Category Archives: Music

Review Lovecraft (Not the Sex Shop in Cardiff), Carys Eleri by Kevin Johnson

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Written and performed by Carys Eleri (‘Love Goddess’ in English) this one-woman show is like a cross between Fleabag, Eminem and Bonnie Tyler, exploring the science of love in a way that is earthy, informative and Welsh. It’s also very, very funny.

At heart it’s a monologue about the dangers of loneliness, which now has its own page on the NHS website, asking questions like do we have to have lovers we don’t love to fill that void or can friends suffice? Carys takes us through both the science behind why and how we fall in love, and also her own love life, revealing that our brain chemistry has a lot to answer for.

She intersperses the dialogue with unforgettable songs and a pretty good voice, ranging from rap to disco to heavy metal, and it’ll be a long time before I forget ‘Magic Taxi’ or ‘Tit Montage’, her ballad on a drunken lesbian threesome that probably didn’t actually happen.

There is also some audience participation about Tinder, and where we are all offered cocaine, only to discover that for logistical reasons it’s been replaced with chocolate instead. (Although it was very nice chocolate).

Lovecraft is a delightfully bawdy, funny and enlightening show that keeps you laughing throughout. The only thing I could find fault with is that the narrative is a bit all over the place at times, but that’s a minor detail.

Cerys hugged every member of the audience before the show started, and it was so much fun that after it ended, I really wanted to hug her back in gratitude!

Review Lovecraft (Not the sex shop in Cardiff) Carys Eleri by Lois Arcari

I usually like my comedy in darker shades, but if you’re looking for an irreverent comedy that’s packed with positivity and threaded with catchy musical numbers, Lovecraft (not the sex shop in Cardiff) is the perfect night out.

It all hinges on the winning charisma of Carys Eleri – a woman who wins over the audience even before the first word of her show. Introducing everyone with a genuinely warm hug, not even a cynic could be against this show as they wait for it to start. Her spoken comedy is brassy and fizzy. While there are only a few standout jokes once you leave the theatre – never to look at A&E Glangwilly the same again – her general aura of energy and enthusiasm sticks with you.

It truly is ‘something for everyone’ comedy. Using hugs and chocolate, plus general affability, Carys had the audience in the palm of her hand the whole way through. Even better, her broad range of jokes from shitty exes to loneliness and online dating meant everyone could relate to something. My personal favorite came when she described her alternative and decent ex. How he stood out in Camarthen, which ‘breeds rugby players like rabbits.’ He was:

‘‘absolutely not a rugby player. He wore eyeliner!’

I’ll always relate to that one!

Her musical numbers show a panache for parody and wordplay. While a few in the first act seemed a bit repetitive, they find their feet as more genre variation comes in. Carys luckily also gets the chance to show off her genuinely fantastic voice as the numbers progress. ‘I Brain you,’ ‘Magic Taxi’ and ‘Rat Park’ get points for the perfect balance of witty and catchy. The animation that accompanied them was basic but effective and had a few moments of great visual humour – like the unicorn’s cigarette horn.

If you’re missing Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and wish that Rachel Bloom would have swapped some Hollywood malarkey for Valleys realism, this show is for you. There are a few humourless gripes to be had – the basic science, the repetition of some musical numbers – but Carys Eleri pulls off her one woman show with charisma and bellyaching comedy.

My one big gripe was with the central conceit. This was that the neuroscience of love can be replicated with friendship and community.

While it is in itself a positive message, and it’s humbling to know such an extroverted figure as Carys experienced loneliness, it is somewhat accidentally incomplete. In the valleys or anywhere poor and hard to get to, social isolation has been the catalyst for many a horrible relationship. While her takeaway is a great message for people with good friends to stop worrying about romance, many people only do because those friends can be so hard to find.

Still, even when your physical community is desolate or disappointing, millions find community through art. And a happy, slightly tipsy, and adoring community watched Lovecraft (not the sex shop in Cardiff) that night.

Review Out Of The System:Mixed Bill, Dance Umbrella by Tanica Psalmist

Out Of The System : ‘MIXED BILL’ curated by Dance Umbrella, featured guest programme ‘Freddie Opoku; in partnership with Bernie Grant ArtCentre & Systems LAB. Out from this stemmed acts who brought more than just multi-disciplinary, deeply conscious and lucrative art.

All pieces structurally provided visual content that were richly infused with innovation & culture. This was exceptionally recognised during the first act of the evening, ‘Fragility in Man’ by dancer Theo Inart. His unique segment poured vulnerability on stage. A one man show featuring live looping, un-dressing, mental channelling & emotional battling through movement & sound-making. Each movement foretold his insanity as a man looking sane, meanwhile each sound enchanted torment from the infliction of oppression within society as a man.


Next on ‘Exhibit F’ by Becky Namgaud. Her piece was the most abstract out of the other pieces showcased, to the point where you would’ve needed to pick her brain to find meaning within the intensity of her choreography & low light to dark mood lighting choice. Becky’s performance grasped attention being the only act who was nude, top half of her body. She’d incorporated sounds of running water, stayed levelled on the ground the entire time with an ambience sound I struggled to find the correlation with to match her theme. However, in spite of this I’d describe this piece as deeply metaphorical, original, innovative with complex moves combined with contemporary & Capoeira style of dance. I perceived this piece may have been more personal, explaining why it wasn’t self-explanatory to members of the audience. This gave Becky’s presence power & bravery, as she interestingly also had a lot of repetition on stage. 


Followed on from Becky’s piece was a duet act, ‘Beyond Words’ performed by FFion Camberwell Davis & Tyrone Issac Stewart. Ffion first appeared on stage wearing lingerie, whilst Tyrone appeared in boxers, circulating a lot of their movement at the beginning on balance where they’d climb & step on to one another weary of their surroundings. As their piece built more momentum both acts started exploiting various episodes of their unique individuality through phases of facing judgment, living in a world where your made to feel uncomfortable when in reality feeling comfortable with yourself. To portray their multifaceted mindsets they’d transitioned to a volume of costume changes on set, emphasising through spoken-word that external factors don’t define them but helps in finding their purpose to re-connect deeply to their roots. The incorporation of spoken word for me was distinctive, as it helped exclaim the powerful discovery of two individuals dressing down to reflect the value found in being at one as a collective amongst people with different tribal history.


Lastly, Jonzi D presented his piece ‘Aeroplane Man’, which personally blew me away the most! His piece was a perfect way to end the showcase as he took the audience on a never-ending, mental plane journey bringing nothing but himself. Energetically jogging on one spot as he physically, mentally, emotionally & spiritually ran his way to various regions expecting respect & acceptance only to land in his top chosen destinations to visit his ethnic heritage, origin of ancestors, heritage of his indigenous people… yet facing rejection, humiliation from every angle he turned, but not giving up, hopeful of finding unity, validation, identity & belonging who wouldn’t see him as a fabricated, disillusioned wannabe; unable to speak his mothers tongue, recognise his African tribe and fully fit due to be seen as a migrant. A story of a man telling his story through the lens of witnessing himself as a coloured man, born & raised in England, birthed from West Indian parents who came to England during the Windsrush & so fourth. Themes of propaganda, racism, community, adaptation in search of finding home, his catchy lyrics got you hooked on where his next flights were booked.


All artists decided to focus on an abstract way of grouping their political, emotional views on factors that surround the society in spite of issues that not every single person in the audience would have had reciprocated. All pieces were well rehearsed, embodying characterisation and well thought through in terms of mis-en-scene as the choice of lighting, dress outfits, music and other implications of sound- was what truly signified the importance elements & finding meaning in their content to take something away with you even if it wasn’t a chunk load.  As a collective artists FFion Camberwell Davis, Tyrone Issac Stewart, Becky – Namgauds, Miguel-Altunaga & Florian- Peus demonstrated effective, triumphed work they should each be proud of.  

Credits

THĒO INART / FFION CAMPBELL-DAVIES & tyroneisaacstuart / BECKY NAMGAUDS / JONZI D

(FRAGILITY IN MAN) PART 1
Choreography Theo TJ Lowe
Art Direction Theo TJ Lowe
Sound Collaborators Louis Van Johnson, Sabio Janiak
Voice Work Theo TJ Lowe
Performer Theo TJ Lowe

EXHIBIT F
Choreographed and performed by Becky Namguads
Additional Direction Marso Riviere
Music Yael Claire Shahmoon
Producer Amy Sheppard

Curated by DU Guest Programmer Freddie Opoku-Addaie
A Dance Umbrella production
Presented in partnership with Bernie Grants Arts Centre

Review tic toc, Parama 2 by Helen Joy

Reminiscence is a tricky thing. It can border on the nostalgic if you’re not careful.


Those factory workers faced a lot of tough times and made a lot of tough decisions. But they laughed a lot too. They made life long friends. They forced some change. They probably sang a fair bit along the way as well.


I like a sing song, I’m very fond of a musical and I like a good story. I like characters I recognise and a history I know just enough about to give that story ballast.


Clearly, I am not alone. A whole audience agrees with me for sure. What a glorious romp! Parama 2 gives us an all singing, all dancing romp of a performance with every body on that stage playing to her natural strengths effortlessly and with joy.


Such witty pithy solos and duets with heart, a heart ripping trio trips us towards the end of an excellent saga.


I love it. I am watching everyone around me, sitting around candle lit, cloth covered club tables laughing, listening and sad for times past and people too. Touched by the factory workers, wondering how much has really changed and what this future holds. No woman is an island.


I am sitting with Olwen’s daughter, ‘that’s my mum, the one in the silly skirt’ and when she sings her ballad, we are both a little moved, a little teary.

It would be impossible to single any one actor out for particular accolade – each song matched their style, each scene matched their character, each laugh and each sigh was earned.


Please join this troupe, this band of friends, at their reunion and prepare to tap your toes and reminisce and glimpse behind the aprons of our past.

Seen: Friday, 1st November at Chapter Arts

An Interview with Sam Pullan Nominee for Young Person of the Year, National Rural Touring Awards 2019.

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

I am a 15-year-old who is very interested in the technical side of theatre. I do a lot in the hall which is closest to me which is Neuadd Dyfi in Aberdyfi . I help out with all types of events that happen in the hall from small touring shows, dance and talent shows to our local pantomime.


So what got you interested in the arts?

It all started when I moved down here at the age of 7, my mum became involved with Aberdyfi Players the 1st year we moved down here.

Aberdyfi Players directors Su Tacey and Des George outside the Neuadd Dyfi earlier this year with the two awards for Best Pantomime overall in their District in Wales and Best Stage Management and Special Effects. Amateur Theatre National and Operatic Dramatic Association (NODA) for their 2018 production of Aladdin.

I was pretty much dragged along to watch the performance of their yearly pantomime. From the moment I walked into the hall I wanted to know how to work the lighting. Most children at that age wouldn’t have continued to think about it but after talking to mum she introduced me to Des George who runs the hall and he fuelled my interest even more. I didn’t join Aberdyfi Players straight away but it wasn’t long as I was inching to get involved with the tech side with Des’s knowledge, help and experience it has got me to where I am today.

Congratulations on your nomination for Young Person of the Year in the National Rural Touring Awards 2019.The awards recognise the valuable work of productions, venues, promoters, schemes, and staff in the rural touring sector. What is your role at Neuadd Dyfi?

Good question, I don’t feel I really have one specific role at the Neuadd, I try my best to help with as many things as I can. Obviously my main interest is lighting and sound which I help all the touring companies or events which come into the hall with.



Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision Are you aware of any barriers to accessing high quality productions for audiences at Neuadd Dyfi?

I would have to say it would be the size of our auditorium, we have had half of the hall levelled out, but we would like it to all be retractable seating. If we did have retractable seating installed it would open up so many more opportunities.


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

I have to say it is difficult to choose one area to fund, it would have to be backstage in general. From props to tech


What excites you about the arts ?

The fact that everyone comes together to form one big team and works together to create one big show. Everyone has their own part from technical to costume to performing.

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

It would have to be ‘I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost’ by Little Earthquake. By far one of the most mind twisting shows I have ever watched, if you get the chance ( no pun intended) to go and watch it please do. The meaning behind it is amazing but that’s all I can say about it.

The next productions to play at Neuadd Dyffi are,

Mrs Peachum’s Guide to Love & Marriage by Mid Wales Opera

Roots by National Dance Company Wales.

National Dance Company Wales are also running a free Day of Dance at Neuadd Dyfi on Saturday the 23rd of November. Booking details are below.

IN THE PINK by Ann Davies

It was a dark Autumnal Valleys night where under feet the gravel crunched, it was almost like walking on cornflakes; curtains were drawn like closed eyes on terraced houses in the village. It was a cold night, with the mist draping the mountainside like a cosy quilt.

Ahead on the hillside, stood the whiteness of Carmel Chapel in the Rhondda Fach Village of Blaenllechau where Brian’s General Store, in partnership with the Blaenllechau Community Involvement Group and Blaenllechau Village Hall Project proudly announced a concert with guests the Tenovus Choir and Timeline.

Inside the Chapel there was a warm welcome with refreshments available as the choir began rehearsing their repertoire and people began arriving. The Chapel began as two wooden buildings built in 1858 – thus making it the oldest chapel in the Rhondda Fach Valley – its denomination was Presbyterian at birth, but since 2002 it has been an Independent Chapel which holds an Evening Service at 5.30 pm every Sunday, with Owen Griffiths as the Chapel’s Pastor.

The Tenovus Choir Pontypridd are one of the largest in Wales, they are a mixed group of people who have suffered or know someone who has or had cancer; their combination of singing and the message of enjoyment it brought to all was well received. The Choir were arranged into rows of musicality, they wore mostly black, and some with Tenovus T shirts but the main colour was prominent. There were wigs, a boa stole, a cowboy hat, ties and sleeves with jewellery that were the entire colour of pink. The message was for Breast Cancer Awareness Week stating that men can get breast cancer too. Their Choir Leader is Iori Haugen, he leads two Tenovus Choirs, and there are 16 in Wales. The Charity itself will be 75 years old next year and the Let’s sing for Cancer Project has been going for 10 years. Its aim is to raise funds for similar units (to the Mammogram ones) which will bring Chemotherapy treatment closer to the home of the patients. For further information please contact info@tenovuscancercare,org.uk.

Using backing tracks the Choir sang several songs which highlighted their talent, “Mr Blue Sky”,

 “We are Warriors” and “Sing a Song” particularly stood out.

The second group to entertain the audience was TimeLine, comprising of Gary, Nigel and Keith, a well-known trio of male singers from the area, formerly the Gooseberries with their formulae of songs which had the chapel rocking to the rafters. A trip down memory lane of “Waterloo Sunset”, “I’m a Believer” complete with the awesome “Hallelujah” which I am sure reached out well beyond the valley.

Special Guests were Deputy Mayor Councillor Susan Morgans (Ferndale Ward) and her Consort, Councillor Jack Harries (Maerdy Ward) both representatives of the local authority of Rhondda Cynon Taf. A presentation was given to a local couple by Cllr. Morgans consisting of a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a basket of goodies. Compere Brian Jones (in his pink shirt) of Brian’s General Store, Blaenllechau announced the results of the Raffle being held at the event comprising of wine, chocolates and homemade cakes.

In her speech Cllr. Morgans – who will be Mayor of RCT in 2020 with Cllr. Harries as her Consort, concluded that we are all one community and that as one we should help one another. Cllr. Morgans has named Cancer Research as one of her Charities for her tenure as Mayor.

The Valley was alive with song rocking the chapel to its rafters to be heard well beyond as the Tenovus Choir, TimeLine and the audience ended the night combining together with the Elvis song “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You”

With thanks and appreciation to all IN THE PINK of health

Remembering there but for the grace of God

Think Pink Think Cancer Research

Top Tunes with Katherine Chandler

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

I’m a writer that works mainly in theatre and I’ve done a bit of film and TV and radio.

I love words and people and questioning things so I think being a writer is probably where I always would have ended up. I’m not from a theatre/arts background at all, I left school  before A levels like all my friends. I was more or less always working from leaving school. Me and my friend worked for her Dad on the markets and street trading for a while and I was a waitress for different places. I did a stint on the breakfast shift in the Angel Hotel, Cardiff and also a few years in the Masonic hall for the Masons. When I didn’t have work I signed on and I was put on a YTS scheme that was for kids that had left school like me without qualifications. I happened to be sent to the Sherman Theatre , Cardiff and it changed everything for me.

The exterior of the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff in the 1980’s

I was in the finance and admin dept but loved being around the shows. Phil Clark who was Artistic Director at that time (Phil is the Director of a play I wrote ‘Peggy’s Song’ by National Theatre Wales which is about to go on tour) encouraged us all to go and see whatever was on. It was the late eighties, the time of Willy Russell and John Godber, perfect plays for someone like me who never went to theatre. I just loved it!

I worked at the Sherman for six years, I was always hanging around the production office and started volunteering to do stuff on the shows. So I chaperoned a bit and shadowed stage management and helped out on the Sherman Youth Theatre that sort of thing. When I was twenty-four I applied to Welsh College to do the Stage Management course, I didn’t have any qualifications so I really was surprised when I got on. I stage managed for a bit and then when I had kids I started writing. I had a very tough few years personally in my twenties and early thirties and it really changed the way I looked at life. I decided not to waste any more time, I wanted to be a writer and so that’s what I did.

I’ve never done any kind of writing course but I think just being around performance for all of those years gave me a sense of how to write for theatre. I believe that anyone can write a play, that’s what I love about script writing, I wish more people from backgrounds like mine would give it a go, it’s been a real joy for me to be able to do something that I love.

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 James Brown and Aretha Franklin. I have to choose some songs for Peggy’s Song All the music used in Peggy’s Song is by artists who have died. Ghosts that stay with us.

When I write I more often than not have music attached to the play, which the director may or may not choose to use. Before it Rains was The Super Furry Animals, Bird was Curtis Mayfield, Thick as Thieves was Nina Simone and Lose Yourself was The Commodores. Sometimes when the show has finished it takes a while before you can go back to those songs because you are transported back to the play.

Before It Rains, Bird, Thick as Thieves, Lose Yourself.

Peggy’s Song has lots of music in it because the main character Danny played by Christian Patterson is a hospital DJ.

Christian Patterson in the role of Danny, Peggy’s Song by National Theatre Wales

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? 

Five is so difficult but I think it’s going to come down to memories for me.

  1. Songs in the Key of Life – Stevie Wonder

It’s a masterpiece. Everything about it, the production, the lyrics, the groove, the voice.

I could have chosen a few of his albums because his work from the early seventies is genius, he’s up there with the Beatles for me but this is the album.

I don’t talk a lot about losing my sons but an interesting thing happened and this album leads me to that. In the period around and a few years after they died I really wasn’t able to listen to a lot of music. I think probably because you’re too raw and music gets into you. You put a hard shell around you, I think so you’re able to function and music was too manipulating. This was one of the only albums I listened to during that time. I remember playing it in the car a lot when my daughter was little, driving her around to different clubs and singing ‘Knocks Me off my Feet’ to her. It always makes me think of the kids being little and precious times with them and Guy. It’s a sunny day, windows open, album. Love and happiness.

2. Saturday Night Fever – The Motion Picture Soundtrack

Just because it takes me back to my childhood. Family parties, Christmases’, Discos, A Benidorm holiday in 1979, my Dad, my Uncle, my sister, my cousins. We’re a family that likes to have a good time. You could rent us for a disco or a wedding to fill your dance floor to this album.

I love Disco. Donna Summer, Earth Wind and Fire, Chic, Chaka Khan, Odyssey. I have most of our disco albums from the seventies that I still play. I also love the Bee Gees but ‘If I Can’t Have You’, Yvonne Elliman is the song for me from this album, her voice is so full of full of heartbreak and drama.

3. Setting Sons – The Jam

The Jam and Paul Weller could have taken three of the five albums for me. I love Dig the New Breed, Sound Effects and Wild Wood but I keep coming back to Setting Sons.

I used ‘Thick as Thieves’ as a title for a play; it’s one of my favourite songs. Paul Weller is a master lyricist. We really felt he was speaking for us as teenagers. I think there’s a wave of working class kids who are now in their forties and fifties that hold Paul Weller in the highest regard, it’s like a club we all belong to. This album takes me back to my early teens, there was a mini mod revival. All the boys were wearing stay press trousers and Harringtons and Fred Perrys and Y cardies. Our youth club did a Thursday night disco and it was all The Jam or The Specials, The Selector or The Beat. Me and my friends Cath, Sheenagh and Lisa would go to the Northern Soul disco in the Transport Club in Grangetown on a Saturday. My love for Motown and Soul comes from that time and it’s the music I still listen to the most.

4. I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You – Aretha Franklin

I mean. If I wanted to lose myself this is where I’d go. Perfection. ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’ is the song for me from this one. Such a sassy song. She’s not asking him to do right by her, she’s telling him. I love it.

5. An Eighties Hits Compilation

I can’t decide the final one so I’m going for an eighties compilation record that has New Order, Depeche Mode, Human League, Yazoo, The Police, Wham, Michael Jackson, Prince, David Bowie, The Style Council, George Michael, Paul Young, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Madonna, Bananarama, Scritti Polliti, The Cure, Aztec Camera, Tears for Fears, Spandau Ballet, REM, Luther Vandross, Curiosity Killed the Cat, Cyndi Lauper, Crowded House, Talking Heads, Tracey Chapman, Anita Baker and many, many more.

I wanted an eighties album. It was going to be Prince, Purple Rain or George Michael, Faith but then there’s Human League Dare and and and – so I’ve gone for a compilation. A big one with loads of songs on. Full of memories.

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?

It has to be ‘Knocks Me Off My Feet’ Stevie Wonder. My kids and Guy are Love and happiness for me and that’s also what this song is.

Many thanks for your time 

Tickets for the tour of Peggy’s Song produced by National Theatre Wales are available to book below.

Riverfront Newport – 25 September, 7.45pm BOOK NOW

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

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

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

Theatr Hafren, Newtown – 3 October, 7.45pm BOOK NOW

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

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

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

Blackwood Miners Institute – 8 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

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

Ffwrnes, Llanelli – 10 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Lyric, Carmarthen – 11 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Review : Styx, Second Body By Hannah Goslin

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

In the belly of one of London’s newest theatre’s, I experienced one of the most emotional and best nights of my life.

Entering the space, we are welcome to live music, played by a band of 7 – with brass instruments, electric guitars, sound scapes and a drum kit. The set basic, only light bulbs above each person and in the ceiling, and all dressed smartly but shoeless – I cannot tell you how much this minimalist band excited me – something unusual and live!

Styx is a true-life play developed by two of the band members who are siblings – there is a cross over of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice Greek myth and their own grandparents’ lives. It tackles the issues and reality of dementia, of love, of life and ultimately how memory works.

Second Body chop and change, from true recordings of their Grandmother, new and brilliant music composed, written and performed by the band on stage, spoken word and recordings from interviews with the band. While this sounds like a lot, it really works amazingly well. There is a pattern to the performance, and it felt like a dark yet humorous, genuine and unbelievably cool musical. The story is brought to us, from beginning to end, as we get to know their family, their grandparents, but with musical interludes.

Both of these are so genius-ly done that you could happily take them apart from one another and still love every second – but you don’t want to do that. It is so wonderful composed that it is hard not to love every single person, to love their family and to really see their emotion and passion for the piece.

This review feels hard to write – I could gush all day about how phenomenal this piece was. Dementia is something close to me, but even if you have never experienced this, you would have experienced some kind of grief or ending of a story – and so I would defy anyone to come away not feeling tearful, feeling welcomed and honoured in sharing their story and a warmth at how beautifully this performance is.

So enough gushing – I can only see that if you do not see this, you will miss one of the best pieces of theatre I have ever seen. Styx is unlike anything I have ever experienced before, and tantalised every theatrical and personal emotion.


An Interview With Welsh Playwright Owen Thomas

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

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

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

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

So, what got you interested in the arts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owen’s Writing Shed

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

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

Is there a place you go to write?

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

Writing Shed Interior

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

What excites you about the arts in Wales? 

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Murphy, Artistic Director, Sherman Theatre.

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks for your time

You are very welcome.

Review: The Populars, Volcano Theatre Company, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If there is any time for a production around Brexit, then this is it.

But this is Volcano Theatre Company – do not expect it to be as simple as a Brexit play.

In what looks like a village hall at Summerhall, there are no chairs, no ‘basic theatre staging’; nothing is quintessential about this production.

Firstly, it is AMAZING how this small group of performers keep going. Edinburgh is unusually hot at the moment, and to then essentially dance full stop, in character, no where to hide, for probably 15 minutes is a feat in itself.

Volcano are well known (and gosh don’t I know it from my training days with them as a student) for their physicality, and so there is no fear in this when they battle over tables, ‘claiming space’ and almost throw one another around the room. They each have a ‘character’ but there’s also an honesty about them – we get to know them, their personalities, with the opportunity to ad lib and interact with us alone and as a group, and from this we get the impression of their personalities. Of course, this may just be very good acting, but still, we enjoy getting to know them, laughing with them, dancing with them and all the absurdities in between.

The ‘choones’ are EXCELLENT- A brilliant choice of music; it lets us get involved, as music is a powerful tool when everyone knows the song. And these are eclectic in themselves, with diverse nationalities and drag us into one era, while the performers question the future; we are left in a state of every changing existence.

The Populars is high energised fun, full of important questions, great music and intense choreography.