Category Archives: Film & TV

Review, Steeltown Murders, BBC Wales by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Steeltown Murders may be yet another Welsh drama in the ever-popular crime genre, but it is very well done on the whole. Telling the true story of how DNA was used in a pioneering way to solve a cold case in Port Talbot, it flits between the 1973 setting of the murders of three girls and the early 2000s with ease. Starring Philip Glenister, whose accent was nicely perfected through immersion into his Welsh roots, alongside Steffan Rhodri, who play the chief investigating officers, it is a drama that is understated, and effective as a result. Verisimilitude permeates its presentation, and is its greatest strength.

The aesthetic is beige and brown, particularly in its 1970s scenes. The “present” day has a drop more colour but remains blunted by a noirish sensibility. It suits the story and the location well, the unsolved murders hanging over the families and wider community like the smoke from the factories. When music is used, it is in a typically melodramatic way, especially over highly emotional scenes and end-of-episode montages featuring the various characters that come into play. The cast is large, a result of spanning over two timelines partly, but even when each is considered separately, Steeltown Murders feels like an ensemble rather than a two-man show. Glenister’s DCI Paul Bethall is well-drawn – strong-willed, single-minded, haunted by the past – as is Rhodri’s DC Phil Bach – dry-humoured, attentive, poised. But even bit-part characters such as Seb, played by Matthew Gravelle, husband to Sita (Natasha Vasandani), who was two of the girls’ friend, is complete enough to add real weight to the narrative, particularly in its final episode. Whether this is down to its basis in real events, and therefore people, is open to question but, even in spite of this, every actor appears to embody their character with respective heart and attentiveness.

There is the slight criticism towards exposition, and explanation of the forensic and scientific methods that sound plainly for the audience’s benefit. This takes away slightly from its realism which is nevertheless strengthened by the localised accents on show and a bilingualism which, though under-used, was still welcome insofar as representation is concerned. Never for a moment can Glenister be thought of as merely a star signing, his commitment to the role and the overall drama depicted as much in Bethall’s seriousness as his relationship with Steffan Rhodri. The two make a great pairing, sparring off one another with an ease and respect that lightens the dark tone of the narrative. They never dominate the screen however, meaning that the case itself always takes centre-stage even when their part in it is pivotal.

This four-part drama may not be ground-breaking in-and-of itself but Steeltown Murders does tell a ground-breaking story of how DNA technology was used to catch a killer. As such, it is simple but effective; good at what it does, without breaking any new ground.

Click here to watch the series on BBC iPlayer.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review Joe Pera, Soho Theatre, London by James Ellis 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Joe Pera: Spring in the Midwest and Rustbelt PT IV – Spring in the UK & Europe 

Out of all the comics around today, Joe Pera might just be one of the most unique. His gentle comedy stylings might not be to everyone’s taste, though those that do simply love him. After viral success and a HBO series lasting three seasons, he seems unstoppable. Having not been seen in the U.K. since 2016, his new stand up tour comes with these many triumphs on is shoulders.

It remains the subtlety he brings to his act that makes it so funny. Earnest and frank observations would make him appear twice as old as he looks, perhaps even three times older. His gait, posture, hand gestures and accent might make you feel like you’ve time travelled to the 1950s. He looks like he might fall over, his back slightly bent as if he has done heavy lifting all day. It’s very easy to fall in love with him, he cannot be seen as anything but adorable. 

Now, I never expected to be riffing with him during his performance. I was dubbed the guy from Wales and we have many a good back and for, Joe even coming out of character a few times, lost in my remarks and swipes. I have to say I didn’t let myself down, I just embraced the energy of the night, this being a London audience I wanted to let them know they had some Welsh in. Joe admitting his recent comparisons to Jeffrey Dahmer on TikTok seems to loom over him, the image of a densely accented, softly spoken, blonde, glasses wearing man cannot be denied. Welsh water came up for some reason and I also recall a conversation about The Sopranos TV show. What a joy! I blame the wine…

It remains the jolt of the old school with Joe, finding beauty in the simple things in life, the mundane, everyday sort of experiences and encounters. This is a spiritual experience for the soul, the genius of this comedian lies in the pacing, volume control and of course, soft wit. 

He cleverly subverted expectations by ending with a fairly filthy and shocking monologue, something I never thought would pass his lips. The love of his United States is always with him, though in his tender own way of expression. We could learn a lot from him out of life.    

I do have to wonder what would have been the act more had I not embraced the vibe of the night, Joe seems to work an audience very skilfully. Speaking to him after he seemed delighted in the good ribbing we both gave each other. He said their was a chance he could have performed in Cardiff in a festival, which was an exciting prospect. We hope he can make it to Wales next time. 

I award this show 5 stars or as Joe would say himself: “10 OK’s…..” 

Many thanks to Soho Theatre for letting me see Joe’s final performance in London. 

Joe Pera continues on tour to Bristol, Sheffield, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Europe & the U.S. 

Review Peaky Blinders – The Redemption of Thomas Shelby,Ballet Rambert, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff by Barbara Michaels

Peaky Blinders – The Redemption of Thomas Shelby

Ballet Rambert, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Writer and Creator: Steven Knight, CBE

Choreographer and Director: Benoit Swan Pouffer

Composer and Orchestration: Roman GianArthur

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

No need to stress if you didn’t watch the TV series.  Ballet Rambert’s Peaky Blinders is in a class of its own, unique both as a production and as a dance form. Although danced in the main in contemporary dance style with more than a touch of street dancing – razors, knives etc – choreographer and director Benoit Swan Pouffer uses classical dance moves too. Not only uses them but dares to improvise, building on to the traditional with innovative use of classical ballet moves – with a dancer even performing a plié in mid-air.

Beginning with a brilliantly depicted scene from the battlefields of World I, the ballet moves through the life of one Tommy Shelby down the years, showing through him the ways in which those who fought in this horrendous war were affected throughout their lives even in they survived – a living death, as it were.  As it moves on through the post-war years, Tommy’s life segues into a violent world full of murders and gang warfare, with knives and razors flashed – the latter hidden in and the raison d’ètre for – the peaked caps that gave the gang its name. This historically accurate production is not for the faint-hearted, but is well worth taking a deep breath and immersing oneself in what it portrays through dance form.

Creator Steven Knight, who wrote the original script for TV and together with Pouffer, adapted it into dance form, uses a live band on stage throughout for gunfire, air raid sirens and a plethora of music and sounds which works well in tandem with ever-changing themes composed and orchestrated by Roman GianArthur. Natasha Chivers’ lighting aids and abets, of particular note being the scene with searchlight beams and in the second half where an opium-fuelled Tommy descends into a living hell.  Benjamin Zephaniah’s voiceover is both necessary and succinct, while set designer Moi Tran’s clever sets lend an authentic and atmospheric touch throughout: a colourful carousel lends a light touch for one scene. Having the dancers on two levels gives additional scope but at this venue means that audiences in stall seats are unable to see the dancers’ legs!  Ben Zephaniah’s voiceover is both necessary and well done but pre-recorded vocals – recordings of different tracks which, despite being relevant, are over-loud for much of the time.  

The love story between Shelby and his long-time sweetheart disappears and resurfaces throughout lending a necessary lightness of touch, as does a great scene in the second half with dancers dressed in costumes by costume designer Richard Gellar reminiscent of photos of Marilyn Monroe in her early days (a la Moulin Rouge or Talk of the Town for those old enough to remember these iconic London night spots!)

Ballet Rambert is justifiably famed for the high standard of its dancers, and this production underlies this with memorable moves executed with skill. Mention must be made here, in addition to the expertise of the dancers – notably Naya Lovell, Simone Damberg Würtz and Caiti Carpenter -of Musa Motha who, despite losing a leg to cancer when he was just ten years old, does not let that factor deter him in any way, resulting in a performance that is a privilege to watch not only for its depiction of the role but its perfection of technique.

Runs until Saturday March 25th at Wales Millennium Centre Cardiff, then touring.

Review, Y Sŵn, a Swnllyd/Joio/S4C film, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

What a fascinating film Y Sŵn is. No sooner has its writer, Roger Williams, struck gold with cult horror Y Gwledd than his Midas touch turns to the marking of forty years of S4C with this: a striking production that is as offbeat and realist, telling the story of how the Welsh TV channel came into being. Featuring an all-star cast of Welsh natives who perfectly attune themselves to playing key public figures of the time, it successfully immerses itself in the optimism and rancour of Margaret Thatcher’s first-term as Prime Minister. Full of energy and a bursting palette of colour, it truly marks itself as a distinctly British yet uniquely Welsh film.

The aesthetic right from the get-go resembles that of Killing Eve. In big bold letters, we are introduced to CARDIFF. The year is 1979 and there is a rich seam of colour which paints a positive picture of urban Welsh life. Ceri Samuel (Lily Beau) works at the Welsh Office, taking us into a shiny Mad Men-style series of corridors and meeting rooms where we are also introduced to key players in the civil service and government. The clever contrast between the ebullient colour of the former and monochrome presentation of the latter quickly marks out the heroes and villains of the piece. It also represents the vitality and strength of a nation against a stuffy and outmoded political leadership. Other forms of pop art appear throughout to give the film a slightly off-kilter, comedic edge. This sets it apart from the more fictionalised social realism of films like Pride to become a self-referential melodrama that nevertheless manages to maintain a sense of seriousness in respect of the story it wishes to tell.

The fine balance between dramatic and comedic forms is supremely kept by the onscreen talent. Assisted by the magnificent make-up and wardrobe departments, each character stands at an acute junction between verisimilitude and caricature. Willie Whitelaw is perfectly realised in the bushy eyebrows pinned and preened on Mark Lewis-Jones’ face. Sian Reese-Williams ensures a finely-pouted, drably-accented portrait of a scruffy-haired Iron Lady. Rhodri Meilir could turn up his pristine English act no more as Welsh Secretary, Nicholas Edwards. They play the part of authority figures straight enough to make them believable whilst subtly exaggerating them to undermine the abuse of power which leads to their attempts to back down on a manifesto pledge to establish a Welsh language television channel. In contrast, Carys Eleri plays Ceri’s superior with an effervescent humour that makes her a sympathetic character. Eiry Thomas plays devoted wife Rhiannon with enough emotional heart that belies her stereotypical dress. And Rhodri Evan brings a warm smile and gentle demeanour to troubled protagonist Gwynfor Evans to ensure his battle against the political might of Downing Street and Whitehall is portrayed with sufficient weight so as not to become a trivial matter. This is an important story albeit told in a highly imaginative way.

Y Sŵn represents the very best of Welsh filmmaking, in both its content and production. The ending is a surprising yet interesting one, paying homage as well as subverting an oft-derided formula. Its effect is heart-warming, in such a way as to instil a sense of pride in Welsh identity, complete with self-deprecation and humour. It also speaks to the small budget with which it was made, creatively used and referenced in the 4:3 home-movie ratio. You wouldn’t know it though from its professional and glossy finish. Y Sŵn is a real labour of love which stands among the best in contemporary British cinema.

Y Sŵn is showing in selected cinemas throughout March 2023. Click here to find out more.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

“I don’t think a lot of people realise how much there is going on in Wales” An Interview with Actor Lewis Parfitt.

We last chatted as part of the series that Get the Chance ran during the height of the Covid Pandemic in April 2020. During this period many Welsh or Wales based arts graduates were hugely impacted by the Pandemic. Their usual opportunities to meet agents, prepare for final year exhibitions or productions took place in later years or sadly not at all. To raise awareness of the diverse talent graduating during the year GTC offered any Welsh or Wales based graduate the opportunity to be showcased on our website.

So, I guess the big question is what impact did Covid have on your career?

Obviously with there not being any work during Covid, it was kind of a chance for me reflect on what I had learned through my education years and decide where I wanted to go when Covid eventually eased off. At the time, one thing that I wanted to take a step back from was theatrical acting and focus on more on acting for camera, as theatre was something I did so much in my education years. I found that taking that break from working and having time to focus on where I wanted to go, helped me come up with a plan. My plan was simple, get an agent and have more experience in acting for camera at a professional standard. I was very fortunate to get both of these achievements just as we were coming out of the last lockdown which worked out perfectly ready for me to get back out there as the industry started to open back up.

One of the biggest lessons I learned through Covid was maintaining a positive mindset, keeping yourself occupied (even if it’s not related to what you want to do) and not letting rejection get you down. A way I do this now is by having a full time job so that I always have a income coming in, so pressuring myself in getting specifically acting jobs doesn’t really concern me as I always have some kind of money available, so the stress of worrying about bills and car insurance isn’t present, but taking priority to the acting jobs as this is where I’m taking my career.

Did any positives come out of this period that has been helpful for your current work?

Definitely my representation. My agent at Vella Wozniak has been the best thing to happen to me in my professional work. They are constantly submitting me for jobs, having update meetings where we talk about future plans and all the positivity that comes with it. All of the clients have a group chat where we all help each other out with supporting each other, sharing information and just industry related help. Having the representation that I have just makes me feel better about my talent and capability in the industry and I’m very thankful for it.

I believe you are in preproduction for a new YouTube fan series based around Dr Who? With Russell T Davies returning to write for the series and a new Doctor and Assistant announced what changes do you think this might bring to the world of Dr Who?

David Tennant as The Doctor is what inspired me to be a actor in the first place. With Russell T Davies back and David Tennant it’s like my dream come true, especially because we’re getting 3 episodes with him and Catherine Tate back for the 60th anniversary! I have very high hopes when Ncuti Gatwa takes over fully next Christmas too. He’s such a talented actor who I’m sure will bring something unique and new to the role. I think the biggest changes we’ll see are going to be in the production values, going off Bad Wolfs previous production of His Dark Materials and the quality of that show. I’m also expecting there to be more spin off shows, obviously this is just my own prediction, but with the success of other projects like the MCU having its own cinematic universe, I think Doctor Who will go down that route which will make it at the forefront of mainstream television again.

What currently inspires you about the arts in the Wales?

I don’t think a lot of people realise how much there is going on in Wales, especially Cardiff in terms of the filmmaking and acting industry. You have the BBC, Bad Wolf Studios, Sex Education, Doctor Who, Casualty, The Millennium Centre, New Theatre, Chapter Arts Centre, extra work, filmmaking apprenticeships… The list goes on. There’s always been this idea that moving to London or studying in London is the way forward in acting but when you take a step back and look at what we have in Wales, You can actually see that everything you need is on your doorstep and it’s only growing bigger.

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

It’s so hard to pick one experience. It’s got to be the support I’ve received from friends, family and my representation, Glynis and all of the team at Vella Wozniak. It’s been nothing but positivity all around and I consider myself very lucky to receive the support that I have. The plans that we have in coming this year fills me with nothing but excitement and I can’t wait to share the hard work we’ve put into it with everyone.

Thank you.

You can follow Lewis and find out more about his work at the links below.

Twitter: @TheRealParfitt
Instagram: Lewis_parfitt99


Review A New Old Play by James Ellis

A New Old Play: Qiu Jiongjiong’s creative saga commands more eyes on it

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Now here is a complete delight. Something out of the blue and now a shining testament to international, indie cinema. Qiu Jiongjiong has created this three hour epic, a feat that is highly impressive. I was both moved and amused in equal measure. 

Yi Sicheng is Qiu Fu, a renowned Szechuan opera singer, who is being sent to the other world, after a life filled with joy, pain, love and creation. Sicheng is very matter of fact in the role, his clown like features include a red nose and his little dock man’s cap. This remains a highly impressive performance, the length of the film adding to the vast amount of time he’s on screen. It’s very subtlety done from him and it’s hard not to be taken with him.   

This is a film which spans most of China’s turbulent 20th century. I was deeply impressed by the director’s efforts to have a lot of the practical side of things built with love. The models, walls and others set pieces are clearly handmade and adds an extra charm to the film. There are touches of Samuel Beckett, Buddhism, surrealism and German Expressionism abound. It’s a mighty feat, as many characters and historical moments glide along in this not always demanding film, its the length which may deter most for unjust reasons. 

The love of theatre seeps through as well, the stage like production has many fascinating features. There is a cheeky humour to the whole film as well, even with the misery of the Japanese invasion, Mao, The Great Leap Forward, the famine and other depressing moments. Qiu Fu finds a way to get through it all, his craft being loved and loathed in certain moments of history. Things reached the saddest plateau when a baby is left at his doorstep during the horrendous famine, the mother later coming back and thanking them for looking after her child and expecting them to continue the support.

In many respects, little happens in the film, a Zen like presence seems to wash over the lead character as these pivotal events happen around him. Lovers of Chinese opera may find solace here, with many auditions, rehearsals and performances are seen throughout. There’s much humour in the afterlife scenes which even they feature red tape and insufferable waiting times.

As a whole the experience was splendid. It needs many more people to engage with it…the film remains in an early, humble starting ground and we hope more festivals, cinemas and reviewing platforms truly engage with it. It is worthy. 

Dir: Qiu Jiongjiong (18, 179 mins)

A New Old Play is now playing at select cinemas and festivals. 

“Stories that need to be told.” An interview with Dramatist Peter Cox.

In this latest in the series of Playwright interviews Peter Cox gives an overview of his career to date, his time working for National Institutions, access to the arts for all and his hopes for the future. Interview by Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell.

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

I began my writing career at the Royal Court Theatre in London where I won the George Devine Award for most promising new playwright in 1983. My stage plays have since been commissioned and performed by companies throughout Britain – including 7:84 Theatre Company, the Royal National Theatre, Belfast Opera House, the Wales Millennium Centre and National Theatre Wales.

I’ve written and developed film and television drama for the BBC and various independent companies. My radio drama has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 & 4 but I’m maybe best known as the writer of 227 episodes of the acclaimed Channel 4 drama serial, Brookside, between 1986 and 2003. During this time, I was a lead member of the writing team that created multiple-strand stories for more than 2,400 episodes.

Throughout my career writing drama for theatre and television I’ve been privileged to work alongside, and with, masters of these forms including Samuel Beckett, Edward Bond, Billie Whitelaw, Michael Bogdanov, Danny Boyle, and Sir Phil Redmond CBE. The experience of learning alongside people who are working at the top of their profession is unbeatable and led me, in turn, to a commitment to mentoring theatre makers and writers.

Peter (left) working as Assistant Director with Edward Bond on the play The Worlds, performed by the Royal Court Young Peoples Theatre (AKA The Activists) in the Theatre Upstatirs.

Alongside my writing work I’ve been very active in the Creative Industries sector in Wales including creative leadership and advocacy in community arts, cultural policy making, economic and cultural regeneration, broadcast radio and television drama production, professional theatre, youth theatre, live music promotion, carnival, and cultural tourism.

I’m a founder trustee and ex-Chair of CARAD (Community Arts Rhayader and District), a Registered Charity that has developed a regionally significant Rural Community Arts and Heritage resource that’s brought more than £5 million of inward investment into Mid-Wales. During my leadership term CARAD facilitated the active engagement of more than 118,000 members of the community and helped to inspire and deliver over 650,000 hours of community participation and engagement in arts, heritage, and media projects.

In the 2010 New Year’s Honours list I was awarded an MBE for services to community arts – in essence, an acknowledgement of the amazing vision and hard work of many local people. In 2018, along with an ex-Brookside writer colleague, Judith Clucas, I co-founded a new media production company, Portsea Media Ltd.

So, what got you interested in the arts?

My earliest theatre-going experiences fuelled my desire to pursue a career in the performing arts. My first, on a teenage school-trip, was watching Peter Brook’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, with its rock-circus staging and Bottom being given a clown nose rather than an ass’s head. A few years later, as a drama student, I was awestruck watching the fabulous giant puppetry of Swiss theatre troupe Mummenschanz. Soon after I was deeply moved and inspired by Lindsay’s Kemp’s extraordinary, ‘Butoh’ influenced, movement-theatre production of ‘Flowers’ at Sadler’s Wells. There are visual stage images from all three productions seared into my memory to this day.

In each of these shows, the non-traditional theatre techniques and visual language used were incredibly powerful and profoundly enhanced the storytelling. Primarily though, I was conscious of the way my emotions, imagination and creativity were provoked by these vividly effective, stylised, and subversive theatrical approaches. I was hooked.

Why do you write?

I write to try and harness the vast numbers of ideas that just keep bursting out of my sub-conscious mind. I write to try to capture and express moments of extreme crisis, of powerful emotions, from rage and hate to love and grief. I write to make an actor’s blood run faster and to make audiences laugh and cry.

As both a playwright and screenwriter, I’ve researched in, and written about, many socially and politically challenging environments, including: the Bogside in Derry in 1982/3 just after the Hunger Strikes, across British coalfields during the 1984/5 Miners Strike, in Southern Sudan – a war and famine zone, during the Troubles in the Falls Road Belfast 1988/89, and so on. At the heart of all this work there are real people facing very real, and serious, crisis points in their personal and community lives.

Those are stories that need to be told.

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

I watch the world – politics, journalism, human behaviour and frailty, social trends etc… and generate ideas on a daily, if not hourly, basis. I never block any of my own ideas – I note them down, then they either get used or not. Sometimes they might resurface years later in an entirely new context.

I use a diverse range of process techniques, like T Cards and colour coding for structure, but my approach to storytelling is always the same, whatever the form… find a compelling character, or group of characters, and put them into a story that pushes them up against and beyond their own boundaries. The challenges they face, both mirror and echo the challenges that audiences face every day.

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

Getting into my ‘writing zone’ is crucial. Blanking out all the extraneous noise from life and the world around me. Once there I honestly can’t say how the magic happens – when the words flow it’s an alchemical process. Researching and note-gathering are replaced by something akin to ‘channelling’ as characters, action, dialogue and images form in a kaleidoscopic visualisation.

I never judge or edit as I go – that comes later. I’m completely committed to revising and re-writing and I’m not afraid to write twenty or thirty drafts or more. I’m a strong advocate of the strength and power in a good relationship between writers, directors, and dramaturgs. I work on the understanding that writing is a form of improvisation on the page. I never ask, ‘Do you like what I’ve written?’ Always just, ‘How can it be better?’

Do you have a specific place that you work from?

When I worked as Writer in Residence with No Fit State Circus – on three site specific shows -my ‘standing-desk’ was a wheelie bin, out in the open air, with my writing files and laptop perched on top of it. I wouldn’t swap that experience for the world, but when it comes to writing every day, often for very long hours, I prefer my desk in my office space at home.

You began your writing career at the Royal Court Theatre and won the George Devine Award for most promising new playwright. We recently interviewed playwright Diana Nneka Atuona about her play Trouble in Butetown. Her script was recipient of the 2019 George Devine Award for her play then titled, ‘The Boy from Tiger Bay’. What role do awards and prizes play in a writer’s career and what difference, if any did it make to yours?

Huge congratulations to Diana. Winning the George Devine Award opened many professional doors for me, and I still place it high on my CV. Just as important though – was that it gave me a huge confidence boost and a validation of my writer’s voice.

I think it’s important that all ‘competitions’ should take the process very seriously. They need to be run with integrity and with good, sensitive communications. Giving thoughtful, considered, and professional feedback should be at the heart of the process – that way, everyone who enters is a winner.

I was fascinated with some Tweets you shared recently on a commission from The Royal National Theatre touring Welsh Miner’s Welfare Halls, where you also worked with 7:84 Theatre Company. How do you come to be involved in this project?

Just after winning the George Devine Award, I was commissioned by Peter Gill, Associate Director at the Royal National Theatre, to go into the Kent Coalfield to live with a militant striking miner – and then to create a verbatim play taken from interviews with miners for the duration of the strike. I travelled to every coalfield across the rest of the country, interviewing and researching on picket lines, mass demos, in soup kitchens etc.

After the first version of the play was done at the National, (The Garden of England, directed by Peter Gill), I was asked to write a touring show with songs – inspired by that verbatim research – for 7:84 Theatre Company (England). We played some amazing huge venues to thousands of striking miners and their families – with the buses that brought the audiences being sponsored by other trade unions and using volunteer drivers. (Opening night in front of 2,500 in Sheffield City Hall, second night another massive audience in Newcastle City Hall, then Manchester Town Hall.) Our Wales venue was the Parc and Dare and it was an extraordinary night, as was the rest of the tour!

Peter outside of the Parc and Dare 1985.During the tour of Garden of England.

Then, in a strange turn of events, once the strike was over, Peter Gill commissioned me to go back to Kent to conduct another whole sequence of interviews in the defeated mining community. Once again I created a powerful piece of verbatim theatre, but one which was very different in tone to the first two. The two verbatim pieces played in the Cottesloe Theatre at the National Theatre.

My connection with 7:84 was a big influence on me. I was very lucky to get picked up as a young playwright by such a theatre visionary as the late John McGrath who founded the company. John was extremely encouraging to me and gave me various opportunities. He enabled me to go on the road with the company in both England and Scotland, as a form of apprenticeship. He commissioned me and I wrote several plays for 7:84. He put me on the 7:84 management committee. I owe him a lot. He had a fierce intellect and was extremely shrewd and analytical – always pushing societal boundaries and hierarchical cultural constructs. Working so closely with him inspired me to do the same – something I try to do with every new project I undertake.

What role do you think National Theatres and Playwrights have in telling the narratives of the citizens of their respective nations?

I’m a solid believer in the importance of National Theatres, and I was one of the first playwrights to join the National Theatre Wales Community Writers Group when it was created online.

To be a good playwright you must care in equal measure about your characters’ and your audience’s lives. You need to be adaptable and flexible to create a wide range of characters and stories. You need serious commitment, stamina and staying power. You need to be ready to shed tears as you dig into the depths of your own life experience to bring those emotions to life in your characters. You need to love drama, and the power it has, to affect people’s lives. All these things apply to being a good National Theatre as well.

Peter wrote The Stick Maker Tales for National Theatre Wales in 2018

A large part of your career was spent writing episodes of the Channel 4 drama serial, Brookside, between 1986 and 2003. During that time, you were a member of the writers’ team that created multiple-strand stories for more than 2,400 episodes. You have said about your work on Brookside that “As you might guess I love story and the power of story metaphor in people’s lives.” We often see the term, “Writing Team” on long running serial dramas, can you share how this process works for the writers involved?

A Writers Room, or being on a Writing Team, is most commonly associated with American TV Drama Series & Serials. Breaking Bad for example, has a formidable reputation for the strength of its Writers Room – one of the reasons it has been so globally successful. Brookside story-lined with the Writers Room model – right from the day it started in 1982.

During my time on Brookside there would be twelve to fourteen writers on the team at any one time. We’d meet with the producers every six months to determine long-term story potential for all core characters. Then we’d meet for two days every month, in storyline sessions led by the Producer and / or the Exec Producer, where we’d intensively thrash out a block of twelve episode outlines at a time. We’d then go on to be commissioned individually to write single episode scripts – or possibly two or three for more experienced writers. While in the Writers Room we’d fight for stories, find twists and turns, generate the drama, seek out the humour and push the political and social boundaries as far as we could. We’d argue fiercely about politics, sex, religion etc… to the extent that, on one occasion, Security was called to attend as someone had reported a fight was taking place!

Writers Rooms don’t suit all writers, and they can be quite attritional places. Often there’s a high fall-out rate, and on shows like Friends they’ve been identified as being brutal and unforgiving. All of that said, when they work well, and when they suit you, it can be a fantastic system to work within. I had the great fortune to write for Brookside for eighteen years and my time in the Writer’s Room was like a monthly injection of the best drug going – intensely focused and collaborative creativity. I developed huge respect for my colleagues and for their commitment to driving our series to be the best that it could be. The fact that people still stop me, and talk about stories from over twenty years ago, is a great tribute to the effort we made at the time to tell the best stories we could that viewers would identify with.

Peter with the cast and creatives from Brookside

In news just announced this week I’m very pleased to see that all episodes of Brookside have been digitally remastered and are due to be shown on STV – a free to air streaming service. I’ve no doubt that many of the stories that we told across the 80s and 90s will still resonate in the viewer’s lives.

Are there any particular storylines that you are most proud of during your time on Brookside?

Tough question. I was part of the Writers Room Team that generated storylines that ran through more than 2,400 episodes. I wrote 227 episodes which is a huge amount of broadcast television drama. To give you some idea of scale… just writing my episodes alone would be around three million words. By the time the team has story-lined and scripted over 2,400 episodes you are well into the tens of millions of words!

Brookside was conceived to bring real issues and real lives to the British television screen, through an ongoing drama serial. It was brave and ground-breaking. We prided ourselves on being ahead of social, political and legal issues and trends. Our audience looked to us to be challenging the boundaries of British politics through the eyes of ordinary people. We gave a voice to the genuine concerns, fears, and aspirations of our viewers – people with little or no power over their lives and their futures. Brookside was recognised from its first episode as ‘gritty social realism’, but we weren’t afraid to make people laugh along the way.

It was very important to us that we moved with the times. In the 1980s there had been a major national focus on Trade Union politics, and this was reflected in the programme. As we moved into the 1990s other social issues began to dominate, including LGBT+ issues, drug misuse, rise of feminist politics etc. Brookside further explored all these issues and many more.

So, having created hundreds of Brookside stories, it’s very hard to pick out a favourite – although the three-year-long ‘Body Under the Patio / Jordache’ story of domestic violence and child abuse is high on my list.

The Jordache Family

Maybe an easier way to frame it is to recognise that I have four favourite Brookside characters who were iconic soap characters played by outstanding actors who were great to write for: Sheila Grant, Jimmy Corkhill, Sinbad the Window Cleaner, and Mick Johnson. (Sue Johnstone, Dean Sullivan, Michael Starke, and Louis Emerick).

Each of them was a working-class character who grew in strength and influence over many years from essentially the same starting point – as one of life’s underdogs – people with no power or agency in wider society. Each of them showed great resilience, courage, and human spirit to overcome all the adversities they faced, and a political system heavily weighted against them.

Throughout your career you have often worked with the general public and young people in particular devising work together, how does this process differ from being commissioned to write a script by yourself? Can you make any suggestions for good practice in terms of this method of creativity and writing?

I’ve had extensive experience creating drama with communities including large-scale community plays in Wales and London, youth theatre in Belfast, youth and community film for the Rural Media Company and the BBC Wales Millennium Film, ‘A Light on The Hill’, commissioned and directed by Michael Bogdanov.

In all instances I aim to balance the process and the product equally. I always set the bar as high as possible, and ensure the whole project is delivered to the highest professional standards. This has an immense impact on the participant’s self-esteem and sense of achievement and can have a profound effect on people’s lives, including those in the audience. Best practice includes providing good access that removes barriers of all kinds, good listening and learning skills, honesty, respect, and integrity. With those basic principles in place everything else is about creating supportive systems and logistics that give people the best chance to grow in confidence and deliver at a level that they never thought they would be able to achieve.

Peter (centre) working in 1989 with with a group of young women from the Falls Road in West Belfast on his play Ma Hat Ma Coat and The Ghandi Girls

There are a range of organisations supporting Wales based writers. I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel healthyto you? Is it possible to sustain a career as a writer in Wales and if not, what would help?

It’s difficult to envisage a time when it will be genuinely ‘healthy’ as demand far outstrips supply. For example, the National Theatre Wales Community has four hundred and eighty-two members in its Writers Group. Let’s say half of them are active and wanting to write plays and get them performed. That’s over two hundred writers, while the number of commissions via companies like Theatr Clwyd, NTW, Sherman etc, will come nowhere near that in any one year.

This makes sustaining a career through theatre writing extremely difficult, except perhaps for a handful of playwrights. I’ve always thought of myself as a dramatist, not just a theatre playwright. This means in practice that I’ve gone out of my way across my career to find opportunities to deploy my core skills in a wide range of performance settings – radio, TV, film, circus etc. I would estimate that probably over 90% of my career earnings have come from working outside Wales.

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

My ‘wish list’ would include: a Rural Region of Culture, youth theatre, touring theatre, new writing by writers of all ages, opportunities for women playwrights, mentoring… it could go on to be a very long list!

What currently inspires you about the arts in the Wales?

I’m hugely inspired by the number of young people coming through high-quality training and their determination to find all kinds of opportunities to tell diverse stories through drama. Their belief in what they do, and their love of it clearly transcends all else. But it’s very clear that, although financial remuneration doesn’t drive theatre makers on – poor financial rewards work against theatre makers from poorer backgrounds, so we risk those voices not being heard.

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

Just before COVID, I worked with Sue Parrish, Artistic Director of Sphinx Theatre Company, a long-standing collaborator. The project we created was Words as Weapons – in partnership with Tom Kuhn of the Writing Brecht Project at Oxford University, Rowan Padmore from Arts at the Old Fire Station with CRISIS, the homeless charity, in Oxford and a group of participants with lived, often current, experience of homelessness.

As part of my preparation to run a sequence of writing workshops I read nearly one thousand Brecht poems, newly translated into English by David Constantine and Professor Tom Kuhn. It was a great privilege to be given access to this work, pre-publication, and what a journey of discovery it proved to be – page after page of surprising subjects and diverse styles. I’ve always believed Brecht had a voice that speaks to our lives today, but the more poems I read the stronger this conviction became.

Our writing group would meet every Monday afternoon and I’d use some of these Brecht poems as triggers for creating new work – in whatever form each group-member wished to try; poem, lyric / song, monologue, scene etc. When we read the Brecht poems aloud and discussed them, we found that their contemporary resonance and relevance was often quite extraordinary. He wrote some of these poems one hundred years ago, but he could easily have been writing directly about today.

Brecht’s words, his weapons, proved to be a fantastic catalyst for generating some exceptional new writing. Our workshop approach encouraged and nurtured each writer’s own voice. As each member of the group grew in confidence, they found themselves liberated and they pursued their own new writing with real energy and purpose. Each of their voices became clearer and stronger. I’ve no doubt Brecht would have genuinely celebrated this spate of creativity and commentary. As they created each new piece their hunger to express themselves matured, their words demanded to be shared and their voices demanded to be heard.

When we all stepped out onstage, in our live Words as Weapons performances, the packed houses listened intently and were moved and entertained as well as intellectually stimulated and politically provoked. But at the same time, these audiences were struggling to get their bearings.

This was two worlds colliding: 1920s Berlin v Oxford 2018.

They understood that they were listening to new writing – but they also knew we were sharing some Brecht poems – and at times they found it impossible to work out who had written what and when! That was a great project on so many levels.

Thanks for your time Peter

Review, Dal y Mellt, Episode One, Vox Pictures for S4C, by Gareth Williams

It could be that Dal y Mellt is S4C’s most ambitious drama to date. Episode one certainly promised much from a series that looks set to deliver. Adapted from the hit novel by Iwan ‘Iwcs’ Roberts, the narrative weaves mystery, comedy and crime seamlessly to create a world that is universally recognisable whilst being inherently Welsh.

The first thing to note is its scope. Dal y Mellt spreads across the country, taking in the busy streets of Cardiff and the beautiful vistas of Gwynedd in between visits to London Euston and Chester. Connections to Ireland via the Holyhead-Dublin ferry will come into play as the series progresses, making this a drama of ambitious scale. We are no longer confined to a narrative centred on small town Wales or even a singular region. Instead, Dal y Mellt combines the best of previous Welsh dramas to extend its reach to the whole of Wales and beyond. It does so not as a gimmick but in keeping with a kind of unspoken contemporary tradition of intimate character portrayals (Keeping Faith; Enid a Lucy), expansive landscape shots (Hinterland; Hidden), and a complex narrative web (Yr Amgueddfa; 35 Diwrnod). The cinematography, with its stylistic shots and trained lighting, ensures that it works by adding a touch of quality that underlines its movielike proportions.

Dubbed “a hoot of a heist”, there are already some familiar tropes that appear in episode one, including plans sprawled out on a table, secret meetings in an art gallery, and a car chase involving the police. What feels so fresh about this context however is that they’re given a Welsh spin. Gronw (Dyfan Roberts) holds down his drawings of a ship’s decks with a cup of tea and other items from his traditional farmhouse kitchen. The National Museum of Wales provides the backdrop to a conversation between wayward lad Carbo (Gwïon Morris Jones) and garage-owning gangster Mici Ffin (Mark Lewis Jones). Carbo drives through country lanes and takes a detour through some very muddy fields to get away from the cops. Each incident is tinged with humour which lightens the mood. The result is a series that is not gothic a la Peaky Blinders or violent like The Sopranos but nevertheless takes some of their ingredients and mixes it with a distinctly Welsh flavour. It means that the characters are all believable, reflective of their particular locations; and the story remains grounded even as the plot becomes more elaborate and outlandish.

Mici Ffin (Mark Lewis Jones) a Carbo (Gwion Morris Jones)

The characters of Mici Ffin and Les are worth particular mention from this first episode, Mark Lewis Jones and Graham Land making for an instantly likeable double act whose straight faces only add to their comedic value. The fluffy seats and dice dangling from the rear-view mirror of their Capri conjure up a Del Boy and Rodney type partnership which also expresses a lovable incompetence reminiscent of Horace and Jasper. Their dealings with happy-go-lucky protagonist Carbo are a delight to witness, the cheekiness of his responses toward them making him an affable rogue. Morris Jones brings a dexterity of emotion to the role to create a character of both confidence and vulnerability. It is a combination that wins admiration from the viewing public, no more so than in the final scenes, as we witness his fear and ingenuity play out whilst dangling from a forklift tractor. It indicates to Mici the importance of this lad in the events to come, events which remain very much a mystery at the episode’s end.

The eclectic soundtrack, with its reggae-inspired beats and operatic moments, reflects an expansive taste across genre, location and emotion. It is a drama of dark and light; witty and gritty; familiar yet full of mystery. Dal y Mellt is not easy to categorise, combining as it does various elements, but it definitely looks set to entertain audiences with a narrative full of adventure and intrigue. If Y Golau saw it go off the boil, this looks to be a series that brings S4C’s dramatic output back to something that represents their best.

The first episode will be broadcast on Sunday 2nd October 2022 on S4C at 9pm. You can then watch the full series on BBC iPlayer or S4C Clic.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Get The Chance is a social enterprise based in South Wales, working to create opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events. To donate to our work, please click here.

Review, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, All 4 by James Ellis

Photo credit: Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It’s been ten years since artists Rebecca Sloan and Joseph Pelling perplexed YouTube with their first offering of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. Through a huge cult following, they have finally broken through the interwebs and made it onto Channel 4. Though there is a varying success rate from this, DHMIS can proudly hold it’s place next to Bo Burnham and Smiling Friends, runaway hits with roots from the worlds biggest video site.

At first, I did wonder if it could reach the heights of its original form, with a delay of nearly two weeks just to be streamed on All 4. Things quickly got as twisted and disturbing as the episodes went on. Uncanny doll twins, creepy worm advocates and crusty old train men all feature to teach life lessons or just antagonise the three blissfully ignorant, lead puppets: Yellow Guy, Red Guy and of course…Duck.

I’m so proud of all involved in this. The funky songs almost reach the heights of the online counterpart, though the visuals are perhaps even more disgusting and disturbing. Much creativity is within these puppets, funny lines and the Theatre of Cruelty also fly by. Debates over the three characters and where they exactly reside still cause friction, is it a simulation or a nightmare? The show may try attempts to find answers, though never goes overboard with all its cards on the table. There are some genuine messages about friendship, death, grief, jobs, families and advice. Never pandering, only ever holding up a mirror to our own states of discord.

The show remains also very English. I think I detected a brief Welsh accent in the first episode, though this came and went. It is nice to hear some regional accents pop in and out. I think a few more voice actors could had added a bit more spirit to the array of dark and biting characters that feature. Baker Terry seems to set his net wide, filling in for a lot of the effort, as well as the creators. We can only assume the budget made things difficult. We’ve still yet to see the pilot which was presented at Sundance, something fans old and new alike would love to see.

To say too much would simply spoil the allure of the series. So drink in the rich flavours of Twin Peaks, Kafka, Wonder Showzen and Rainbow. Go forth and find the mysteries within…

Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared is streaming now on All 4 for free.

She Will – A Review by Eva Marloes

Contrary to so many horror films that over the years have depicted nature as the enemy and their female protagonists as victims, Charlotte Colbert’s She Will is a tale of personal and collective trauma and empowerment found in a deep connection with the land.

The film opens with the ageing film-star Veronica Ghent (Alice Krige) in a luxurious art deco train compartment taking Traumadol to relieve the pain from a recent double mastectomy. She is travelling with her young nurse Desi (Kota Eberhardt) to a retreat in the Scottish Highlands. At their arrival, they are met with exaggerated characters headed by Tirador, played by Rupert Everett in a little too caricatural Oscar Wilde pose.

All around is a wild and bleak forest that was once the theatre of the execution of women accused of witchcraft. The ground has absorbed the women’s power, be that of witches or of victims of a misogynistic crime, and it now insinuates itself in Veronica’s life bringing healing as well as power.

Director Charlotte Colbert excels at weaving together the physical elements of the forest with the symbolism of trauma and healing. The ground penetrates into Veronica’s cabin as a black sludge and into her dreams as nightmares. It liberates her from the shame she feels of her scarred body, deprived of breasts, symbol of femininity. It also brings redemption from the childhood trauma of being sexually exploited by the director of the film that launched her career, played by Malcolm McDowell. As Veronica embraces the power in the mud, her spirit haunts the film director who commits suicide.

Alice Krige dominates the film with intensity, subtlety, and charm. Krige’s Veronica is captivating in her transformation from a former film-star clinging to beauty by masking her body to an empowered woman with no fear. It is ironic that she played the evil witch in the faux feminist Gretel and Hansel that was so rife with misogynistic themes (see review). 

The film is at its weakest when it leaves behind symbolism and tries to portray real characters and situations. Veronica’s relationship with her nurse Desi has little life in it notwithstanding solid performances. The attempted rape of Desi by a local young man is contrived, only serving the purpose of presenting an example of misogynistic violence which is punished by the revengeful forest. Other characters are a little too incidental adding little and at times disrupting the cohesiveness of the film. 

Aside Krige, it is the physical and mental landscape that carries the film conveyed by the striking photography of Jamie Ramsay who fuses together the haunting images of Veronica’s nightmares and fantasies and the dark and sinister landscape all around her. 

The choice of Scotland as a setting resonates historically. Between 1563 and 1736, an estimated 3837 people in Scotland were accused of witchcraft, a much higher proportion than in other European countries. 84% of them were women. It is estimated that over 60% of the accused were executed. This historical injustice has been addressed by the Witches of Scotland campaign, which has led to an official apology by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and has inspired movements in other countries.