Category Archives: Film & TV

Review Brightburn by Jonathan Evans

1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

A while after seeing Man of Steel and making very clear my dislike for it one of my friends posed this question for me “Is it that this is a bad movie or just that this is a bad Superman movie?” Interesting question, could it be that I’d be easier on the movie if it wasn’t meant to represent my favorite character? Well it does have Supermans name in it and the filmmakers knew that, so either way no point dwelling too much on that. But now here is Brightburn which is clearly taking the concept of the Superman origin story but pushing it through a horror filter.

Taking the concept but not having it directly be the exact thing gives the creatives the freedom to twist, reinvent and add any kind of layer over it they wish. Creatively I’m sure that’s a great luxury and could absolutely lend itself to some good stuff. But lets stay focused, we see a kindly young couple of the Breyer’s, Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman), they have a farm and are very much in love and want to start a family, it just doesn’t seem to be in the cards for them, until one night they hear a loud crash outside and go to investigate, it leads them to the smoking crater, then cuts to years later and they are now parents of a young boy (any of this sounding familiar?).

The boy’s name is Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), he’s a shy kid, that likes to draw and gets bullied at school. He’s not what you would call the most sociable, but seems gentle and nice, except for one night when he seems compelled to go into the barn and something underneath is calling him. He also realizes that he has super strength, invulnerability, can fly and laser eyes (know of anyone else with those powers?). Underneath the barn is the pod that he arrived in years ago and it seems to send a message into his head. From here on he knits himself a red mask that resembles a gas-mask, dawns a red cape embraces the use of his super abilities.

From here on it is a series of him talking down each person that annoys him in extremely brutal and quite frankly fetishized ways. Not just due to the fact that the murderer has superpowers but that they dwell on all the gory elements we are just left to watch a series of brutal murders with the aid of superpowers

Everyone here is a very good actor, they sell the moments of leisurely downtime and humor and excel when they need to be scared. When Brandon toys with them like a cat with a mouse they are so worried about their lives and it shows. I’ve said it before but in an action movie you can have someone face down an insane threat and look cool as a cucumber doing it, but in a horror movie we need to feel the fear and one way you do that is to cleary show that the characters themselves are afraid.

There is the old saying “All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” but I prefer how Robert Caro put it “What I believe is always true about power is that it always reveals. When you have enough power to do what you always wanted to do, then you see what the guy always wanted to do.” But maybe this is adding too much, the point is that this movie doesn’t really have any of this in mind, is it that Brandon was always a psychopath? Did the message from his ship rewire his brain to make him perform these horrendous acts? I’m not sure and I’m also sure neither are the filmmakers. I just feel like they wanted to take the concept of a character that embodies optimism and hope and put their own, mean spirited bleak icing over it.

Ultimately this is a movie without a soul and means nothing. Is about a kid who just seems to be a bad seed and because he is of a species that has superpowers can inflict his sadistic tendencies upon helpless humans, or a case of a bad seed, or the corrupting ability of power? It says nothing about why someone would be like this, about the corrupting element of power or the redemptive or limits of parental love. It wants to take a concept about pure goodness and put it own, cynical, malicious spin on it and I have, frankly, no patience or appetite for it.

Brush up your Shakespeare by Ann Davies

Forget revision, intense study (I remember those days well) Forget the “clipped” British film version or the American theme portrayed on Venice Beach – (seemed strange with those costumes and a “Californian Dreaming” background, unless of course, you are an ardent fan of Leonardo DiCaprio). This was a thoughtful retelling of Shakespeare’s tragic play “Romeo and Juliet” directed by Matthew J. Bool and skilfully performed by Avant Cymru.

Matthew J. Bool, Director

The Amphitheatre at Penrhys – built over 20 years ago as a Project by world wide students – became the 21st Century Globe Theatre as the area sparkled like a magnificent gem linking an intricate necklace from its vantage point on high above the two Rhondda Valleys

There was a murmur of anticipation hanging in the air; we were all seated on the amphitheatre stone steps, almost like elephants sitting on top of lollipop sticks. Sunhats, sun cream, drinks and cushions were necessities. Bird song and traffic could be heard in the far distance, then silence as we were all transported to our very own Verona high in the mountains of the county of Glamorganshire. Guitar music and song emanated from a trio of cast members as the Chorus/Nurse introduced us to the famous story.

The story is as of old, boy meets girl, they fall instantly in love but they are from opposite sides in an age old vendetta between the two families. They find themselves as star crossed lovers, marry secretly, Juliet discovers that her parents have arranged a marriage. There are fights and Romeo’s friend Mercutio is killed by Tybalt (who through the couple’s marriage is now a kinsman of Romeo). Romeo kills Tybalt and is banished from Verona.

A desperate plan is needed; Friar Laurence provides Juliet with an herbal draught which will induce a “deathly” sleep. He has promised to notify Romeo of this scheme. Juliet will awake and be reunited with Romeo and all will be well. Alas the message goes undelivered. Romeo, fearing the worst buys a phial of poison which he imbibes on finding Juliet in the Capulet Family Vault. Juliet wakes to find her beloved dead, a last kiss and using Romeo’s dagger she kills herself. The families are reunited in their sorrow.

Freyja Duggan as Benvolio was like a happy sprite, full of mischief and mayhem. Matthew J. Bool as Mercutio was like a supercharged Jack in the box, in turn volatile, serious and sensitive to the varying moods Romeo was in. As friends of Romeo, they try to lift his spirits believing that he is not in love with his present amour, Rosaline, just besotted. On a whim Romeo decides to gate-crash the Capulet Family Masked Ball thus lighting the touch paper in this conflict. Douglas Guy plays the romantic Romeo who, on meeting Juliet, played by Gabrielle Williams, believing her to be pure, dreamlike with her beautiful hair flowing like a waterfall, he loses all senses; their combined emotions wobble like a blancmange in an earthquake. There is no denying the ignition of passion, they do not realise how the situation will implode – they only see each other.

Jamie Berry, who plays Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, is steadfast and strong in his role pursuing the family feud. Romeo refuses to fight Tybalt, as a result of which Tybalt mortally wounds Romeo’s friend, Mercutio. Romeo ends up killing Tybalt for which he is sentenced to banishment from Verona. Romeo seeks the counsel of his mentor, Friar Lawrence played by Eleri Bowden who is busy as a bee reporting everything via an IPad. A secret marriage ceremony is performed little realising that an arranged marriage has been organised by Juliet’s parents to Paris, a cousin of the Prince of Verona. Juliet is in worse despair as Friar Laurence comes up with the desperate plan to fake her death.

Juliet’s Nurse, played by Menna Sian Rogers is a delight; a Valleys Mam/a “Bopa” (neighbour, not related but still an Aunt that would look out or after the children) a knot of gossip, almost supplying a comedic wordplay to the tragedy as it unfolds.

The act is set, Juliet is found presumed dead the following morning; taken to the Capulet Vault to lie in state. The uncompromising Lord Capulet, played by Shane Anderson and the fair Lady Capulet played by Rachel Pedley crumble in their anguish. Romeo, learning of Juliet’s “demise” buys himself a phial of poison for his life is nothing without her, he comes to the Vault closely followed by Paris, played by Jack Wyn White, they cannot console each other, the stakes are too high, there is a fight and Romeo kills Paris. In his grief, Romeo imbibes the poison and lies down beside Juliet.  Juliet awakes to find her beloved dead; her final act is to kiss Romeo and uses his dagger to kill herself.

It was a wordy and worthy adaption of the play. We have all grown up in the time of HRH Elizabeth II with social media fuelling the age of selfies and such emoji’s making their impact on lives.

This was what it would have been like in the reign of Elizabeth I, a play performed in the round, people eating conversing as the story enfolds. To think of it as a blank page, like a story book awaiting a tale to tell. It brought Shakespeare to life and we were all part of it. The staged fights were expertly choreographed by Jamie Berry – and when he was mortally wounded we wondered what happened to him as he disappeared into the “other valley”. We were concerned about the actors playing the main roles as they expired hoping that the sun wouldn’t cause more harm to their fatality!

We were part of it all, as a scene that has been repeated over the years with barriers such as the Berlin Wall separating East from West, the Gaza Strip. Love stories amidst the differences of creed, colour and religion.

Small sadnesses, great tragedies link us all in love. Never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo

“No legacy is as rich as honesty” – Shakespeare.

Critic Ann Davies with Director Matthew J. Bool.

A family trip to see Annie at the WMC with Tempo Time Credits by Rhian Gregory

On my Facebook newsfeed , a post from Tempo Time Credits page caught my eye. It was offering tickets to see Annie, in exchange for Time Credits.

When musical theatre offers come up with Time Credits they usually sell out super fast.

We were in the car on our way to Bristol Zoo to celebrate my partner and our son’s birthday. I thought let’s try see if I can get any! It took about 40 minutes to get through on the phone, my hopes were slowly fading. They offered 3 different days, I could only do the Bank Holiday Monday evening as my partner was working the other days. I got 3 tickets including a wheelchair space, carer ticket through the HYNT scheme and another seat. This cost me 4 time credits. (2 Time Credits per ticket, but with the HYNT scheme the carer is free).

I wasn’t sure at first who would go, myself my mum and dad (it was my dad’s birthday that day too), or myself and oldest two children. I firstly offered them to my parents. I felt they deserved a treat, and that it was my dads birthday. Cody had been to see Madagascar the musical earlier in the month, and Cerys went to see The Little Mermaid with her nan and cousin. They kindly declined and wanted Cody and Cerys to have them to enjoy.

Sunny warm Bank Holiday Monday came. May I emphasise sunny and warm, as most bank holidays are cold, windy and wet in Wales.

It was a super busy day for us all. Cerys attended her extra gymnastics session in the morning. They were celebrating their one year anniversary being open.

Chris’ sister managed to get us tickets for the Chepstow Racecourse Family Fun Day, so we went along and met up together.

From here we called in to see my dad and sang happy birthday. I would have liked longer there, was a very short visit.

Then off we went to the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay. My partner Chris dropped us off and looked after our youngest, while Cody, Cerys and I went to watch Annie.

If you are visiting the Wales Millennium Centre, or Cardiff Bay in general, there are a few places you can park. A blue badge holder can pay to park backstage, on site at the Millennium Centre. Or anyone can pay to park at the Red Dragon Centre close by. If you spend money (over £5 I believe) in any of the places at the red dragon centre, parking is free.

There is a multi storey car park close by too. I’m unsure of the prices I’ve never used it. Very slightly further away, a lovely little walk taking in some of the sites, is the Mermaid Quay 2 floor car park, and a pay and display car park near the St David’s Hotel and Spa.

My son likes to use the toilets and go straight up to our seats, even if the doors haven’t been opened to go in yet. We were outside the theatre doors an hour early, first in line! Then he asks every 2 minutes what the time is and how long is it until the open the doors and how many minutes for the show to start. I believe this is part of him, his additional needs. Still no diagnoses for him. (I know a lot of children do ask what time is it and how long etc many times, but this for Cody is different. He appears to get overly anxious, and become more unsettled if the time isn’t told and seen. I was probably asked over 20 times at least.) Cody decided he wanted to wear ear protection headphones out this evening, for the journey here and for the performance. He doesn’t always use them, only occasionally when he feels he needs to. I noticed he was tapping on the wooden side of the balcony and rubbing his hands against it to make a squeaky sound.

I felt like including this in my blog post today, because my eldest does have additional needs and requires that extra support. I’ve mentioned it a little before in my blog, in the post called ‘is it the A word?’ These behaviours stood out to me during our evening. and I mindfully notice this more and more.

We hadn’t had tea, so we were snacking on buffet style foods while waiting, mini sausages, savoury eggs and strawberry lace. What a selection!

A little bell sounded, half an hour before the start time of 7.30. Cody jumped up and down, shouting mum it’s time, get your tickets out. He ran after the usher going to open the doors. I haven’t really mentioned Cerys in this. But she was with me too. She’s quieter and more mellow. Cerys was taking it in, asking about Annie, saying she had seen the modern film version and clips of the older Annie musical film. Standing by my side, walking nicely as we go in.

A bit of background about the Broadway Annie the Musical. It was put together by a player writer named Thomas Meehan who wrote the book, music Charles Strouse and lyrics Martin Charnin. It was originally based on a comic strip called Little Orphan Annie created by Harold Gray.

Annie the musical is about a little orphan girl called Annie, who lives in Miss Hannigan children’s home. A billionaire (Mr Warbucks) invites an orphan (Annie) to come stay with him for Christmas, his love grows for Annie as a daughter and he wants to adopt her. Annie clings on to hope of finding her real parents and Mr Warbucks tries to help her. Miss Hannigan makes a plan with her brother and his girlfriend, to pretend to be her parents in order to get the money reward. They are caught out and arrested. Annie finds out her real parents are no longer alive, and Mr Warbucks adopts her.

I’m always quite contented and happy with the wheelchair space at the WMC (Wales Millennium Centre). We have always had seats in the front on the middle stalls. It gives a good view and plenty of leg space, apart from when the ice cream and merchandise cart comes around, which is very close, and lots of people nearly pile on top of you, but I can put up with that for a few minutes. I’m usually in a good mood at this stage, with being blown away with how good the first half of the show has been.

That certainly was the case with Annie. The start of the musical began in the dorm of the children’s home, the orphaned girls in their bed waking up to Molly having a bad dream and singing the first song “Maybe” followed by Miss Hannigan first entrance and then the song “It’s the Hard Knock Life”.

I was impressed by the talent of the children straight away. I wasn’t sure what to make of Miss Hannigan at this point but in a later scene with her brother and his girlfriend, their trio performance was fantastic. How they interacted on stage with their superb singing and choreographed dancing in the song “Easy Street” and “Easy Street reprise”, absolutely brilliant! They seemed to just click perfectly!

Another of my favourite moments of the musical was “I Think I’m Going to Like it Here” and “N.Y.C”. It reminded me of that ‘classic’ musical feel I get from the older musicals with the likes of Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. The variety of different types of dance including tap was wonderful to see.

My little girl said to me, before the end of the first act, can we come back and see it again mum, I really like it.

Annie, is a vibrant family musical with catchy tunes and a talented mixed cast of children and adults.

The Time Credit opportunity to pay for tickets, gave us this chance to experience and thoroughly enjoy it.

When we came out of the main auditorium, and back down into the main foyer, the Luke Jerram artwork called Gaia, planet Earth looked spectacular. It’s there from July 30th – September 1st.

When we previously saw it during another visit in day time, my children laid down underneath mesmerised by it.

Annie plays at the Wales Millenium Centre until the 31st of August.

Review Booksmart by Jonathan Evans

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

From its setup and concept, Booksmart could easily be just another teen movie where shenanigans ensue and jokes are sprinkled throughout and it’s either pretty funny or a dud. But through a tightly written script, actors that have great timing and nuance and a director that knows what they’re doing and brings a few bold choices to the table it is not only very funny but one of the best movies of this year!

Opening the movie is a girl sitting in her room, in a meditating pose and listening to a motivating track, the voice tells her to believe in herself, tackle all problems in the way of her goals and to all the people that look down on her “Fuck those fucking fuckers!” we also see that her room is decorated with an assortment of ribbons, medals, and inspirational women, this is Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and this tells us almost everything we need to know about her character. Pulling up outside her best friend Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), the two greet and break into dance over a track on the radio and they tell each other that they’ve missed one another even though they saw each other yesterday. This tells us everything we need to know about their friendship.

When they get to school it is established that it’s the last day of the school year, they are about to graduate to college, and both girls are very invested in extra curricular activities. The other students are more interested in the big party that will be happening tonight as they have for most of the year. during an encounter in the bathroom where Molly flaunts her getting into Yale to the popular girl (Molly Gordon) where she learns that she will also be going to Yale and the other students that she’s looked down on are all going on to good schools.

So it is the night before graduation, Molly is shook with the realization that they didn’t have to make a choice between school and having a social life that she dedicates herself to the idea that her and Amy will be attending the big party and have fun, experience and memories before entering college.

So this is a pretty standard setup for a teen comedy. We have youths, we have a party that lends itself to the very likely possibility of something crazy happening as well as characters that want something crazy to happen. Indeed crazy things do happen and their journey to the big party is anything but smooth, but it is the fact that all the jokes themselves are funny and not predictable that make this familure road seem refreshing.

When it comes to crime movies, or mysteries, or action movies it’s a simpler thing to make the story tight. Every character and element must serve a function, like the old phrase “Never introduce a gun in Act 1 if you’re not going to fire it by Act 3.” However comedy is actually a completely different beast, it is allowed to throw in all kinds of meaningless bells and whistles for the sake of it, there can be a moment or a character that comes in briefly and never makes a return and as long as we laugh I doubt anyone would really cry fowl about it. This, however, is both tightly woven and very funny, the characters hobbies, their wild actions, things that are said in passing come back and pay-off later down the road and they are all funny. This has set a dangerously high bar for comedy with not excess fat.

Filling the directing chair is Olivia Wilde. An accomplished actor in her own right now she helms her own project. Usually, when actors take up duties on the other side of the camera their focus goes to the actors and their performances. She definitely spends time with her actors, honing their performances but she has brought a keen visual flair to this project. She has experience shooting music videoes which was most likely the biggest help. Many of the jokes play out for their visuals, there are strong, bold lighting choices and there are a few times when she lets the story play out in a purely visual way. It also comes with one of the most unique and memorable drug trip-out scene you’ll see in a movie for a while.

There’s a great use of music in the movie. Much of the songs are “Gangsta Rap” which is about seeming bigtime and bragging about all your accomplishments and worldly possetions. Whenver the girls are in their true element it kick in but they are not doping the actthat would most likely be associated with the music e.g. going into a library to study. It is the knowing disconnect but filmming it like its legitimate that makes it funny. The score adds the the over-the-top overblown ego of these characters and situations. Later on in the movie there is a more tender score to even out the bombosity.

All these laughs and shock and colors are fun and everything but unless it all means something then the movie would just be like sugar, enoyable while your having it but the sensation quickly fades away. Underneath all the swearing, crazy acts and punchlines is a story about two best friends whos lives are about to change forever and just because your outside of the normal in your school life that doesnt make you better. There’s a tender, vry honest heart beating at the center of this movie and that’s what will stick with you after you see it and keep you coming back.

From it’s vivid characters that represent some form of insecurity/stereotype, to it’s basic setup that becomes on epic quest, to generous visual flourishes and a rock solid script for all this to be built upon, Booksmart is one of this years and a few other years best comedies.

Review Godzilla: king of monsters by Jonathan Evans

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Well, this is an interesting franchise that’s been started. Godzilla from 2014 was a very bad movie, however Kong: Skull Island was a cinematic highlight for me, so now we have the sequel to Godzilla that will lead to the two iconic monsters clashing. It does away with Gareth Edwards and brings in Michael Dougherty, how does all this fair?

Our entrance into this movie is a young girl named Maddison (Millie Bobby Brown), whose mother Emma (Vera Farmiga) is a scientist that is studying an enormous larva, suddenly renegade soldiers burst into their facility to awaken or steal the larva, it hatches and Maddison and Emma are taken. Cutting then to Maddison’s father Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) who’s also a scientist (that’s convenient!) is brought in by Monarch, the high-tech organization that specializes in dealing with these giant monsters or kaiju.

Of course, it isn’t long before the main player shows up, Godzilla himself. When you are dealing with one of the most iconic pop culture figures, a cultural landmark and who is essentially a force of nature within your movie you’d better do them justice. He isn’t redesigned from the 2014 version though he has apparently grown a few extra feet making him a nice even four hundred feet high. He has a simple silhouette that makes him instantly distinguishable and when we get close we can see loads of little details that I’m sure the C.G.I. team worked very hard on. He is mostly filmed from low angles and moves very slow adding gravity to him. This is an honorable and appropriate presentation of him.

Along with Godzilla, we are also treated with a few other classic monsters from the lore. We have Mothra who is (as the name would imply) a large moth-like creature who’s always been humanity’s defender, Rodan a giant pterodactyl essentially, and finally, there is Ghidorah Godzillas most popular and staple arch-nemesis, a dragon with three heads and able to breathe lightning.

The focus of this movie is in the right place. We are here for the monsters, they are what are on the poster and who the movie is named after. Really we need the humans to inject some, well humanity and to string along the fights and their actions, maybe even give the good ones a helping hand or a point in the right direction. focus on the monsters, with humans along for the ride.

There are some choices that are made, which I always fail to understand that for you to take a movies subject matter seriously, you need to have predominantly dark colors with a bleaker image throughout. I do understand that an element of Kaiju movies are about dealing with a natural disaster but even then you have a giant lizard that shoots out fire, it is only so serious you can take that before the filmmakers look like the silly one for trying to convince us this is serious. This movie much more earnestly embraces it’s fantastical and overblown concept and gives us vivid colors for each of the main kaiju, Godzilla is blue, Ghidora is yellow and Rhodan is red. This works to make the image onscreen vibrant but also when the monsters clash so do the colors and so you can much more easily register who is who.

Again in the last movie they adopted a documentary feel to the camera work, this isn’t a found footage movie so why they decided to frame these two giant monsters biting and clawing each other in such a low-grade way still strikes me as a poor choice. This movie goes in the opposite direction again, deciding to be very Hollywood with their depictions, they frame the monsters with epic majesty. Low angles and well-composed.

If you are to see this movie see it on the big screen. Every movie should be seen on the big screen, there isn’t a movie that benefits from a smaller screen less sharp and reduced sound, but this is a special case. This movie is about big images and sounds, in order for you to absorb the scale of these mighty creatures and hear all the music and sound effects the movie theater is the place to see it. I would hope that’s where you are seeing most of your movies but if not then do and if you plan to see this one, make sure it’s on the biggest screen you can find.

Another nice touch is that they use the classic monster theme’s from the original series of movies. Now if you watched the movie and were unfamiliar with the classic series then it wouldn’t mean anything to you,  that’s ok. But fans always like to be rewarded and recognized in some way and this is a way of doing it. Plus they are just good, distinctive tracks so why not utilize them?

This is not a deep movie. I can’t really tell you what this is about below its surface. Plus there are plot elements that either don’t make any sense or are just left dangling in the wind by the time the movies over. But it is entertaining and it took every bad creative decision from the previous movie, turned left and now we have a much more enjoyable, easier to see movie.

So what we have is a movie that’s the third part of this cinematic franchise and doesn’t require you to see the previous two, these movies are generous with not being heavily continuity focused. It is a great improvement over Godzilla though it lacks the panache and memorabilia of Kong. Though in terms of paying respect and doing justice to these monsters it does indeed do its job. you won’t need to see the previous two movies in this franchise, nor any other Kaiju movie and it could indeed turn you into a fan.

An Interview With Welsh Playwright Owen Thomas

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

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

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

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

So, what got you interested in the arts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owen’s Writing Shed

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

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

Is there a place you go to write?

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

Writing Shed Interior

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

What excites you about the arts in Wales? 

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Murphy, Artistic Director, Sherman Theatre.

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks for your time

You are very welcome.

Top Tunes with Neil Bebber

Hi Neil. It’s great to meet you. Can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I’m a writer. It’s taken me a while to be comfortable saying that. Because I’m not from an academic background. My dad was a carpenter and I spent my formative years being led to believe that “the arts” were created by posh people, for posh people. I knew I had something to say, though. And so, after having been overlooked yet again, in favour of the tremendously talented, doe-eyed Derek Allen for the lead role in the school drama,  I decided that, unless I wanted to be “chorus” for the remainder of my life, it was time to take things into my own hands. As a parting “gift” to my school, I produced, wrote and directed the inaugural end of year School Revue, a chaotic sketch show, interspersed with bands and Spike Milligan poetry renditions.

I left that all-boys grammar school, a hellish hotbed of bullying, conformity and privilege, with 6 average O Levels, to join a Youth Training Scheme in Print and Design (having turned down a potentially lucrative, but ultimately soul destroying, banking career). But that Print and Design Training Scheme was good to me, exposing me to a previously unknown world of words and images and allowing me to quickly learn a balance between creativity and commercial viability. But, as ungrateful as it seems now, it was never overtly creative. Expressive. Risky. At school, I remember my English teacher complaining that my stories were too long and that he didn’t have time to read them. Having pointed out, with typical teenage cockiness that it was his job, he reminded me, as others often did, that I’d never amount to anything. But I’ve always found the need to prove doubters wrong a powerful motivation.

I joined poetry groups. And naively welded words together, as a form of primitive catharsis. Short poems, laden with unconscious subtext, created to accommodate my own limited attention span. But these poetry groups so often consisted of the spurned and disenfranchised of the world. Society’s sensitive rejects, confined to the sad, back rooms of usually celebratory places. So I wrote a screenplay. About a man in his late 20s, who leaves a mundane and unfulfilling life, to go travelling. It was rubbish. But I finished it. And then I wrote another. A time travel love story. About a widower who travels back in time to change his wife’s fate, so that she lives. But while he’s there, he falls for someone else. It wasn’t as rubbish as the first one, but, having received polite letters (and they were letters back then), I decided to put my aspirations on hold.

Years later, after wearing a hole in where I was from, it was time to move on. To the medium-sized smoke of Cardiff. Five months, in a city where I knew next to no one, living in the attic room of a shared house, in a sweltering room, with nothing but the sobs of the duped pensioner in the room below to remind me I wasn’t alone. Motivation enough to get out and start throwing myself into the posh life. Seeing posh art, created by posh people, for posh people. And posh theatre, written by posh people, for posh people. And nobody stared. Or looked at me like I didn’t belong. And before I knew it, I was talking to people. About art. And theatre. And they weren’t posh at all. Most of them, anyway.

One night, at the Sherman Theatre, I saw Script Slam. Five plays, by previously un-produced writers. Directed by and featuring proper professionals.

And I thought, I could do this. Seven People, seven monologues delivered by seven people with undisclosed secrets, and my first ever play, not only won the Script Slam heats, it also won the Grand Final. And soon, there I was, on stage, receiving a prize in front of my parents for writing and I thought, this is it…

Ten years later, with a London-based agent, two Guardian reviews, and countless performances of my work in Wales, London and throughout the UK, this still isn’t it. Writing the play is just the start. Then comes the re-writing, the rejections and the resolve to start all over again. But, like an addiction, you just can’t stop doing it. Because you know, that the highs of simply completing a new work are nothing compared to the incapacitating elation created by that elusive moment of acceptance.

Since making my first short film, BETWEEN, last year, I’ve discovered new ways of telling stories for the screen (big and small), too. Having had a meeting with a TV production company about my play RABBIT, I’m currently working on a treatment with a view to developing it into a six-part comedy drama. I’m also in the process of applying for development funding for my first feature. Like I said, it’s an addiction. You just can’t stop doing it. And every compelling addiction story has a killer soundtrack…

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?

Music’s always been there. My mum and dad were jivers, rockers and rollers, lucky enough to hear Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis the first time round. They saw The Beatles in Gloucester in the 60s, in a building which is now a slowly fermenting, beer-sticky Wetherspoons. At every opportunity, they’d jive, perfectly sychronised, at smoke-fogged dinner dances, then play the tunes from the night before, whilst peeling carrots to add to the other overcooked ingredients for Sunday lunch. And, slowly, every one of those anti-establishment lyrics and rhythms started to sink in. So, at the age of ten, I fell for punk. A lamb, in parent-approved, respectable gingham check, demanding 3 minutes of anarchy from the DJ at the family disco at Croyde Bay Caravan Park, so I could pogo, solo, starting with The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks, in 1978. And, though there have been giant deviations in my musical mores, there’s always been something about the energy and attitude of punk-influenced music that energises me and makes me smile.

So, at the moment, I’m listening to Idles, Slaves and Rolo Tomassi. Quick-fix anger hits, to subconsciously energise scenes. Then there’s a bit of Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, to help me reflect and introspect. And, though it’s not technically music, there’s the looped sound of the sea, coming in, and going out again, my substitute for the uninspiring sound of silence.

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? 

Narrowing it down to five is practically impossible. Like asking me to pick my top five artists. Or insects. But rules are rules, right? And, in spite of my urge to rebel against this seemingly arbitrary figure, here goes.

To help me prepare to write this article, I’ve been listening a lot to Desert Island Discs. They get to choose 8 songs. Single songs. I get 5 whole albums. As someone struggled to say once, would that it were so simple. Should I pick based on my short attention span, which would mean that I’d just choose a record by each of my “new favourite bands” for the last 5 years? Or do I consider those who might be reading this, and allow myself to be influenced by my barely latent artistic insecurities? Choosing obscure Krautrock, soundtracks from the Golden Age of Mexican Film Musicals, niche Austrian yodellers and ironic 90s pop, to offer some contrast and help portray a self-conscious sense of fun? Because I’m, like, an artist, but I literally don’t take myself too seriously.

This all seemed so much easier when I agreed to it…

OK. In no particular order, there’s Number 1 Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia by The Dandy Warhols.

I’m in Melbourne in a record shop, stopped in my travelling tracks, hearing it for the first time.I’m lying in a bath, in my tragic “bachelor” pad, on a midsummer’s night, windows open, staring at a bruised sky, dreading Friday’s “big night out”.

I’m at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, having cycled to the gig, the neon-bright colours from the stained glass window behind the stage fragmented by tears of joy, hearing it live and feeling so elated that, in that moment, nothing else mattered. This album has everything. It’s massive. It’s the soundscape of a parallel earth. A dream-like, soft-focus earth, with its ponds of pristine pop, scattered amongst its rolling hills of hypnotic rock, all floating on a sea of fuzzy psychedelia. And there’s chickens. And trumpets. It’s the friend I go to when I need reassurance about aeroplane turbulence or that the thing I’m writing is worth finishing.

2. Then there’s U2’s The Joshua Tree.

I know every word. I can hum every guitar solo. There’s a song for breaking up, fucking up and getting back up. I had that mullet. And I bought into Bono’s pain, until I was old enough to know better. But their extended performance of Bad (from The Unforgettable Fire), and Bono’s one to one with a bewildered audience member (and Wham fan) at Live Aid, will always stay with me. It’s all at once indulgent, exploitative, calculated, poetic, dramatic and beautiful.

U2 were my first serious band. The soundtrack to my later teenage years and the variety of experiences that came with them. I remember one of my first jobs, as an apprentice in a screen printing company, hunched over a lightbox, white vest, mullet and earphones playing the opening jangles of Where the Streets Have No Name (on my original Sony Walkman), goose-bumped and feeling that everything was going to be alright.

And then, much later, in the aftermath of the break up of a long relationship, wallowing in With or Without You. And, deep down, still believing the same. 

3. There was a time, when the anticipation surrounding the launch of a new release was so great that you could queue outside HMV at midnight to buy the album in the first minute of its release. I’ve done this once in my life. Having pre-warned my neighbour, I returned home with my still warm, shiny, cellophane-wrapped Fat of the Land by Prodigy.

I’m in my early 30s, purple velvet suit, black silk shirt and Musketeer hair, losing it to Firestarter on the dancefloor. In my head, I’m alone. I am a wide-eyed Keith Flint, emerging from his tunnel, unpredictable and scary as hell.

Minutes later, I’m manhandled into a disabled toilet by two bouncers, insistent on performing a full body search for illicit substances. I mean, dancing with such manic intensity, in such heavy and impractical material, on a sweltering dancefloor, could only possibly be the behaviour of a drug-addled lunatic, couldn’t it?

I’ve never taken drugs (“Alcohol’s not a drug, it’s a drink”), but whatever happens to me when I hear certain tracks on this album, must produce similar chemicals. At the time, Firestarter and Breathe almost seemed to possess me. Something empathy-inducing, car-crash compelling, in that combination of primal beats and Keith Flint’s pained pantomime-punk yelps. I remember being out with friends at Clwb. Bored. So I left in search of a new adventure. Just across Womanby Street, at The Moon Club, the pied-piper bass of Diesel Power pulled me closer. Having convinced the bouncers that I was just here for that song, I soon merged into the heaving mass, all sweat and elbows, eyes closed, smiling and lost. Thanks Keith Flint. Rest in Peace.

4. Over the last ten years, there has been less and less music that has compelled me to learn every line. Maybe that’s more to do with how we consume music now. Attention spans increasingly suited to ready-meal playlists of popular hits, without the time or patience to lose ourselves in something more challenging.

And then, along came John Grant’s Pale Green Ghosts. It’s an album of absolute, awkward honesty, overtly biographical and overflowing with painful poetry. Playwrights have to create characters to hide their flaws in, but this is a balls-out confessional. A “forgive me father” you can dance to. And where does this fit into my ongoing, never a dull moment (but sometimes I wish there was) life?

Well, this particular weekend should have been a triumphant one for me. A new play, premiered at a major London venue, with a transfer to a prestigious arts-themed festival. But everything was about to fall apart and descend into one of the worst weekends of my life. Traversing the country, emotional and feeling utterly alone, I arrived at the festival, hoping to shake off the sense of overwhelming helplessness, only to find myself feeling further excluded at a time when I craved connection. Solitary and mentally and physically shattered, music was again on hand to prop me up, wrap its arms around me and send me on my way, with a sense of hope. And this time, it was John Grant who persuaded me that all was not yet lost.

From Queen of Denmark’s “I had it up to my hairline, which keeps receding like my self confidence”, to You Don’t Have To’s “you don’t deserve to have somebody think about you”, I was comforted by empathy before having everything put into perspective by the monumental Glacier, “don’t you become paralysed with fear, when things seem particularly rough…”

5. Seriously, this isn’t fair. Five albums isn’t enough. I feel that, not that they’ll ever read this, I need to use this opportunity to say thanks for the company and inspiration to all of the following, before I mention my final choice (which, as I write this, I’m still not sure of):

Carrie – Fear of Sound

The Teardrop Explodes – Wilder

Bauhaus – Burning From the Inside

Babybird – Ugly Beautiful/There’s Something Going On

The Walkmen – Lisbon/Pussy Cats

Lou Reed and John Cale – Songs For Drella

The Vaccines – What Did You Expect from The Vaccines

Jerry Lee Lewis – Golden Hits of Jerry Lee Lewis

Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree

Tom Waits – Mule Variations

EMF – Schubert Dip

Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits

Bright Eyes – Cassadaga/I’m Wide Awake, it’s Morning

Rufus Wainwright – Want One/Want Two

Slaves – Are You Satisfied?

Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking/Ritual De Lo Habitual

Oasis – Definitely Maybe

Radiohead – The Bends

Dogs – Turn Against This Land

Rolo Tomassi – Time Will Die and Love will Bury It

Die Antwoord – Donker Mag/Ten$ion

Rammstein – Mutter

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell

Pantera – A Vulgar Display of Power

Frank – Music and Song From the Film

The Mission Soundtrack – Ennio Morricone

O.K. my 5th and final album (I realise that my approach might suggest a sense of over-inflated self importance, but this is music and it means a lot to me, so be kind!) is…

Rufus Wainwright – Want One/Want Two

This could just have easily been Tom Waits or Nick Cave or Babybird or Jane’s Addiction and I know, I know, this is technically two albums, creating a Top 6, but they were repackaged as a double album in 2005, so no rules broken. And what are rules, anyway, really?

Years before the drive-through ease of Spotify, Later with Jools Holland was my trusted introducer to “new” music. In May 2004, Rufus Wainwright performed Vibrate and, like the beneficiary of a free first crack rock, I was hooked. An incredibly beautiful song, saturated with longing and a barely dignified desperation to be loved, delivered in a voice that wavered between absolute self-assurance and disarming vulnerability. In my mid teens, I was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe. I convinced myself that she might have survived, if she’d had a friend who hadn’t harboured some sinister ulterior motive. Though I was barely equipped at the time to deal with my own issues, I imagined going back in time and unconditionally offering her my smooth, skinny shoulder to cry on.

And now, here I was, in the waistcoat and cravat wardrobe of my mid 30s, listening to Vibrate and reminded of my noble teenage fantasies.I sought out his entire back catalogue, in typically obsessive fashion. I lapped up his earlier stuff, but the theatrical emotional rollercoaster of Want One and Two was breathtaking. From the triumphant optimism of Oh What a World, to the infectiously rousing Beautiful Child, from the unrequited love of The Art Teacher to the grand, sing-a-long heartbreak of 14th Street, these albums reminded me that songs didn’t have to be inspired by rage to make me feel something.

And live, he’s even better. Whether backed by an orchestra or alone at a piano, these are songs to sing along to, about the collective human experiences of life, love and loss. All this, and he’s proper laugh-out-loud funny, too.

There’s also something inspiring about how he seems to have forgone what could potentially have been straightforward commercial success, to pursue his operatic aspirations. Maybe I see a parallel, however truly incomparable, with my shirking of a lucrative graphic design career, in favour of the dogged pursuit of my own creative writing dreams.If I ever meet him, I’ll be torn between the fake bravado of asking him to collaborate on a show and the awe-inspired verbal paralysis of unworthiness.

So, that’s my Top 5. Ask me tomorrow and it might be an entirely different one.

Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this? 

Why couldn’t this have been an article about my favourite, most inspiring cheeses? Which would have proved considerably less traumatic.

Ideally, I’d like to say none of the above. So I could choose Angela Surf City by The Walkmen or Perfume Genius’s Queen or Nick Cave’s People Ain’t No Good or Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Maps or Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice it’s All Right or Idles’ Danny Nedelko. But, far be it from me to, yet again, turn momentary article-based hellraiser…

The song being chosen…

As my favourite…

From the albums above…

Is…

Solid by the Dandy Warhols. There are so many incredible songs on Thirteen Tales, but the nonchalant, stoner-swagger of this song, conjures images of walking through sunset-lit, excitingly dangerous streets, without a care in the world.

“I feel cool as shit, cause I’ve got no thoughts keeping me down.” While I wait for writing success (and hope that I recognise it when it arrives) and/or untold riches, that’ll be the straightforward, spiritual mantra that I awkwardly (but resolutely) aspire to. Music will always be my empathetic friend, ready to tell me what I need to hear at exactly the right moment. It’s there to laugh with, to cry with and to dance with. It’s being inconsolable at gigs, snubbed by your idols (that’s you, Karen O, but not you, Henry Rollins), comforted after break-ups, reflective at funerals, losing it on dance floors and pushed to do one more press-up, cycle one more lap, write one more scene…. 

A Tasteful review of Magical Place by Yeah Yeah

A review by Ann Davies from RCT Creative Writers Group on the topic of topic of Taste

What’s on the Menu?

What music do you like? Tastes can vary; they can be mood shakers; a melody can bring a seemingly lost memory to mind. Emotions can be laid bare. This was the night of Yeah Yeah.

Were we ready for this high octane enhancing performance? I guess it all depended on your taste and the performing artists certainly lived up to a life of their own. What was on the Menu? as the theatre group “Yeah, Yeah” showcased their act in the lounge of the Park and Dare Theatre in Treorchy recently.

“Are you ready, Treorchy?”The Haka cry came amidst the burst of strobe lighting and the throb of music every sound resounding off the glistening disco ball overhead. Two people strode out, one male one female; they each had a story to tell. They looked like trapeze artists one with an enlarged Rod Stewart wig that looked as though it was plugged into an electric socket. With a fitted costume, accentuating her nubile body, his female partner embraced the music. Acrobatically and gymnastically the music and story was revealed as the opposing tastes for musical theatre and rock music battled it out.

Adult humour laced with music and dance. Changes of costumes – some more titillating than others were the ingredients for the night.  Their interpretation of known songs from the musicals and rock classics were exemplary. It awakened deep seated memories that you would never see or hear a song that you loved in the same way ever again. It was an experience of tasting selections of melodies like a club sandwich combining the savoury with the sweet.

During the interval, the duo presented their own adverts over the lounge speakers.

There was Swan Lake on points overwhelmed with feathers (now you know where the feathers have gone from your bed linen). The lady’s limbs were used as an air guitar; the drum set lost its setting the motorbike that raced to the music of Meatloaf. OMG was the revelation a Smorgasbord special. A spicy concoction of a recipe, boiled but scrambled, culminating in a Crockpot of creative juices that would have put Nigella to shame.

Morgan Thomas and Tori Johns were engaging in their tale. It was colourful; it was crazy, different and an entire work out for your laughter muscles. Many of the audience would still be laughing at their first encounter with the company called “Yeah, Yeah”

A tasty dish to savour long after the evening was over.

Review Persuasion, New Theatre, Cardiff By Barbara Michaels

Adaptation: Barbara Landis, from the novel by Jane Austen

Lyrics: Barbara Landis

Musical Director and Conductor: Linda Madonia

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

A musical adaptation of a Jane Austen novel –   one might be forgiven for thinking whatever next!  Somewhat surprisingly to this hardened critic, Persuasion the musical version actually does work, although whether it contributes a great deal to the understanding of the mores of the time which is so intrinsic to Austen ‘s work, is questionable.  More D’Oyly Carte than Austen, and, on occasion, tipping over the edge of comedy into farce, for my money Jane Austen it ain’t.   That is not to say it is without merit.

Playwright Barbara Landis, whose adaptation this is of the last complete novel that the illustrious Jane wrote, has striven to keep the magic of Austen’s elegant prose by donning a mob cap and sitting at the side of the stage reading some of the passages from the novel.  This could conceivably have worked, had Landis not chosen to add in such elements as rolling eyes and gestures which detract rather than enhance her performance.

 Add to this that Landis also plays the central character of Anne Elliott, so at regular intervals throughout throws off said mob cap and shawl (various) to join the action centre stage. It is Anne’s on-off romance with Captain Wentworth played by Jeff Diebold, that is at the heart of Austen’s novel.  Much rests on the role of Anne, and Landis does not differentiate sufficiently between the younger and more mature Anne although full credit must go to her for remaining faithful to the original inasmuch as keeping to much of the original dialogue and music appropriate to the era.  BUT, and sadly it is a big but:  in pinpointing the provincial snobbery, class consciousness and ignorance of the era with a heavy sprinkling of comedic touches, the essence of Austen has been lost.

This is a pity, as there is nevertheless much to commend here when viewed in its own right i.e. stand-alone as an independent piece of musical theatre.  The music and choreography make a major contribution,  with music faithful to the era and, in the second half, with spirited Irish dancing by Peter Dzik and Ian Schwartz (query: Irish dancers normally do not move any part of their upper body including their arms) and a couple of ballroom scenes from the pump room in Bath.  As Anne’s father Sir Walter Elliot, John B. Boss gives a suitably over the top performance which shows his relish for the role, while Anne Marie Lewis’s portrayal of hypochondria as Anne’s sister Mary is a classic.  Maggie Clennon Reberg’s Lady Russell, godmother to Anne- a cross between Downton Abbey and a Fairy Godmother – is a joy; a welcome portrayal of what real class, á la Austen, looks like.

Excellent backdrops projected on screen throughout add an authentic touch, with those in the latter half of the Cobb at Lyme Regis and the Pump Room at Bath being particularly good.   Overall, a fun evening albeit somewhat of a hybrid based on the work of one of our greatest literary novelists.

Performance on Saturday, 4th August 2019

Radio Rhondda Visits The Rhondda Fach By Ann Davies

Music echoed around the valley, the time had come. Radio Rhondda had come to the Rhondda Fach with its supporters and volunteers. The hills surrounding the area, nestled between the villages of Tylorstown and Ferndale were alive with the sounds of people enjoying themselves as the music reached out on the airwaves. Community radio had come to the communities of the Rhondda Fach.

A beautiful sunny day, the pleasant and atmospheric venue of the Scoops & Smiles Diner/Parlour in Oakland Terrace which had been the premises of the former Lockyer and Pacey Garage and forecourt.   How many cars had been bought or stopped to refuel there over the years? Present day traffic hooted as they drove past; water fountains were available to all (as were toilet facilities) plus a cool area inside the Diner or at the rear of the building.

Colourful balloons adorned the area provided by ‘Just for you’ of Ferndale, there were stalls offering information on Cancer Research and Dwr Cymru/Welsh Water as they continue their essential work throughout the area renewing water pipes. Representatives from the Police were also present. The central part of the programme was the Official launch of Radio Rhondda in the Rhondda Fach, which was performed by the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Susan Morgans (Ferndale Ward) and Councillor Jack Harries (Maerdy Ward).  The diner offered all the delights and descriptive flavours of ice cream in cones and tubs – marshmallows on crepes – plus their usual food fare. Children dug deep into sweet bottles that were offered to them, finding themselves lucky to receive various extra goodies. Face painting with the logo of the station was available. Free key rings and notices promoted the event. A Raffle was held with prizes donated by local businesses.

Commentators promoted the Radio station, introducing their main programme holders and interviewing local people. There was a miscellany of music provided by their own presenters, including Lorraine Jones and a chat about gardening from Terry Walton. Musical compositions were provided by the group Fiddlers Elbow (where were you, Gerhard Kress?) The Arts Factory Ferndale duo of Ben and Louise provided a melody of songs which received phone calls from people who knew them having tuned into the station. Thanks and appreciation to Louise for mentioning our group RCT Creative Writers.

It was a warm day, which offered entertainment and conversations with people who soon became friends. Sun cream and Sunhats were the essential requirements on this day.

Thank you to Radio Rhondda and all who supported and volunteered for this event. Please come again.

Perhaps like WAM (Mike Church) and Voices from the Bridge (Rob Cullen) you should go “On Tour”  People in the Rhondda Fach are friendly and creative persons although we often feel forgotten!