Let me start off by saying this one fact about me; I’ve never been to a pantomime before. I’ve seen them- ITV did a few about 10 years ago – but as for seeing one up close and in person, never before. Although I can remember something resembling a pant in the Park and Dare in Treorchy when I was about 4 years old, but in terms of being an adult I have no memory. So what to expect? Well, pantos are as part of Christmas as the Queen’s speech and James Bond on telly. They’re just good fun for all the family, and Cardiff’s production of Snow White certainly falls into that category. There’s childish humour, for the adults, and grown up humour, for the kids. A good pantomime is always the way to introduce theatre to young minds, and with a brilliant ensemble cast, this one does not disappoint.
A good panto always has the following;
A dame – played brilliantly by Mike Doyle (alrighttttttt)
A prince – It’s Chico time (You may remember him as having a number one single which knocked Madonna’s Sorry off the top of the chart)
The Wicked Queen – Harsh to say this but Samantha Womack played a blinder!
For every Wicked Queen, they have a henchman – Oh Alfie Thomas, the day you finished playing rugby, was a sad day, but the upshot is, you get to play on stage a role well suited for anyone who’s faced the All Blacks.
The faithful friend – Tam Ryan has this comedic role as his own. Warm and very funny – watch for his reactions when he’s not centre stage.
And good, I mean, if there’s an evil witch, there has to be balance, and Stephanie Webber as Snow White is as perfect as the version of the cartoon version of Snow White that we know and love, that you will get.
If I was to be slightly critical, it would be the sound mix on the night. The voice mics sounded too pitchy – but that takes nothing away from the performance of all the cast.
I’ve seen Sam Womack twice this year, earlier at Wales Millennium Centre when she played Morticia in The Adams Family, and then tonight as Queen Lucretia (Excretia – nice touch Alfie). Her singing voice maybe a shock to many, but for me, it’s just something I’ve come to love. Cracking version of I put a spell on you – nice little Hocus Pocus touch! She seems to revel in being bad – and she’s so good at it. Funny, yet evil.
Stephanie Webber as Snow White suited her brilliantly, as did Tam as Muddles. Mike Doyle is Panto Royality having performed for the past 27 years, he truly knows his art and is a master at it. If you want to see how it’s done – you won’t go far wrong watching him.
I could quite easily talk about each person, but I think where this panto mainly succeeds is the family feel of the performers. It doesn’t feel like a “one person topping the bill” kind of show. Everyone is equal, and everyone brings something special to the show – yes, even Chico with a song that probably no one under the age of 14 would remember – yes, “It’s Chico time” is from 2006 – where has that time gone!
Hi Angharad and Beatbox Tangent great to meet you both , can you give our readers some background information on yourselves please?
Angharad: Hi I am a theatre director, educator, facilitator and lecturer. I studied and worked as a performer before turning my hand to directing. I have worked for many organisations throughout Wales, but am now a freelance director and Artistic Director of Leeway Productions. I am also a mam and the proud owner of cuddles the cat. I love Women’s rugby and until I broke my ankle a few months ago was scrum half for Merched Clwb Rygbi Cymru Caerdydd.
Hi I am Beatbox Tangent I am a beatboxer from the UK, I currently live in Cardiff but I have performed gigs; workshops and collaborations all around Wales. My love of art and music inspires me to create compositions that take vocal percussion to extraordinary heights.
So what got you interested in performance and the arts?
Angharad : I have always been actively involved in the performing arts since the age of 10. I guess my Welsh language education was quite enabling as I was steeped in the traditions of the Eisteddfod and therefore had plenty of opportunities to perform so to speak. It was a toss up between sport and the arts though as I was a nifty rugby and hockey player, but am glad I choose this path.
Angharad in Hen Rebel Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru
Angharad, Beatbox Tangent has recently been involved in your 10 Minute Musicals initiative, can you please tell us more about this innovative project?
Angharad: 10 Minute Musicals is an innovative development programme to support musical theatre professional in Wales, with a particular focus on the writers and composers. Organised and delivered by Leeway Productions the development project 10 Minute Musicals is held three times a year at The Other Room in Cardiff and is also rolled out across the Regions as a part of our ‘Best of’ project.
We aspire to encourage and nurture new and existing creatives to write for musical theatre in Wales.International collaborations between artists is of huge importance to us. Over the next few months, we will be calling out to some more creatives who are keen to try their hand at writing a musical, and also, more established artists who may want to up skill and network with new creatives and artists. Creative participants can include composers, playwrights, librettists, poets, musician and lyricists.
10 Minute Musicals includes networking, development of current practice and examining and providing the support artists need when evolving, progressing and advancing their writing skills for this genre.
We encourage a continued conversation with creatives and believe that this creative development project is a great springboard towards casting a new light on how you usually work. Leeway Productions provide mentorship support throughout the process, and support artists as they find their way through what could seem like a daunting task. There is a sharing of your work at The Other Room as a culmination to the process and the participants’ hard work.
Thanks Angharad, as you mentioned 10 Minute Musicals has supported artists who wouldn’t think of writing for the musical theatre genre. Beatbox Tangent as you have mentioned you are a primarily a beat boxer do you think you have developed new skills through the process of being involved in 10 Minute Musicals?
Beatbox Tangent: I think I have to be honest. Collaboration is always an integral part of pushing your practice, so doing different activities and working creatively, especially with my partner on the project Rufus Mufasa has really pushed me as an artist and I’ve explored different avenues of creativity. Also, to break down those conventional barriers and really explore something new and using the Welsh language to do that has really opened my mind up to possibilities of language and music.
Musical Theatre as a form is rapidly developing and embracing new forms and styles. Musicals such as ‘In the Heights,’‘Hamilton’ and companies like ’20 Stories High’ are utilising a range of urban art forms in their work. Do you think this can bring new audiences to theatres which might be thought of as predominately white, middle classes cultural spaces?
Angharad: I don’t think we should burden artists with thinking about their audiences when we create work. I think that by activating all forms of culture to write for musical theatre, what willl happen is that the stories they want to tell will resonate with their communities, thus giving context and relevance to the work we create in Wales. We have a terrible habit in Wales of lifting existing models that work outside of our own communities and Country and imposing them onto our own landscapes. What this creates in a standardised approach to the arts. I am not personally interested in building mini London’s and mini England’s within our artistic infrastructure in Wales. We have a terrible obsession with critics outside of Wales, and 5 star reviews, but what about our audiences who are still terribly disenfranchised. So I guess the short answer to your question is, start with a story an artists wants to tell. Throw out all the pre existing models and build our own.
Beatbox Tangent: As an urban artist, I would say yes because the boundaries of Beat Boxing and vocal percussion are being pushed every day. Beatboxing has a very theatrical element to it. We have some great performers now, the likes of ‘Berry Wam’ from France who do all these covers of great commercial songs but some of them are classically trained, and you could easily take your whole family to see one of their shows. So yes, I believe it can pull new audiences in and ‘waw’ them. Beat Boxing is basically vocal percussion and what is musical theatre? It’s using the voice.
Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Access for diverse citizens is a key priority for a range of arts funders and organisations Are you aware of any barriers to equality and diversity for either Welsh or Wales based artists/creatives?
Beatbox Tangent: We are living in a very interesting time. We are living in a time where, how I like to describe it is a half light environment. We are living in the dark as well as the light when it comes to diversity and equality. We realise it’s important and relating this with music, and Welsh Culture, well…. actually, I believe the Earth is but one country and mankind is a citizen, so I believe I am a World citizen and although I have a nationality I belong to this earth. I think when it comes to arts and music it’s so important that you have that diversity. It’s like a man and a woman are two wings of the same bird and creativity doesn’t rise within one sex or culture. It’s a gift and as long as we have projects that bring different people together from every background I think we can create something so very beautiful and really expand Welsh Culture because we have so much to give.
Angharad: There are many, as there are barriers to a whole host of other provisions in Wales. I am currently working with D/deaf artists developing a musical and the infrastructure to support this kind of work is still very ambiguous and fragile. We have to work with artists who are deemed to have ‘protected characteristics’ (I hate buzz words by the way), in order to reach those diverse members of the public we seem to be forgetting about constantly. If the artists themselves are not represented then why would the audiences come and watch a story which is not relevant to them? Artists need more spaces at the heart of this cultural provision, within communities, to create work in order to reach out to a much more diverse audience. We are still so reliant on venues, and I believe this is a barrier in itself. There is such a drive for ‘excellence’ in the arts at the moment. Well, ‘rising tides raise all ships’ and I don’t know that giving so much focus to our venues helps with this little quote. I am such a believer in this quote and I am very concerned that the divide in this ever confusing world is growing and growing. The arts have a role to play here, because it is through storytelling we find truths and remind ourselves what humanity should look like.
There are a range of organisations supporting Welsh and Wales based artists and creatives, I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you?
Angharad ; This is a tough one to answer as it’s such a complex time for funding in particular in Wales.The word ‘career’ in the arts is a dangerous one, because unless you work within an organisation, I don’t know that there is such a thing. Is there? I know of established artists who are still only earning about £13k a year, having worked for years and years. I’m not sure how this is sustainable to be honest, especially when kids come along, so then you get a fall out, and once again it’s all about ’emerging artists’ because all the established artists have had to take other jobs in order to survive, a vicious circle. So at a time when artists are ready to create outstanding work, they just can’t afford to do it. I have no answer, but this is a reality. I think venues have a duty of care towards artists, and Welsh artists, because they are the lifeblood. Jut to add to this also, because funding has become so fragile we don’t seem to be taking risks on those artists who create work that splits audiences right down the middle. That explores the extremes. I would much rather hate or love a piece of work rather than just sit through another piece which panders to the status quo.
Beatbox Tangent: I would like the help to be more visible. More transparent. At the moment, it’s hard to find those organisations. But it’s a learning curve. There are so many schemes at the moment, especially within education, and it’s great for me as a looper, beatboxer to have those opportunities to share my practice within schools, I just wish I could find the opportunities much easier.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
Angharad: I would give 10-20 freelance artists a paid yearly salary and give them the flexibility and trust to self regulate the work they do within certain communities in Wales. Simple. No box ticking. I believe this could foster sincere change at grass roots and community level, because they would not be working towards prescribed objectives and would be able to shape shift and respond accordingly to what is in front of them. Artists like to make, I would give them absolute freedom to do just this.
I would also de-centralise our monster cultural epicentre in Cardiff, which consists of the Wales Millenium Centre, The Senedd, BBC Orchestra, Wales National Opera it goes on and on. What’s that all about? Lol. It feels like a case of ‘ all the great and good may reside here’, and I don’t believe that is healthy at all.
Beatbox Tangent: There are more and more different types of creative art forms all making a contribution to Welsh culture and society. This will only increase through social media. I always feel in Wales though that people are not empowered and empowerment is necessary for them to feel confident about their practice. More funding is needed from different organisations to help creative practioners, empower other creative practioners. Thats why the Creative Practioner training is vital as you are linking up with other artists. It gives different artists the change to make connections. I am a beat boxer I might meet a skate boarder how can we work together to create something awesome? The Welsh Government really needs to understand that no matter what happens in our economy if its Brexit or something else, I don’t want to get political but the arts need to be at the forefront of everything in our society, money can be stretched, I believe everything that we have in our society is because of the creative arts.
What excites you about the arts in Wales?
Angharad: We are in a privileged position that we can foster relationships and networks which can be cohesive because we are such a small Country. Artists excite me. I have been working as a Creative Agent for Arts Council Wales for three years now and the artists I have come across are breathtakingly beautiful. There are art forms I had never even heard of and a generation who are creating and nurturing new and innovative art forms for themselves. I love this.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
Beat Box Tangent : The UK Beatbox Championships were incredible! Foe me personally getting the chance to work with Angharad on the 10 Minute Musical performances have been amazing. I am interested in pushing the boundaries in Beatboxing in Wales.
Angharad: I took my 10 year old daughter to see Slava’s Snow Storm at the WMC. A poetic, visual piece of brilliance when it comes to story telling. My daughter turned to me 10 minutes in and said ‘Mam, there are no words’. I explained that communication is not about words. It is about a visceral tempo rhythm one finds within the piece they watch. That communication begins with a buy in to a moment. She was confused. She kept watching. She came out and she cried. I asked her what was wrong. She said, ‘I don’t know. I just feel really sad’. That’s my kind of theatre. It hit her in a space and place she could not articulate.
Wouldn’t life be better if we were all nice to each-other? If we weren’t so shallow and judged people on who they are and not judge them by their outward appearances. Unfortunately we do, but we are capable of seeing through the differences and connect with other’s on similarities and humour.
Wonder is a movie that is aware of how fundamental accepting and kindness is but also painfully knowing of how people seldom follow this. The main focus is a boy named August “Auggie” Pullman that was born with a deformity at birth and has had to have surgeries to help him see and breath but none of them helped him look normal. He has been home-schooled his whole life but when Middle School comes his parents decide to put him in a private school so he can get used to socialising with other children.
Auggie is obviously shy but also smart, particularly with science, he has a particular liking for space travel. Even to the point of wearing an astronaut helmet while walking around. Jacob Trembly acts well with changing his mannerism according to his environment. The makeup is convincingly textured as well as allowing Trembly to act through it.
Nearly everyone in the movie delivers a very solid performance. It is not really surprising but the ones that give the most uneven performances are the children. They are never terrible but they are the ones that need to hit heavier emotional or even comedic moments and fall short of them.
Something that weakens movies like these are when they seek to portray a condition of people and I feel like there is an unexplored or ignored perspective on the characters. Here, it is cut up and puts the narrative in the perspective of one of the other characters. This is a very important thing to do, this movie is about people and so it shows the other perspectives. One of the best is when we learn about Auggie’s sister Olive “Via” (Izabela Vidovic) and then her best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) I wont spoil it but it greatly hits that emotional beat.
There’s a theme in the movie where Auggie believes he can determine a persons character by their footwear. He looks and assesses three children and is seemingly right, later it’s left to the audience to determine the character of his teacher, then we are given a hint of the character of a photographer. I myself have a variety of different footware for different times, so not only do I not subscribe to this mentality but also this is judgement of someone on the surface level. I don’t know if it’s deliberate irony or just an overlooked story element that is contradictory to the theme of the movie, but it is a detriment.
Director Stephen Chbosky brings charm and wit to the tone of the movie. He skilfully layers the movie with light comedy moments, simple drama and raw emotional moments. He did the same with the view of adolescence in The Perks of Being a Wallflower which I also liked quite a lot.
Wonder tells a story that could be emotionally overblown or tackily manipulative. This strikes a balance of being charming as well as directly looking at the ugly parts of people. It has laughs, cute visuals and probably a few tears for some. It tells its story and delivers it’s message very well.
The Birmingham Stage Company’s brilliant adaptation of David Walliam’s 2014 bestselling book Awful Auntie, captivates both children and adults.
Following on from their sellout tour of another Walliam’s book. Gangsta Granny, the BSC is embarking on an eighteen-month tour of the UK which featured a run during the summer at The Garrick theatre in London’s West End.
The show, endorsed by Walliams, is faithful to the book, and is fast-paced and funny, with an ingenious set design.
The story has twelve-year old Stella Saxby awakening in a bed, and being unable to move any part of her body. Casting away the bedding, she reveals that she is covered head to toe in bandages. Her screams arouse her Aunt Alberta, who tells her that she has been in a coma for three months and that she and her parents were involved in a road accident, resulting in the death of both mother and father, thereby leaving Saran an orphan.
However, Sarah soon realises her awful auntie has a nefarious plan to wrestle the stately home Saxby Hall, that now belongs to Sarah, into her hands, but doesn’t know where the deeds are hidden.
Auntie has a Great Bavarian Owl named Wagner, (Get it?), who acts as her henchman – or should that be henchowl? Sarah encounters a ghost called Soot, a sweep who succumbed to his burns when someone lit a fire when he was up the chimney. There is a crazed ancient butler named Gibbon and an Inspector Strauss who is called to investigate Sarah’s suspicions about her auntie.
AWFUL AUNTIE CREDITS
Story adapted and directed by Neal Foster
Set and Costume Designer: Jacqueline Trousdale
Lighting Designer: Jason Taylor
Composer: Jak Poore
Stella Saxby – Georgina Leonidas
Aunt Alberta – Timothy Speyer
Gibbon – Richard James
Wagner – Roberta Bellekom (puppeteer)
Soot – Ashley Cousins
Detective Strauss – Peter Mistyyoph
The star attraction of this show is the set design. Four revolving doors and staircases create an impression of travel through the mansion, and a reference should be made to the stagehands, who work hard to render seamless scene changing within the fast-paced story.
Composer Jak Poore’s jaunty musical rhythm is exactly right to complement the actions unfolding on stage.
The cast possess rich cvs of their previous stage and film work, and it is easy to see this by their acting expertise on Stage.
Georgina Leonidas, you may recognise from her film portrayal of Harry Potter’s fellow Gryffindor Quidditch player, Katie Bell, in both parts of the Deathly Hallows stories. She plays a believable twelve-year old, innocent initially but becoming more savvy as the story develops.
Awful Auntie Alberta is played in grand pantomime dame fashion by Timothy Speyer who maintains staying in character without going over the top, with commendable skill and constraint.
Richard James’s Gibbon has some of the funniest scenes and on occasion reminded me of Groucho Marx in his movements.
Ashley Cousins plays Soot in a Cockney accent that is consistent throughout, together with a youthful vitality to enable him to portray Stella’s aide, confidant and friend in a credible way.
Rebecca Bellekom’s consummate puppetry skills enable Wagner to be at times a villain and at others a cute pet.
Peter Mistyyoph plays Inspector Strauss in a mysterious way. See this show and you will know what I mean.
All is put together by Neal Foster’s faithful adaptation and brilliant direction. David Walliams commends Foster for having a similar sense of humour, which results in his capturing the essence of the author’s work. He had previously directed the Gangsta Granny adaptation to universal acclaim.
This is a visual treat for children. A school formed a large percentage of the audience for the performance that I viewed, and there was not a restless child among them. They left excited and contended with what they had just watched.
At times, the humour is a little risque and there are a couple of scenes that young children of a nervous disposition might feel uncomfortable with.
A scene where auntie is trying to break down a door with an axe to get at Stella, is accompanied by “Here comes Auntie”, reminding us of the famous passage in Stanley Kubric’s The Shining.
Awful Auntie is a first-rate children’s show with an engaging story-line, excellently performed and a visual delight on stage.
Brecon is my hometown but I had moved away, many years before Theatr Brycheiniog emerged in 1997. This was the first full-scale production that I had ever seen there and If this is the calibre of work that they present , then I am looking forward to many happy returns in the future.
The show concludes its Brecon run on the 10th December and resumes it’s nationwide tour in the New Year. As far as I can establish, the nearest location it comes to returning to Wales is at the Bristol Hippodrome in May 2018. Venues and dates can be found here:-
I don’t necessarily have a favourite novel of all time, but if I were ever pressed to choose a work of fiction that has captivated and has brought me the most joy whilst reading it I would probably opt for Infinite Jest by the late American author David Foster Wallace. It sometimes feels like a bit of a cop out saying this, or a bit cliché, because it seems as if many readers of my generation—well, in America anyway—would arrive at the same decision. Much like Nirvana’s Nevermind, Infinite Jest carved its way into the cultural milieu of the 1990s with such force that it almost goes without saying that it’s one of the greatest artistic endeavours of the decade—and perhaps even the century—within which it was produced. And in tandem with the music of Nirvana, its legacy owes much to (and is intricately wrapped up in) the counterculture of its time—or more specifically, a category of young people known colloquially as ‘Generation X’. By the end of 1996 (the year it was published), Infinite Jest had sold well in excess of 40,000 copies, and as of today its sales have exceeded one million, making it an enormous commercial success.
Yet when we analyse the success and popularity of Infinite Jest a bizarre paradox can be seen: loads of people bought it, but very few actually read it! This may have been in part down to its reputation as a complex and impenetrable novel, but its size was certainly a determining factor too. In appearance it’s practically a modern day War and Peace; a weighty tome coming in at over a thousand, densely written pages in length. Perhaps the reason that so many people bought it (particularly male college students) without ever reading it was so they could display it on their dormitory bookshelves as a symbol of the alternative, intellectual lives that they led, possibly in the hope of getting laid. But in my opinion, these two points are mere illusions. Yes the book is complex, but certainly not impenetrable, even with its often experimental and mutable prose: its contents are beautiful, moving, funny and thoroughly entertaining. And while it does take you on an intricately textured journey into the nature of humanity and society at large, it’s written in such a way as to make its philosophical meaning instantly perceptible, by striking at the heart of your own experiences as a human being. Referring to its size, superficially it does look daunting: I was most definitely intimidated by its heft to begin with. But because it’s such an entertaining novel it never feels like a chore to read; you become so invested in the story it has to tell that you just want to keep on reading and reading and reading. At one point I can remember noticing that I was just over halfway through, and this realisation disheartened me in a way because I simply didn’t want the novel to end.
David Foster Wallace
I suppose the main reason I’m writing this piece is due to the fact that in the UK Infinite Jest doesn’t seem all that famous, even among avid readers. I’d never heard of it until a close friend of mine recommended it to me, and to this day she’s the only person I know who’s read it and who I can discuss it with. This is such a shame, as I see Infinite Jest as one of those novels that every reader, regardless of age, sex or background, should consume at some point in their lives.
In trying to sum up the plot of Infinite Jest, I find it helpful to draw on the TV show The Wire as a useful point of comparison: it’s made up of several stories which at first appear separate but which eventually come together to form a cohesive whole. And much like in The Wire, each narrative and story builds up to an astonishingly rich view of the fictional world within which the novel is set, where every little detail counts. This fictional world is set in the not-too-distant future, where the USA, Canada and Mexico have formed a political union and which now exist as a kind of superstate known officially as the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.). In addition to that of political space, the concept of time has also changed quite drastically, and is now governed by something called ‘Subsidized Time’, where each year is both subsidized and named after a certain corporate sponsor. We have, for example, the ‘Year of the Whopper’, the ‘Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar’, and the ‘Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland’, which all lead up to the ‘Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment’, in which the majority of the novel takes place. Indeed, the world of O.N.A.N. is completely dominated by corporate advertising, which impinges unrelentingly on the lives of its inhabitants and which seems to affect every aspect of their daily routines. The central hub of the novel’s plot is the city of Boston, Massachusetts and its immediate environs. Set within and around the city are three focal locations: the Enfield Tennis Academy (E.T.A.) where young, aspiring tennis prodigies are sent to develop their skills in the aim of becoming professional players; Ennet House, a rehabilitation centre in which drug addicts and alcoholics recover from their illness; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), from which a prominent radio show is aired. A significant chunk of the novel also takes place within the mountains of Tuscon, Arizona, where a politically- and philosophically-charged conversation between two characters ensues, which encompasses some of the main themes and messages that the novel attempts to express.
Modern day Boston, Massachusetts
Thematically speaking, it would be impossible for me to even scratch the surface of Infinite Jest’s ideas and motifs within a short online article, such as this is. But I will briefly discuss two of the most important ones. Addiction, both as an illness and a concept, represents an all-pervading presence within the novel; several key characters are battling their dependency to hard drugs like crack and heroin, principally those who end up as residents at Ennet House. As an ex-addict myself, I found this all very poignant, mainly because the ways in which David Foster Wallace deals with this topic are so utterly realistic and identifiable. A life of drug addiction is simple and manageable, while the alternative—the recovery—is almost unimaginably complicated as it runs the risk of leaving oneself open to feeling emotions that desperately need suppressing. Yet Infinite Jest shows us that drug and alcohol dependency are only a small facet of addiction, and that potentially harmful addictive tendencies penetrate each of our lives, whether we realise it or not. The inhabitants of O.N.A.N., for example, have access to a form of digital media known as ‘InterLace’, which allows them to watch any TV show or film or sports event (and so on) ever recorded whenever they want. In this sense, when reading Infinite Jest we are confronted with an entire nation addicted to watching TV, and anyone who binge-watches Netflix content today will find this hauntingly familiar. The acronym ‘O.N.A.N.’ is deliberately chosen here: it’s a reference to onanism, and it’s basically telling us that this fictional nation is consumed by addiction and hedonistic behaviour to such an extent that it might as well be continually masturbating all day, everyday. I guess what David Foster Wallace is saying here is that addiction forms a fundamental and inescapable aspect of human life, and that freedom from addiction (paradoxically) comes in the form of choosing what we may or may not be addicted to.
The addict’s perception of self
Another of the novel’s key themes is communication, or more specifically the transferal of thoughts and ideas from one person to another. This is represented primarily through the character of James Incandenza: a seminal filmmaker who becomes disillusioned with the avant-gardism of his earlier work and who later tries to communicate his ideas in a more accessible way through the medium of action movies. This obsession drives him to a life of chronic alcoholism and he ends up committing suicide by cooking his own head inside a microwave, which happens shortly before the novel is set. Later on, James Incandenza takes on an almost god-like presence in his ability to affect the lives and decisions of the novel’s characters, even from beyond the grave, and he may therefore be seen as an extension of the author himself. David Foster Wallace came from a strong postmodernist tradition (a movement known for its complex and often incoherent content), and it’s possible that within Infinite Jest he is desperately trying to drag postmodernism kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but in a far more accessible and entertaining form. In other words, it seems as if his yearning to communicate his ideas more coherently forms the entire basis of this novel, and that an inability to do so was a consistent source of fear for him. Yet this fear moves well beyond the realm of artistic expression; it encroaches into our own daily lives and thought processes, as a person’s failure to communicate their thoughts clearly to another person is surely a sign of their own insanity.
James Incandenza’s suicide
I’m not saying that Infinite Jest is one of the greatest novels ever written—I feel like there are very few people sufficiently qualified to draw that conclusion, and I’m certainly not one of them. I’m not even saying that Infinite Jest is perfectly written: there are parts that seem pretentious, even intellectually ostentatious. The insistent use of endnotes is a key example, which aren’t really endnotes at all but are actually integral elements of the novel itself, packaged in an academic way. But for me, one of the amazing things about Infinite Jest is that its story and its characters are so compelling, so thoroughly well written, that I’m able to forgive all of its shortcomings. And who knows, maybe upon rereading it I may even grow to love them. Once I finally finished reading this novel, I had the instant realisation that David Foster Wallace quite literally poured everything he had into it. It can be seen as a mirror to his own psyche—a near-perfect reflection of it. His passions, his fears, his intellect, even his own mental illness—which eventually led to his suicide in 2008 and which caused him to do some questionable things throughout his life beforehand—can all be picked out within the text. And upon researching the history of Infinite Jest, it’s easy to see why this is. The writer Mark Costello (who is David Foster Wallace’s former housemate), once intimated that the process of working on this novel kept David Foster Wallace from killing himself in the early 90s; he said that while he was writing it he, temporarily at least, stopped feeling bad about himself.
Overall, Infinite Jest is a truly incredible novel, and despite its reputation I believe it’s one that anyone can pick up and enjoy. It’s also a rather unique experience; I can’t really think of any other novel I’ve read that manages to create a fictional world that is both gargantuan in scope and encyclopaedic in detail, but which simultaneously revolves around an intensely character-driven plot. Thinking back on it, I really cherish the time I spent reading Infinite Jest, and I’m actually saddened by the idea that I’ll probably never read anything like it again.
The director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with Artist Emily Jones. They discussed her training, being named runner-up in the Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize 2017 for graphic short story: Dennis and June and her most recent work for Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.
Hi Emily great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hello, I grew up in Tyneside but I’ve lived in Cardiff for many years now. I studied illustration for children’s books at art college as that’s the branch of illustration I’m really passionate about. Although, I do enjoy drawing cartoons of Donald Trump and other political figures that I find ludicrous! Being an illustrator isn’t my full time job as I prefer the balance of being able to draw and paint when I want, without the worry or pressure of relying on it for an income.
So what got you interested in Illustration?
I had two lovely teachers in primary school and they encouraged me to draw. They made me realise that you could draw pictures for a living. I loved picture books in particular and I had my favourite illustrators who I aspired to be like. I think I’ve always been fascinated with images and how someone has created them.
How has your career as an illustrator developed?
A few years ago, I began renting out an art studio so I had the space to work in a more professional manner rather than just working at home in front of the TV. This really changed things and along with posting my work on social media, I have slowly but surely become busier and better.
Your personalised pet portraits are particularly popular with your work appearing in 1000 Dog Portraits by Rockport Publishers? Can you tell our readers how you got involved in pet portraits? Do you have a favourite animal to illustrate?
I painted my partner’s dog Scooby and it all started from there. I showed the painting to a few people and before long I was being asked to paint their cat or dog. I think painting pets is a great way for any artist to get commissioned as it’s artwork that is really accessible for people to buy. I love painting all sorts of animal but the more animated the creature is, the more fun I find it to be.
Well I begin by doing a lot of research on how other artists have illustrated these classic stories. I then do my best to create an image which is original as well as instantly recognisable. The images have to grab attention of both children and adults and hopefully it will make people want to see the show.
The image for Hud Y Crochan Uwd/The Magic Porridge Pot, Sherman Theatre.
Your Wind in the Willows illustration has been developed into an animated trailer this year. Is this a first for you?
Yes it was and it was brilliant to see the image move! The artwork I create for Sherman Theatre is always created in separate layers. This enables the designers to move around the different components to fit whatever format the advert will appear; be it posters, flyers, web-banners etc. Of course, this also enabled the designers to create an animated trailer which is just awesome!
Do you have any illustrators or artists that inspire you?
There are tons! Quentin Blake has always been there as a favourite, as has Edward Gorey. They are experts at depicting characters with seemingly simple pen lines. Shaun Tan’s work is incredible and I wish I had a fraction of his talent! I love Júlia Sardà, David Roberts, Isabelle Arsenault, Alex T. Smith, Michael Sowa, Mateo Dineen, Rebecca Dautremer. They are a just a few! I study their work and try to figure out how they do what they do. They make me feel totally inferior but at the same time, inspire me and enthuse me to create my next best piece; which is definitely a good thing.
Images by Júlia Sardà, Shaun Tan, Edward Gorey and Quinten Blake
Congratulations on being named runner-up in the Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize 2017 for your Graphic short story: Dennis and June. This work is in a digital medium can you discuss how this differs from your painted work?
I recently bought a Huion Graphics tablet so I can draw and colour digitally. It makes illustrating in this comic style so much faster. When I heard about the graphic novel competition, I knew I’d have to create it digitally as painting the way I do, takes so long. Plus, the comic style suits the story much better. Creating digital work has a freedom to it. Mistakes can be easily erased and colouring is instant but physically painting an image will probably always be my favourite way to illustrate.
An image from Dennis and June you can read the full story at the link above
If any of our readers are aspiring illustrators what advice could you offer them?
Draw as often as possible. It seems obvious but you have to practice. Drawing from life is a brilliant way to improve your skills and develop your style. Having a recognisable style is important and it’s something I haven’t mastered yet. But the more work I do, the more I learn and develop. I just wish there was more time in the day to draw!
What do you have planned for the future?
Well, I’ve been having various successes in illustration competitions and I’m hoping this will lead to greater things in the publishing world. I have a couple of children’s books to work on, more images for children’s theatre and when I find the time, I’ll create another graphic story.
I’ve created images for The Sherman for a while now and it’s always a proud moment seeing my artwork representing their shows. The Sherman has given me huge confidence in regards to my ability as an illustrator and I hope to work with them for years to come.
Image for Hugan Fach Goch/Little Red Riding Hood
Image for Alice in Wonderland
Thanks for your time Emily.
You can check out more or Emily’s work at the link
What do you think about when it comes to Christmas? Religion, commercialism, Santa and his Reindeer, Scrooge?
Christmas sees a lot of theatre come to the stage, but usually it’s the wholesome, profound meaning conclusion for children or we delve into religion. Where is the room for an adult production?
Flossy and Boo have hit the nail on the head. This comical duo has been asked by the almighty man of The Other Room to put on a Christmas production – however, they do not know what Christmas is or a play for that matter.
A hilarious, slapstick and musical production ensues with the idea that we will reach a nativity production but first we must see the concept behind Christmas – the duo’s research.
Purely at random, we the audience are in control of the schedule, picking from a stocking the topic. Flossy and Boo use this technique a lot in their work and I am a big fan – it shows real talent and skill to be able to produce a show where you never know the order.
Music is always a key part of their work and their comical original music always comes as a surprise to the rhyming and the road it will take. A favourite of mine was a American Southern acoustic number where the use of the floor, a tambourine, guitar and beautiful voices were all they needed. It was strong, powerful and a lovely addition to their more gentle, folk music.
And we cannot leave without a note on the set and props – thought was put into every aspect not only making it homely but complimenting each topic – things became creepy when needed, others warm and fuzzy and each bit was there for a reason.
Great thought is put into each any every part of their work and when things may go awry, these two are amazingly skilled that it becomes part of the production. We feel welcome, we feel like friends and this Christmas, we laughed, tapped our toes and smiled at something very different and totally brilliant.
Cameron Mackintosh’s acclaimed new production of Boublil and Schönberg’s legendary musical Miss Saigon – a recent smash hit in London’s West End – is now embarking on a major UK tour, and has stopped off in Wales Millennium Centre for their annual Festive offering.
Previous Festive shows include The Lion King, Phantom of the Opera and Mary Poppins, and this year they bring the winner of a record-breaking nine Whatsonstage Awards 2015 including Best Show.
From the same partnership that brought Les Misérables, brings this epic love story that tells the tragic tale of young bar girl Kim, orphaned by war, who falls in love with an American GI called Chris – but their lives are torn apart by the fall of Saigon.
For the sheer spectacle, this production needs to be seen. For the lighting, the sound and the effects are some I’ve rarely seen outside of London, you soon realise this is something special.
The cast brings such depth to the story, which without realising, the first twenty minutes feel so much shorter – such is setting the story up. Red Concepcion’s Engineer is brilliant – a slightly comedic but evil twist on a character – The American Dream brought the house down. It’s such a stand out moment.
Sooha Kim as Kim brings the vulnerability to the role, and with an amazing voice. Her duet with Ashley Gilmour (Chris) on The Last Night of the world, is another stand out moment.
Be warned, it’s not for younger people – the themes are quite adult, and there’s some swearing in the first 20 minutes – and it’s also dotted through the rest, but it’s not without reason.
For me being a little bit of a theatre techy, I spent most of the evening in awe at the sets, lights and sound. It’s one of the best I’ve seen in Cardiff. The helicopter scene is probably the most impressive piece of set and engineering I have ever seen on a stage! You find yourself completely immersed into the sights, emotion and sounds of the end of the Vietnam conflict. If musicals were football leagues, Miss Saigon would be Chelsea.
The word triumph is often used to describe musicals, and in this case, it’s spot on.
“The Wind in the Willows” is the 2017 Christmas production at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, and offers a banquet of creativity to feast upon.
Kenneth Grahame’s inveterate didactic children’s novel of 1908, “The Wind in the Willows” has been adapted for the stage an enormous amount of times, especially at Christmas, and this is likely to continue.
A cursory glance at reason productions in Wales, by both professional and amateur companies, such as Black Rat Productions at The Gate in Cardiff, in 2010, Gwent Young People’s Theatre 2008 show at Abergavenny Castle, (that sounded like fun!), to name just two.
“The Wind in the Willows” follows the adventures of the anthropomorphic animals Mole, Rat, Badger, Toad, and their friends.
Kenneth Grahame’s idea was to promote moralistic themes that most parents would like their children to follow.
Themes such as showing hospitality as epitomised through the characters of Rat and Badger and conversely, criticising it through the depiction of Toad. The Pastoral environment to be preferred over city life. The ugliness of industrialisation and the rapid developments in technology, shown in Toad’s infatuation of the motor car and, as a consequence, his reckless driving, its ability to destruct the peace and tranquility of the countryside. This particular theme bearing a highly relevant resonance to environmental difficulties facing the world a hundred years after the book was written. A sense of adventure is another theme that pervades throughout the story. Toad’s road trips. Mole’s desire to explore the world beyond her own limited one, and even Rat’s temporary desire to have a life on the ocean’s waves. However, the joy of returning to the stability of the home is also a theme that Grahame promotes. Finally, the anthropomorphic characters in the story each have their own characters. Badger is the oldest, and consequently, the wisest, and the others respect him for that. Within the pecking order, next comes Rat, slightly younger but showing a certain degree of maturity, whereas Mole is a young man on the verge of making his way in society and excited about the prospect of doing this, but needing a firm hand of guidance to steer the path. Finally comes Toad, the spoiled brat used to getting his own way and lacking maturity.
“The Wind in the Willows” Production Team
Gaolers Daughter: Rebecca Killick
Chief Weasel: Hannah McPake
Mole: Jessica Murrain
Badger: Zara Ramm
Rat: Dominic Rye
Toad: Keiron Self
Portly: Emma Cooney
Director: Lee Lyford
Writer: Mike Kenny
Lighting Designer: Kevin Treacy
Composer: Conor Mitchell
Musical Director: Gareth Wyn Griffiths
This is an energetic, funny and likeable production with a vast array of creative ideas on display, testament to the brilliance of Lee Lyford’s direction.
Beds on castors on a revolving stage with makeshift oars provide a degree of realism when depicting a boat on a river, or a boat crew swiftly passing through.
Bunnies on pogo sticks and the scene getting the largest laughter, (at least amongst the adults), is of a small remote control red sports car whizzing across an empty stage, and thereby fuelling the desire for the hopeless infatuated Toad to steal it. Then offstage you hear an almighty crash and the car returns with smoke emerging from it, shortly afterward followed by a dark blue police car in pursuit.
I also like the director’s use of physical theatre at times – it works very well.
Mike Kenny’s adaptation of “The Wind in the Willows” is faithful to the story and highlights the main themes well.
The first impression of the stage design is one of greenness. Thereby tying in with the environmental issues within the story. A disheveled Toad Hall has a winding staircase, stage left, leading to a landing with five windows. Above which hangs a splendid candelabra. Below the landing space is a piano. The ceiling looks in a very sorry state and one expects daylight to be appearing any day soon. Large Green doors which play a very active role in the play are located stage left and right. The green painted central space has circular revolving stages within it. Bookcases and furniture have sheets draped over them, heightening the sense of desolation. A trapdoor is utilised centre stage.
The design of animal costumes is another highlight. When the unbearably cute young hedgehogs appeared in Badger’s home, many young children let out involuntary aahs!
Composer Conor Mitchell, introduced a number of catchy tunes sung and played during the performance. In fact, I heard an adult member of the audience, whistling the final song in the foyer post show.
It would be unfair to single out any individual member of the cast as they are universally excellent in their roles. The cast portrays many other characters and animals other than those mentioned in the production credits above. Multi-talented, they also played a veritable orchestra of instruments. Cello, violins, triangles, banjo, ukulele and accordion, and probably others that I missed. All held together by the busy Gareth Wyn Griffiths on the piano. They also possess fine voices to accompany the songs, both individually and in chorus.
I feel that the annunciation by all actors was uncommonly fine. It doesn’t surprise me to find that Zara Ramm has a successful career narrating the audio books for the novels of Jodi Taylor in particular, and others. Ms Ramm, I have seen on stage before – twenty five years ago at the old Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond-upon-Thames in David Edgar’s “Saigon Rose”. This was 1992 and I remember the production well to this date, and the brilliance of the very young cast playing in an incredibly small, space. All I can say is that during the intervening twenty-five years, Ms Ramm has aged far better than myself!
Overall, this is a production of the highest level suitable for children of all ages and adults. I saw a number of children as young as 3 or 4 in the audience, and towards the end, I glanced around and was amazed by the way the production had captivated them. Many of them leaning forward in their seats with their eyes glued to the stage.
My only criticism, (and it is a minor one), would be at times the play is a little wordy, and slower paced, but, for that matter, so is the story, perhaps making this inevitable to drive the plot forward.
For adults, within “The Wind in the Willows”, there is enough on display to pass an enjoyable couple of hours in an innocent, wholesome theatrical environment, and, like me, I feel that you would emerge greatly encouraged by what you have experienced. For children’s theatre is vital in nurturing the desire and creating the need to the future adult theatregoer, and shows like this leave you optimistic for the future of our beloved industry.
If you are an adult without a child to take with you, and you feel a little self-conscious attending by yourself, then I suggest you should borrow one from somewhere. It’s that good!
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is one of those novels that has stuck with me for pretty much my entire life. Its content—the story, the themes and the prose—have been etched into my mind ever since reading it for the first time as a teenager, and because of this (along with its miniscule size—you could easily read it in a single afternoon) it’s a novel that I go back to time and time again.
Joseph Conrad’s legacy within the modern Western canon is clear, and need not be discussed or regurgitated at length here. But it’ll suffice to say that it would be a hard task finding any author of fiction writing in the twentieth or twenty-first centuries who doesn’t owe at least something to his work. This is remarkable considering that Conrad himself wasn’t a fluent English speaker until he reached his twenties (he was born and raised within the Russian Empire in the mid-nineteenth century and emigrated to Britain later on).
Heart of Darkness is easily Conrad’s most well known novel. This may be in part down to the popularity of the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, which serves as a loose adaptation of the novel. Actually, this film acted for me as a gateway to Heart of Darkness—I had no idea the novel even existed before watching Apocalypse Now. This really is testament to the power of Conrad’s writing, because even though Apocalypse Now takes place almost a century after the novel does, and is therefore set within entirely different historical settings, its themes still translate with near-perfect precision.
Poster for the film Apocalypse Now (1979)
From reading its very first page you get the instant impression that Heart of Darkness is written in quite a unique way. It employs a first person narrative, yet the narrator is a nameless nobody—we learn next to nothing about him throughout the course of the story. The only thing we ever really learn about the narrator is that he is an idealistic young mariner working on board a cruising yawl (the Nellie) set to depart from London. Heart of Darkness employs a frame narrative, so the purpose of the narrator is to detail the experiences of the novel’s true main character (Charles Marlow) who is telling a story of his expeditions through the Congo Free State to the mariners aboard the Nellie. The telling of this story encompasses the entirety of the novel.
Illustration of a steamboat traveling along the Congo River
Fundamentally, Heart of Darkness is about Western colonialism, and Marlow’s story brilliantly encapsulates all the horrors associated with this movement. He recounts his journey along the Congo River within what was then a Belgian occupied territory, with the prime objective of meeting an ivory trader known as Mr. Kurtz (the novel’s antagonist). Throughout his journey, Marlow discovers that Mr. Kurtz has adopted an almost legendary status as the finest Western agent within all of the Congo. Marlow even obtains a report written by Mr. Kurtz explaining how it is the White Man’s duty to spread civilization across the imperial frontiers of Africa, and we learn at this point that this is exactly what Mr. Kurtz has tried to achieve along the Congo River. Yet upon finally meeting him near the end of the novel, we are confronted with a man who has quite literally lost his mind. He has amassed an almost religious following among the natives who venerate him as a God-like being, whilst surrounding his house are wooden palisades with decaying human heads affixed to their tops (which presumably once belonged to his former prisoners). We also learn that he has begun raiding nearby villages for ivory, creating havoc among the natives. It seems that in his effort to spread civilization into the darkness of Africa, he himself has become darker, more savage, as a result.
Illustration of Mr. Kurtz
In many ways Mr. Kurtz acts as the perfect embodiment of Western colonialism, as he asks us to consider how it’s even possible for us to civilize non-Western peoples when we are not civilized ourselves. This certainly rings true today, particularly when we think of the recent Iraq and Afghan wars, along with the ways in which we’re currently dealing with the so-called Islamic State. Yet in my experience, no two readings of Heart of Darkness are ever quite the same. The parallels drawn between Belgium’s colonization of the Congo and the Roman’s conquest of the Thames, for example, are there perhaps to reminds us that colonialism represents an all-pervading aspect of the reality within which we live, and has played a major role in shaping humanity’s history. The fictionalised setting within the Congo, on the other hand, may also be seen as a playground in which moral virtues evaporate and where those who are most hungry for power come out on top. Indeed, it’s the moral standoffishness with which this novel was written that means it avoids being interpreted in any singular way. Rather, it forces you to think for yourself.
Despite its tiny size, Heart of Darkness is a dense and richly textured novel which makes use of some excellent prose and symbolic undertones. It really is a fantastic novel, and definitely worth a read.
by Rhys Morgan
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