Category Archives: Literature

An Interview With Welsh Playwright Owen Thomas

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

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

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

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

So, what got you interested in the arts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Are you aware of any barriers to equality and diversity for either Welsh or Wales based artists? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owen’s Writing Shed

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

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

Is there a place you go to write?

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

Writing Shed Interior

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

What excites you about the arts in Wales? 

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Murphy, Artistic Director, Sherman Theatre.

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks for your time

You are very welcome.

Review: The Grandmother’s Grimm, Some Kind Of Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, By Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

In an underground tunnel, it seems like the perfect place to set the creation and editing process of the famous Grimm Fairy tales, we all know and love.

However, there is a twist to this tale. The Grandmother’s Grimm takes a keen look into the women behind these stories; ahead of her time, Frau Hassenpflug helps the Grimm brothers to edit the horror out of the original tales, while realising how the females behind these stories are the ones being edited out. As we delve into their editorial process, we see the championing of women, at a time that the patriarchy was at full force.

This small cast need little else than their talent and enthusiasm to bring this tale to us – doubling up as the farcical characters in the fairy tales, they use little items to help bring the magic across, and this works well, triggering our own imagination.

The character’s of the Grimm brothers, Frau H and the house maid are well established and with fierce and conflicting personalities of their own – keeping to the ‘Victorian’ era that it is set, they continue the customs and attitudes of the time, filling their language and physicality with this, yet there is a modern take when Mrs H and the house maid are challenging the stereotypes and becoming just as involved and as important as the men.

The Grandmother’s Grimm is intelligent, interesting and intriguing – a really enjoyable and unusual production.   

Top Tunes with Neil Bebber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?

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

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

We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Then there’s U2’s The Joshua Tree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrie – Fear of Sound

The Teardrop Explodes – Wilder

Bauhaus – Burning From the Inside

Babybird – Ugly Beautiful/There’s Something Going On

The Walkmen – Lisbon/Pussy Cats

Lou Reed and John Cale – Songs For Drella

The Vaccines – What Did You Expect from The Vaccines

Jerry Lee Lewis – Golden Hits of Jerry Lee Lewis

Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree

Tom Waits – Mule Variations

EMF – Schubert Dip

Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits

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

Rufus Wainwright – Want One/Want Two

Slaves – Are You Satisfied?

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

Oasis – Definitely Maybe

Radiohead – The Bends

Dogs – Turn Against This Land

Rolo Tomassi – Time Will Die and Love will Bury It

Die Antwoord – Donker Mag/Ten$ion

Rammstein – Mutter

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell

Pantera – A Vulgar Display of Power

Frank – Music and Song From the Film

The Mission Soundtrack – Ennio Morricone

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

Rufus Wainwright – Want One/Want Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this? 

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

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

The song being chosen…

As my favourite…

From the albums above…

Is…

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

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

Top Tunes with Christian Patterson

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

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

This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to? 

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

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

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

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

We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why? 

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

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

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

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

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

Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this? 

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

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

Riverfront Newport – 25 September, 7.45pm BOOK NOW

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

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

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

Theatr Hafren, Newtown – 3 October, 7.45pm

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

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

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

Blackwood Miners Institute – 8 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

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

Ffwrnes, Llanelli – 10 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Lyric, Carmarthen – 11 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW



An Interview with Playwright Emily White

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


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

So what got you interested in the arts?

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

Theatr Clwyd, Artistic Director, Tamara Harvey

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision Are you aware of any barriers to equality and diversity for either Welsh or Wales based artists? 


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


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

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

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

What excites you about the arts in Wales? 

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

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

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


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

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

Review Much Ado About Nothing, Everyman Theatre, Cardiff by Rhys Payne

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Much Ado About Nothing performed by Everyman Theatre Company, Directed by David Mercatali the Cardiff open-air festival in Sophia Garden’s was a fantastic evening of classic theatre combined with extraordinary comedy.


This show had a somewhat slow start and took a while for the story to establish itself and for the audience to understand who is who and what the general ideas of the play are going to be.

Benard, who played the role of Claudio, appeared to channel a slow-witted sidekick who provided very many of the entertaining moments of this play. His physicality and facial reactions were excellent, he was very comical which had the audience laughing. It was really interesting to see this character portrayed as a side-kick to Benedick and the captain and I think this help establish the character’s position in the group.

Benedick himself, played by Luke Mercent, was a very believable ‘baby-face’ hero. He was a very relatable character while being strong and inspiring from the audience. The really interesting aspect of the character was his monologues. Traditionally, monologues are delivered on the stage as if the character is talking to themselves with the audience ‘overhearing’ it, but this production had the character of Benedick (among others) delivered their monologue within the audience and spoken directly to members of the audience.This makes it much more personal and was a really great inclusion which shows both classic theatre understanding as well as flawless modernisation from a directorial perspective. Glyn Thomas delivered a chillingly scary portrayal of the character ‘Don John’ who is the main villain of the play. His voice was frightening and he expressed the character as methodical and calculating. He personified the character perfectly and could be used as an example of how aspiring actors can play the Shakespearian villains.


One of the most comical characters in this play was dogberry who was played by Sarah Bawler. She performed this role with a strong Welsh accent and was a character of the typical Welsh women. Her chemistry with Verges, played by Phil Gerken, provided many hilarious scenes due to the contrast of the two characters.

Two of the things that this show did excellently was the use of voice and musical instruments. Many of the actors used multiple voices to show how their character really feels. We had characters vocally being scared, in love, excited and over the top fake acting (which was one of the funniest scenes in the entire play.) these were performed clearly and perfectly. The use of instruments was also fantastic as they actually had the performers play on stage. I have seen productions of shows where the actors pretend to play instruments which is obviously fake and distracting for the audience. However, this was not the case for this play and the music itself provide a small break from the complex and deep story-lines of Shakespearian theatre.

Obviously, Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy and so the directors have organised the play accordingly. They managed to perfectly blend the concept of a Shakespearian comedy (where there is a marriage, use of double entendre and irony) with modern comedy (which includes slapstick and physical comedy) to create the perfect comedy play. The reason this is so important to this play is because of the complex use of Shakespearian language, this is not something we are used to. It takes a lot of focus and concentration from the audience to fully understand what is being said and the inclusion of comedy allows a small break in the intense concentration which was done excellently by this cast.

However, I did feel that at times this play tried to be something it’s not. Much Ado is a classic piece of theatre and if the directors want to reimagine it to be modern that that is great but this play seemed to all go halfway into the new generation. At the end of the play were heard Crazy In Love being played which is an extremely modern song by Beyoncé but the play still used the traditional language and was set in a time much before this decade. Also, at two points in the play, the actors started to sing which was interesting as it is a play and not a musical. Thirdly, there was a small scene in Act Two with audience participation and people from the audience being brought onto the stage which didn’t really make sense or add to the story and in all honesty, could have not been included.

Although it was not the cast or crews’ fault, there was bar holDing up the cover of the seating which blocked my view of center stage and at times I could not see what was happening on stage and also there was very loud motorbike noises throughout which did distract from the play and made the dialogue hard to hear.


Overall, this as a play that respects the classical traditions of Shakespeare theatre while adding some new contemporary elements. The comedy in this play was excellent and the actors performed very well and made all the characters appear believable and relatable. I would rate this production 3 and a half stars and would encourage any fan of classical theatre to catch this show before it leaves the festival on Saturday the 20th July.

Review Tolkien by Jonathan Evans

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: My Bright Shadow – Patrick Jones, by leigh amor

I’m normally the person who reviews music and musicals, so I thought I’d pass Patrick’s new book to my sister in law Leigh for her to give an oversight on My Bright Shadow – Patrick Downes

It is said ‘grief is the price for love’ and this collection of poetry explores the void that is left behind after the loss of a loved one.

My Bright Shadow, by acclaimed poet Patrick Jones, offers a tender insight into grief, with almost touchable pain that defies consolation.

Yet it is the endurance of love that shines in this poetry. Bitter-sweet everyday memories of ironing, homework and hospital visits are entwined with a raw sense of loss and longing.

The universal pain of loss is quietly contemplated here, reaching out for answers and wincing at the pain it brings. Nature offers a comforting presence with beautiful imagery woven throughout, offering a thread of hope.

Haruki Murakami said ‘No truth can cure the sadness we feel from losing a loved one’. Despite Jones’ intimate search for truth and answers, it is a family’s love that is the overwhelming imprint left by this powerful collection.

Review by Leigh Amor

Review: Romeo a Juliet – Ballet Cymru, The Riverfront, Newport by Jack Hill

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Infused with that distinctly Welsh edge that sets this company apart from others, the opening night for Ballet Cymru’s 2019 tour of Romeo a Juliet was a breath-taking spectacle of love, loss, power and pain. Featuring choreography from Darius James OBE and Amy Doughty, alongside Prokofiev’s classic score, a number of new dancers to the company (and to Wales) joined the more experienced faces that will be familiar to followers of Ballet Cymru. This performance demonstrated the real depth of talent that the company attracts, nurtures, and advances.

In her premiere professional performance, dancer Danila Marzili embodied Juliet with infectious passion and grace, effectively conveying the playful and childlike elements of the character as well as the inimitable pain and heartbreak leading to her death. In her opening scene, Marzili and Krystal Lowe (portraying Juliet’s friend, her confidante, rather than her nurse) expressed such a tangible affinity with one another that, immediately, I was transported directly from Newport into Juliet’s chambers. The scene ends, along with Juliet’s childhood, as she is introduced to her arranged fiancé, Paris, danced energetically by Joshua Feist in his own premiere performance with Ballet Cymru.

Opposite Marzili as Juliet, Romeo was performed by Andrea Maria Battaggia. Battaggia is a skilful dancer who returned to Ballet Cymru this year from Ballet Ireland. Having portrayed the role in 2013, this performance demonstrated the reasons behind this reprisal in 2019. His strength and passion deliver the character’s impulsiveness, tenderness, and emotion with expert flair.

Two real stand-out performances for me were two characters that are usually side-lined as secondary in the story of Romeo and Juliet. Alex Hallas and Beth Meadway, portraying Lord and Lady Capulet, conveyed strength, coldness, wealth, and power through their bodies in such a way that every time they stepped on the stage, they owned it. The costumes adorning these two characters were highly effective at complementing their status. Meadway’s dramatic poise and striking elegance as Lady Capulet was phenomenal; only to be given more depth by the implied affection between her and Tybalt (performed adeptly by Robbie Moorcroft) and her subsequent breaking down into anguish and distress at his death. This performance makes it vastly clear that these dancers are also capable actors, with every performer fully embodying and embracing their roles on the stage.

Perhaps it’s cliché to mention, but I am unable to write a review of Romeo a Juliet without referencing the balcony scene. Expertly choreographed by James and Doughty, and skilfully danced by Battaggia and Marzili to express curiosity and the passion, this famous and relatable interaction proved hugely popular with the very diverse audience present in the theatre. The setting of this scene took my breath away; the projection of a grandiose window and the stage lighting to define the setting accompanied a simple yet effective podium to demarcate the balcony. For my daily work, I spend a lot of my professional time at the headquarters of Ballet Cymru in Rogerstone, Newport. From the first sighting of this balcony while the company were in early rehearsals, I had a real desire to go full-Romeo with, “but soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” but alas, my acting days were short-lived and I struggle to keep a straight face anymore!

Image credit Sian Trenberth

Minimalistic sets are indicative of the work of Ballet Cymru. Predominantly on the stage were moveable sheets of hanging chains which conveyed elements of wealth, grandeur, and battle. Designed by Georg Meyer-Wiel, this feature was highly effective in delineating space, serving as backgrounds for projection, and expressing the well-known building blocks of the plot of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Meyer-Wiel also designed the dancers’ costumes, with some real stand out pieces (I couldn’t decide which I preferred: the powerful black costumes of Lord and Lady Capulet, or Friar Lawrence and his entourage dressed in leather). One small criticism, however, is that I feel Paris’ green- jacketed costume was too similar in colour to that of the Montagues, and perhaps would have been more prominent if it reflected those of the senior Capulets.

Every piece of work produced by Ballet Cymru that I have seen has had intrinsically Welsh notes running through. Led by Artistic Director and proud Newport local Darius James OBE, it would be surprising to see a show from this company that didn’t include at least a few nods to Welsh culture and heritage! Romeo a Juliet did not disappoint: the title itself, a nod to the Welsh language; the projection of underneath a Newport flyover during one of the fight scenes, open to interpretation but definitely Newport; the incorporation of traditional Welsh clog dancing in time with Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights/Montagues & Capulets… Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what to expect of clog dancing mashed up with ballet (and neither were my parents, who were visiting from across the border), but when the dancers were clogging in reasonably good time with the music – masked in hoods that covered their whole faces – Lord and Lady Capulet entered, performing in a more classical ballet style befitting of their characters. The strength demonstrated by the dancers – particularly Robbie Moorcroft (Tybalt) – whilst clogging was palpable. It is this kind of flair that sets Darius James and Ballet Cymru as a real formidable force in Wales, because this scene worked. It was memorable; it was powerful; it was Welsh. And it worked.

Ballet Cymru, Artistic Director, Darius James OBE
Image credit Sian Trenberth

An integrally important responsibility of Ballet Cymru, and many other arts organisations around Wales, is to improve diverse representation within their audiences and share their art form with people who may never have entered a theatre, never mind seeing a ballet. Ballet Cymru’s Duets programme, which seeks “to support people to access dance, regardless of background, finances, race, belief, ability, and gender/orientation”, invited a number of its scholars (participants) from Moorland Primary School in Splott, Cardiff to perform the curtain-raiser at both tour dates in Newport.

Students from Moorland Primary School, Splott

Aptly named Romeo and Duets, the young people danced with skill (and to rapturous applause!) to Karl Jenkins’ Palladio, as performed by Escala. To complement this, complimentary tickets for the show and coach travel back to Cardiff were made available for the young people and members of their families. As a male adult beginner of ballet myself (I’m still aching from my second ever class as I write this!), it was refreshing to see how many boys were involved in this curtain-raiser.

It is always stimulating to see audience members experience something for the first time; four people sat on my row had never seen a ballet before, and were supporting their children in the Duets curtain-raiser. Ballet Cymru’s diverse audience, particularly when on home turf in Newport, creates a fresh and responsive feel amongst the audience which in turn connects them to the ballet they are watching. A real audience favourite was the ever flamboyant, provocative, and playful Mercutio (portrayed perfectly by Miguel Fernandes); a real excitement built up in the auditorium when he graced the stage with his presence, and almost tangible grief (at least on my row!) when Tybalt took his life at the end of Act II.

Ballet Cymru’s 2019 tour of Romeo a Juliet will continue across the UK throughout June and into July. In addition to this, in partnership with Wales Arts International, the company will be touring three cities in China throughout September 2019. Clearly, the sky is the limit for this dynamic, engaging, and passionate company and I’m excited, as ever, to see what Ballet Cymru has planned next!

Review: My Bright Shadow by Patrick Jones by Sian Thomas

Though I do adore both writing and reading poetry, I admit to having not previously heard of nor read any work by Patrick Jones. That being said, being presented the opportunity to discover him, I took it quickly. Not knowing a poet wouldn’t stop me from learning of them – besides, the process is always enjoyable. Poetry in itself is enjoyable. I’m always excited to read more, and I’m glad I did.
After reading through the whole anthology, I definitely decided on some favourites! Namely: Plume Angel, The Smell of Sundays, Wrapped in the Arms of Ghosts, Lovesung, The Presence of Absence, Mothering, and When are all in my favourites, for a bunch of different reasons.
Plume Angel was the first one to show Patrick Jones’ use of white space, which is a technique in poetry I both utilise (often) and really love to see. It makes the poem much more interesting, when your eyes are darting all over a page rather than just going in one expected direction. I loved the feel of this poem – it was very gentle, from the get-go. The first stanza was my favourite one, but my favourite line was, “tiny talismans / crashed to / earth / from an icarused flight”, solely due to the image of falling people and falling feathers. There, despite the softness, was also a great sadness to it (which is understandable, based on how the book itself and all the poems were born from a son’s experience of a mother with leukaemia). In a similar vein, Wrapped in the Arms of Ghosts also has this feeling with peppered in lines that I find really satisfying. For example, “clinging to sepia stained memories / bleeding frames and flickering effigies / hearing voices from forgotten melodies / is yesterday to be our only legacy” I found to be a lovely line, with a lot of emotion threaded inside and around it – especially considering the sounds that comes from reading or speaking them, which further created an positive impression and reaction from me.
Throughout each of the poems I found that drew me in was a consistent and understandable melancholy. The feeling was crafted really well, and also waded in and out with other things, too. Regret, wanting to go back, feeling the pressure of time and how we should be cherishing the seconds we have (which I do love, as a theme, it has a tendency to humble me and very quickly). The poetry was impressive, with really nice flow and images, although seeing the white space was definitely my favourite thing to take note of.
Lastly, Lovesung was one of my favourite poems, because it opened up a discussion I’ve been having within myself a lot lately. It came for my questioning if poetry and writing is an escape, and if it is – if it works? It came head-first towards my own habit of reading and writing to escape the endless refresh of bad news on Twitter, and the constant background noise of the world running all too fast away from me. And I really liked it, because it almost felt like being seen, and being coyly nodded at in a “I do this too and it’s nice and we maybe probably won’t tell anyone” kind of way. I loved it.
I’m giving the book three stars because I found some of the poems harder to untangle than others. I know full well this is a subjective area, full of people with subjective thoughts, but though these poems were well written and used really lovely language, some of them (for example, The Presence of Absence) did give me trouble in trying to decipher what – in that moment – was happening. I could understand the general sadness and regret leaking out of the poems, but other lines were more puzzling than expected. Which, having said this, could be seen as either good or bad by anyone else – but for me it did disrupt my enjoyment of treasuring the past and dwelling on actions and the present. Because of the grief hanging off some of the poems, I did find it a bit difficult to fully engage, however, this doesn’t take away from my admiration of this collection being published at all, when each pieces is so deeply, deeply personal. That’s worth respecting.
I’m glad I got a chance to read this work. I do love poetry and reading it is always an experience to be had. I had fun, and enjoyed what I saw. I would read it again.

Sian Thomas