In America, the first London revival since the original in 1992. With Andrew Garfield taking the lead of Prior Walter, this was a huge play, both in ambition, talent and scope. Performed in two parts, it’s just over eight hours in total, but amazingly the time went by so fast.

Garfield won the Evening Standard Award for Best Actor but Nathan Lane is equally as good as the venal Roy Cohn, hurling racist insults from his sick bed at his nurse, and threatening his doctors with lawsuits, it was still hard not to be moved as he fought for his life using every dirty trick in the book.

Although I thought it slightly bloated, and perhaps too self-indulgent in places, the sheer audacity of the play steamrollers over such quibbles. This was a tour de force if ever there was one.

My third production is The Cherry Orchard, a homegrown reworking of Chekhov set in Pembroke in 1982. It made me so proud to see such a great play from a Welsh company, easily the equal of anything I’ve seen in the West End.

I’ve been a fan of writer Gary Owen since seeing Iphigenia In Splott, and Killology, also Sherman Theatre productions, and this was the ‘cherry’ on the cake, pun intended! The whole cast contributed to making it truly memorable, with Mathew Bulgo in particular creating a nuanced performance that defied good or bad and was just human.

Unsurprisingly then, my favourite company and venue of the year was the Sherman Theatre. As a theatregoer, I’ve been welcomed by every member of staff, it’s foyer is roomy and full of comfy chairs and sofas, and they continually produce work of the highest order, on both the small theatre and the large. Outstanding.

My cultural highlight of the year is a little unusual, given so many wonderful choices, but I’ve chosen Slava’s Snow Show. Premiering in 1992, it has toured all over the world, usually at Christmas. I’ve missed seeing it so many times, so when it played the Millennium Centre I was determined to catch it. And catch it I did.

Simply put, I was enchanted. When I tell you that I don’t like clowns, and that the entire cast are dressed as sad, world-weary clowns, you can see what an achievement this was!

There was no dialogue as such, no plot, and I can’t even begin to describe what went on, yet it evoked such joy and wonder in me that I remembered what it was like to be a child again. Suitable for ages 3-90, I’ve never seen anything that unites all the generations this way.

Created by Slava Polunin, a Russian clown and mime, its won several awards around the world, including the Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience. I think that sums it up nicely.

Young Critic,  Sebastian Calver

Oslo,  National Theatre

The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic

Heinsberg, The Uncertainty Principle

3rd Act Critic, Helen Joy

This is difficult as this year, I was very selective and so was privileged to experience some truly brilliant performances. With one exception. My top top event, was the Hot Tub extravaganza and in part because of my involvement and also because it was so outside my ken. Talking about our engagement with the arts here in Wales and as inconvenient wimmin of a certain age, was most refreshing!

Shadow Aspect, Ballet Cymru. Casting light into dark places.

Le Vin Herbe. WNO Perfect. Simply perfect.

My venue of 2017 would have to be Blackwood Miners Institute. Welcoming, warm, good facilities, parking and a very personable attitude.

My Company of 2017 is Black Rat Productions. For making us laugh. Never underestimate the power of a well produced comedy. One Man Two Guvnors. Good hearty stuff!

Community Critic, Steph Back

You’ve Got Dragons, Taking Flight.

Slava’s Snow Show

Fear, Mr and Mrs Clark.

Young Critic, James Briggs

La Cage Aux Folles, New Theatre Cardiff. Such an emotive and fun musical in which the story is still very prominent today.

Anton and Erin Swing Time– A much needed touch of class from years gone by. Celebrating the best of dance and ballroom.

A Judgement in Stone– A classic murder mystery that left the audience on the edge of their seats. An amateur sleuths idea of heaven.

My Cultural event of 2017. Celebrating the New Year in London watching Cinderella the Pantomime at the London Palladium and watching the fireworks from along the river bank.

My company of 2017 is  Cinderella at the London Palladium. A stellar cast that really did bring everything to the pantomime. With names including Paul O’Grady, Julian Clary, Lee Mead and many more it was ‘the’ theatre experience of 2017.

3rd Act Critic,  Ann Davies 

Swarm, Fio Productions

Rhondda Road, Avant Cymru and RCT Theatres

Art in the Attic

I would like to highlight the work of Rachel Pedley and Avant Cymru during 2017.

A venue of great importance to me during 2017 has been The Factory, Jenkin Street, Porth RCT.

Community Critic,  Hannah Goslin

Running Wild, Theatre Royal Plymouth
The production took a book from the well known writer Michael Morpurgo (of War Horse fame) and just like War Horse, transformed the stage with great creativity to take us to different places, and make us believe that the animals were real on stage with intricate puppetry.

Flossy and Boo: The Alternativity, The Other Room, Cardiff
This show brings a different taste to the usual Christmas shows full of kids entertainment and religious entail. Flossy and Boo create and exciting, fun and fully adult show to get you in the Christmas spirit but laugh at it satirically. Full of unusual concepts, music and lots of comedy, The Alternativity really gets you in the mood for Christmas.

Fourteen Days, BalletBoyz, Exeter Northcott
An arrangement of dance pieces, all with different concepts, BalletBoyz manage to astound yet again with their seamless movement, great acting and wonderful stamina. Balletboyz seem to only get better and better.

My Company of 2017 must be BalletBoyz. They are  just incredible!

3rd Act Critic, Roger Barrington

The Wind in the Willows, Sherman Theatre. Great fun, highly creative with a very talented production team.

The Cherry Orchard, Sherman Theatre.

Little Wolf, Lucid.

The best exhibition I have seen this year is : Swaps – David Hurn – An outstanding and important exhibition at the National Museum Wales .

Young Critic,  Sian Thomas

Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival, particularly the event in mid July (but all the events were stunning) where I read some of my own work. I met great people and had a wonderful time and it has definitely shaped my year. I’ve become more confident with sharing my own work and have enjoyed events later into the night too, which isn’t something I did enjoy before this festival.

Layton’s Mystery Journey. Even though I didn’t enjoy the game I think playing it and experiencing a franchise I’ve loved in the past in the present was important for me. It made me realise that things don’t always survive my rosé-tinted glasses of nostalgia, and upon taking them off I’ve grown a little as a person. I know my interests much better, I know what upsets me in media much better, and I know my inner circle of friends much better, based on how we all reacted. Sometime positive can come from something initially negative, and I’m glad something has.

Iain Thomas’ “300 Things I Hope”, something I read very early on in the year and something that has been the brightest spot of almost literal sunshine on my bookshelf ever since! It’s a book I’ve traded with friends so we can see which ones stick out to us, it’s a book that spurred me on in my own below-the-radar poetry endeavours, the book that hundreds of sticky notes stick out off, and it’s the book that I like to pull down every so often and flip to a page and remember exactly why I love it.

My company of 2017 would again be Cardiff Fringe. Discovered it this summer and have been attending the monthly fringe cafes in The Gate ever since! It’s been a great time and one I hope to carry on attending. I look forward to see where it goes in 2018!

My personal cultural highlight would probably be the day I finished the first draft of my book – August 12th, 2017! I’m making progress on my goals! I’m on a second draft right now, and could not be more thankful for this year. I’ve had a really great one!

Community Critic,  Gemma Treharne Foose

Swarm, Fio Productions

The Mountaintop, Fio Productions

Sunny Afternoon, Wales Millennium Centre

The best company for me in 2017 is Fio for pushing the boundaries of theatre and creating thoughtful and impactful pieced by working with community groups. They also incorporate hard to reach voices in to their work.

The best venue for me in 2017  is Sherman Theatre for the work they do in supporting new voices in theatre, and the efforts they go to in order to make theatre an inclusive, accessible experience.

But I suppose two of my biggest personal highlights this year were finally getting to see the American Folk/Indie group Bon Iver. I’ve followed them for many years and never been able to get tickets for as they typically sell out instantly and cause websites to crash, etc. I once even considered flying to Hong Kong to see them on their Asian tour before realising that was a bonkers idea. My husband surprised me twice this year with tickets to see Bon Iver headline the Forbidden Fruit Festival in Dublin in June, then again in September at Blackpool Winter Gardens. My husband isn’t the biggest Justin Vernon/Bon Iver fan but it meant the absolute world to me. Through the concerts, I was also introduced to the work of Lisa Hannigan and The Staves, which I’ve really enjoyed since the Dublin concert. I wouldn’t say I am massively up to date, experimental or fashionable when it comes to music – I like what I like, but despite the horrendous rain and mud, these two concerts were so meaningful for me. I’ve promised my husband I won’t make him sit through any more whiny Justin Vernon music in 2018. But this of course now means I will be dragged to some kind of weird Cajun/Zydeko/Blues music fest. There’s always a trade-off!

Young Critic, Vicky Lord

Woman in Black. New Theatre, Cardiff. It was something truly different. Obviously it was still scary to the point of terrifying but there were just so many layers of meaning that were left unsaid so that the audience could figure them out it was just truly flawless.

Blood Brothers, New Theatre, Cardiff

Miss Saigon, Wales Millennium Centre

My favourite cultural moment was seeing Lenny’s disability named as Dyspraxia in the August 012, Chapter Arts Centre production of ‘Of Mice and Men.’

Best Organisation, Wales Millennium Centre. It provides a gorgeous temporary home for West End hits allowing people who can’t travel to London the chance to see them.

Community Critic,  Emily Garside

La Cage Aux Folles, New Theatre

Rent, WMC

Where Do Little Birds Go, Cardiff Fringe

My company of 2017 is Taking Flight, particularly for their work with young people.

Young Critic Corrine Cox

The Cherry Orchard, Sherman Theatre

Sunny Afternoon, Wales Millennium Centre

In terms of inspirational organisations in 2017, I’d pick National Museum Wales for being genuinely collaborative and inclusive.  I have loved their 2017 programming (especially Artes Mundi, Gillian Aires, Agatha Christie photos and Who Decides?) I am also following the exciting developments and vision for St Fagans.

Artes Mundi was personal cultural event of 2017. I found Lamia Joreige’s Beirut piece really interesting and loved Bedwyr Williams’ Big Cities –  I think I went back to see the exhibition four times I enjoyed it so much!

Community Critic, Barbara Hughes Moore

The Cherry Orchard, Sherman Theatre. This was not only a pitch-perfect translation of the source material, but a highly relatable, funny and melancholy family drama.

Rip it Up, St Davids Hall. A sublime show, what it lacked in narrative it made up for in energy, fun, and spectacular dancing.

Burning Lantern, St Fagan’s. Despite Queue-Gate, the musical acts were stunning, sublime, and sung their hearts out.

I’d have to nominate  Sherman Theatre for my venue of 2017. We on the Law and Literature module at Cardiff have been linked up with Sherman Theatre since 2016, and they have been nothing but supportive, encouraging and welcoming – we have even built in their plays, performances and most recently a post show discussion panel into our module – and I was honoured to be on the post show discussion panel for The Cherry Orchard. They have also kindly come in to speak to our students at lectures – most recently Tim Howe, Communities and Engagement coordinator, led a very successful session on Law, Theatre and Performance, and our Law and Lit students were highly interested and engaged.

My favourite cultural event of the year was Pride 2017/ Return of the Big Weekend. It was my first Pride and it was utterly joyous, especially (or perhaps deliberately & defiantly in spite of) all the dreadful things that happened earlier in the year & the year before. It was beautifully, joyously defiant.

Young Critic, Eloise Stingemore

Funny Girl, Wales Millennium Centre.  Sheridan Smith was outstanding, any misconceptions I had about her being the right person for the role where blown out of the water the minute she belted out the first song of the show.

Grease, Wales Millennium Centre. A show that I never wanted to end, a truly spectacular musical in every sense of the word, I want to hand jive baby for days after.

Dinosaur Babies, National Museum of Wales. A truly amazing exhibition for all ages and is worthy of going on tour all across the country with ‘made in wales’ (and with a little bit of help from America) being proudly stamped on it.

My personal cultural of event 2017 was the  way the whole of Wales not just the Capital got behind our boys in wishing and dreaming them in qualifying  for the World Cup. It seemed that the papers and even just people on the streets whether the be commuting to and from work or having a drink in the pub where talking about it and with so much pride that it made my proud to be Welsh.

Community Critic, Patrick Downes

The Addams Family Musical at Wales Millennium Centre

For a musical to have such an effect on me after hearing the songs for one time, it’s something a little special Creep, cooky, and altogether brilliant all round performance

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part 1 & 2 – Much anticipated, did not let me down!

Coldplay at Principality Stadium – Fourth time seeing the band, first time on home soil – Just stunning, even thinking about the night sends goosebumps up my arm

Cultural event; Tiger Bay The Musical, Wales Millennium Centre

Best Venue – Wales Millennium Centre – With a mix of populist, and culture for all ages.

Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace) Revisited by Rhys Morgan

I don’t necessarily have a favourite novel of all time, but if I were ever pressed to choose a work of fiction that has captivated and has brought me the most joy whilst reading it I would probably opt for Infinite Jest by the late American author David Foster Wallace. It sometimes feels like a bit of a cop out saying this, or a bit cliché, because it seems as if many readers of my generation—well, in America anyway—would arrive at the same decision. Much like Nirvana’s Nevermind, Infinite Jest carved its way into the cultural milieu of the 1990s with such force that it almost goes without saying that it’s one of the greatest artistic endeavours of the decade—and perhaps even the century—within which it was produced. And in tandem with the music of Nirvana, its legacy owes much to (and is intricately wrapped up in) the counterculture of its time—or more specifically, a category of young people known colloquially as ‘Generation X’. By the end of 1996 (the year it was published), Infinite Jest had sold well in excess of 40,000 copies, and as of today its sales have exceeded one million, making it an enormous commercial success.

 

Yet when we analyse the success and popularity of Infinite Jest a bizarre paradox can be seen: loads of people bought it, but very few actually read it! This may have been in part down to its reputation as a complex and impenetrable novel, but its size was certainly a determining factor too. In appearance it’s practically a modern day War and Peace; a weighty tome coming in at over a thousand, densely written pages in length. Perhaps the reason that so many people bought it (particularly male college students) without ever reading it was so they could display it on their dormitory bookshelves as a symbol of the alternative, intellectual lives that they led, possibly in the hope of getting laid. But in my opinion, these two points are mere illusions. Yes the book is complex, but certainly not impenetrable, even with its often experimental and mutable prose: its contents are beautiful, moving, funny and thoroughly entertaining. And while it does take you on an intricately textured journey into the nature of humanity and society at large, it’s written in such a way as to make its philosophical meaning instantly perceptible, by striking at the heart of your own experiences as a human being. Referring to its size, superficially it does look daunting: I was most definitely intimidated by its heft to begin with. But because it’s such an entertaining novel it never feels like a chore to read; you become so invested in the story it has to tell that you just want to keep on reading and reading and reading. At one point I can remember noticing that I was just over halfway through, and this realisation disheartened me in a way because I simply didn’t want the novel to end.

 

Related image

David Foster Wallace

 

I suppose the main reason I’m writing this piece is due to the fact that in the UK Infinite Jest doesn’t seem all that famous, even among avid readers. I’d never heard of it until a close friend of mine recommended it to me, and to this day she’s the only person I know who’s read it and who I can discuss it with. This is such a shame, as I see Infinite Jest as one of those novels that every reader, regardless of age, sex or background, should consume at some point in their lives.

 

In trying to sum up the plot of Infinite Jest, I find it helpful to draw on the TV show The Wire as a useful point of comparison: it’s made up of several stories which at first appear separate but which eventually come together to form a cohesive whole. And much like in The Wire, each narrative and story builds up to an astonishingly rich view of the fictional world within which the novel is set, where every little detail counts. This fictional world is set in the not-too-distant future, where the USA, Canada and Mexico have formed a political union and which now exist as a kind of superstate known officially as the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.). In addition to that of political space, the concept of time has also changed quite drastically, and is now governed by something called ‘Subsidized Time’, where each year is both subsidized and named after a certain corporate sponsor. We have, for example, the ‘Year of the Whopper’, the ‘Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar’, and the ‘Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland’, which all lead up to the ‘Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment’, in which the majority of the novel takes place. Indeed, the world of O.N.A.N. is completely dominated by corporate advertising, which impinges unrelentingly on the lives of its inhabitants and which seems to affect every aspect of their daily routines. The central hub of the novel’s plot is the city of Boston, Massachusetts and its immediate environs. Set within and around the city are three focal locations: the Enfield Tennis Academy (E.T.A.) where young, aspiring tennis prodigies are sent to develop their skills in the aim of becoming professional players; Ennet House, a rehabilitation centre in which drug addicts and alcoholics recover from their illness; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), from which a prominent radio show is aired. A significant chunk of the novel also takes place within the mountains of Tuscon, Arizona, where a politically- and philosophically-charged conversation between two characters ensues, which encompasses some of the main themes and messages that the novel attempts to express.

 

Related image

Modern day Boston, Massachusetts

 

Thematically speaking, it would be impossible for me to even scratch the surface of Infinite Jest’s ideas and motifs within a short online article, such as this is. But I will briefly discuss two of the most important ones. Addiction, both as an illness and a concept, represents an all-pervading presence within the novel; several key characters are battling their dependency to hard drugs like crack and heroin, principally those who end up as residents at Ennet House. As an ex-addict myself, I found this all very poignant, mainly because the ways in which David Foster Wallace deals with this topic are so utterly realistic and identifiable. A life of drug addiction is simple and manageable, while the alternative—the recovery—is almost unimaginably complicated as it runs the risk of leaving oneself open to feeling emotions that desperately need suppressing. Yet Infinite Jest shows us that drug and alcohol dependency are only a small facet of addiction, and that potentially harmful addictive tendencies penetrate each of our lives, whether we realise it or not. The inhabitants of O.N.A.N., for example, have access to a form of digital media known as ‘InterLace’, which allows them to watch any TV show or film or sports event (and so on) ever recorded whenever they want. In this sense, when reading Infinite Jest we are confronted with an entire nation addicted to watching TV, and anyone who binge-watches Netflix content today will find this hauntingly familiar. The acronym ‘O.N.A.N.’ is deliberately chosen here: it’s a reference to onanism, and it’s basically telling us that this fictional nation is consumed by addiction and hedonistic behaviour to such an extent that it might as well be continually masturbating all day, everyday. I guess what David Foster Wallace is saying here is that addiction forms a fundamental and inescapable aspect of human life, and that freedom from addiction (paradoxically) comes in the form of choosing what we may or may not be addicted to.

 

Image result for infinite jest

The addict’s perception of self

 

Another of the novel’s key themes is communication, or more specifically the transferal of thoughts and ideas from one person to another. This is represented primarily through the character of James Incandenza: a seminal filmmaker who becomes disillusioned with the avant-gardism of his earlier work and who later tries to communicate his ideas in a more accessible way through the medium of action movies. This obsession drives him to a life of chronic alcoholism and he ends up committing suicide by cooking his own head inside a microwave, which happens shortly before the novel is set. Later on, James Incandenza takes on an almost god-like presence in his ability to affect the lives and decisions of the novel’s characters, even from beyond the grave, and he may therefore be seen as an extension of the author himself. David Foster Wallace came from a strong postmodernist tradition (a movement known for its complex and often incoherent content), and it’s possible that within Infinite Jest he is desperately trying to drag postmodernism kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but in a far more accessible and entertaining form. In other words, it seems as if his yearning to communicate his ideas more coherently forms the entire basis of this novel, and that an inability to do so was a consistent source of fear for him. Yet this fear moves well beyond the realm of artistic expression; it encroaches into our own daily lives and thought processes, as a person’s failure to communicate their thoughts clearly to another person is surely a sign of their own insanity.

 

Related image

James Incandenza’s suicide

 

I’m not saying that Infinite Jest is one of the greatest novels ever written—I feel like there are very few people sufficiently qualified to draw that conclusion, and I’m certainly not one of them. I’m not even saying that Infinite Jest is perfectly written: there are parts that seem pretentious, even intellectually ostentatious. The insistent use of endnotes is a key example, which aren’t really endnotes at all but are actually integral elements of the novel itself, packaged in an academic way. But for me, one of the amazing things about Infinite Jest is that its story and its characters are so compelling, so thoroughly well written, that I’m able to forgive all of its shortcomings. And who knows, maybe upon rereading it I may even grow to love them. Once I finally finished reading this novel, I had the instant realisation that David Foster Wallace quite literally poured everything he had into it. It can be seen as a mirror to his own psyche—a near-perfect reflection of it. His passions, his fears, his intellect, even his own mental illness—which eventually led to his suicide in 2008 and which caused him to do some questionable things throughout his life beforehand—can all be picked out within the text. And upon researching the history of Infinite Jest, it’s easy to see why this is. The writer Mark Costello (who is David Foster Wallace’s former housemate), once intimated that the process of working on this novel kept David Foster Wallace from killing himself in the early 90s; he said that while he was writing it he, temporarily at least, stopped feeling bad about himself.

 

Overall, Infinite Jest is a truly incredible novel, and despite its reputation I believe it’s one that anyone can pick up and enjoy. It’s also a rather unique experience; I can’t really think of any other novel I’ve read that manages to create a fictional world that is both gargantuan in scope and encyclopaedic in detail, but which simultaneously revolves around an intensely character-driven plot. Thinking back on it, I really cherish the time I spent reading Infinite Jest, and I’m actually saddened by the idea that I’ll probably never read anything like it again.

 

by Rhys Morgan

An Interview with Artist and Illustrator Emily Jones

The director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with Artist Emily Jones. They discussed her training,  being named runner-up in the Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize 2017 for graphic short story: Dennis and June and her most  recent work for Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.

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

Hello, I grew up in Tyneside but I’ve lived in Cardiff for many years now. I studied illustration for children’s books at art college as that’s the branch of illustration I’m really passionate about. Although, I do enjoy drawing cartoons of Donald Trump and other political figures that I find ludicrous! Being an illustrator isn’t my full time job as I prefer the balance of being able to draw and paint when I want, without the worry or pressure of relying on it for an income.

So what got you interested in Illustration?

I had two lovely teachers in primary school and they encouraged me to draw. They made me realise that you could draw pictures for a living. I loved picture books in particular and I had my favourite illustrators who I aspired to be like. I think I’ve always been fascinated with images and how someone has created them.

How has your career as an illustrator developed?

A few years ago, I began renting out an art studio so I had the space to work in a more professional manner rather than just working at home in front of the TV. This really changed things and along with posting my work on social media, I have slowly but surely become busier and better.

Your personalised pet portraits are particularly popular with your work appearing in 1000 Dog Portraits by Rockport Publishers? Can you tell our readers how you got involved in pet portraits? Do you have a favourite animal to illustrate?

I painted my partner’s dog Scooby and it all started from there. I showed the painting to a few people and before long I was being asked to paint their cat or dog. I think painting pets is a great way for any artist to get commissioned as it’s artwork that is really accessible for people to buy. I love painting all sorts of animal but the more animated the creature is, the more fun I find it to be.

Over the last three years you have been commissioned by  Sherman Theatre to produce images for the seasonal productions The Princess and The Pea, The Emperor’s New Clothes and this year you have designed the posters for Hud y Crochan Uwd / The Magic Porridge Pot and for the first time the main stage Christmas production The Wind in the Willows . Can you tell us how you approach illustrating such popular classics for the stage?

Well I begin by doing a lot of research on how other artists have illustrated these classic stories. I then do my best to create an image which is original as well as instantly recognisable. The images have to grab attention of both children and adults and hopefully it will make people want to see the show.

The image for Hud Y Crochan Uwd/The Magic Porridge Pot, Sherman Theatre. 

Your Wind in the Willows illustration has been developed into an animated trailer this year. Is this a first for you?

Yes it was and it was brilliant to see the image move! The artwork I create for Sherman Theatre is always created in separate layers. This enables the designers to move around the different components to fit whatever format the advert will appear; be it posters, flyers, web-banners etc. Of course, this also enabled the designers to create an animated trailer which is just awesome!

Do you have any illustrators or artists that inspire you?

There are tons! Quentin Blake has always been there as a favourite, as has Edward Gorey. They are experts at depicting characters with seemingly simple pen lines. Shaun Tan’s work is incredible and I wish I had a fraction of his talent! I love Júlia Sardà, David Roberts, Isabelle Arsenault, Alex T. Smith, Michael Sowa, Mateo Dineen, Rebecca Dautremer. They are a just a few! I study their work and try to figure out how they do what they do. They make me feel totally inferior but at the same time, inspire me and enthuse me to create my next best piece; which is definitely a good thing.

Images by Júlia Sardà, Shaun Tan, Edward Gorey and Quinten Blake

Congratulations on being named runner-up in the Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize 2017 for your Graphic short story: Dennis and June. This work is in a digital medium can you discuss how this differs from your painted work?

I recently bought a Huion Graphics tablet so I can draw and colour digitally. It makes illustrating in this comic style so much faster. When I heard about the graphic novel competition, I knew I’d have to create it digitally as painting the way I do, takes so long. Plus, the comic style suits the story much better. Creating digital work has a freedom to it. Mistakes can be easily erased and colouring is instant but physically painting an image will probably always be my favourite way to illustrate.

An image from Dennis and June you can read the full story at the link above

If any of our readers are aspiring illustrators what advice could you offer them?

Draw as often as possible. It seems obvious but you have to practice. Drawing from life is a brilliant way to improve your skills and develop your style. Having a recognisable style is important and it’s something I haven’t mastered yet. But the more work I do, the more I learn and develop. I just wish there was more time in the day to draw!

What do you have planned for the future?

Well, I’ve been having various successes in illustration competitions and I’m hoping this will lead to greater things in the publishing world. I have a couple of children’s books to work on, more images for children’s theatre and when I find the time, I’ll create another graphic story.

You have also designed the images for the 2018 Sherman Theatre Christmas productions  Hugan Fach Goch/Little Red Riding Hood and Alice In Wonderland. As a Wales based artist what does the support of Sherman Theatre mean to you personally?

I’ve created images for The Sherman for a while now and it’s always a proud moment seeing my artwork representing their shows. The Sherman has given me huge confidence in regards to my ability as an illustrator and I hope to work with them for years to come.

Image for Hugan Fach Goch/Little Red Riding Hood

Image for Alice in Wonderland

Thanks for your time Emily.

You can check out more or Emily’s work at the link

Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) Revisited by Rhys Morgan

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is one of those novels that has stuck with me for pretty much my entire life. Its content—the story, the themes and the prose—have been etched into my mind ever since reading it for the first time as a teenager, and because of this (along with its miniscule size—you could easily read it in a single afternoon) it’s a novel that I go back to time and time again.

 

Joseph Conrad’s legacy within the modern Western canon is clear, and need not be discussed or regurgitated at length here. But it’ll suffice to say that it would be a hard task finding any author of fiction writing in the twentieth or twenty-first centuries who doesn’t owe at least something to his work. This is remarkable considering that Conrad himself wasn’t a fluent English speaker until he reached his twenties (he was born and raised within the Russian Empire in the mid-nineteenth century and emigrated to Britain later on).

 

Heart of Darkness is easily Conrad’s most well known novel. This may be in part down to the popularity of the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, which serves as a loose adaptation of the novel. Actually, this film acted for me as a gateway to Heart of Darkness—I had no idea the novel even existed before watching Apocalypse Now. This really is testament to the power of Conrad’s writing, because even though Apocalypse Now takes place almost a century after the novel does, and is therefore set within entirely different historical settings, its themes still translate with near-perfect precision.

 

Poster for the film Apocalypse Now (1979)

 

From reading its very first page you get the instant impression that Heart of Darkness is written in quite a unique way. It employs a first person narrative, yet the narrator is a nameless nobody—we learn next to nothing about him throughout the course of the story. The only thing we ever really learn about the narrator is that he is an idealistic young mariner working on board a cruising yawl (the Nellie) set to depart from London. Heart of Darkness employs a frame narrative, so the purpose of the narrator is to detail the experiences of the novel’s true main character (Charles Marlow) who is telling a story of his expeditions through the Congo Free State to the mariners aboard the Nellie. The telling of this story encompasses the entirety of the novel.

 

Related image

Illustration of a steamboat traveling along the Congo River

 

Fundamentally, Heart of Darkness is about Western colonialism, and Marlow’s story brilliantly encapsulates all the horrors associated with this movement. He recounts his journey along the Congo River within what was then a Belgian occupied territory, with the prime objective of meeting an ivory trader known as Mr. Kurtz (the novel’s antagonist). Throughout his journey, Marlow discovers that Mr. Kurtz has adopted an almost legendary status as the finest Western agent within all of the Congo. Marlow even obtains a report written by Mr. Kurtz explaining how it is the White Man’s duty to spread civilization across the imperial frontiers of Africa, and we learn at this point that this is exactly what Mr. Kurtz has tried to achieve along the Congo River. Yet upon finally meeting him near the end of the novel, we are confronted with a man who has quite literally lost his mind. He has amassed an almost religious following among the natives who venerate him as a God-like being, whilst surrounding his house are wooden palisades with decaying human heads affixed to their tops (which presumably once belonged to his former prisoners). We also learn that he has begun raiding nearby villages for ivory, creating havoc among the natives. It seems that in his effort to spread civilization into the darkness of Africa, he himself has become darker, more savage, as a result.

 

Related image

Illustration of Mr. Kurtz

 

In many ways Mr. Kurtz acts as the perfect embodiment of Western colonialism, as he asks us to consider how it’s even possible for us to civilize non-Western peoples when we are not civilized ourselves. This certainly rings true today, particularly when we think of the recent Iraq and Afghan wars, along with the ways in which we’re currently dealing with the so-called Islamic State. Yet in my experience, no two readings of Heart of Darkness are ever quite the same. The parallels drawn between Belgium’s colonization of the Congo and the Roman’s conquest of the Thames, for example, are there perhaps to reminds us that colonialism represents an all-pervading aspect of the reality within which we live, and has played a major role in shaping humanity’s history. The fictionalised setting within the Congo, on the other hand, may also be seen as a playground in which moral virtues evaporate and where those who are most hungry for power come out on top. Indeed, it’s the moral standoffishness with which this novel was written that means it avoids being interpreted in any singular way. Rather, it forces you to think for yourself.

 

Despite its tiny size, Heart of Darkness is a dense and richly textured novel which makes use of some excellent prose and symbolic undertones. It really is a fantastic novel, and definitely worth a read.

 

by Rhys Morgan