As a celebration of intentional women’s day Comedy @ HOWL gave the stage to an all-female line up featuring some hilarious comics and hosted by the wonderful Lorna Prichard.
The night consisted of 5 comedians, Karen Sherrard kicked us of introducing us to Iris Evans and her village fête, the set was fun and included some really interesting audience participation that engaged the crowed instantly.
This was followed by Jessie Johnson a Transgender comic with stories of her running’s with the Russian Mafia her witty response and good use of comic timing put everyone in high sprits.
Leading into Ems Coombes a disabled comic with stories about periods and songs about social edict that inspired me to not be so self-conscious in public.
Then fourth up we had Alice Taylor Mathews who was expecting a little ray of sunshine soon! An example of how women have more to deal with than men when it comes to biology!
Then ending with the brilliant Anna Keirle who had a well-crafted set that was delivered with brilliant timing and presence. I can’t not mention the hosts Lorna Prichard’s brilliant interludes between this fab five. She set up each act in the perfect way so the audience were excited and in anticipation of what was to come.
I found the atmosphere of the night very interesting. It was a true celebration of diversity with a discussions after the show about women in comedy and women in the industry in general and some of the things women have to put up with. Listening to story`s from other women about the experiences they have had and things have been said to them gave the audience the majority of whom were women a support network, this gave the evening a “gritty feel” said Lorna Prichard.
It posed the question me of “What can we do?” the treatment of women in society and the arts is said to be constantly improving, but I don’t believe it is. I only last week experienced myself an uncomfortable rehearsal room. On top of being the only female in the room, I had to put up with sexist `jokes` some mocking the brilliant ME TOO campaign that has made massive strides for women. But are the strides really making a difference if they are mocked? All I can say is the way to stop this absurdity is by having these nights of celebration and create these support networks. We have to continue these conversations so change can happen.
I would invite men, women and others who may have opposing views to join me to talk about these issues safely so we as a society can progress. The only negative comment I would make about HOWL was the under representation of BAME performers and audience members, after just finishing with FIO on their brilliant project Declaration this was something that really stood out to me. But overall the night was exciting, thought provoking and was the centre of some interesting conversations.
In 1964, There was a little girl sitting on her mother’s floor in Milwaukee watching the 36th Academy Awards. She watched as Anne Bancroft opened the envelope for Best Actor and said five historic words: ‘The winner is Sidney Poitier.’
This little girl had never seen a black man being celebrated for his talent and to quote her “I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone-tired from cleaning other people’s houses”
That little girl grew up to become one of the most influential people on the planet – Oprah Winfrey.
And at that moment of celebration at the 36th Academy Awards she was truly inspired by what she saw. She watched history unfold from her cheap seat, took inspiration and the rest as they say is history.
Fast forward over 50 years and Oprah has joined Sidney Poitier in becoming a recipient of the Cecil B DeMille award and when accepting the award she recounted that memory of the cheap seats and went on to add “there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award”
At that moment and later on in her speech all over the world girls and boys and men and women were inspired and in awe. With that inspiration and determination those little girls and boys will become the next Oprah Winfrey or the next Viola Davis or indeed the next Denzel Washington.
After the #OscarsSoWhite movement two years ago The Academy has implemented drastic diverse change and many others have followed suit because after years of feeling unappreciated and uninspired and pretty much fed up, many people thought enough is enough.
If we don’t show diversity in our nominations and winners then how are the next generation meant to be inspired like Oprah was all those years ago.
By having more diverse nominations and shortlists you are giving the opportunity for the next generation to be inspired. And the key word here is opportunity.
Now more than ever we need the next generation of BAME talent to be inspired and its so great that the #OscarsSoWhite movement has taken effect and we are now finally seeing a hugely diverse and more equal nomination and shortlist spectrum. Closer to home in Wales its not the case. The Wales Theatre Awards for one have not embraced the diverse change needed to inspire the next generation of BAME talent.
Now Wales is quite small in comparison to the rest of the world but we’ve still managed to nurture brilliant talent in all fields and all I ask is that diversity is implemented like with the Oscars and many other global awards. That way the next generation of actors of colour can have a platform to look to and aspire to be on. That way we can inspire and empower the next generation of BAME talent. That way young actors like myself can look to the awards and be inspired to work harder and be in a position to celebrate their talent like Sidney Poitier was all those years ago.
We need to ask ourselves how do we encourage the next generation of artists and creatives to strive and aim for the stars? A big factor in encouragement is inspiration. If they never see role models they can relate to win awards how are they ever encouraged to become the next Octavia Spencer or the next Steve McQueen.
But let me take you back to that word I mentioned a few lines ago.
Because when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion, opportunity is a massive factor.
If opportunity is not given to people then how are we ever going to be in a position where we can showcase our talents?, be nominated for awards? and inspire our peers and the next generation?
Diversity has become this big hot topic over the last couple of years and its just about equality. Being treated the same regardless of your skin colour, disability, religion, gender, sexual orientation and many other labels that are handed out in our day and age. We are all equal. We are all human.
Finally in our society we have seen a positive shift in diverse action and we cant afford to get left behind whilst others continue to implement that change. We have to embrace it.
Without embracing it we risk loosing much talent to other locations. A prime example of this is the current crop of actors going overseas in search of better opportunities. Idris Elba highlighted it during his recent speech to Parliament.
John Boyega, Daniel Kaluuya, David Oyelowo, Naomie Harris and Lenora Crichlow are just a few other names who have also ventured along with Mr Elba over to the States in search of better opportunities.
A statistic recently showed that according to government data from 2013, there was a 500% increase in one year in approved visa petitions for UK actors and directors seeking to work in the US.
That number is staggering but only goes to show that this issue surrounding opportunity and representation is real.
We live in a multi-cultural world and this isn’t being represented on stage or screen. If we don’t see ourselves or our culture on stage (and screen for that matter) how are we meant to be engaged? If young people don’t see themselves represented on stage they won’t go to the theatre, if they don’t see themselves represented on TV they’ll turn the TV off. We have to show all walks of life to engage all people. Period.
That same situation is at risk of running its course here in Wales. If we don’t champion opportunity and give representation the platform others have then we run the same risk of loosing home grown talent to the likes of other more diverse locations like London, Bristol or Manchester for example. For many new and upcoming actors/performers America simply isn’t attainable yet but the likes of closer inclusive locations are very much a reality. For minority actors to be considered for awards they have to be cast in productions. To be cast in productions they have to have the opportunity to be seen for the roles.
Once again I echo the key word in all of this … Opportunity.
Seeing that I’ve mentioned him already I will bring up the case for Daniel Kaluuya. Daniel Kaluuya has got huge attention lately as he earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in the film Get Out. With this nomination, Daniel becomes the first black actor under 30 to garner a nomination. Only one word can be used to describe that achievement and that is phenomenal.
But many people think that this success just happened off the back of one movie. They don’t realise that Daniel put in years of hard work from his time at the Royal Court in Sucker Punch.
to Blue Orange at The Young Vic
to his time on Black Mirror to name just a few. But without opportunity would he have got to this stage in his career where he is now the first black under 30’s actor to be nominated for an academy award? Who knows?
And then we have the global box office hit that is Black Panther and the success that has followed this movie.
As I write this article the global box office of the movie stands at $704 million and its broken into the top 20 for highest grossing movies of all time. There are even rumours of it becoming the highest grossing Marvel movie so far. Not bad for a movie with a predominantly black cast featuring a black superhero in the title role.
But why is this movie such a milestone many people will ask. Well simply put 1) Its massive progress in a positive direction and 2) Its shown that you CAN invest in diverse talent and it CAN be successful.
All they needed was the opportunity.
I guess what I am trying to say and I will echo Viola Davis here when I say that “All that separates actors of colour from anyone else is opportunity”
Talent is everywhere in all shapes and sizes. So we have to make an effort to go and seek this talent out. Look for it. Everywhere.
So with all this being said I’m going to challenge every person who holds a degree of power to embrace the positive shift that has begun and implement change so that we don’t get left behind. Don’t hide away because if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem.
This goes for everyone in all industries, not just people in the creative arts. Embrace and Implement. Those two factors will allow diversity and talent to flourish magnificently. The world is now beginning to show us that our possibilities are boundless. And we have to keep on striving to achieve every possibility. Striving to achieve every dream.
I had never imagined that I would have enjoyed reading something with so much imagination as this book! I thought that it did not want to put it down because I enjoyed it so much, it really fired up my imagination to see if Nansi finds her mother and they save themselves!
As a new reader I think the author has really fired up everyones imagination especially mine and I would recommend Gaslight to anyone as a great book for everyone to read.
I hope the author, Eloise Williams puts out other book soon so I can enjoy her work again.
Gaslight by the local author Eloise Williams really appealed to me as soon as I heard about it, because although I’ve lived in Cardiff my entire life I had, up to that point, never read a novel which utilised this amazing city as its prime setting. I’m personally a big fan of novels set in dense urban cityscapes as I love the idea of the city itself becoming a character in its own right, almost like an overpowering monster that shapes and distorts the lives of the novel’s human inhabitants. And I wasn’t at all disappointed by Gaslight on this front; it managed to portray Cardiff as a city at once both beautiful and vile, whilst simultaneously offering a character-driven narrative replete with personal struggle.
Set within and around the dingy backstreets of Victorian Cardiff, the plot of Gaslight centres on a young girl named Nansi and her desperate search for her mother who, as she’s been led to believe, abandoned her at a young age. Nansi has been taken in by a man named Sid, the owner of Cardiff’s Empire Theatre, who has provided her with a roof over her head in exchange for her working on the stage as well as performing burglaries for him. As the latter line of work may hint at, Sid is a rather villainous character, who treats Nansi and his other employees with complete contempt, and is only really concerned with profit and success, which are borne out of his own megalomaniacal derangements. However, Sid has made a promise to Nansi to help find her mother with the aid of a private detective once she has earned sufficient amounts of cash from her stage performances and burglaries, but, as you’ve probably already guessed, this offer isn’t quite what it seems on face value.
Gaslight really is an enjoyable read: it comprises short, sharp and clear sentences, but at the same time its use of local vernacular reminds you that it’s firmly situated within Cardiff, innit. This is only accentuated further with consistent references to Cardiff’s historic hallmarks, such as Temperance Town, Bute Park, Tiger Bay, and even the South Wales Echo. They’re all there! In addition, it weaves gritty descriptions of the city’s poorer classes into the narrative, for examples coal workers covered in black, thievery, murder, underage drinking and child homelessness. There are also some really nice descriptive metaphors within the prose; “[t]he dark is so thick you could chew it” and “[t]he silvery light makes the china-blue walls glacial”, for example, really stood out for me.
I found the character of Nansi to be a really endearing one; throughout the novel she faces many hardships, and there are times when it seems as if she’s hit rock bottom, but despite all of this, her determination and her willingness to do good for others never really leaves her. On the other hand (and without spoiling anything), I did find the final encounter (along with its plot twist) a little bit rushed; it seemed as if too many revelations were being presented all at once, and I thought these could have been spread more evenly throughout the novel. Moreover, I didn’t find myself all that convinced by the relationship between Nansi and her mother—it seemed a bit underwhelming and again, a bit rushed in terms of its writing.
Eloise Williams certainly isn’t reinventing the wheel here, but she is drawing on that classic ‘coming-of-age’ format that will appeal to a lot of readers, particularly younger ones. Much like J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, I actually feel as if I would have enjoyed the novel more if I’d read it as a teenager, because I would have been able to identify with the central character a bit better, who is after all of that age herself. Overall, Gaslight is a solid novel which offers elements of comedy and tragedy in equal parts, and although it does have its flaws, it’s well written, entertaining, and very easy to read, so it’s probably worth your time.
The fourth ‘Breaking out of the Box’ symposium- a series of events to discuss the issue of diversity in Welsh Arts, took place at Theatre Clwyd on 16th February. Subtitled ‘Wales: a Diverse Nation?’ An access symposium’ the focus of the event centered on the question of how diverse are we, and what can we do to change things?
Opening the event was Nick Capaldi, Chief Executive, Arts Council Wales. He spoke about the history of the Arts Council and Diversity- citing reports from as far back as the 90s into the issue. He acknowledged the responsibility as a publicly funded organisation towards diversity:
"As publicly funded organisations we must be places of empathy, inclusion, community engagement, discussion as well as being sources of imaginative delight." Nick Capaldi @Arts_Wales_#DiverseWales
Capaldi also noted the need to do more to reach communities and the idea of ‘changing hearts and minds’. While this contribution from Arts Council Wales was welcome, and well intended it was let down by a lack of representation from the organisation throughout the day. The focus of the day around galvanising towards action, having an engaged representatives from the Development teams at ACW could really have helped the organisations present to make practical steps in their next projects towards diversity. We all know ACW funding is at the heart of the work made in Wales, and a level of practical support and real engagement on the day from the organisation would have made a huge difference to what could have been achieved. While Capaldi’s support was welcome, and his words supportive, it felt like a missed opportunity from ACW.
Following Capaldi, my own talk. Which focused on turning questions back on the audience to reflect on for the day.
"Our lack of diversity not being helped by a narrow focus. We can learn by examples, we can only do that by discussing it." @EmiGarside#DiverseWales
Jamie’s experiences, and the video clips he showed of projects in England he’s been a part of showed that the sky literally is the limit for what can be achieved.
Jamie was part of a couple of amazing circus projects where disabled performers worked alongside able bodied performers with no barriers or prejudice around what they were or weren’t expected to do. That this kind of work is possible can be an example for companies in Wales to aspire to.
Keen for the day to have some practical take-aways there were two workshops on accessibility led by Elise and Beth from Taking Flight Theatre Company. Elise took people through some simple steps to make a rehearsal room more inclusive, while Beth talked through making accessible marketing materials.
These practical elements were a really useful element of the day for the group-providing some tangible next steps that are relatively easy to incorporate and help slowly change the nature of diversity and accessibility.
Finally, the last two provocations of the day. Michele Taylor, Director for Change for Ramps on the Moon and critic Jafar Iqbal. Both proved to be a rousing call to action. Michele punctuated their talk with the repeated phrase ‘Seriously are we still talking about this?’ Sharing her frustration but also experience in creating active solutions through ‘Ramps on the Moon’ this was a non-nonsense call to get things done. And one which also called out well meaning sentiment with again, a call to concrete action.
Don’t describe something as “accessible” give people the specifics so they feel comfortable in your venue. #DiverseWales
Challenging all of us on everything from our choice of language to what we believe to be exclusivity Michele provoked passionate discussion about how we really enact change. There was also a clear desire from the room to mimic the ‘Ramps on the Moon’ initiative in Wales.
Finally Jafar Iqbal talked about the lack of change we’re experiencing in Wales. Criticizing those at the top for a lack of action while others repeatedly shout for change.
Drawing on his own experience as a British Asian, Iqbal has often wondered if he’s in a room to ‘tick a box’ but is also conscious that he’s benefited from that in his career. And despite personally benefiting, being conscious that this approach isn’t good enough any more.
"I had a dilemma. I was going to start saying "I'm honoured and privileged" when actually I'm not. It's 2018. In Wales. We've not done enough to sort it out." @writeofcentre#DiverseWales
Acknowledging the recent controversies in Wales, Iqbal talked about the need to change being felt across the sector, but a lack of action being taken. And actually giving us a fairly simple way to start solving these issues:
Further discussion in the room, following this final clear provocation was to that end- the time for talking (and social media debate) has passed and it’s time for action. The very clear notion however, was that this needs leadership. And that is something the movement for diversity in Wales is lacking. Not from those engaged in the arts, but from those organisations with the power and scope to be really influential in making change. And this remains a frustration.
Despite continued frustrations, it was a galvanizing and productive event. Connections between organisations developed during discussion and networking time and there seemed a real commitment to move forward from the event with a new sense of purpose.
Let’s hope that soon an event won’t be asking the question of Diversity in Wales but simply celebrating it instead.
I’ve recently finished The Witches of New York by Ami McKay. For quite some time, the book was the base of my “Big Pile of Books I Need to Read” – purely because it was the largest one. I thought it intimidating at first – I hadn’t expected it to be the size that it was. However, by the time I reached the end, I found myself wishing that it was longer. The book has potential, I do believe, but I’ll get to that later.
For a while now, stories with a strong aesthetic have appealed to me more than stories with some unfathomably-mind-blowing plot twist that I never asked to be on the other end of. This book, this style of writing, was right up my alley that it and I more or less lived in the same block of flats. It was so gorgeous – all this talk about a tea shop, girls, style, soft magic, attraction (straight and gay). Even the way littler things would be described; colour, cups, plants, glass, feathers on a bird, silk of a dress, the appearance of ghosts. All of it just seemed to constantly scream out for me, and it was what I enjoyed about the book the most. I have things that agree with me, the things I find pretty or such, and this book just seemed full of them. I love the way a tea shop exists; quiet and usually more than meets the eye (as was the case here). I love little glass bottles filled with things like glitter or seeds (as was, also, the case). I love small keys, things kept on a chain because of how important they are, I love different blends of teas that all, above having their own flavour, seem to also have their own meanings. There just seemed to be so much care and effort put into every little detail with this book, and I really loved that.
The characters and the story both I’ve decided not to go into very much. The characters, Eleanor, Adelaide, and Beatrice, were all intrinsic, individualistic, and all in all, just quite lovable. I’d rather people went into the unravelling of both them and the plot blind, but I will say: I did enjoy it; the story was gripping and the characters were lovely. It touched on a lot of things I like (amongst the already incredible scenery and the like) and I relate to: the subtle fear of pushy men that every girl seems to know and knows how to combat, the camaraderie of women. While intriguing, it wasn’t too fast. It really was enjoyable. I think a lot of people all sorts of ages would enjoy this book.
Back to potential: the book has it. Ending happily, but with just enough of a nudge in some characters direction, I feel like I did certainly have closure, but just a tiny smidgen of it was withheld. I suppose I may have become fond of stories with a neat little bow wrapped around them and then encased behind glass for the rest of time. That’s on me, I do think, but you’d catch me picking up a copy of any book that would follow at the heels of this one, that’s for sure.
Practically living at the Vault Festival, I decided last minute to book into another show – Madonna or Whore? With 4 and 5 star reviews, I was eager to see what looked like from the posters a different and comedic production.
Now that all may sound like a random concoction but it isn’t. Holly Morgan and her fiancé Tom Moores bring together not only each of their own essence to the production, bouncing off one another as naturally as you can imagine they do in person . Whilst also looking at history, they bring in their personal experiences. With the current #MeToo movement, this production is relevant, shocking but also so true and close to our own lives and experiences.
Now, as really this is some deep stuff to be watching, Morgan and Moores turn it on its head; part stand up, part farce, part comedy duo, they are turned into comical overturns helped by home made props and audience participation.
It is for sure that a review cannot do it justice.
Madonna or Whore? is nothing short of brilliant – topical and very important, Morgan and Moores are just hilarious, clever and totally bonkers. This really is the type of work that should be seen by everyone not only for its importance but for its sheer hilarity and clever approach.
I read Gaslight by Eloise Williams recently. What pulled me to it was definitely the setting – I love a story set somewhere I was born, somewhere I continue to be (and probably will remain – I’m certainly happy for that to be the case). Cardiff has a history, it has looked so many different ways, been so many different things (which can continue to be true as we all trudge through time together). I really did enjoy experiencing it in the Victorian Era. Something about knowing my home completely differently while I also have the pleasure of following a story was lovely.
This may be a peculiar thing to lead off with, but I really liked the line under the title on the cover of the book: “Have you seen her?”. Sometimes words strike a chord with me; this did. I like the mood this seems to create from the very get-go. The book does have quite the atmospheric feel to it. From cover to cover, there’s something enchanting about the intricacies of the character and the setting she resides in. “Have you seen her?” makes me feel as if I should be looking; as if hints of the character (Nansi) or other characters or even of this version of Cardiff’s past are still all over the place, waiting for the kind of attention only I can give them, because I’m already where they were. Something about that, that co-existence, is pleasing.
The story itself I don’t want to spoil, but the allure of a theatre story (definitely with some other things thrown in) in this era was a good combination. It was nice to imagine, and it was just as nice to be led into imagining it and down the path of the story. There was a moment I liked in particular; Nansi steals a piece of sea glass for a show, and during the show that piece of sea glass is used to really sell an act. The way the audience’s rapture is described, and the way the ploy plays out and the anxiety and nerves of Nansi’s surrounding it, was always a scene that had me hooked because of how easy it was to get lost in it, to become enraptured myself.
I think the book is good for a lot of ages. I enjoyed it, and I’m sure that relatives my age or younger (or older!) would, too. There is something about a young person’s endeavours (in this case, Nansi discovering the truth of her mother’s disappearance and her family in general) and watching them grow from their starting point of “clueless” to a stronger character with an ending to be proud of. It’s nice in a sense, to watch someone grow like this. To watch a character stand up for people who can’t, to stand up against people she hadn’t dreamt of standing up to before. I am immensely pleased to hear that Gaslight won the Wales Arts Review Young People’s Book of the Year 2017 award. Being good for all sorts of ages, and a story of fair intrigue, I’d say it did deserve it – and the four stars I give it.
It seems like 2018 is going to be another great year for new theatre in Wales. Having seen a development stage of Cwmni Pluen’s next show, I’m really looking forward to seeing a final production from them this autumn. Pluen has a definitive performance style which I’m always excited to see. They’re also working in collaboration with charities during the development of the piece which I think sets a great precedent for future companies making new work. I also can’t wait to see National Theatre Wales’ Love Letter to the NHS. While the NHS is under siege from; medical companies charging them a fortune for treatment; government cuts; surgery closures; and an all time waiting list high; it’s important more than ever to support and celebrate our National Health Service in face of adversity.
My personal hope for the year is to successfully tour Motherlode’s next production Exodus. The piece was developed in Aberdare with generous support from our long term collaborators and co producers RCT Theatres and will be part of their year long 80th birthday celebrations, which includes lots of new work by exciting artists. Exodus is also supported by Creu Cymru, Bristol Old Vic, Night Out Wales and Chapter, touring to 12 venues across Wales before running in London. Gulp… I just hope we pull it off!”
Gareth Coles, Voluntary Arts Wales Director / Cyfarwyddwr Celfyddydau Gwirfoddol Cymru
Recently I’ve been losing myself in the acoustic EPs of the guitarist Yvette Young who also writes and performs with the band Covet. She will be releasing a piano EP early this year, and having heard some snippets, I can’t wait to hear the whole thing.
On a personal creative note, I’m hoping to develop my drawing this year. I seem to have spent most of 2017 hurriedly sketching, but having developed the habit of drawing daily, it’s time I started working on some longer and more thoughtful pieces. I have also just started playing the piano again after many years’ hiatus, so I’m hoping my rusty playing will become slightly less objectionable by the end of the year.
Simon Coates, National Theatre Wales’, Head of Creative Development
The Terra Firma Spring Tour by NDCWales including the mesmeric Tundra by Roy Assaf. EXPERIMENTICA Festival at Chapter will back again for another year of live art from all over the UK and further afield in April.
And finally I am hoping to make it along to Abercych to join one of their experimental Twmpaths with Simon Whitehead and his collaborators.
Geoff Cripps, Board Member, Theatr na Nog, Creu Cymru and musician with Allan y Fan
At the end of January I am delighted and privileged to return to Glasgow as one of the 180 delegates to Showcase Scotland – a very important element within the world’s greatest mid-winter music festival. The five days I will spend here will definitely kick away any lingering vestiges of mid-winter blues! Don’t know yet which artists I will see/hear in total but I am pleased that in the festival’s 25th anniversary year the Showcase Scotland partner is Ireland. Still hoping that one year Wales will create something of lasting value like this event which has had such a powerful impact on the development of Scottish Artists in an international setting.
I have yet to pick what to see closer to home in the valleys but am looking forward to visiting RCT Theatres, The Borough Theatre and Blackwood Miner’s Institute on several occasions during the year.
My personal hopes for 2018 include doing my best to ensure that Theatr na nÓg builds on the great achievements of 2017, that Creu Cymru continues to be the essential organisation for the theatres and arts centres of Wales and, on a real personal note, that my band Allan Yn Y Fan have our most successful concert ever in Blackwood Miner’s Institute on 28th March!
I am sure that every other contributor will make their feelings known about “Brexit”, “POTUS”, the “Maybot” etc. etc but I am deliberately trying to keep this light-hearted.
Let’s hope that despite everything the Arts In Wales continue to deliver life-changing experiences, uncover nascent talent, connect more deeply with their communities and audiences. Finally I hope that BBC Wales finally delivers a year-round coverage of the Arts In Wales.
My personal hope is to be continued to be inspired and surprised by writers and artists pushing boundaries and creating work that moves me and reminds me what it is to be human.
Peter Doran, Artistic Director, Torch Theatre Company
On a personal level, I’m really looking forward to directing our next production, The Wood by Owen Thomas; its always exciting to tackle a new piece of writing, one never really knows if it will quite come off as expected or hoped. Giving the success we had with Owen’s last play Grav (shortly to go to New York), we have high hopes but we know that there’s a great deal of hard work in front of us. I’m also working on it with two actors, whom I’ve never directed before (Ifan Huw Dafydd and Gwydion Rhys), so that gives an extra frisson.
Elsewhere, I always look forward to Vamos coming to the Torch; Vamos are a full mask company who do wonderful work, this season they are touring a piece about the war in Afganistan called A Brave Face, one to look out for. I loved Liverpool Everyman’s repertory season last year and I’ll be interested to see if the second season is as successful – A Clockwork Orange sticks out as a highlight for me.
My personal hopes? That the true value of art and culture is appreciated and not seen as the icing on top of the cake. It’s not a commodity that can take it’s stand in the market place and compete; it has to be nurtured, supported, fed – if not, it will wither away and die.
Tom Goddard, Artist and Criw Celf Coordinator
In a time when Netflix is elevated to the role of religion, Shezad Dawood’s Leviathan satisfies our obsession with marathon box set watching, with this ten part film series. First at last year’s Venice Biennale and the series continues now at Mostyn, Llandudno in March.
Ragnar Kjartansson, Artes Mundi 6 nominee, will return to Wales to present a brand-new performance piece, The Sky in a Room which will feature a series of revolving local organists performing the 1959 hit song “Il Cielo In Una Stanza” (The Sky in a Room) on the 1774 Sir Watkins Williams Wynn organ.
Chapter’s Experimentica, will roll into town again in April and is always guaranteed to raise a smile and challenge in equal measure with a real range of refreshing voices and ideas from the world of live art. NS Harsha,Artes Mundi 3 winner, will return to Wales at Glynn Vivian in Summer 2018 presenting screening printing, installation, sculpture and drawings.
Glynn Vivian will also be opening late once a month offering performance, music, workshops as well as curatorial opportunities for young people.
Simon Harris, Playwright and Director of Lucid
It would be a bit matey of me to select 2018 highlights from Wales, so the two things outside of Wales that I’d really like to see are Chris Goode’s staging of Derek Jarman’s Jubilee which has been at the Royal Exchange n Manchester and is going to the Lyric Hammersmith. Because punk’s not dead. The other is Dead Centre’s new production at the Schaubuhne of Shakespeare’s Last Play – partly to see the work and partly to go to Berlin as I’ve never been there and I’d like to go before the world ends.
I’m a little overwhelmed by how far away we are from how I’d like things to be in 2018. There’s so much to do in so many areas, it would be easy to give in and give up. But I’m drawn to some of the determined spirits out there and so my main hope for the sector is that we move to a more productive, more innovative, less hierarchical approach to making work. I would like to see some of the fake differences between Arts Council Wales portfolio and the remaining group of artists and companies done away with. I’d like to see individuals and companies allowed to apply for larger sums and for more extended periods of work, instead of one-off projects. Most of all I’d like to some vision that can lead to the release of the amazing potential of artists in Wales and their work. Oh, and a bit more honest dialogue and a lot less self-referential, self-congratulatory bulls**t.
Steffan Jones-Hughes, Director Oriel Davies
There’s so much exciting art to see in 2018!
January sees Nova open at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. An exciting exhibition of young contemporary artists originated by the Royal Cambrian Academy. Look out for inaugural award winner Paul Eastwood, and also Catrin Menai, Rory Duckhouse, and AJ Stockwell. Aberystwyth Arts Centre- 25.1-1.4 2018
February I can’t wait to see The Sky in a Room by Icelandic Artist, Ragnar Kjartansson. The exciting performance will see a series of revolving organists performing the 1959 hit song “Il Cielo In Una Stanza” (The Sky in a Room) on the 1774 Sir Watkins Williams Wynn organ, and will run from 3 February to 11 March at National Museum Cardiff.
June sees The Oriel Davies Open inviting artists from Wales, UK and internationally through Open Call to show work. I’m on the selection panel along with Jane Simpson (artist & Director Galerie Simpson), Matthew Collings (writer and curator), Sacha Craddack (curator and writer. TBC), and Alex Boyd Jones, Curator OD. Oriel Davies Open 2018 23 June – 5 September.
My personal hopes are that 2018 will be a time of unleashing potential, harnessing prosperity and celebrating the power of community within society.
Paul Kaynes, Chief Executive Officer, National Dance Company Wales
Firstly the home team: NDCW are about to set off on our long Spring tour taking in all of Wales, the UK, Austria and Germany with works by Resident Choreographer Caroline Finn (in Cardiff you have another chance to see her beautiful, haunting FOLK) and the mesmerising Tundra by Marcos Morau – already an international hit. Later this year watch out for a contemporary dance-opera we’re presenting with Music Theatre Wales in October/November. It’s a beautiful work.
To finally see every organisation in Wales tackling all barriers to access, rather than relying on one or two organisations. Saying this, we have to upskill those creating the work at grassroots level for this to be achievable, so I hope to see lots of money being ploughed into this.
I hope my production of the musical The Last 5 Years comes to fruition and tours Wales Autumn 2018 as this has access at its heart and supports BSL as a culture.
I look forward to seeing our Opera Bites event expanding a little as well as some exciting developments with our 10 Minute Musicals project come to fruition. We have a sharing of this work at Millennium Centre, February 25th, Blackwood Miners Institute, February 27th and then we are sharing it at Focus Wales 2018 which is hugely exciting for this project and all the artists involved.
There is a piece I started to develop last year with Eddie Ladd based on Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy which we hope to pick up this year. It’s a piece very dear to me therefore I hope we make this work for us. Building in this there may be another exciting collaboration with Eddie in the pipeline. Watch this space. Our work compliments each other wonderfully.
I hope to see more of my daughter this year, drink less rose wine and get back into the gym at more regular intervals. I am also hoping to renovate my kitchen and become a better cook!! I have also vowed to explore the landscape I live within this year and reconnecting with nature a little.
Bethan Marlow, Writer
2018 feels like a fresh year. There’s a lot of courage in the air, people are standing up and shouting out, dirty secrets are no longer protected and new manifestos are being drawn. I’m crossing all my fingers that this also means that we’ll see fresh and courageous cultural activity all over Wales in all languages.
I hope we all, and I’m very much including myself here, have the courage to dig deep and create what we need and want to create this year. Not what we think people will go and see or what we think will tick funding boxes but what our guts are screaming for us to make.
David Mercatali, Associate Director, Sherman Theatre
I am hugely excited to be working with the fantastic Welsh writer Katherine Chandler and the next generation of acting talent on the world premiere of Buddy. The play is part of NEW:2018 and is a co-production between RWCMD and Sherman Theatre.My wish for the New Year would be for anyone living in Cardiff who hasn’t been to the theatre yet to give it a go!
My personal hopes for 2018; In light of the funding threats to my local arts centre at Pontardawe, I hope that the people who make these detrimental decisions recognise the importance of the arts and their effect on our wellbeing. I hope that communities begin to make more use of all local arts centres and that artists and creatives have the freedom and funding to encourage and inspire those that are blind to its relevance in our society today.
Mae son bod cynhyrchiadau newydd ar y gweill gan Mercury, Neontopia a Triongl, a gobeithio bydd Na’Nog yn atgyfodi Nye and Jennie gan i mi ei fethu yn y Metropole yn Abertileri,a pwy a wyr pa ddanteithion daw i’n diddanu pan ddaw’r Eisteddfod i Gaerdydd ym mis Awst.
O’m rhan fy hun mae gen i brosiectau gyda’r Theatr Genedlaethol, Na’Nog, Theatrau RCT a Canoe a dwi’n gobeithio bydd fy sioe un menyw am Rachel Roberts (Yn Gymraeg) yn digwydd o’r diwedd!
I am looking forward to Theatr Genedlaethol’s latest productionY Tad ( Le Pere) by Florian Zeller trans. Geraint Lovgreen (Touring 21 Feb- 16 March) with Dyfan Roberts as the father. Dyfan and I began our careers together back in 1970! Also Theatr Pena’s production Women of Flowers by Sion Eirian after Saunders Lewis (Touring 1Feb-9 March) with the amazing Sara Lloyd Gregory as Blodeuwedd. I shall venture to Pontrhydfendigaid for a poetic and cinematic recreation by Mike Pearson and Mike Brookes as they embark on a three year project with NTW under the title The Storm Cycle with Nothing Remains The Same (15-17 Feb) and they promise seating- indoors! And fireworks! In a timely production about minority languages Theatr Gwalia presents Inheriting The Gods by Carmen Stephens about a relationship between a young man from the Wampanoag tribe and a young Welsh Woman and is touring Feb 26-March 24. The amazing Dirty Protest celebrate their tenth birthday with Mark Williams’ play Lightspeed from Pembroke Dock (Touring 4 April-5 May).
I hear that Mercury, Neontopia and Triongl are preparing exciting things and I hope Na’Nog will revive Nye and Jennie as I missed it at the Metropole in Abertillery, and who knows what delicacies the Eisteddfod will bring when it comes to Cardiff in August!
I have writing and performing projects with Theatr Genedlaethol, Na’Nog, RCT Theatres and Canoe and I really hope my one woman show about Rachel Roberts (in Welsh) will happen this year!
Catherine Paskell, Independent Theatre Director
I’m looking forward to loads of new original performance work happening in Wales this year, but if I had to pick only two, I would choose:
Jordan Brookes Body Of Work at Chapter on 2 June. I saw this show in Edinburgh, and Jordan was nominated for the 2017 Last Minute.Com Edinburgh Comedy Award for best show. That’s what the Perrier Award is now called, so it’s a pretty big deal and this was a pretty awesome show. It was one of the best comedy shows I saw in Edinburgh last year when Dirty Protest was there with Sugar Baby. I love Jordan’s comedy – I first saw him when he was living in Cardiff a few years ago and it was fantastic to see his work get the recognition he deserves. He’s on the performance art-end of comedy (but without being up its arse) and he’s one of my favourite weirdos.
Also, I really cannot wait for Split Britches’ Unexploded Ordances at the Wales Millenium Centre for a week this March. Peggy Shaw is a world renowned artist and I saw her show with Clod Ensemble Must: The Inside Story ten years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe. It made an impact on me then as she transfixed a Victorian anatomy theatre with a raw story full of poetry and heart and pain and medicine and art. It’s a real privilege for us to see artists of this calibre creating original work in Wales and this experience will be a must see, or rather as it’s interactive art: a “must do”.
Rachel Pedley Miller, Artistic Director, Avant Cymru
In 2018 Avant Cymru are planning a busy year with Forget Me Not in January and Blue Scar in the summer.
We are working with Rufus Mufasa on her album launch on the 16th of January. Looking forward to working with Rufus and Unity further on Welsh Hip Hop projects.
Jac Ifan Moore, Director and Co-Director of Powderhouse
Theatre Dublin Carol – Sherman Theatre
Coming up in a few weeks at the Sherman. Connor McPherson, killer cast and directed by Matthew Xia. Come on, what more d’you want?
All But Gone – The Other Room
I’m really excited to see what Dan Jones will do now that he’s at the helm of The Other Room. This will be his first production as AD, and it’s a chance to see how he’s going to put his mark on that ambitious company.
Book Tribe – Sebastian Junger
Collection of essays that span history, autobiography, anthropology and psychology. What we can learn from tribal societies, what we’ve lost, and why in the modern world we’re still craving companionship and meaning.Film
The Shape of Water – Dir. Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro’s latest film gets its UK release in February, and I’m looking forward to his particular mix of strangeness. Set to the bleak backdrop of 1960’s Baltimore, it’s apparently a love story between a mute woman and a water god. Yes please.
Lucy Owen, Journalist and writer
I’m looking forward to the Cardiff Kids Literature Festival in April this year. There will be loads of events going on and it’s a great chance to meet authors and illustrators and inspire children to pick up a book.
I am super excited that a book I’ve written for 6 – 8 year olds will be published in September too. It’s called ‘The Sea House’ and I’m really hoping children will love all the characters, particularly my favourite – a brave, sparkly little fish called Fabulous!
Marc Rees Creator and curator of installation and performance
You might have seen my crestfallen face captured on the news when it was announced that Swansea didn’t win the UK City of Culture crown for 2021? Perhaps if we’d gone with the abbreviated SUKCOC ( Swansea UK City Of Culture ) it might have been a different story?I really did think that it was Swansea’s time to shine and to quote the city’s very own big haired 80’s pop icon … we could have turned it around . However there are still exciting plans afoot and one that is very close to my heart is still under wraps till the end of January but I want to mention it as it’s certainly something that I’m really looking forward to getting my teeth into in 2018.
Essentially it’s an immersive Requiem that will kickstart the Swansea International Festival 2018 – written by a twice Oscar nominated composer with a libretto by a BAFTA Cymru winning writer, sung by a world renowned choir and with a wrap around narrative led by the formidable force that is Eddie Ladd. Watch this camouflaged space.
For 2018 I’m very much looking forward to hearing more cultural stories being told by people of a diverse background. Great things are happening already but there’s still such a way to go. ‘Fio’ are doing some amazing work right now providing opportunities for BAME actors, writers and directors to showcase work and are providing a great accessible outlet.
I’m involved in TWO amazing plays with full diverse teams this year. One of them which tells a story from voices we don’t often hear from. I am working with phenomenal actors all from diverse backgrounds and I cannot wait! The plays are wonderful and I’m really honoured to be a part of it all! The theatres we are performing in are equally brilliant! Wales is a place of character, diversity and rich culture. So I look forward to us continuing to move forward within the arts and really show what we are made of.
Keiron Self, Actor and Playwright
I’m very much looking forward to Light Speed from Pembroke Dock, a family friendly and Star Wars friendly theatre show from Dirty Protest as part of their 10th anniversary. I have been lucky enough to have a few pieces perfomed by them and their stalwart crew and have a soft spot in my heart for all involved. I also saw an Rand D of the show and it touched a nostalgic string in my heart, it being about fathers and sons and a certain sic-fi film – essentially a taste of my youth.
I’m also looking forward to films coming out in February The Shape of Water Guillermo Del Toro’s new fantasy masterpiece about a love affair between a woman and a Black Lagoon-esque creature in Cold War America. I’m a great fan of Del Toro, especially Pan’s Labyrinth, and this ranks right up there next to them. Also in February Lady Bird is a film from Greta Gerwig, a fantastic indie actress making her directorial debut with a well observed coming of age talk between a mother and a daughter starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.
I’m very much looking forward to a bumper year of culture in 2018. Many people interested in the arts in Wales will already be filling up their diaries.
One of the events I’m especially looking forward to is the National Eisteddfod (3-11 August, Cardiff), as it takes place this year right outside my office window in Cardiff Bay. For the first time in decades, the “Maes” (the festival site) will not be held in a field, and visitors will be able to come in and out as they chose, paying for each event individually. The “no-fence” Eisteddfod offers exciting opportunities to try out new activities, appealing to a wide range of audiences and celebrating the best of Welsh culture in all its forms.
For a relatively small country, Wales punches well above its weight in terms of literature festivals. As well as the world-renowned Hay Festival (24 May – 3 June), many more have appeared in recent years, including the excellent Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival (21-29 April) and the Cardiff Book Festival (7-9 September 2018). I’m particularly looking forward to the newest addition to the calendar, the Seren Poetry Festival at the Cornerstone building in Cardiff (16-18 February).
Pembrokeshire should take the prize for being the most bountiful county, with literature festivals in Solva (The Edge Festival – 2-5 August), Llangwm (10-12 August) and Rhosygilwen (PENfro Book Festival – September). These festivals would not take place without the dedicated efforts of community activists who believe in bringing people together and sharing a love for words. And the success of many depend on their brilliant local independent book shops.
If your dream is to take part in one of these festivals as a featured writer one day, then you should consider booking on one of the courses at Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre: www.tynewydd.wales. The many highlights include a Creative Writing for Welsh Learners course (16-18 March with Bethan Gwanas and Eilir Jones), Songs and Lyric Writing (9-14 April with Willy Russell and Stewart Henderson), Poetry: Writing about Life (20-25 August with Lemn Sissay, Sophie McKeand and Zoë Skoulding) and Writing a Novel (24-28 September with Louise de Bernière and Wales Book of the Year winner Alys Conran). There is something for everyone this year at this very special place.
I’m looking forward to seeing the completion of the epic 50ft mural by artistPete Fowler on the iconic Water Tower at Cardiff Central Station. Inspired by the stories of the Mabinogi, the mural is part of the Weird and Wonderful Wales project by Literature Wales and Cadw. The work began before Christmas, but was suspended because of bad weather. The work will continue soon and remain in place throughout 2018, when visitors from all across the globe will see it when they visit Cardiff for events such as the Volvo Ocean Race as part of Year of the Sea.
The Wales Book of the Year award is set to be another great event this year, with the ceremony scheduled to take place in the summer. Announcements will be made in March – so keep an eye out on Literature Wales’ website for details. In the meantime, I was thrilled to see that last year’s winner Pigeon(Parthian Books) by Alys Conran, is being serialised in the Western Mail. Also, the Roland Mathias Poetry Evening will take place on 23 February at The Muse, Brecon, featuring John Freeman, winner of last year’s Wales Book of the Year Roland Mathias Poetry Award, with Jonathan Edwards chairing the event.
Last year the National Poet of Wales, Ifor ap Glyn, with funding from Welsh Government and support by Cymru’n Cofio Wales Remembers (1914-1918), created and toured a multi-lingual multi-media show on poet Hedd Wyn called Y Gadair Wag/ The Empty Chair, directed by Ian Rowlands. It premiered at Yr Ysgwrn, the poet’s home at Trawsfynydd which recently opened as a visitor’s centre. By popular demand, the hope is to tour more extensively in 2018, taking in locations throughout Wales, as well as the UK and Ireland. 2018 will see the announcement by Literature Wales of a new Young People’s Laureate, as Sophie McKeand’s hugely successful two-year stint comes to an end in spring.
2018 marks 70 years since the creation of the NHS, which was established by the great Welsh politician and orator Aneurin Bevan. It’s worth keeping an eye out for cultural celebrations of this significant milestone, including a series of productions throughout Wales by the two national theatre companies, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and National Theatre Wales.
In other art-forms, I’m looking forward to the return of Festival of the Voice to the Wales Millennium Centre (7-17 June), the Urdd Eisteddfod celebration of youth culture at Builth Wells (28 May – 2 June), the Swansea International Festival (October 2018) and the international art prize Artes Mundi at National Museum Wales (from 27 October). National Dance Company Wales’ Terra Firma tour takes place in Spring and will be well worth a look. Last year I very much enjoyed the collaborative concerts between the orchestras of WNO and BBC NOW, and I hope to catch a few this year as well. I can also highly recommend Rungano Nyoni’s debut award-winning film funded by Ffilm Cymru Wales, I Am Not A Witch, which will be out on DVD in February.
Like many others, I was very disappointed that Wales missed out on qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, having enjoyed myself immensely in France in 2016. However, this year I can kick back, enjoy the games relatively stress-free, and pick a couple of nice countries to support. Come on Iceland!
Alastair Sill, Audio Describer for Theatre
I’m really looking forward to watching Owen Thomas’ new play, The Wood by The Torch Theatre. The Wood is inspired by a true story and commemorates the centenary of World War I. Yes, I can’t wait for that one. Another highlight has to be the Festival of Voice between 7th June and 17th June, at locations around Cardiff, created by the Wales Millennium Centre. I really want to try and get down to The Other Room this year because there’s nothing else like it in Cardiff. And anything by Gagglebabble is always fantastic!
Then personally first of all, I hope I have a happy, healthy and fun year with my two boys and girlfriend. Second, I hope York City FC find promotion to the National League, the first step back to the football league. And last, I hope to record lots of funny little anecdotes from my two boys and write a children’s story inspired by their unique craziness!
Jennifer Ruth Sturt, Assistant Producer, Wales Millennium Centre
Thinking ahead to what 2018 has in store is at once terrifying and overwhelmingly exciting. This year is set to be full on, but hugely inspiring year for us at the Centre. With the launch of two new seasons of programmed work in the Weston Studio and ffresh alongside the return of our biannual international arts festival, Festival of Voice. This year, we’re creating a number of co-productions with some incredible Welsh artists and companies and I’m really proud to be part of the team helping to make them happen. As Cardiff embraces it’s title of Music City, the in-house Festival of Voice team have created a programme of work that really celebrates voice in all it’s guises and alongside an ambitious Creative Learning programme allows us to explore the positive impact of collective singing and creative expression. With just six months to go, I can’t wait for what this year’s festival has in store.
Personally, I’m looking forward to many more adventures in 2018 with plans to travel to New Zealand and Canada, see my best friend get married and all being well, get back out on the road and finally get a half marathon under my belt- fingers crossed.
Geinor Styles, Artistic Director, Theatr na nÓg
My cultural highlights would be anything Theatr na nÓg does – obvs… and also the things I am looking forward to seeing and then probably missing because I’ve double booked myself or completely forgotten they were on…
So if someone can remind me then that would be great…
Then the show I will definitely want to see before it heads off to New York, because I missed it the first couple of times round is Grav, an amazing achievement for a theatre company in far west Wales – The Torch to get it to the stage in New York after sell out shows here in Wales and Edinburgh. Congratulations to the creative team for taking a true Welsh hero and exporting it far and wide.
Even though I hate overhyped shows, I must see Hamilton this year. I think the story is incredible and an important one to hear and see in this strange uncertain time. – even though he did the music to Moana!
I also hear that Fleetwood Mac are going to tour this year specially for my birthday, so be rude not to!
Adele Thomas, Director
The play I’m most looking forward to in 2018 is John by Annie Baker, in a new production at the National Theatre. Annie is probably our greatest living dramatist. She writes with a delicacy and a humanity that make Checkhov look positively cartoonish. Her plays The Flick and Circle Mirror Transformation are amongst my favourite evenings in the theatre, and James McDonald (who directed Circle Mirror Transformation) is directing John, which makes it doubly exciting. I can’t tell you anything about what the play’s about.
My New Years Resolution is “Avoid the Algorithm”. So much internet noise and being in the industry means that by the time you’ve read the endless marketing and faced the constant stream of twitter criticism you go into the theatre too equipped to watch the play. Imagine being in the first audience for Macbeth or The Cherry Orchard or Blasted or Machinal. You would be entering the auditorium with true openness. As an audience member you might be shocked or bored or moved to tears, but your experience would be an truly honest one, a direct and unadulterated relationship between you and the play. What a gorgeous idea
Sami Thorpe, co-founder Elbow Room Theatre Company and BSL Interpreter
Sami shares her thoughts in BSL in the video below
There is so much to look forward to in 2018. I cannot wait to see Jonny Cotsen’s ‘Louder is Not Always Clearer’, it’s so important to see diverse stories on the stage and, as someone who has been involved with the Deaf community for a number of years, I’m very excited by it. I’m also looking forward to the drag acts coming to Cardiff this year, especially Klub Kids’ ‘The Twisted Circus’, which I shall be fangirling all over!
My personal hope for 2018 is that as an industry we work together to continue to diversify our audiences, sharing ideas and good practice is key. Be brave, take risks, learn and grow.
Nickie Miles-Wildin, RTYDS, Resident Assistant Director, Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre
I’m sat at my desk at The Royal Exchange Theatre and there’s so much that I’m looking forward to this year. Being Resident Assistant Director in this amazing building is opening up many great opportunities for me. My highlights are Frankenstein directed by Matthew Xia. 200 years after its publication in January 2018 Matthew is directing a new version by April De Angelis – a writer whose work I enjoy. (Playhouse Creatures is brilliant) Being assistant director on this show I am already in the depths of research and know that the cast is going to truly bring the story to life on our stage.
I’m also looking forward to working with the Young Company up here on their production of Mix Tape. Working closely with Matt Hassall – Programme Leader for the Young Company and composer James Frewer, Manchester will be given its own mix tape.
In the summer I can’t wait to be my alter ego Beryl as I tour a handful of festivals with Bingo Lingo alongside my co-star Daryl and his alter ego Cyril. It’s Bingo on a Paralympic Scale. The Without Walls festivals are an absolute joy to be at and to discover new work.
For me 2018 will be one of exciting creative work indoors at the theatre and a summer of amazing interactive playful outdoor work.
And Deaf actor Nadia Nadarajah being part of the new ensemble company at the Globe. Hopefully we’ll see more Deaf and Disabled creatives leading the way.
Matthew Xia, Director
I’m really looking forward to making some work across England and Wales this year. I’m starting with Dublin Carol – the Conor McPherson play about an alcoholic Undertaker being confronted with the life he has lived, and the others he has broken. It’s playing at Sherman Theatre in Cardiff from the 5th of February for two weeks. I then head up to the Manchester Royal Exchange to make a brand new Frankenstein adapted for the stage by April de’Angelis before directing the premier of the Alfred Fagon Award winning play Shebeen by Nottingham writer Mufaro Makubika. The show, starring Karl Collins will be presented at the Nottingham Playhouse and Theatre Royal Stratford East in June.
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.
Arthur Rimbaud at 17years 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
Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events.