Category Archives: Literature

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

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


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



Arthur Rimbaud at 17 years of age


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


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


Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud


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


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


by Rhys Morgan

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

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


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


Image result for pynchon navy

Thomas Pynchon in the navy


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


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


Image result for v-2 rocket

The V-2 rocket


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


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


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


by Rhys Morgan

Review The Chimes by Sebastian Calver

The Chimes, an adaptation by David Willis and Conor Linehan

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

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

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

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

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

Under the Volcano (Malcolm Lowry) Revisited by Rhys Morgan

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


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


Related image

Malcolm Lowry


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


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


Image result for Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl

Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, Mexico


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


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


by Rhys Morgan

My 2017 Cultural Highlights

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

Sami Thorpe,  co-founder Elbow Room Theatre Company 

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

Rachel Pedley Miller, founding director of Avant Cymru

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

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

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

Bethany Seddon, theatre designer

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

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

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

Patrick Jones, Poet and playwright 

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Kelly Jones,  writer and theatre maker

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

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

The Get the Chance team choose their Cultural Highlights of 2017

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

Young Critic,  Gareth Williams

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

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

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

The opening of Storyhouse in Chester

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

Community Critic Kevin Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Critic,  Sebastian Calver

Oslo,  National Theatre

The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic

Heinsberg, The Uncertainty Principle

3rd Act Critic, Helen Joy

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

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

Le Vin Herbe. WNO Perfect. Simply perfect.

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

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

Community Critic, Steph Back

You’ve Got Dragons, Taking Flight.

Slava’s Snow Show

Fear, Mr and Mrs Clark.

Young Critic, James Briggs

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

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

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

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

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

3rd Act Critic,  Ann Davies 

Swarm, Fio Productions

Rhondda Road, Avant Cymru and RCT Theatres

Art in the Attic

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

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

Community Critic,  Hannah Goslin

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

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

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

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

3rd Act Critic, Roger Barrington

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

The Cherry Orchard, Sherman Theatre.

Little Wolf, Lucid.

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

Young Critic,  Sian Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

Community Critic,  Gemma Treharne Foose

Swarm, Fio Productions

The Mountaintop, Fio Productions

Sunny Afternoon, Wales Millennium Centre

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

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

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

Young Critic, Vicky Lord

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

Blood Brothers, New Theatre, Cardiff

Miss Saigon, Wales Millennium Centre

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

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

Community Critic,  Emily Garside

La Cage Aux Folles, New Theatre

Rent, WMC

Where Do Little Birds Go, Cardiff Fringe

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

Young Critic Corrine Cox

The Cherry Orchard, Sherman Theatre

Sunny Afternoon, Wales Millennium Centre

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

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

Community Critic, Barbara Hughes Moore

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

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

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

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

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

Young Critic, Eloise Stingemore

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

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

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

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

Community Critic, Patrick Downes

The Addams Family Musical at Wales Millennium Centre

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

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

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

Cultural event; Tiger Bay The Musical, Wales Millennium Centre

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

Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace) Revisited by Rhys Morgan

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


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


Related image

David Foster Wallace


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


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


Related image

Modern day Boston, Massachusetts


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


Image result for infinite jest

The addict’s perception of self


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


Related image

James Incandenza’s suicide


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


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


by Rhys Morgan

An Interview with Artist and Illustrator Emily Jones

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

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

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

So what got you interested in Illustration?

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

How has your career as an illustrator developed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any illustrators or artists that inspire you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you have planned for the future?

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

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

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

Image for Hugan Fach Goch/Little Red Riding Hood

Image for Alice in Wonderland

Thanks for your time Emily.

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

Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) Revisited by Rhys Morgan

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


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


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


Poster for the film Apocalypse Now (1979)


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


Related image

Illustration of a steamboat traveling along the Congo River


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


Related image

Illustration of Mr. Kurtz


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


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


by Rhys Morgan

Top Tunes with novelist and playwright Matthew David Scott

Matthew David Scott

 Photographic credit 

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

Hello! My name is Matthew David Scott and I’m a novelist and playwright. I’m originally from Manchester and have now settled in South Wales after a stint in the USA. I’ve published two novels: Playing Mercy (Parthian 2005), which was listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize; and The Ground Remembers (Parthian 2009).

I’m also a founder member of Slung Low, a theatre company based in Leeds, and have written around a dozen shows with them that have been performed at The Barbican, The Liverpool Everyman, car parks, fields and whole city centres both nationally and internationally.

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?

At the moment I’m listening to some of my favourite records of 2017 so I can put together a ‘best of’ list that nobody will care about. Currently in the running is  Currently in the running is: Adios Senor Pusscat by Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band; New Energy by Four Tet; Peasant by Richard Dawson; Black Origami by JLin; Arca by Arca; Dust by Laurel Halo; and Drunk by Thundercat.  DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar is probably my most played in the car, which is always a good sign.

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?

This could be fifty albums long and change from week to week, so here goes:

1 Bob Marley & The Wailers – Legend: I’m sure fellow reggae snobs will turn their noses up at this but it’s a record I remember my dad playing all the time as a kid in the front room. One of his claims to fame is going to see Bob Marley live and telling Tony Wilson to sit down because he was stood on his chair ‘acting the goat’. I also drew a really terrible picture of the sleeve, of which I was very proud at the time but now recall looking a lot like an ill Howard Donald from late-period (first incarnation) Take That. Every time I hear Stir It Up I’m transported to that front room as a seven year old kid.

2 Hunky Dory – David Bowie: Bowie was also a big part of growing up and is one of the few artists whose death genuinely affected me. My mum’s younger siblings were a bit obsessed with him, and apparently my uncle once got caught stealing my aunty’s blouse to wear in the Bowie/Roxy room at a Manchester nightclub. This album, although not my favourite Bowie, holds special memories as it was the first of his I bought for myself. I got it in Tenby on a family holiday, the same day I picked up What’s Goin On by Marvin Gaye. It was an auspicious day for me and my Walkman.

3 Deep Heat 89: Fight The Flame – Various Artists: I think my obsession with dance music started with this fine double cassette. It has some absolute stormers on it including Voodoo Ray by A Guy Called Gerald (still in my all time top ten), Strings of Life, Stakker Humanoid, Promised Land… I’d like to say I was a regular at the Haçienda back then but I was ten. This was when, if you weren’t old enough to go clubbing or didn’t have an older brother or sister, the only way to hear this sort of music was the odd late night radio show; compilations like this; and the sincere hope that the specialist chart on ‘The Chart Show’ that week was The Dance Chart. I still remember seeing the video for Aftermath by Nightmares On Wax on that show and, shortly after a trip to John Menzies, my dad’s speakers were never quite the same again.

4 Definitely Maybe – Oasis: It was either this, Screamadelica, or the first Stone Roses album as representative of this period of my life but, if I’m being totally honest, Definitely Maybe has to be the one. It’s not the best of those records but being 15/16 when this came out made you feel like a king and walk like a fool. I saw them in ’94 at the Academy and it was life-changing (thanks for taking me, Aunty Paula), and their singles coming out were genuine events — the B-sides! Through them I discovered all those other bands they ripped off and for that, if nothing else, they deserve my undying love.

5 Tri Repeate – Autechre: On the personal statement in my Record of Achievement from school, it says my favourite bands are The Stone Roses and Autechre — just in case an employer wanted to know how incredibly cool I was in 1995. Autechre are brilliant. How they’ve developed and created a space totally their own over the last three (!) decades is an inspiration to any artist. There are records they’ve made that I’m still making sense of but this is their best and they are the DNA for many of the really great experimental electronic artists around today (the aforementioned Arca being one). I love them and imagine they have a sensational collection of outdoor wear.

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

I’m going to pretend I misread the question and pick Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell because it was the first dance at my wedding and when Marvin goes ‘whoo!’ at 1min 39secs a bolt of sheer joy fizzes through me.