Before watching ‘The Bodyguard’, at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff I was very excited. The songs are many of my favourites and so I knew it would be an enjoyable performance, but this show did not disappoint. At first, I thought it would be similar to Motown in which the songs are great and popular, and people would sing along to, but the narrative is somewhat less important, but I could not have been more wrong. In fact, I would consider ‘The Bodyguard’ as one of the best all-round productions that I have seen. Having some of my ‘guilty pleasure’ songs included in this production was the icing on the cake. The last time I saw Alexander Burke in a production was in ‘Sister Act,’ which I felt she didn’t suit but this powerful ballad-based character was a lot more suited to Alexander and her singing style.
The production’s opening was a striking shadow-projected scene, which had loud sound effects, which caused audible gasps from the audience. This was a fantastic way to grab audience attention in the first few minutes of the show. It was easy to spot that this scene would be book-ending the whole production and a similar scene would take place at the end of the show. This is the first time, in my experience, that this type of structure is used which made me keep the image in my head to see how the plot would lead to it again in the end. This meant the entire time I was thinking about this opening scene, which was not a distraction in any sense but would be considered an effective opening scene. The opening number however was flawless. The production values of staging, light and pyros was superb and the dancing was incredible. I don’t know if it was intentional, but I instantly drew comparisons of the character ‘Rachel Marron’ both are super successful artists, costumes show similarities to one another and the ‘performance’ of their songs (especially this one) were of the highest quality. However, I believe that this performance topped the Beyoncé performances I have seen live and this number could have easily been a show in itself. It would not have been out of place as a concert/performance in somewhere like the 02 Arena. The one small drawback to this number was, Alexander Burke, who played Rachel Marron, is an incredible singer and actor but her dancing is the weakest of the three (all of which are obviously of a high level but her dancing is not quite as good as the other two) which could be noticed through the big dance numbers such as this one and also during the opening number there was a short scene of dialogue which took place. Due to everything that was happening on the stage (lights, dancers, music etc.) I missed a lot of this dialogue which was clearly not what the directors would have wanted. The bold opening scene and awe-inspiring opening number contrasted each other perfectly and ‘set the scene’ for the rest of the production. This show alternates between these amazing, popular songs and tense dramatic scenes, which the opening sequences set up for the rest of the show beautifully.
Many of the supporting characters in this production were very relatable and believable which is important for productions like this. The young boy who plays Fetcher was an incredible dancer, which was shown in one of the dance rehearsals scenes towards the beginning of the musical. He was amazing and I would say upstaged some of the other dancers. They used the young boy to perform lifts and flips which obviously would have been easier due to the size of the actor. Although, during this scene the character crawled through a table which I believe did not quite fit the rest of the choreography, but this is a minor detail. This character would have primarily involved to provide an ‘awww’ factor as he is the young son of Rachel who gets caught up in the events of the stalker. This did build the sympathy toward Rachel and ‘hatred’ toward the stalker. The stalker (played by Phil Atkinson) was a key character although he is barely on the stage, even when he wasn’t on stage his presence could still be felt. When he was on stage when he is silent and is in almost darkness, which was an extremely effective way to build tension, and it is only in act two that he speaks. The whole presentation (including casting) of this character was perfect and this character-built fear from the audience. Although it was a bit strange that this character spent a lot the time without a top on.
One of the most enjoyable scenes in the whole show was a
karaoke scene not because of dramatic staging, of phenomenal singing or
whatever it was just a fun scene. It opened with three girls drunkenly singing ‘Where
Do Broken Hearts Go’ it was really funny and I felt like I have seen the same
scene in real life. A group of girls singing a popular song like that in
karaoke while ‘butchering’ the song, but the difference was in this show these
actresses were doing it intentionally. This seemed to be a common theme in this
production. Later in this scene, Frank Farmer, the bodyguard (played by Benoit Marechal)
goes onto karaoke to take on Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ which I
have personally been tempted to do but never have had the guts to due to the
power of the song. However, Frank combated this by ‘talking’ the song, which
had the whole audience rolling in laughter. Which was really nice to see the
softer side of frank. This scene was ended by the iconic song ‘I Have Nothing’
which was beautifully sung by Alexander. Which was obviously sang to and about
Frank as we found out they have an attraction between the two of them.
The final scene of this act was in a club. It revolved
around Frank and Tony Scibeli, the security guard (played by Craig Berry)
protecting Rachel from any potential threats in the club. In this scene the spotlight
illuminates the stalker. This meant my eyes were following the stalker’s track
around the stage, which only added to the tension and drama. IThis scene looked
more like it took place in a nightclub due to the flashing lights and music
rather than a normal club but apart from this the scene was well staged and
The beginning of Act Two had a big dance number to the song
‘I’m Every Woman’, which is a song I know very well. The dancers in this scene
were excellent and the acrobatics were a spectacle to watch. However, at
certain points in the number there were movements that were supposed to be done
at the same time and were actually out of time with one another. But I really
enjoyed this opening, as its ‘over-the-top ness’ was a perfect way to regain
the excitement after the intermission. There was a few people in the audience
singing along with the music which I personally find great as it shows they are
enjoying the song etc., but I know some people are against this, so this is
In one scene the staging changed from a luxurious mansion to
a log cabin. I really liked the concept of the staging as a log cabin suggest
warmth and safety, which was exactly what it was supposed to do within the
story. The contrasts between these two setting also helped shift the focus from
Rachel and her fame/money etc. to family. This is added to be a heart-warming
rendition of ‘Jesus Loves Me’ between Nicky Marron, Rachel and Fletcher.
Fletcher however did struggle with this song as it is a complex rhythm and
strange vocals but as he was a child this was somewhat ignored. The lights and
effects were continued to be used to make the Stalker actually terrifying as he
appears from nowhere at points and disappears quickly after.
Probably the biggest and best number in the entire
production is the classic ‘I Will Always Love You.’ This song was kept right
until the end to act as an emotional tribute to everything that happened
throughout the narrative. As the earlier ‘rendition’ by Frank in karaoke, was
comical this final number was show stopping. The staging, costume and lights
worked perfectly to add to the emotional nature of the song and Alexander’s
vocals were outstanding. She did change some of the vocal trills from the original,
which were fantastic. During this song there was a montage projected onto the
stage of the Rachel and Frank and their story so far. I found this to be
somewhat distracting from the song and could have done without it, but the
montage was not a cheesy and unnecessary it was heartfelt and emotional. After all this
happened the entire cast sung ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody.’ This involved
solos from different members of the cast, including the Stalker (which was a
nice inclusion in my opinion), dance sequences and ‘party’ lighting. This was
when the audience were encouraged to sing and dance. The two songs (I Will Always
Love You and I Wanna Dance with Somebody) obviously contrasted each other and
helped cement the pairing of drama and fun.
This production was well thought out and planned. Everything from music, lighting, costumes to props used all worked perfectly together, which was really nice to watch. The production aspects of the show were fantastic and one of the best I have seen. Alexander Burke’s portrayal of the iconic role is on par with Whitney’s (which is high praise) and this a show not to miss.
The production Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster is triumphantly spectacular! featuring an abundance of sensory flows from different types of beatboxers’ who all ecstatically project an aura of an overwhelming system, which conveys power and pain. Compellingly taking our ears through motions as their voices effortlessly, vigorously exploit numerous of in-depth frequencies from low to high simultaneously. Several of the beatboxers fluidity hypnotised us through their radio waves, leaving memorisation as they mind-blowingly touched on elements affiliated with political, mental and emotional conflict.
The beatboxers collectively integrated upbeats. In beat we witnessed a fusion of music genres from their voices alone, whether it be House, Funk, Blues, Motown or Pop this crew had it down to the ‘T’. Their music chords impressively merged heavy deep drums, string instruments and much more.
Incorporating Mary Shelley’s original, which was reimagined with soundscapes, sonic trickery and songs. To the counts within their musical flow, their vocal chords went to the rhythms of 1,2,3,4 but automatically speeded up to their heartbeats chanting 2,4,6,8. This soon boomed to a higher frequency as they began harmonising, synchronising, fluctuating and exploiting various other musical genres. The energy in the space became immense, especially when the space effectively transitioned into the vibes of an electrifying gig.
Frankenstein had six acts in this play, all playing to their individual strengths whether it be singers, rappers, poetic essences and of course beatboxers; Frankenstein had it all! This production visually moved brains, you could feel the creatives hearts race, pumping to the counts of 10, 20, 30, and 40. Their sounds enhanced colourful patterns of different worlds colliding; projecting cinematic sounds of life and power whilst they embraced an emotional energy, triggered by a world we all know so well, as we become witnesses to the power of monsters all around us, strengthened by voices empowering them.
The light moods had sparkles, gloss and smoke, the colours resembled energy, fire and enjoyment. This factor helped increase vibrations of radio-waves as they got even deeper into how to make a monster. The artistic designs were radiating meaning you couldn’t help but glance with amazement!
Overall, Frankenstein gives you high adrenaline. A breathtaking, unforgettable and exceptionally enjoyable production! A fantastic experience for all to see, featuring beat box battles, audience immersive orchestra and childrens participation! A must see meticulous show with a talented team, you will not be disappointed!
Re- Live’s new theatre show ‘The Return/Y Dychweliad’ is a moving, courageous composition of sadness, truth, celebration and sacrifice.
It begins at St Fagan’s Museum entrance where we are taken on a welcoming walk to Oakdale Workmen’s Institute, listening to various accounts of the thoughts and memories of the people connected to Oakdale. They tell us of the beauty of ‘devouring books’ from the library which was a rarity then, the joy of choc-ice treats and how Oakdale invited a ‘thirst for knowledge’ in the Institute.
We then reach the Oakdale’s Workmen’s Institute where (after a lovely cuppa tea) we are thrown into a World War I Victory Ball in 1919. The bunting is up, the tea is flowing, the Bara Brith is out and we are entertained with song, story and striking truths of what it was to be a soldier, a friend, a woman and a mother during The First World War. We are shown the thrill of the beginning of war, and the heartache it created during a time when so much was unknown medically about the after affects of battle and sacrifice.
The piece moves through dialogue, solo performance, touching physical imagery and choral singing with a nod for the audience to join in on a few wartime tunes. And there’s the beauty of Re-Live right there. Yes, it’s a show, a performance, but it’s a cwtch too. A really important, poignant, ‘so glad to be home’ kind of cwtch. The cast open their arms to you, smile at you, pour their hearts out to you and allow you to feel something about how they feel and have felt. Re- Live’s mission is to work with communities and to tell stories and truths from their lives and ‘Y Dychweliad’ is a beautiful shower of these things. These stories, this history, the effect war has on people around us and still has to this day are subjects that we must talk about. If we don’t talk about these things, if we don’t remember the history of our times, and the affects it has on us still- will they be lost? Will we learn? Will future generations know these wonderful, war time songs, even?
Karin Diamond and the team have created a gorgeous concoction of story, song, music and poetry and a beautiful memory for all that see the show. The production ends as fuelled as it begins, with a personal poem ‘Mother Wales’ written by one of the cast- which makes your heart beam. The thankful, heartfelt, emotional response at the post show discussion is unforgettable. Talks from the cast about their own experiences, and how much support we must continue to provide for our Veterans is integral.
One of the cast said ‘ Once you leave for war, and go over there, coming back is.. alien. You’re petrified. You come home. But you’re never the same.’ Reading through the Oakdale information book, one Veteran writes (of working with Re-Live) ‘The project has saved me because it’s given me something to look forward to, it’s given me a purpose again. It helps me control my anxiety too. This is the one place I can come where I know I won’t be judged.’
And that’s Re-Live. Sharing words and feelings from people, to people and for people. With the utmost care, gratitude and heart. ‘Keep the Homes Fires Burning’, indeed.
‘The Return/Y Dychweliad’ runs from 14-16 March/Mawrth,
Oakdale Workmen’s Institute, St Fagan’s National Museum of History/ Sefydliad Y Gweithwyr Oakdale, Sain Ffagan Amgueddfa Werin Cymru
If you are a fan of my reviews, you will know that my favourite production is one with no interval. I believe to be fully involved, the interruption of ice cream and loo breaks seriously disrupts this immersion.
However, when you are told a production is 2 hours 15 minutes, no interval, suddenly that lovely wish feels sour, daunting and worrying.
Friends who had previously seen Follies, assured me that I wouldn’t notice this – that it is so good that the time will fly by.
And I am happy to report, that some of this is true.
Follies is a story about the end of an era. Show girls are taken back to the good old days of their youth, in a ruined building that was once a bustling theatre, admired by all. Now it is dilapidated, being knocked down. And this is the last hurrah! The now matured performers are haunted by their younger selves – dressed in their glam and changing of time outfits, looking upon their future selves in sometimes disapproval, sometimes admiration, and sometimes awe.
It’s right to say that you go through Follies and the need for an interval isn’t present. You feel involved and interested in the action, but for a theatre production, while it has it moments of quirkiness, of enjoyment, some lovely songs and some impeccable acting, it feels like a story where nothing much happens.
I really enjoyed being able to see their past selves – their youth. The glitz, the glamour, the femininity; all makes the showgirl/burlesque girl in me scream with delight. It is the quintessential 1930’s/1940’s era and it shows in the style and elegance of the performers. The current day being the 70’s, costumes and styles have changed and it’s easy to see how good the casting is and how true to the eras they keep to.
The dancing is enjoyable and typical musical based. The songs are belted with every breath. No one holds back. And the character of Phyllis, played by Janie Dee is by far my favourite and executed with great hilarity and almost becomes a bitter reminder of myself.
Follies is fun, it is enjoyable, but I wouldn’t come away saying it was anything spectacular or breath taking. If you are looking for a exciting and typical musical, something to sit back and enjoy a G&T with, then this is it.
Hi Adele, great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
I am a theatre and opera director. I am from Port Talbot originally and live in Cardiff now. I’m about to make my Royal Opera House debut with Handel’s Berenice.
This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?
I am obsessively listening to Berenice as I’m about to direct it! So my iPod is pretty much given over to that and to some of Handel’s other operas. It’s good to get a sense of where this piece fits into his wider body of work.
But the latest thing that I saw and was blown away by was a gig by Hen Ogledd. Their album, Mogic, has just come out and it’s just sensational. I’m a vinyl lover, so I’ll be listening to it on the record player!
We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why? 1
Magical Mystery Tour – The Beatles
I’m going to immediately preface this by saying that this is by no means The Beatles’ best album (for me, that’s Revolver) but it is the one that changed my life. I was struggling to fit in in my teens in a world of grey concrete and everyone in head to toe adidas block colour tracksuit and gangster rap. After one very late night of underage drinking, a friend took me back to his house and said “check this out”. He put the film of Magical Mystery Tour on and immediately my entire world opened up. The colour, the surreality, the clothes and, of course, the music! I became obsessed with the backwards tapeloops, the kaleidoscope camera, the technicolour kaftans. I binned the tracksuit and immediately became a 60s throwback. That one encounter opened up everything to me: art, counter culture, the music scene, a whole world of new friends. And I can still quote that film word for word.
His ‘N’ Hers – Pulp
When my school mates did all start listening to Oasis and Blur I was firmly in the 3rd camp: I was a massive Pulp fan. Different Class is the album that cemented them as working class hero for the wierdo amongst us, and This is Hardcore saw them reach the pinnacle of their orchestral ambition, but His ‘N’ Hers is my favourite. It captures something very real about being an outsider in the 90s: when charity shops were packed full of incredible 60s clothing for pennies, the seedy glamour of the beachside dirty weekend B n Bs along Mumbles road, sticky indie clubs and lager and lime. It’s an album that celebrates the trashy, sexy, the working class. Jarvis Cocker is still my hero and nothing makes me dance and cry at the same time like “Do you Remember the First time”.
Work and Non-Work – Broadcast
I wrestled between this and Dots and Loops by Stereolab (which is a masterpiece) but Broadcast just pips them for me. Warp records seemed to be the coolest thing on the planet, and Broadcast’s music touched a nostalgic nerve for a period I didn’t even know. Their music seemed to be the subconscious by product of an alternative past: the mulch creepiness of Dario Argento’s fits, the sun saturated photography, the trippy wierdness of Public Information films. This album is incredibly beautiful and cinematic: every song on it lends itself to a film that has never been made. And perhaps the thing that pushes Broadcast’s work up the list for me is the tragic death of their singer and heart of the group Trish Keenan. She was a fashion icon and a poetic mind who went too soon.
The Hissing of Summer Lawns – Joni Mitchell
One night my boyfriend and I were driving very late down a pitch Black Country lane and we were listening to a radio show of Prince’s favourite songs. Suddenly this piece came on and it was so overwhelmingly beautiful, so totally perfect that we had to stop the car and just sit there in the dark listening. That song was Edith and the Kingpin from this strange and haunting album by the one and only Joni Mitchell. Poetically, every listen glistens with new meaning and her use of language is so incredible. “The helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof/ Like a dragonfly on a tomb”. Exquisite. Especially coming at you through that pure voice.
Wozzeck – Berg
I discovered that I wanted to direct for stage when I sat down and watched Richard Jones’s production of Berg’s complex and terrifyingly hard opera based on the Buchner play. That production tore away any concepts I had of what theatre could be. The world on stage was so strange, so complete, and the performers were incredible musicians and amazing actors (Christopher Purves’ performance in that was one of immense human detail. All while singing some of the hardest music you’ve every heard over a full orchestra). Now I’m finally directing opera, this production is still the benchmark for me of what can be achieved. It’s really worth listening to: yes the music’s complex, but the tragedy of the story is brilliantly served here. Please note the version Adele describes is not available online. Instead we present The Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra, The Chorus of the Hamburg State Opera, Conducted by Bruno Maderna, Directed for television by Joachim Hess. Set design: Herbert Kirchhoff Costumes: Helmut Jürgens Recorded 1970, Hamburg State Opera.
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 chose Babies from His N’ Hers because I think it shows how complex pop music can be. Melancholic, strangely profound: it captures the sense of teenage boredom on a rainy Tuesday evening between school and… But it also never fails to get everyone on the dance floor, and it builds into a euphoric, semi-spiritual exorcism of raw sexuality and kitchen sink drama. I can’t listen to this without dancing!
Laurie Black is sick of humankind and decides to take us on her journey to be the first woman on the moon. A contemporary cabaret show that showcases Black’s musical and comedy abilities through her quirky, green alter-ego (who might not be an alter-ego).
Black takes us on her journey
escaping Earth and encountering David Bowie’s alien spaceship (yes) before
landing on the moon. The journey, which takes three-days but feels like an hour,
is a fairly simple one as far as plot goes but exists to give context and thematic
links to the main event of comedy and music.
Black’s music is a varied mix of genre that, for the most part, has a somewhat futuristic feel. She exploits the sounds of synths, piano and a small drum machine well on stage. But, it is Black’s enthralling voice which captures the audience the most. Not relying solely on her voice however, Black is also a great songwriter using witty pop culture references, the occasional political statement and comedic wordplay.
Mostly original music,
there are some covers of popular songs in Space
Cadette. Starman by David Bowie stands out as a strong point where the
audience are encouraged to sing along with the “la, la, la”s. There are also covers
of Radiohead, Muse and Leonard Cohen as well as a funny reference to The
The comedy and storytelling that comes between the songs was usually good. Nothing to make you belly-laugh, but enough to keep you interested. It is fair to say also, that the comedy suffered due to the low turnout on the night. Some jokes are sleepers which will have you chuckling two-hours after the show as you walk home in the rain – which Black correctly predicts.
The stage set-up is simple.
For the most part it’s just a microphone stand and a piano. This worried me at
first, but as the show goes on, it isn’t an issue as Black keeps the attention
on her. Except for one moment when she gets out her mini-moon that she passes
around the audience.
There’s a lot of frustration in the show that gets channelled into humour and songs. On Black’s journey to the moon, we see further into her persona and whilst the outer-shell is hard, by the end we can tell she secretly loves us. There’s no particular agenda to the piece but an overriding theme of frustration at the current state of the world.
Space Cadette is part of The Other Room’s ‘Spring Fringe’ curated spring season. One of eight shows coming to Cardiff’s only pub theatre over the next eight weeks. Tickets can be found for Space Cadette and other Spring Fringe shows HERE, with an ever-growing discount for the more shows you book. If you can’t make the show, but like the sound of Laurie Black, you can find her music on most streaming services online.
Space Cadette is
an enchanting, funny cabaret show from Adelaide Fringe 2018 winner, Laurie
Black. An exploration to the moon that has so much to say about Earth.
In the article below a range of Welsh and Wales based creatives share with us a selection of cultural events they are looking forward to this year. Thanks to all of our contributors.
Connor Allen, Writer and Actor.
My cultural highlights for 2019 would have to include Betrayal at the Harold Pinter Theatre starring Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Cox. One of my favourite Pinter plays and one hell of a cast, so it should be great!
Another one I’m ecstatic for is Tree by Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah at the Manchester International Festival. The vision of both those artists is nothing short of superb so we are in for a treat whatever they create.
And speaking of the Manchester International Festival Skepta is doing an immersive experience called Dystopia987 and even if you’re not a lover of grime I can bet that it’ll be worth the watch.
Closer to home in Wales I’m looking forward to Mathew Bourne’s Romeo & Juliet coming to the Wales Millennium Centre as previous productions from Mr Bourne have been astounding in terms of choreography and storytelling so I am very much looking forward to his take on Romeo & Juliet.
Also I’m very eager to watch Tigerface by Justin Cliffe at The OtherRoom in Cardiff. I’ve no doubt that it will be an awesome piece and being that I missed previous sharing’s of it I am excited to see the piece in its entirety.
A personal hope of mine for 2019 is that more people and companies are taking risks, especially with minority groups. We’ve played it safe for many years now. Let’s shake it up. And also accepting other people’s views even if they are different from our own. We all come from different walks of life and with that we bring different views and opinions. Let’s show compassion and accept or at least acknowledge other people’s views. We can all learn and grow from each other.
Meredydd Barker, Playwright.
From the 14thof June to the 10thof November, Tate Liverpool is hosting the first, major UK exhibition of artist and activist Keith Haring. Because his work decorates T-shirts and tea towels it tends to be forgotten how subversive he was. This is a superb opportunity to be reminded of how urgent his response was to issues such political dictatorship, racism, homophobia, drug addiction, capitalism and the environment. He died 28 years ago but is as relevant as he’s ever been.
It didn’t happen last year but I will get to see The Idles live this year; I will, I will, I will…
If I make it, I will be 50 in September and hope to be in Chicago to celebrate. There’ll be a World Music Festival on at the time – think Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, but in Chicago – so I’ll dip in and out of that while going to as many shows, plays, bars as I can. Nothing planned for definite, but I think just going to Chicago – and New York beforehand – counts as a cultural event.
I’ve just bought tickets to see Ruby Wax – How to be Human: The Show, “answers every question you’ve ever had about evolution, thoughts, emotions, the body, addictions, relationships, sex, kids, the future and compassion.” I think she’s astonishing, one of the great documentary makers of our time and times.
I always promise myself that I’ll go the Machynlleth Comedy Festival and it never happens, but I am going to make a super-human effort to get there this year.
As for me I’m writing a play called The Huntsman for the brilliant Torch Theatre in Milford Haven. It’s pencilled in for perfomances this Autumn. I’m piecing together the first draft as I write. I have to remind myself to breathe as I do so. It’s about Pembrokeshire when serial killer John Cooper was at large. And along with a brilliant film-maker called Nick Swannell I’ve just begun the process of starting a film company called The Holding Cell. I’m very excited about that indeed.
Be Excited. Be Bold. Be Kind. That, I hope, will be the themes for this year, and these horribly uncertain times.
Mawgaine Tarrant-Cornish, Casting Associate, National Theatre Wales.
First up I’m excited about BLUE, a new play by Rhys Warrington which has a stellar cast. It’s at Chapter from next week.
At NTW, I’ve been working with Mike Brookes to cast STORM 3: TOGETHER AND ALONE and I can’t wait to see these performers together on stage in March. They’ll be taking over a venue in Newport with this experimental show about how we figure out our place in the world.
Also in March, NEW, from Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, will hit the Sherman Theatre. It’s your chance to catch this year’s graduating actors collaborating on four brand new plays by up and coming British playwrights. For Wales’ offering, Hannah Noone will direct Jacob Hodgkinson’s BETWEEN ETERNITY AND TIME.
As part of Diffusion 2019, in April, Matt Wright and Janire Najera will create an immersive visual score for JUNIPER, Slowly Rolling Camera’s latest album, which they’ll play live.
At National Museum Wales, the Women in Focus exhibition
continues into June. Part One introduced me to Charlotte James and her Ffasiwn Project with Clémentine
Schneidermann so I’m looking forward to discovering many a new girl crush
in Part Two: Women in Front of the Lens.
I’d love to see DYSTOPIA987 by Skepta at MIF this summer and there’ll be loads more to get excited about in that programme, I’m sure.
Artes Mundi Tour with John Wilson. I have been campaigning for many years to try and get John Wilson to curate and lead a BSL tour at one of our brilliant museums/galleries. John is one of the most experienced Deaf curators in the UK and for him to come to Wales to led the Artes Mundi exhibition at the National Museum, Cardiff was fantastic!
The event took place two weeks ago and sold out pretty quickly. My background and passion is visual arts and to see this happening in Wales was a personal dream for me. I have been to hundreds of exhibition tours and I usually only understand about 20/30% of what is spoken, for this tour I understood 100%.
I think having a Deaf curator makes a bigger impact because of the language they use and it resonated with a Deaf audience. There was a real mixture of people in attendance; some have never been to a museum before, some attending liked Art but have limited opportunities to see an accessible tour, some just wanted to see John. The feedback was really positive and I hope to bring John back more for more BSL tours in other museums around Wales. You can read and exclusive interview with John and Jonny about this event here.
Mr and Mrs Clark ‘Louder Is Not Always Clearer’. I might be biased because I am involved in this but it is going on another tour from May to June then will be heading for a month at the Edinburgh Fringe at the Summerhall. Louder Is Not Always Clearer has also been selected for the national rural touring and will be visiting rural communities in the UK. Exciting times and we are looking forward seeing wider and more diverse audiences!
Cardiff Deaf Centre Arts Festival – After it’s success 5 years ago for young deaf people, it is back again in April at the WMC with a range of exciting Deaf artists running workshops.
Hijinx and Frantic Assembly ‘Into the Light” at Sherman Theatre. Always exciting to watch both organisations but to see the two combined… wow!- I am looking forward to see more disabled-led events in 2019. Kaite O’Rieily’s ‘Peeling’ directed by Taking Flight looks interesting as well as the brilliant Graeae’s new production of Sarah Kane’s ‘Blasted’. I am very excited to hear Deafinitely Theatre are creating their version of ‘Horrible Histories’ called ‘Dreadful Deaf’ which is going to be touring later in the year. I am really excited to see what Paula Garfield (Director of Deafinitaly Theatre) is going to do with this. I am sure it will be fun, visual, accessible and mad!
I am also hoping to see Extraordinary Bodies new fully inclusive outdoor touring show ‘What I am Worth’. British Paraorchestra’s ‘Nature Of Why’ is touring and will be coming to WMC. They are the world’s only large-scale ensemble for professional disabled musicians so I am very excited they are coming to Wales.- I have been looking at festivals where we can take our 2 year old daughter along so we are going to head back to the Blue Lagoon Festival in West Wales which we have been many times and its brilliant. We are also thinking (if i can get tickets) of going to the Just So Festival because it looks amazing. I have never been to the Machynlleth Festival so I have made sure it is on my list to visit this year.
Branwen Davies, Writer.
My cultural delights or highlights for 2019? I’m still recovering from the cultural smorgasbord of 2018! The end of the year in particular was a whirlwind of exciting and engaging work that inspired and moved me. I’m still discussing and thinking about some of my favourites – Clean Break’s ‘Thick as Thieves’ at Theatr Clwyd, John Rea’s ‘Atgyfodi’ at Sain Ffagan, the Sherman’s production of Meic Povey’s ‘Fel Anifail,’ good cop, bad cop’s ‘Phantom Rides Again’ at Chapter and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s verbatim musical ‘Nyrsys.’
Other theatre productions I don’t want to miss this year are Fran Wen’s powerful one woman show ‘Anweledig.’ Be Aware’s Turkish/Welsh production ‘Y Brain/Kargalar.’Cwmni Pluen’s ‘Woof’ and Ed Thomas’s new play ‘On Bear Ridge’ (a co-production between NTW and the Royal Court). As one of the Dirty Protest gang I’m excited that we have a new production touring in the spring. Sian Owen’s one woman show ‘How To Be Brave’ is set in Newport and is a love story to the city. On the art front I’m intrigued to see the work on show and the work being developed at Shift and Rugart/Celfryg and the possibilities of these contemporary art spaces at the Capitol Shopping Centre on Queen Street. Another highlight I’m looking forward to is London Sinfonietta Synergy Vocals at St David’s Hall (Steve Reich being hailed as one of ‘the most original music thinkers of our time’)
I want to enjoy more live music this year. I just hope there will still be vibrant and individual venues left to be able to do so. I’m heartbroken that Buffalo and Gwdihw in Cardiff have been forced to close down.
I recently saw Cate Le Bon at The Gate, Lleuwen is performing a series of acoustic gigs in chapels across Wales following the release of her new album ‘Gwn Glân Beibl Budr,’ and Mr (Mark Roberts + Band) is also touring. I love his first solo album, Oesoedd.
My personal hope is to collaborate more with different artists who work differently to me and to have more creative discussions. I’m keen to work more with music and sound and challenge the way I write and create. I’m also keen to explore the possibilities of political plays in Wales. Where are our political plays especially in the current political turmoil we’re facing in Wales and beyond?
Peter Doran, Artistic Director, Torch Theatre.
2019 will start with a theatrical explosion for me, I’ve booked for Wise Children, the first production of Emma Rice’s new company at Bristol Old Vic. Emma Rice is one of the most exciting directors in the UK, her work with Kneehigh was phenomenal. I directed Brief Encounter at the Torch a couple of years ago, unashamedly based on her production with Kneehigh and was probably one of the highlights of my career as a director. Wise Children, I’m told has all the hallmarks of a knee-high production and with two fantastic Welsh actors in the cast, Katy Owen and Gareth Snook and no bridge tolls to pay, this will be a cracking start to the year.
Laura Penneycard and Liam Tobin in Torch Theatre production of Brief Encounter by Emma Rice.
From a Torch perspective, we have Grav back for it’s fifth tour, it’s now like welcoming an old friend back to the theatre; staff, audiences, they all love Grav, it creates such a great atmosphere in the theatre; it’ll be great having him back at the Torch and to take him to London for a short run at the Hope Theatre in Islington! Who would’ve thought that a play about a boy from Mynedd y Garreg would perform in New York, Washington DC and London all in the space of twelve months.
Gareth Ford Elliot, Get the Chance critic and playwright.
My personal highlights of what I’m looking forward to are the Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival and The Other Room’s Spring Fringe. It will be excellent to see so much work in the first half of the year in Cardiff.
As for specific projects, Spilt Milk’s ‘Five Green Bottles’ by Joe Wiltshire-Smith looks to be an absolute hit. It was a brilliant show at last year’s Cardiff Fringe and to see it with a few extra months work and some changes is a very exciting prospect. Wiltshire-Smith is one of the upcoming Cardiff-based writers and working with Spilt Milk who have contributed so much to Cardiff’s arts scene in the last two years is a combination not to be missed.
David Evans, Head of Production, National Theatre Wales.
I am intrigued to see the The Mirror Crack’d – the WMC’s Co-Production with Wiltshire Creative that will be on at The New Theatre, Cardiff. Agatha Christie shows have been the staple of mid scale touring for years, populated by people “off the telly” in the twilight of their careers. But this is apparently a completely new take on the hoary old country house murders and I am fascinated to see what they have done.
After “Now the Hero” I am eager to see anything that Marc Rees is up to, I don’t know what his plans for 2019 are but whatever they are I will be there.
Matthew Gough, Faculty of Creative Industries, USW, Senior Lecturer Dance
I’ve been looking forward to 2019 for some time, it will bring the first graduates from BA Hons Dance, at the University of South Wales. Some 20 years after my own graduation I will be watching our students with pride as they present their dissertations (March), Perform at MAP festival, and Agor Drysau (March), a repertoire night with work from Wales based choreographers (April), and our end of semester performances at Dance House Cardiff (April, & May). National Dance Company of Wales, and Groundwork Pro are both in a period of new leadership and their plans for future delivery are exciting and progressive. A number of dance artists have (re)established themselves in Wales and, the sector will benefit from the diverse perspectives, and experience they bring. Cardiff Dance Festival always brings a richly curated, international focus to the sector, and I anticipate the next edition will bring more dance delights (November). Overall I look forwards to the Welsh dance sector, adapting, reimagining, and revitalising itself depicts the challenges, and uncertainty that we know 2019 will bring.
Rebecca Jane Hammond, Artistic Director Chippy Lane.
I think topping ‘2018’ will be difficult as there was so much work of great quality being developed and produced. New companies thriving, venues reaching wider audiences and winning awards and most importantly the community rallying together to ensure our work is met with joy and love and great support for one another.
My cultural highlight for 2019: NEW: 2019, Between Eternity and Time Written by our Jacob Hodgkinson, directed by Hannah Noone, commissioned by Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and Sherman Theatre “I am beyond excited to see this team of collaborators working together and Jacob’s writing getting the recognition it so deeply deserves in Cardiff and London.”
19 – 21 Mar, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama 2 – 5 Apr, The Gate Theatre, Notting Hill, London
As for our own cultural highlight it’s important I mention BLUE, Chippy Lane’s second production and first foray into new writing. Boasting an authentic Welsh and Wales-based creative team and published by Methuen Drama (Bloomsbury Publishing). This is an enormous achievement for a company not yet three years old. We will also continue our other projects and initiatives by producing more of Chippy Lane’s Podcast and running our Welsh Female Writers Group. We hope you can continue to support us as we continue to create great theatre and provide opportunity.
Paul Jenkins, Theatre Director/Dramaturg/Writer.
I’m looking forward to new plays from Elgan Rhys & Ed Thomas. Woof, directed by Gethin Evans, is first up at The Sherman and is sure to be a theatrical force from the creative force from the creative team behind Mags last year. Then the brilliant Ed Thomas, whose gritty surrealism defined Welsh theatre in the 90s makes a welcome return with NTW. On a personal note I’ve been inspired by the locals of Taibach while recording responses to the Banksy that appeared over Xmas. This street art asks difficult questions about the economic foundations of Port Talbot and yet has been embraced by the entire community. Freelance theatre-makers like myself rely on the big producing theatres to pick up exciting ideas & support emerging talent, so I’m very much hoping the Banksy story will find a good home and become an essential highlight of 2019.
Zosia Jo, Dance Artist.
Most of the things I am looking forward to in 2019 are still awaiting their funding! Cardiff Dance Festival for example, and my own production- Songs for the Body- which will be a promenade live action concept album with dance, music and spoken word taking over Chapter in October half term.
However one thing that is confirmed is Groundwork Pro’s funding and they will be offering workshops, events, classes and residencies for dance and movement artists throughout 2019. There will be so much opportunity for discussion, training, sharing and professional development. I am really excited to be part of it.
Angharad Lee, Director.
Firstly, I am looking forward to seeing Hadestow which tells a version of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, a musical adaptation of the folk Opera concept album by Anais Mitchell.
I am silly excited about attending an intimate evening with Stephen Schwarts in Manchester. It’s the first he has done in the UK. I am thrilled to see Wales Millennium Centre devote their Curious Season to mental health later in the year and can’t wait to see what’s in store there. Draw Me Close at the Young Vic looks fascinating also.
Having had a frantic year last year, most of my own creative enegrgies this year are being ploughed into the new BA (Hons) in Musical Theatre Course which will be up and running this September. It’s the first ever undergraduate course in Musical Theatre in Wales and am delighted to be a part of it. Details here,get in touch if you think you would like to apply and come and chat .
In the meantime I am directing Pippin by Stephen Schwartz and The World Goes ‘Round, both with the fabulous students at Canolfan Berfformio Cymru, UWTSD. Leeway Productons’ 10 Minute Musicals will be rolled out again a little later in the year with some fabulous partners including RCT Theatres who work so hard as a team. We are also thrilled to be working on a lovely Welsh Language production with some young people from Merthyr in the Summer. Hopefully, this year will feel a little more relaxed than last year!
David Mercatali, Director.
My highlight of the year ahead is to see the continued development of the 15-18 year olds in my Introduction to Playwriting group at the Sherman Theatre. Mentored by 3 brilliant writers, Matt Hartley, Branwen Davies and Brad Birch, their work is already showing so much talent and I can’t wait to see what they do this year. My personal hope is to see more new plays produced for longer runs in Wales. There’s many exciting voices with stories to tell.
Rachel Pedley Millar, Artistic Director, Avant Cymru.
Happy 2019 everyone. Avant have an important year lined up, where we have a focus on mental health and well-being. Our Hip Hop theatre piece has a focus on mental health and we hope to head to New York to attend the Hip Hop for metal health conference held by Doug E Fresh and partners. We aim to undertake research on ‘how art can aid those living with mental health conditions?’ Working with other artists (including Sadlers Wells) and our community in RCT.
The Valleys have a celebrity year with it being 80 years since Llewellyn wrote ‘How Green Is My Valley’, we want to find out ‘How Green is Our Valley Now? We are always interested in what everyone in our community has to say. Including other artist and we hear Motherlode have exciting plans this year and we can’t wait to hear more about them.
Have a happy, healthy New year everyone. “For all sad words of mouth or pen, the saddest are these: it might have been.” – John Whittier.
Fearghus Ó Conchúir, Artistic Director, National Dance Company Wales.
As a newcomer to Wales, there’s a lot for me to learn about, lots to see. Starting closest to home, some of the events I already know I’m looking forward are in our varied activity at NDCWales: our Awakeningprogramme that tours Wales and England in the Spring with magical new work by Brazilian choreographer, Fernando Melo and by our resident choreographer, Caroline Finn, as well as the Roots programme that will tour across Wales in the Autumn with pieces by new choreographic talent.
As a recently-arrived Artistic Director, I’m mostly at a stage where I get to be an excited cheerleader for other people’s work in our programmes, but I’m also happy that in 2019, I’ll get to make work myself, with the company’s professional dancers, with other artists and with different groups across Wales who will all inform the new piece. I knew about Cardiff Dance Festival before I came here, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in this year’s programme. And one more dance highlight for me will be the BBC’s #DancePassion on 5th April when the BBC’s social media channels will showcase dance in the UK, with livestreaming (including from NDCWales) and the chance for audiences to interact. I’m looking forward to seeing the diversity of dance that this event will bring to the BBC’s wide public.
Because I’m interested in what bodies get to be visible and to fulfil their potential, I’m inspired by work that shows me what’s possible and pushes me to expand my vision. For that reason, Mission Control, NTW’s collaboration with Hijinx that will be performed in November is something for me to look forward to with its cast of professional neurodivergent and learning-disabled actors as well as members of the Only Boys Aloud choirs. I won’t get to see Splish Splash, the NTW collaboration with Oily Cart that’s made exclusively for children in special schools across Wales and England, but I love that it’s going on and that it’s going to be a cultural highlight for people who mightn’t be included in other events.
Jasmine Okai, Assistant Producer, Fio.
Fio: Futures’ production of Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Fear and Misery of the Third Reich’ showcasing in RawFfest April 2019. This timeless story of the rise of fascism is unfortunately still as pertinent today as it was in the 1940s. Brecht’s play presents a series of vignettes on the everyday lives of German citizens, including Jewish people, living under this oppressive regime of Nazi fascism during World War II. After the success of ‘The Island’ UK tour in October 2018, Fio have since established Fio’s Young Company, Fio: Futures, who will be bringing these important stories to the stage.
William Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, as reimagined by Jo Clifford. Shakespeare productions are a classic and, some would argue, integral faction of theatre. What makes this production so exciting is that while keeping the main story of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, Jo Clifford uses gender reversal within the main characters to switch up the dynamics of the play. How refreshing!
Catherine Paskell, Theatre Director.
Believe. If I Could Turn Back Time. Just Like Jesse James. Gypsies Tramps and Thieves. Bang Bang. I can’t wait to see Cher’s concert. Her tour in October 2019 will be her first live UK dates in 14 years. Her songs, her films, her outfits, her political activism, her Twitter feed. Her music video for If I Could Turn Back Time was too much even for MTV because we could see her tattooed bum cheeks either side of her thong as she straddled that cannon and strutted in front of the navy – so it was the first video to be banned by the channel. Cher’s career and musical evolution embodies the transitions of American cultural forms. She is outspoken, honest and authentic as an older woman in a male-dominated field. It’s going to be an ambitious, theatrical and entertaining show – Cher is my cultural highlight of 2019.
Films – Toy Story 4, and Star Wars IX. I mean, do I need to justify those? Reuben Ostlund’s Triangle of Sadness starts shooting 2019 but I’m not sure it’ll be released.
Theatre – Richard III by Headlong will be brilliant. And it’s great that Ed Thomas has taken a break from counting money to write another play so I’m excited about ‘On Bear Ridge’ by National Theatre Wales. Berberian Sound Studio created by designer Tom Scutt and playwright Joel Horwood at the Donmar warehouse. Home, I’m Darling at Theatre Clwyd, I missed it first time around. The Funeral Director by Imam Qureshi won the Papatango Competition this year and is being toured by ETC. Nos Sadwrn O Hyd by Roger Williams is a brilliant monologue revived in Welsh for the first time by Theatr Gen.
TV – What We Do In The Shadows has been turned into a TV show released in 2019. I’m also super excited about Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone, and a new True Detective series. Channel 4 have produced a new 4 parter from Lucy Kirkwood about the porn industry called Adult Material, fellow Cynon Valley boy Gareth Evans has his first TV series out Gangs of London on HBO and Sky Atlantic.
Event – Blue Dot at Joddrell is a brilliant mix of science, astronomy big ideas and music – Gruff Rhys and Hot Chip play this year under the mighty Lovell Telescope. It looks amazing.
Catrin Rogers, Press and PR Manager, National Theatre Wales.
I’ve booked tickets to see WNO’s The Magic Flute, and I have high hopes for that. They’ve just announced their next season, including the return of Bryn Terfel, which is great.
I’ll try to catch at least one of Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s touring plays, by Catrin Dafydd and Roger Williams – two writers I admire very much – in the Spring.
I’ve also booked tickets to see National Dance Company Wales’ Spring tour, Awakening. It includes Tundra, which I’ve seen many times but never, ever tire of – honestly, it takes my breath away every time I see it.
In the coming weeks I’ll go with my family to catch the Artes Mundi Exhibition, which I’ve been reading a lot about.
2019 is set to be another fantastic year for the arts. Even though the production won’t be until 2020 I’m excited to see what project will be chosen from National Theatre Wales’ Radical Creatures callout, I think it’s a great initiative and a great choice for female identifying and non binary artists to take more of centre stage in the current arts scene.
From a more selfish point of view my theatre company, CB4 Theatre, will be presenting our inaugural production 10,316, a new devised piece marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. We’re all so excited to get stuck in to the already thriving grassroots arts scene here in Cardiff, so watch this space for dates!
Aside from the arts, 2019 is definitely going to be a bumpy year. With Brexit looming and pressing social issues plaguing the country I really hope that art can do what it does best; listen, respond, discuss, create, inspire, protest. At a time where it’s easy to give into divisions I think it’s more important than ever for the arts world to take a strong stand against hatred and fascism.
Music-wise, I’ll keep my usual eye on Warp, Hyperdub, and Heavenly. Nubya Garcia is playing Clwb in May, so I’ll try to get down to see her. Mostly though I’ll still be dreaming of SFA making another album and hoping Doves get their arses in gear after the dates they’re playing.
In art, I’m looking forward to seeing how John Abell’s new place, RUG develops over the coming year. 2019 also looks like it’s going to be a brilliant year for new fiction, and the novel I’m most excited about is Niven Govinden’s ‘This Brutal House’, which has been described as a queer protest novel set in the drag ball community of New York City and, therefore, fierce as all fuck.
As far as theatre goes, How To Be Brave by Sîan Owen is coming via Dirty Protest and I am doubly excited to see this full scale show, especially as it is set in my adopted home of Newport and pitches up in the one and only Le Pub. As for my personal hopes: I just hope there is a miracle of some sort that puts a halt to the madness we can see coming our way, and Liverpool and Manchester City lose every game they play between now and the end of the season.
Abdul Shayek, Artistic Director Fio.
So for me, 2019 has started off with a bang- one of my cultural highlights has already happened, Sri Lanka and the Galle Literature Festival, where the amazing spoken word artist Nicole May performed! It also featured writers such as Sir David Hare, Mohammed Hanif and Vahni Capildeo amongst others who I had the pleasure of meeting. I was also lucky enough to find out about the amazing arts and cultural activities taking place across the South Asia region, supported or directly delivered by the British Council, as I joined their bi-annual Arts regional meeting, in my capacity as an Arts Advisor.
Personally, the next cultural highlight will be my trip to Australia as part of the British Council Australia Intersect Programme. It was brilliant when my counterparts came over to the UK, which included a visit to Cardiff in 2018. Now it’s the turn of the UK participants to visit Australia, learn and understand what the diversity and inclusion picture looks like. We will be visiting Sydney and Melbourne and meeting with a range of cultural leaders. We will also be part of the Fair Play Symposium
Other than that I have a number of other projects and ideas that are currently in motion, all very exciting and some have international elements to them, however, quite a few are funding dependent, so fingers and toes crossed. Other cultural highlights for me include: Manchester International Festival in general, but really looking forward to Trees by Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah and the collaboration between Flexn and Young Identity will be very exciting.
I am really looking forward to seeing King Hedley II at Theatre Royal Stratford East with Lenny Henry. In Wales, I am really looking forward to Rawffest and in Cardiff at the WMC, I am sure it will do what it was initially set up to do and really engage young people from a diverse range of backgrounds. I am also really looking forward to Mission Control the NTW and Hijinx – collaboration. In terms of non-theatre highlights, I can’t wait to see the final season of Game of Thrones, also looking forward to Star Wars IX and the remake of the Lion King. In terms of gigs, I am hoping to catch Tank and the Bangas on their European tour, Anderson Paak when he visits London and Skepta at Manchester International Festival. I’m sure there will be loads more cultural offers which will entertain, inspire and most importantly keep me nourished during 2019!!!!!
George Soave, Producer, He/Him/They/Them, The Other Room.
We are kicking off 2019 with an almighty bang. Spring Fringe is the latest addition to our programme here at The Other Room. February and March, traditionally the home to our self-produced work, will now be occupied by eight weeks of imaginative and bold Fringe Theatre. Spring Fringe will champion home-grown companies and provide a platform for non-native touring companies to perform their breakthrough work here in Cardiff. Presenting work from Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Cardiff Fringe and others from across the UK and internationally! Our diverse programme will present eight productions over eight weeks that capture the essence of the fringe – telling imaginative stories in ingenious ways.
What about our self about our self-produced work? The Other Room will remain champions of well-made, daring modern drama and are as committed as ever to producing our own work – if anything we’re pushing the artistic envelope even further in 2019 and this Autumn will see our self- produced work return so watch this space.
And that’s not all! In the spirit of the fringe, this Spring we are embracing our Cardiffian cultural cousins… the rugby. There’s no avoiding that each spring Cardiff is ignited by the Six Nations Championship, so we thought, if you can’t beat them join them! All five of the Welsh rugby matches will be screened in both Porter’s bar and in the theatre as a part of our Spring Fringe programme. So come on in and enjoy a play, a pint and a match.
Kully Thiarai, Artistic Director, National Theatre Wales.
I’m biased I know, but I’m looking forward to Ed Thomas’ new play ‘On Bear Ridge’ that will open at The Sherman in September. He has written a beautiful, poetic and poignant work.
Taking Flight Theatre Company’s production of Peeling by Kaite O’Reilly is touring Wales so I planning to catch that on the road somewhere. I missed it when it was first produced by Graeae Theatre Company many years ago.
More immediately Artes Mundi 8 has had another great year and finishes soon so catch it while you can! National Museum, Cardiff is also showing the rarely displayed drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci as part of a UK wide simultaneous exhibition.
I’m very excited by Yoko Ono’s Bells for Peace that will be opening event for Manchester International Festival in July. Thousands of diverse voices and an orchestra of bells sending a message of peace to the World seems like a very apt thing to be doing in 2019. In the same festival Idris Elba and Kwami Kwei-Armah will be making a new work called TREE – sounds like a great collaboration to me, combining music, dance and film.
Rachel Trezise, Novelist and Playwright.
Finally this year I get to road test a piece of my own work that’s been on my table for seven years, a play about the Pontypridd boxer Freddie Welsh, said to be one of the inspirations behind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. I’m going to be working with RCT Theatres and Motherlode Theatre to determine if the work is suitable for public consumption.
Also I’m really looking forward to travelling to Northern Ireland where my monologue ‘Cotton Fingers’, commissioned by NTW for the NHS70 Festival last year, will open in May. The monologue is set in Belfast and concerns abortion laws in Northern Ireland but I haven’t been to Belfast for twenty years.
Most of all I’m looking forward to the publication of short story-master Amy Hempel’s new collection ‘Sing To It’ in late March, her first new work in over a decade. My personal hope for the year is that the UK, and Wales in particular, manages to get through the Brexit withdrawal process without much more trauma. We should know by the end of the year whether the tunnel that connects the Rhondda to the Afan Valley will be able to open as a cycling and walking track. I think that would be a great thing for both valleys.
Get the Chance critic, Sian Thomas
I’m awfully excited for the third How To Train Your Dragon movie. I really enjoyed the films through my teens and have actually managed to make that enjoyment infect others, too. It’ll be nice to see a cushy family film with the family this year.
Personal hopes are to read at least 20 books this year – and review the ones that take my fancy (not the ones I have to read for uni, haha). I’m looking forward to this because it means I’ll easily work on two new year’s resolutions: read more, and review more!
When Green Day, the minstrels of jaded adolescence, released their rabble-rousing, game-changing manifesto American Idiot in September 2004, the world stood to attention. A brash rebuff to the powers that be, the bombastic battle cry was a defiant call to arms that enraged and enraptured many an angsty teenager, myself being one of them. Because of this nostalgic tether, I was nervous to see how they would relocate those beloved songs into a sensical story without damaging their integrity.
Directed and choreographed by Racky Plews, the musical/(punk-)rock opera centres on best friends Johnny, Will and Tunny, self-styled as the Jesuses of Suburbia, as they embark on a narcotic-fuelled voyage of discovery in post-9/11 America. Johnny and Tunny decide to move to the Big City while Will opts to stay home with his pregnant girlfriend Heather. Tunny quickly becomes disillusioned in their new urban surroundings and joins the army, while Johnny falls in love with the ambiguously-monikered Whatersname and develops a nasty drug habit, and Will becomes disillusioned with fatherhood.
One of these things is not like the other: Will’s storyline is hardly comparable to the poignant physical/mental trauma experienced by Johnny and Tunny, and his character arc is far less persuasive than theirs despite a great performance from Samuel Pope. His baby mama Heather gets similarly short-changed in the narrative department, but Siobhan O’Driscoll stands out regardless with a truly impressive voice and a very sympathetic performance, especially in the lovely Last Night on Earth.
Joshua Dowen as Tunny gets perhaps the best character arc, starting out as just another brash upstart before the war leaves its mark on him physically and mentally. His beautiful performances of Are We the Waiting? and later Beforethe Lobotomy are utterly haunting, if undercut by the scene (Extraordinary Girl) that follows it. And Johnny, the self-proclaimed ‘son of rage and love’ who laments being ‘in a land of make believe that don’t believe in [him]’, is a vulgar hybrid of Joseph Gilgun and Iggy Pop. Swaggeringly played by Tom Milner, Johnny is a boldly dislikeable, grotesque portrait of 21st century adolescence who goes through a lot but seems to learn little by the end.
For its raucous anthems of youthful rebellion, American Idiot can be viewed as a modern-day Les Miserables or a twentieth century Hair (Hair Gel, if you will) that replaces barricade flag-waving with air guitar, grinding and a potent grunge aesthetic. Like RockofAges, it takes a little while for your mind to calibrate to its crassness, not to mention a set so purposefully grungy it makes you long to bathe in Clorox afterwards. Tosca, this ain’t. But once you wade into the mire, you’re in the zone and ready to stick it to the man. Combining songs from 2004’s AmericanIdiot (as you might assume), 2009’s 21stCenturyBreakdown and a few tunes written for what is essentially a jukebox musical, the songs segue surprisingly well into a theatre setting, which maintains the raucous power of their anthems whilst enhancing their slower tunes with careful orchestration and stunning harmonies. However, it’s the nature of the jukebox musical that trips this up from the get-go, stemming from a cliché-ridden script that crowbars in a few emotional storylines which ultimately feel rather hollow.
The show is more about sensations than story; if you’re looking for narrative coherence, you’ve come to the wrong place. The news footage from the bygone Bush presidency is perhaps the only overtly political thing about the musical which (surprisingly for such an otherwise literal show) opts instead to show the social decay caused by such a system, and specifically how this societal dysfunction affects the working classes more than most. But the frequent tonal whiplash between scenes is jarring, and some of the songs are perfunctorily placed – American Idiot and Boulevard of Broken Dreams came way too early, Too Much Too Soon (ironically) came too late – but the strength and skill of the ensemble results in songs so brilliantly performed they transcend the material in which they are caged. And the band is utterly exceptional, performing with record-level quality and all-round excellence, even if they did drown out the singing at points. The show perhaps fares better when viewed as a pseudo-live concert experience in the same vein as This is Elvis.
And the songs really are the standouts, coupled with fiercely energetic performances and gorgeous harmonies. Holiday is a deliciously rowdy anthem to ‘the dawning of the rest of our lives’, and Boulevard of Broken Dreams is intriguingly staged, with a stream of cloaked unknowns swarming around Johnny as he makes his way through the city. The ensemble imbues particular power to lyrics like ‘your faith walks on broken glass’ (21 Guns) and ‘kiss the demons out of my dreams’ (Give Me Novocaine); the ballad of lost love Whatsername gloriously crescendoes into a bittersweet climax, and Wake Me Up When September Ends, a magnificently melancholic ode to grief, is wondrously realised.
The characters are intentionally archetypical, to the point where all of womanhood is represented by a person quite literally called Whatsername. The Jesuses of Suburbia are screw-ups, St Jimmy is far from angelic and the characters exist on a sliding scale of unlikable to downright hateful. And despite its rebellious ambitions, the show’s anarchic nature is more trite than tough, in the same way that adding a chain to your belt makes you a punk-rock rebel. But when it rocks, it rocks hard – and that’s mainly down to St Jimmy, the manically charismatic Luke Friend, who acts as a personification of Johnny’s dark side, the seductive Satan to his Jesus of Suburbia. As ‘the patron saint of the denial’ and ‘the resident leader of the lost and found’, Jimmy brings a sense of lawless joy whenever he springs onstage, like Beetlejuice by way of Billy Idol.
Despite the gaudy grunge trappings, from Sara Perks’ scrungy set to Tim Deiling’s Hadean lighting and the appealingly pop-punk wardrobe, the show has a lot of heart buried beneath the band tees. It’s a mephitic snapshot of post-9/11 America and the malevolence of bourgeois apathy to the rest of society, celebrating the riotous angst of those who rail against compliance to ‘The Man’. Ten years later and the songs, bemoaning the dangerous presence of a corrupt right-wing looney toon running the nation into the ground, are scathingly pertinent to our own fraught political climate.
Sadly, the show has a less than right on view of women, who are confined in the ‘well, actually…’ prison of the male gaze for most of the runtime, functioning interchangeably as nags and lovers until Sam Lavery’s compellingly enigmatic Whatsername (who, like Frankenstein’s creature, is denied the dignity of a title to call her own) is finally allowed to express herself (in an explosive version of Letterbomb) well past the halfway point. And when the women of Green Day’s America do get a moment to shine – during a sublime rendition of 21 Guns – it’s framed as a moment of emotional labour in which they must cater to the traumas of their man-child partners, without ever being given the space to deal with their own pain.
Visually interesting and politically engaging, American Idiot is an ambitious, defiant treatise to the restlessness of youthful discontent that is well worth seeing at least once in your lifetime, and a must-see for Green Day devotees like myself. Some of the characters may go to that great mosh-pit in the sky, leaving little closure for ‘the kids of war and peace’ who are left behind. But, as everyone on stage sings us out with the iconic Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), there’s hope. Chaotic, frenetic and miasmic, American Idiot isn’t quite the welcome to paradise you’ve been waiting for. But if you hitch a ride on this walking contradiction of a show, you might just have the time of your life.
A Jukebox Musical is one that takes the songs of famous singers or groups and turns them into a show, the most famous example being Mamma Mia. They’ve been around since 1962, but took off in the 2000’s, this one being written In 2005.
They normally fall into two types, the first where they tie the songs together using an original story, like Mamma Mia. The second is where the songs are used as signposts in the life story of the artist, and this is what we have here.
Four guys grow up in New Jersey in the 50’s, where the only way out was through the army, crime or music. They got together, took the name of a bowling alley called The Four Seasons and had a string of hits (Walk Like A Man, Bye Bye Baby, Let’s Hang On, Big Girls Don’t Cry) powered by their group harmonies and Frankie Valli’s unique voice.
The show is divided into four parts (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) each told separately by one of the four members, symbolising the group’s rise and fall, and also how the truth has more than one side to it.
Beginning in 1954, we follow Frankie Valliand Tommy DeVito through their ups and downs, time in prison, and the many different bands they go through, before they are joined by guitarist Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio, a singer & songwriter introduced to the others by fellow Jersey Boy and Oscar-winning actorJoe Pesci, which, amazingly, is true.
Produced by Bob Crewe, they were the first white group signed by Vee-Jay Records, and had their first No.1 with Sherry in 1962, and their last with December 1963 thirteen years later.
Written in 2005, this show gets full marks from me for several reasons: The songs are memorable, the staging is great, the performers are highly talented, and the story is incredible. What’s also impressive is that the band are portrayed realistically, they were no angels and paid the price for it. We see the cost of fame, divorces, debts both financial and spiritual, and personal tragedy, but also that what kept them going through it all was a love of music.
With a running time of 2 hours 40, the time flies by, my own highlight being “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, which has a special meaning for Welsh football fans reflected by the Cardiff audience, which gave the show a standing ovation, which it utterly deserved.
Hi Megan, 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 the Lazarus soundtrack, it’s the current CD in my car and I haven’t changed it for about 6 months, so I often listen to it on short journeys around Cardiff – for me it’s the perfect mid-point between three things I really enjoy: story-telling, musicals and David Bowie. I was lucky enough to see Lazarus at it’s run in London in 2015 – it was brilliantly written by Enda Walsh, and the staging was a great balance between rock concert, performance-art and play. I especially enjoy Michael C Hall’s version of Lazarus as I still find the David Bowie recording quite painful to listen to.
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?
David Bowie – Underground
I had to think for a long time about which Bowie track to include in this list. To say his work has been an influence on my life would be an understatement. Like lots of people my age, Labyrinth introduced me to Bowie, and as a fantasy-obsessed 9 year old, you can only imagine appeal of the mysterious Goblin King. My mum was happy to cultivate the interest and began to introduce me to his other albums; she even bunked me off school to see his Reality Tour at the NEC when I was 14 and the Lazarus a few years ago (I burst into tears at the end, it was all very embarrassing for her).
Bowie’s influence has woven itself through me in fashion, philosophy and art as well as music. He is the poster-boy of reassurance for strange young minds that it’s cool to be weird; and whilst I have other favourite Bowie songs and albums, Underground was the catalyst.
Dick Dale – Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, Misirlou
I could have picked any track from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack to remind me fondly of my university years. As a young scenography student Simon Banham (who I’ve been lucky enough to cross path’s with again in a Professional capacity at NDCWales) decided we would study and create studio work based on Tarantino’s cult film.
I fell in love with the movie and learned loads during the project. For me, the driving pace of this track takes me back to the craziness of deadlines. As soon as I hear Yolanda say the iconic opening words I’m always grinning, reminded of some of the best friends and best work I made at that time.
Nick Hennessey – A Rare Hunger
I’ve always loved songs that tell a story, I’d enjoyed musicals from a young age but not really considered a mixture of spoken word and song before going to a Story-Telling event at my local arts centre. Nick Hennessey (a singer, songwriter, storyteller and harp-player) quickly became a firm favourite in my playlists, and the more he toured, the more CD’s I was able to get my hands on. I’ve been able to see him live a few times now and he has a unique way of weaving vivid tales whilst also possessing the most wonderful voice. A Rare Hunger is my favourite album he’s produced so far, the perfect relaxation for the active mind prone to imagination.
Johnny Hollow – Alchemy
I occasionally moonlight as a burlesque dancer, and whilst its certainly more of a hobby than a career; Alchemy is the track to one of my most requested acts, it’s carried me to some exciting shows both in the UK and further afield and allowed me to meet some incredibly inspiring women as well as life changing friends. I was introduced to Johnny Hollow whilst part of a devising society at university. They have an affinity for creating emotive and atmospheric tracks that easily stir the imagination.
Adam Hurst – Midnight Waltz
This is track that fills me with pride every time I listen to it. It features as part of Caroline Finn’s Folk a contemporary dance piece that has become well known as part of National Dance Company Wales’ repertoire over the last few years.
I’ve been working for NDCWales for 7 years now and have heard lots of music, there was plenty to choose from; but I can’t hear this without picturing Folk with joy. For me, it’s a reminder of some of the highlights of my career so far (and arguably highlights for the Company too) Like a few of my other fav tracks, it’s quite fantastical and evocative.
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?
Oh Gosh! To pick a favourite from the list above would be like saying one part of my life has been a more important part of growing up than another – but without question if you ask me my favourite musician, I’ll tell you Bowie; so lets go with that.
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