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(4 / 5)

2019 has begun – and so have this year’s Vault Festival.

Recommended by a associate in the Welsh art scene, Scratchworks Theatre hail from my good ol’ (once) locale town of Exeter. How small the theatre world is!

Womans (like Romans but with a ‘W’) takes our original and taught understanding of Roman history, and brings us the extraordinary tale of the women behind this.

A story we’ve always been presented to from the powerful male perspective, as we become more intrigued and more inclusive, we keep finding these women who have been hidden for centuries.

Scratchworks bring us a very basic yet very effective performance. There’s not fancy trickery or sculpted props, but old fashioned devised theatre with every day items.

Roman soldiers are identified by red brushes held to their heads, mattress covers are used for not only clothing for character differentiating but carriages, backdrops, staircases and architecture.

The performers themselves are quick to improv over minor hiccups, never losing focus or the essence of their character; and for a small cast of 3, they cover a enormous host of characters, all with their own quirks and mannerisms.

And their physicality is one to be admired – they may not be leaping like a contemporary dancer or performing interpretive dance but their physical comedy and interaction is on point and side splitting.

Scratchworks are a wonderful company, with the right intention and have narrowed their key skills down to a key. Womans… was not only a joy to watch but makes you eager to be apart of.

Review The Lady Vanishes,The Classic Thriller Theatre Company by Donna Poynton.

Bill Kenwright’s Agatha Christie Company previously travelled the UK with original stage plays of some of the author’s greatest works including The Hollow, And Then There Were None and Murder on the Nile. The company put on a major new production each year for ten years running, each beginning at the Theatre Royal in Windsor before embarking on national tours.  Now, under the banner of The Classic Thriller Theatre Company, this stellar cast present a fast-paced, fantastically fun thriller based on the 1938 film directed by none other than Alfred Hitchcock.

Socialite Iris (wonderfully portrayed by Lorna Fitzgerald) is travelling home from continental Europe to London to marry an aristocrat, seemingly not for love, but for the title it brings. Before she climbs aboard, she receives a blow to the head but is helped onto the train by a friendly, elderly lady by the name of Miss Froy. Later that day it appears that Miss Froy has promptly vanished, yet all of Iris’ travelling companions deny ever having seen the woman. Panic ensues and with the help of a young, and rather handsome, musicologist, Iris is determined to solve the mystery of her lost friend.

To an almost sold out auditorium, the curtain goes up to reveal a platform at the train station. The impressive set, lighting and sound create the perfect atmosphere, transporting us to that platform; we can see the steam, hear the engines and watch the passengers and staff bustling about. The image is also a powerful one with Swastika banners prominently hanging from the rafters and a Nazi officer patrolling the action. The story is based just before the onset of World War II and throughout the play there are numerous references to the political situation, often made humorous by English cricket enthusiasts Charters and Caldicott (Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon respectively, both providing light-relief with great comic timing and comradery).

Most of the play is set on the train itself; another feat of wonderful set design. The compartments swing on from both wings and the action is pinpointed by the opening and closing of the sliding doors. The dining and luggage cars are simply represented with tables and chairs, holdalls and suitcases and, very successfully, there is no pretence that this is ‘theatre’; the cast themselves pushing the pieces on and off, frequently not in black out.

With a star-studded cast, superb set, lighting and costume design and a fun-filled, dynamic plot this production is one not to miss, especially if you’re a fan of the good old whodunnit! The Lady Vanishes is touring the UK until the end of July 2019.

Theatr Clwyd, Mold

February 4th-9th 2019

Written By: Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder

Adapted By: Antony Lampard

Director: Roy Marsden

Designer: Morgan Large

Lighting Designer: Charlie Morgan Jones

Sound Designer: Dan Samson

Choreographer: Chris Cuming

Fight Director: Richard Leggett

Dialect Coach: Helen Ashton

Cast includes: Juliet Mills, Maxwell Caulfield, Lorna Fitzgerald, Matt Barber, Robert Duncan, Philip Lowrie, Ben Nealon, Elizabeth Payne, Mark Carlisle, Joe Reisig, Natalie Law, James Boswell, Cara Ballingall

Review Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, Rocket Theatre Group by Helen Joy.

(5 / 5)

It is a cold and snowy night in St Hilary. I drive up to the village hall. All is quiet. I tap on the door.  It creaks open…to expose a whole community packed into a warm space – already chatting and laughing and drinking tea. A blast of hot air and frivolity. An absolute treat to be amongst such a friendly bunch all ready to enjoy themselves. And enjoy ourselves we do.

You always think you know Oscar Wilde = that you are au fait with every quip and quiver but no, we all know so little of this clever writer, this scribe of human quirks.

Lord Arthur performed by Martin Harris is positively steaming with aristocratic lunacy – a Bateman come to life, facing out his audience and batting down his batman. Ah, Middlewick performed by Chris Bridgman. Valet, butler, gentleman’s gentleman,player of many parts. Subtle, farcical, multi-talented, the perfect foil.

They do not falter.

We are laughing from the off. We are relishing the peculiar gratification of recognising a line, a title, a character. And then it starts to take a tricky turn. We are being included. Not just eyeballed but persuaded onto the stage. Stage? A chair, a fireplace, a table and a stool just within the curve of our seating. A painting of Lady Savile, young Sybil in fine Edwardian garb, overseeing all of us. And we are suddenly nervous. 

Cries of, Oooh I’m glad to be at the back, go out. We egg on our comrades to join in with that curious mixture of jealousy and relief. It is expertly handled. Hilarious! Properly one of the funniest theatrical experiences to be had. The temperature starts to climb. The macabre nature of the tale unfolds and we accept not only the dark side of our humour but the apparent ease with which the upper class is seen to accept its position outside of the law. Lord Arthur and Middlewick start to play with our sensibilities and we are sucked in. We are all in the clutches of the palmist.

D’you think authenticity is what they’re after in St. Hilary?Clearly not! We want more Lady Clem.

A slightly clunky trip to Venice requires us to take a break and enjoy wine and ice cream while the snow falls outside and the temperature rises inside.

In our cups, we rise to the panto atmosphere and settle into the second act with enthusiasm. Lord Arthur, driven to a carefully controlled distraction by his failure to commit murder, pushes on with Middlewick riding shotgun to the story telling. We are roaring with laughter and starting to wonder how it all will end. 

And end it does. A sorry damp little ending, perhaps a bit like life itself. 

And we are released into the cold, a lot warmer and a little wiser to the power of suggestibility to the gentler mind. It’s all been such nonsense…

There was an Old Person of Ems
Who casually fell in the Thames;
And when he was found, they said he was drowned,
That unlucky Old Person of Ems.


Bring these players into your home

What to see in 2019!

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…

Jo Clifford’s new version of The Taming of the Shrew at the Sherman in March is a must attend.

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.

Finally, look out for Common Wealth Theatre’s I HAVE MET THE ENEMY (and the enemy is us). They are a force and this is their exploration of our complicity in the arms trade and conflict around the world.

Jonny Cotsen, Theatremaker and Consultant.

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.’

Last year it was impossible to catch everything so I’m glad there’s an opportunity in 2019 to catch some of the things I missed. On my list –  Lovecraft (Not the sex shop in Cardiff) at Galeri, Caernarfon before Carys Eleri takes her show to Australia.  Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s‘Merched Caerdydd/Nos Sadwrn o Hyd’ that premiered at the Eisteddfod last August and will soon to be touring Wales. NTW’s ‘The Stick Maker Tales’ and Jonny Cotsen’s  production ‘Louder v Clearer.’

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 Awakening programme 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!

Image Credit Warren Orchard

Tim Price, Playwright

I’m looking forward to the following – 

Books – Dignity by Alys Conran, out in April. I loved Pigeon and am looking forward to what Conran does telling a story outside of Wales.  The Age of Surveillance Capitalism By Shoshana Zuboff. Zuboff, is a brilliant cultural critic and I think this might have the same impact as Piketty’s Capital. 

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.

I’ve even booked tickets to see Take That at the Principality Stadium – well, I couldn’t resist a singalong with them.

Alice Rush, Theatre Producer

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.

Credit othercrowd.com

Matthew Scott, Writer and Teacher

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 SoaveProducer, He/Him/They/ThemThe 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.

Two big music nights back to back this summer– Manic Street Preachers and Paul Weller play Cardiff Castle. I will definitely try and go to both!

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!

Top Tunes with Abdul Shayek

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

My name is Abdul Shayek, I am a theatre director and Artistic Director and CEO of Fio.  Fio is a theatre company created as a direct response to the current lack of diversity within the theatre sector in Wales. Of 67 Arts Council Wales, portfolio funded organisations, only one is led by someone of colour, (Liara Barrusi founder and Artistic Director of Jukebox Collective) and has a board to reflect this. Currently, there is no theatre company led by someone of colour other than Kully Thiarai, Artistic Director of National Theatre Wales.

Image Description, head and shoulders photographs of Liara Barrusi founder and Artistic Director of Jukebox Collective and Kully Thiarai, Artistic Director of National Theatre Wales.

Fio is truly the only BAME led theatre company based in Cardiff, but works across the UK and Internationally.  It delivers work across 3 strands: Productions – making politically relevant professional shows.  Projects: delivering high-quality engagement activities.  People: providing interesting, unique and paid training opportunities to a range of individuals trying to develop a career in the sector.  Personally, most of my time is taken up with running Fio, however, I also work for as a freelancer and work across the UK and internationally, most recently I was the associate director on the Channel 4 documentary, Superkids about young people in care, led by Lemn Sissay.

Image Description, Lemn Sissay photographed centre with a group of young people featured in the Superkids documentary.

I have recently come back from Sri Lanka, I was there supporting my partner who is an amazing spoken word artist called Nicole May.

She was invited to perform at The Galle Literature Festival.  I was also there in my role as an Arts and Creative Economy Advisor for the British Council. 

Poster of The Galle Literature Festival, blue background with text in the centre.

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 listening to a range of people at the moment, recently I have been listening to some interesting artists such as Vimala Rowe, who I heard at the Brixton Hidden Jazz Club and Robert Glasper who I was introduced to by my girlfriend.  I am also listening to people like Alexis Ffrench, Kendrick Lemar, Anderson Paak,Sampha, Post Malone, Skepta, Stormzy and Childish Gambino, anything I like the sound of really………

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 Life after Death – The Notorious BIG 

2 All Eyes on Me- Tupac Shukar

I love both these albums as they remind me of my teenage years growing up in East London and both these artist were amazing at what they did, shame their stories finished the way they did.

3 Purple Rain – Prince

What an album and what an artist, I saw his concert at the O2 and he was brilliant.

4 Michael Jackson

To fair, I like all of his albums- its Michael Jackson, what more is there to say, he has it all- the ultimate entertainer- it resonates for me as I remember I couldn’t afford CDs so I had to tape the albums from my mates CD, so as I could have the albums!

5 Illmatic – Nas

I concur with many that this is probably the best hip hop album ever……..the flow, the artists, the lyrics and of course the politics, for me it has significance as it got me thinking about my politics and my world and how I want to change/ influence/ shape it.

Supporting Access at Artes Mundi 8

All images in this article copyright Robin Maggs
[Image Description John Wilson leads a BSL tour of the Artes Mundi 8 exhibition. John is surrounded by a large group of people following his presentation.]

Jonny Cotsen– I have been campaigning for many years to try and get John Wilson, Deaf arts practitioner and consultant 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!

All images in this article copyright Robin Maggs
[Image Description John Wilson leads a BSL tour of the Artes Mundi 8 exhibition. John is surrounded by a large group of people following his presentation.]

John Wilson– I was really pleased to be given this opportunity to come to Cardiff for the Artes Mundi 8 tour. Getting out of London and being able to share such an important and fascinating cultural event with deaf people in a different part of the UK was a privilege and a delight! I really believe that Deaf-led events with British Sign Language (BSL)  the native language of Deaf people as the only medium of communication. They deliver such a lot for deaf people who feel confident that they are coming to something which they will understand and, what is more, has been organised specially for them. As a result some will come to a museum for the first time ever.

All images in this article copyright Robin Maggs
[Image Description John Wilson leads a BSL tour of the Artes Mundi 8 exhibition. A photo of John from his waist up with an image behind him.]

John Wilson– This event felt even more special for two reasons. Firstly the exhibition was for the largest art prize in the UK – I am not aware that any tour of such an important event for contemporary art in the UK has ever been organised for deaf people. It also provided an opportunity to open up contemporary and more abstract art to deaf people which, to be honest, is not a subject many will have felt able to approach before.  I congratulate National Museum, Cardiff for organising this. What is more, I would like to thank Melissa Hinkin, Exhibitions Officer, Artes Mundi for doing such a wonderful job of setting up and organising the BSL tour.

All images in this article copyright Robin Maggs
[Image Description John Wilson leads a BSL tour of the Artes Mundi 8 exhibition. John is surrounded by a large group of people following his presentation.]

Jonny Cotsen– 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.

All images in this article copyright Robin Maggs
[Image Description John Wilson leads a BSL tour of the Artes Mundi 8 exhibition. John is surrounded by a large group of people following his presentation.]

John Wilson– Being profoundly deaf I am always well prepared for problems when getting involved in projects like this, only because people do not understand my communication needs or how best to make events accessible to deaf people. Of course, I had none of these problems with Melissa, and it was real pleasure to work with her. Thanks are due too to Jonny Cotsen who I know has put so much effort personally into campaigning for deaf access to museums and galleries in Wales. He sowed the seed of this and we need to say thank you to him. On top of that I was able to be part of such an important cultural event and a wonderful exhibition. It has been a cultural highlight for me and I am not sure it will be surpassed in 2019!

Review American Idiot (UK Tour), New Theatre Cardiff

Aka Disaffected Youth: The Musical

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 Before the 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 Rock of Ages, 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 American Idiot (as you might assume), 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown 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.

Review The Favourite By Jonathan Evans

(5 / 5)

If you take the beautiful visual asthetic from Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and populate it with the jumping madness of Terry Gilliam characters with a few pinches of sharply worded dialog from other pieces, then you might get the closest thing to a grasp on The Favourite.

There’s something about historical dramas that are based on real people with beautifully crafted costumes, make-up and painterly composed shots that make you think that you are in for a quiet time with plenty of manners. This mentality is probably why the movie is so striking in the first place. Because though it takes place within a palace, has queens and high social standing people, this is a story of ego, treachery and deplorable that is just as shocking now as it would have been them.

The story opens in 1708 and Britain is in the middle of a war with France, Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) reigns and is none too interested in the minute details of the war or even ruling the country, more about having hot chocolate (which upsets her stomach), playing with her seventeen rabbits and building a castle for her dear Sarah (Rachel Weisz). Sarah is best friends with Queen Anne and has her ear and those with the queen’s ear has her power. She uses this to extend the war with France and make other manipulations like raising the local tax rate. Opposing many of Sarah’s decisions is Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), the Earl of Oxford.

Arriving however is Abigail (Emma Stone), a lady whose father lost the family fortune and lost her in a bet so she is down on luck and is seeking employment as the help in the palace. She and Sarah are distant cousins so she gets a position in the kitchen.

It is then revealed that the relationship between Anne and Sarah is not strictly platonic, but they do go to bed with each other. Abigail learns this and seeks a way to climb back to a position of power, by becoming the queens new favorite (hence the title). She makes allegiances with Harley and pays the queen flattering complements unlike Sarah that is entirely honest with her when her new makeup makes her look like a badger or denies her hot chocolate.

The setting is politics and power, therefore the characters use their words like swords. There are eloquent back and forths between characters that impulse ruin for the other or powerful allegiances to be made and sometimes when the other is obviously defeated they simply blatantly swear into the others face.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos has a reputation of being bold, masterful as well as delightfully insane. He made a name for himself in 2009 with Dogtooth about a family where they keep the children separated from the rest of the world and then went on to gather critical acclaim through The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. I have actually never seen one of his movies before but have been aware of him. This was both a surprise as well as everything I was expecting by what I had learned about him.

Cinematographer Robbie Ryan utilizes wide angle lenses to capture as much of the characters and the set in all it’s detail, along with this are a few atmospheric slow panning shots, scenes lit by fire or candlelight that invoke Barry Lyndon and a few times where the fish-eye lens is utilized to make the whole image appear warped.

History is filled with wonderful stories about people in a position of power rose to it or kept it through deceptive and cutthroat means. But history is history and a movie is a movie and can always do with a little bit of embellishing to spice it up. The Favourite takes the names and positions from actual history and fills in the blank spaces with what if’s that only an insane person would conceive. To be sure Lanthimos is insane, however, he is also brilliant.

Review, the dark, fuel theatre/ovalhouse co-production, at pontio by gareth williams

(3 / 5)

Everyone has a story to tell. The Dark is Nick Makoha’s story. His is a story of a childhood journey from his home in Uganda to the UK. It is a journey across a country that is under siege and extremely dangerous. It is a journey of survival, on a minibus bound for the border. It is a journey of a mother who desires a better life for her son. It is witty. It is thought-provoking. At times, it feels terribly real. As Makoha himself says, it puts ‘a face to the polarising words of refugee and immigrant’.

Featuring Michael Balogun and Akiya Henry in multiple roles, The Dark immerses you in the Ugandan culture of the 1970s. The brutality and oppressiveness of the Idi Amin regime is felt throughout. Yet this play is ultimately about the colourful characters whom Makoha and his mother meet along the way. Balogun and Henry inject such vibrancy into these people. They transition seamlessly between the different characters. It never gets confusing as to who they are portraying. Such transitioning is made even more natural by the excellent use of lighting, as well as their movement around the stage.

The set is simple enough. It features a cluster of chairs underneath a massive overhang filled with boxes and bags. This is clearly the minibus (or ‘mutatu’ in local parlance). In addition, an OHP screen and projector are to one side, keeping us updated on the times and locations of the journey. We also get to see some personal photographs of Makoha’s which flit onto the screen now and again. They act as a gentle and sobering reminder that what we are witnessing is a reconstruction of real events. This is what makes the final scenes in particular all the more powerful.

Although engaging throughout, it is in the final quarter of an hour that The Dark really grips you. With the border now well and truly in sight, the young Makoha and his mother have soldiers hot on their tail. But just as the chance of escape beckons, his mother must make a life-changing decision. It is incredibly tense. Positively gripping. But what makes it even more powerful come the end is the subsequent reaction of the UK border official towards the young Makoha. This final scene left me feeling frustrated and rather angry. And I think that’s what Makoha the writer is looking for. He wants to shake us out of our complacency. To remind us of the responsibility we have towards those who have had little choice but to leave their country of origin because of war and conflict. As such, The Dark is a timely play whose message we would do well to heed.

Nick Makoha

The Dark is Nick Makoha’s story. It is an important story for our time. It may have been made even more powerful if it immersed the audience into its world via the seats on stage. That’s where I felt I should be, compelled, as I was, by the performances of Balogun and Henry to join them on this journey. As it was, this one-act play still made an impact on me in the way that I think it was meant to. I just hope that it is seen by much bigger audiences than witnessed it here in North Wales. It is pertinent. A story that is much needed. There is a power and importance to this individual’s story that cannot be underestimated.

Click here to visit Fuel Theatre’s website.


WNO Orchestra in concert, St Davids Hall by Barbara Michaels.

Conductor: Carlo Rizzi

Violin: Alexander Sitkovetsky

Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave)

Bruch: Scottish Fantasy

Rachmaninov: Symphony No.2

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

(4 / 5)

A pleasure to see the orchestra of the Welsh National Opera performing – stand alone, as it were – as part of the 2019 International Concert series at the St. David’s Hall on Sunday.

With a programme which begun with Mendelssohn’s melodic Hebrides Overture, known as Fingal’s Cave and one of the first examples of musical impressionism, the performance continued with a further nod to the recent Burns Night with Bruch’s all-embracing Scottish Fantasy, with solo violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky giving a performance which showcased the expertise and versatility of this Moscow-born musician.

But it was not Scotland all the way – not by any means.  After the interval we were treated to the symphony which was to stabilise Rachmaninov’s success – Symphony No.2. This performance of what is arguably Rachmaninov’s most highly charged  and emotional symphony, embracing thematic material in a work that encompasses so much, and described from the podium by Rizzi himself as being “a virtuoso performance from the entire orchestra” proved to be, under Rizzi’s baton and performed by the WNO, indeed that, showing the strengths of this Wales-based orchestra and once again demonstrating that it is up there with the best.

A tumultuous and well-deserved ovation for Rizzi and the orchestra, as well as for the talented Sitkovetsky who gave us our money’s worth with an encore.