Category Archives: Literature

Review: Life of Pi, Wales Millennium Centre by Gemma Treharne-Foose

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Press Night Oct 18th 2023 

‘A visual feast…’

Those who watched Ang Lee’s film adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 novel will be familiar with the premise of Life of Pi. A young 16-year old boy from Pondicherry in India is launched into an epic adventure as the ship carrying his family and their zoo to a new life in Canada sinks – and he finds himself adrift in the ocean with only a fearsome Bengal tiger for company. 

Through the prism of Pi’s recollections later in a hospital ward, we hear how he survives 227 days at sea – and how the narrative which we come to believe – as bizarre and hallucinogenic it seems – is later completely turned on its head. 

This is a story exploring themes of religion, the complexities of people, the sanctity and sentience of animals and the sheer will to survive. The degree to which this stage adaptation adds to or takes away from both the book and Ang Lee’s film adaptation is up for debate, however. 

Previous reactions to the stage tour all seem to touch on this production being a “visual feast” or “an incredible visual adaptation”, “aesthetically pleasing” or that the puppeteers and animals steal the show. This is most certainly true – the production’s stunning set, magical special effects and masterful puppetry will wow the senses and pack a visual punch. 

But some of the book and film’s deeper delves into the philosophies of the human experience and the hypocrisies of religion are lost somewhat in this truncated stage adaptation. Speaking for myself and my father, seeing this stage show for the first time, we found ourselves disliking and feeling upset by some of the depictions of animal suffering. Truth be told, we can’t even stomach David Attenborough’s programmes these days.

This unease mind you, is probably a sign of the incredibly well-executed puppetry and choreography by the team. This did remind me also of the discomfort I felt watching Ang Lee’s film. So absorbed was I by the idea that the animals were suffering, I probably missed some of the intended broader points of the story. The highlight of this production, then becomes focused on the mode of delivery of the story rather than the story itself. Because the plot is pretty harrowing and – to quote a former colleague of mine who I bumped into in the show’s interval: “pretty grim”. 

This is not a stage show that will not exactly elevate or lift you as some productions can. It illustrates the difficult line writers and directors tread in that no creative really wants to spoon feed their audience and only serve up neat and today tales in a pretty little bow. But in the quest to make us think and engage us with what’s going on via the mechanisms of the stage production, we lose the potential to get under the skin of the characters and get to know them well. The characters become pawns for pondering the story, rather than characters you truly care about. Life of Pi is also an exploration of the stories we tell and how they come to form part of our “truth” – and as an audience you’ll be confronted with these idiosyncrasies in live time, preferring one version of “truth” over another. 

As an audience, we become desperate for those light moments of relief when Pi makes a quip, when the stars come out, when the glowing wiggly fish arrive because we’re reminded of the moments of light relief and beauty in a world that can be truly depressing and awful at times. As Pi tells Ms Okamoto in the hospital ward: “I’ve had a TERRIBLE journey…” 

Life of Pi in 2023 hits differently. You’ll think about how some things never change. When Pi’s family flee India due to the dangerous unrest (supposedly echoing Indira Ghandi’s 1976 declaration of “The Emergency”), you’ll ponder the plight of others in the world who now face becoming refugees in hostile territories, as we see playing out when the family are treated poorly by crew and passengers on route to Canada. 

Huge congratulations and oceans of praise must go to the energetic and engaging Divesh Subaskaran playing Pi. His physicality and presence in the lead role is stupendous, leaping from one side of the boat / bed to the other and embodying all of the trauma, hope and mania of Pi during his tumultuous journey across the sea. His stamina, his powerful voice, warmth and wit shine through even in the bleakest of times. You are rooting for him from the very beginning and willing for his terrible story to take a turn for the better. The chemistry and rapport between Divesh and Keshini Misha playing Pi’s sister Rani is sweet, offering up a ray of hope ahead of the family’s ill-fated journey. 

Finally, the purveyors of the visual magic in this show have to be set and costume designer Tim Hartley, Puppetry and Movement Director Finn Caldwell. The lighting, visual effects and projections in this production are wonderful thanks to Andrzej Goulding and Tim Lutkin. 


Life of Pi may not be an easy watch – but it’s certainly a beautiful one.

Review, An Audience with Lucy Worsley on Agatha Christie, St David’s Hall by James Ellis

Photo credit: Hay Festival/Paul Musso

Perhaps best known for her documentaries on the telly, Lucy Worsley remains a vision of the past. It remains her openness, her determination to shed light upon these famous female figures throughout English history that is endearing. Her girlish charm, her sensible style and swift wit are what make you fall in love with her.

Her arrival to the Cardiff stage was everything I expected it to be and I was still elated. Gracing the space in a nymph like green and sparkly number, her time throught the night was on the murder mystery mistress Agatha Christie. All this to smoothly plug her new book, which people, bought in droves on the night. Impressive to hear that over a thousand tickets had been sold for the Cardiff talk alone.

Christie, here is given the full shake down by Worsley. Her upbringing in Torquay, two separate marriages swirled with affairs, archeology and aging gracefully. The might of her huge selling power in novels galore is commendable, though I’m thinking “was she truly a great writer?”, our presenter saying Murder in the Vicarage is a work of genius. It’s easy to tap into Agatha’s old psyche to see why she loved stories that involed murder and the mode of finding the killer. Work as a nurse during WWI, might pertian to certain horrors, her need to write with a driving force of creation her fuel. Catharsis unbounded.

Lucy makes a PowerPoint presentation funny, thoughtful and expectedly educational. Her reach spans far with TV work, books, live events and job at Hampton Court Palace. We won’t dare mention what a contractor once said to her when she was knocking about with her parasol one day! Though I must confess, I think I might respectfully disagree with Lucy over Christie’s famous disappearance. Her hubbie’s affair put her into an apparent fugue state, which resulted in a suicide attempt, hiding in a hotel for two weeks, alleged amnesia and apparently…a South African accent. If she was faking it, I doubt she could be blamed, her husband pushing her over the edge in mental and physical realms (she planned to force her car over some sand dunes). We are never ourselves in extraordinary circumstances.

Though I doubt I’ll be reading Lucy’s recent page flutter, this was a thoroughly good evening and meeting her after was a briefly, real delight, the longest queue behind me itching to meet her themselves.

Lucy Worsley continues on tour around the UK.

Agatha Christie by Lucy Worsley is available to buy now.

Review The Crucible, Gielgud Theatre, London by James Ellis

Photo credits: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Lyndsey Turner’s version of Arthur Miller’s masterpiece of 20th century theatre will not be underestimated. There is a striking use of lighting thanks to the talents of Tim Lutkin, who wants to expose these characters at every angle. The stage is often alight, a large screen above the stage mimics a Rothko abstract. Perhaps the most showy thrill of this hot shot show is the water feature. Rain treacles down the front of the stage, no doubt the first few rows were in the splash zone. Its gimmicky and it’s real meaning may be contested, but I have much praise for this production.

The soft ambient drones thanks to the work of Tintying Dong and Christopher Shutt are the ever present vain throughout. The girls of the village offer further effective vocalising passages to add to the exquisite broth, another acoustic thrill. The atmosphere is heightened thanks to this and the music of Caroline Shaw also adds to this remarkable story. The actors at the start remind us of the context of the play’s creation: Miller mirroring the Salem Witch Trials with the ongoing attack from Andrew McCarthy in the ever increasing anxiety about communism in American life. Miller weaves a fine tale, facts mingle with dynamite theatre, there is never any disrespect here. The show is therefore set in the time it was written to hammer this truth home.

The Crucible remains a fine example of how not to be in a community. Its is the indulging of gossip, conjecture and hatred for the fellow man that sees these events play out. Faith and delusion intermingle and the threat of the devil and his effect upon people. Yet who has seen what? Are they really servicing the devil himself? The play skillfully used old timey English language without being too archaic, we hear and understand these characters clearly.

A remarkable cast, stun in a list of names as long as the village. Too many to say, but Nick Fletcher does well as the annoying Reverend Samuel Parris who potter’s about lost in his own pomposity. Milly Alcock is a resounding Abigail, one of the girls accused of dancing naked in the woods. Many Irish and English accent float around though Milly’s give wonderful across the pond pipes and her convulsions were immeasurably disturbing. Brian Gleeson has a lap of honour as John Proctor. This saintly figure, who fights for his wife Elizabeth aside his problematic role with Abigial.

Elizabeth is Caitlin FitzGerald, the tall, blonde presence who was hardly involved in any of the witch implied antics. I love her resilience in the face of terror. Giles Corey was a grand Karl Johnson, who get good laughs and offers great insight. Reverend John Hale is Fisayo Akinade, the serious and effective role who on the quest for truth, finds horror instead, as many girls and women are tried for witchcraft with the sentence being hanging. My favourite role was Matthew Marsh as Deputy Governor Danforth. I was awash with goose bumps for the tense trial scene and Marsh is a jammy voiced, highly intimidating figure and simply gloria in the role. Also how the quest for truth, though still extremely biased. I’ll say sorry now for not going into all the great acting in this show.

Just go and see it.

The Crucible is at the Gielgud Theatre till 2 Sept 2023.

Review Bernie Sanders, It’s OK To Be Angry About Capitalism Talk, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre by James Ellis

Image: Pete Woodhead

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

I’m usually in London for theatre and concerts. Yet, there was an unmissable chance at the Southbank Centre to see Bernie Sanders live. The man who ran for U. S. President twice and remains the longest running serving independent representative in congressional history has a reputation like no over.

There was a very brief window to meet him at a reception beforehand. I may have had the privilege of being the only person at the event to get a copy signed of his new book: ‘It’s OK To Be Angry About Capitalism’, a review will soon follow. I shook his hand, as ever an honour and he had to shoot of to the main event after a little speech just for us as guests, his wife, some family and even Jeremy Corbyn in attendance. In his talk, he dazzled us with home truths about the deep troubles in his own country and on these shores. This post mortem asked us “Where do we want to go in the future?”. Strong words, indeed.  

To say I’m a fan of Bernie is a huge understatement. I found even my host in London had a lot to say about the man, all highly critical and disparaging. His ideas, though old in some respects now, have only ever made people get the chance in life, the right to healthcare and as Americans love to say…“the pursuit of happiness”. I think he knows himself the baton has been passed on in these views and ideas, yet Bernie who is now 81 is still full of gusto.  

The galvanising political spectrum we’ve all been lost in the past few years has only emboldened enemies of Bernie and his philosophy. Taxes are always the word in his mouth, I think most people can agree the Musks, Zuckerbergs and Bezoss should lift their wallets more often. He also spoke highly of the NHS and in a rather touching moment glowed about our Nye Bevan. The NHS may have its flaws, but we should be thankful for it in the end. He even encouraged younger people to consider getting into politics, something which is happening more now. 

Interviewed by writer and academic Emma Dabiri, the evening strolled along nicely with a laid back feel. Bernie even wanted to stand for the first part of the interview since he was as he said, used to doing it that way. There was so much to take in during this discussion, oligarchs, Ukraine, wages, social media and more all popped up. I love Bernie’s frank, no nonsense approach to these topics. He happily gets to the root of these problems and the reasons for them, it’s very refreshing from some one who has been in politics for so long. We simply need more people just like him. It has to happen.  

I really do wonder how the world will be after the pandemic, energy and bills crisis, strikes, the ugly return of sexism, homophobia, racism and transphobia, amongst many other fears. I feel Bernie who delighted this Festival Hall audience and live stream viewers the strength to keep going in both life, work, beliefs and everything in between.   

I left London with worries, yet thankfully a lot of hope about the future. 

Thank you, Bernie.  

Watch the stream for free till 2 March 2023. 

It’s OK To Be Angry About Capitalism, published by Crown Publishing Group/Penguin Random House out now in all good book shops and to order online. 

Review The Lion , the B*tch and the Wardrobe, Wales Millennium Centre by Rhys Payne

Images Credit Jorge Lizalde

 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

When applying to join Get the Chance I talked about how as someone who has taken part in a plethora of community productions across Wales in both on and off-stage roles I have a deeper understanding of how the mechanics of putting on a show works. Usually, as a reviewer, we are focused on whatever happens on or around the stage for the three-ish hours of a select performance but I am going to start this week’s review a little bit differently by talking about something that happened before the auditorium even opened for “The Lion, the B*tch and the Wardrobe. As me and the famous Aunty Chris sat eating waiting for the doors of the venue to open, we discovered that Bar One at Wales Millennium Centre was selling a unique “B*tch Juice” cocktail to help celebrate the press evening of the show we were moments from seeing. At around £6 (which was under what I expected to pay for a cocktail at the Millennium Center) the vodka, cranberry and lemonade drink was incredibly refreshing and wonderfully delicious! In fact, I’m going to try experimenting at home to try and get the recipe as close to the one I had as possible as it was simply that nice!

This time last year I was invited to attend a performance of XXXmas Carol where I talked about my not-so-secret love of Polly Amorous from meeting her in nightclub settings and being absolutely astonished by how much of an incredible performer she was on the stage! When it was announced that Polly and the gang were returning for ‘The Lion, the B*tch and the Wardrobe’ the surprise of Polly’s acting prowess was gone. I walked into this show (sort of unfairly) with the knowledge of the previous show and how amazing the sober songbird of Splott was but despite all this she still managed to surpass the already high bar she had previously set! Not only had she built on her already fantastic stage presence but her vocal abilities seem to have only grown tenfold since the last time.

The show opens with Polly and her personal piano player Felix Sürbe as they take the audience of a whistle-stop tour of iconic Christmas anthems! The later sections of these mash-ups were where Polly really found her footing and managed to introduce her brand of hilarious humour and amazing vocals! Polly not only plays an integral part of the camp retelling of the CS Lewis story itself but also acts as a narrator of the show helping to transition from storytelling to an array of performers to scenes flawlessly. She is able to maintain the humour embedded into the show while also driving the plot without appearing like she is pushing things along which is not an easy thing to do. Whenever I watch Polly perform I always ask if she can give us a rendition of defying gravity from Wicked as this is a musical I love and is one of my favourite songs she does in her set. This is why I was totally overwhelmed when she not only busted out of a performance of this iconic song but did so while suspended in the air on a zip wire. Seeing her dangle in the air while singing about flying not only made sense narratively but the humour in her being left on stage had the audience howling!

In last year’s performance, we were introduced to the incredibly sensual Erik McGill who wowed the audience with his gravity-defying trapeze skills. This year he was given a much bigger responsibility of playing the loveable (yet extremely horny) Mr Bumnus. From the moment we first met this unique character to the more emotional moments throughout Eric is able to portray this goat/Human hybrid creature wonderfully while taking the audience on an emotional rollercoaster throughout. His first performance was a beautiful routine which involved Erik scaling up a floating lamp post and showcasing the most mesmerising poses and positions while keeping a lustful gaze at Polly the entire time.  He manages to control his body in such a smooth and fluid way meaning that the transitions from poses is just as entertaining as the tricks themselves. Early in the show, we see a hilarious scene where Mr Bumnus was Polly to spank him in return for secrets that would help the host on her quest. Erik does a fantastic job of taking this sexual (by nature) scene and injecting the perfect amount of comedy making it suitable for the stage. My favourite moment of this character however was just after an emotional moment with Mr Bumnus is violently punished for betraying the queen and Polly needs to find a way to bring him back to life. This leads to Polly discovering a paddle and using it to deliver a thunderous spank that not only jolts him back to life but straight into an incredible trapeze act. While Asha Jane delivered a wonderful performance of “It’s Raining Men”, Erik soared through the air on his trapeze with every time he leapt from the trapeze I physically jumped out of my seat! The range of flips and tricks he was able to perform while dangling so dangerously high in the air had my heart racing on the floor so I can’t imagine what he would have been feeling up there!

I was a little disappointed however that Rahim El Habachi had a much more drawn-back involvement in this year’s show not only because he is a friend of mine but also because his unique brand of belly dancing is always a crowd favourite! Last year he was able to showcase his dance skills, live singing and showcase original spoken word pieces and while he could showcase some of his talents, he did not have as many opportunities as last year! This performance was much more focused on his acting talents as he took on the role of a sexy reindeer and the mighty Ass-lan where he was able to throw his voice in such a way to create a powerful, bombing sound this character has become associated with. Throughout the show, Foo Foo LaBelle was able to showcase her incredible burlesque-infused performances including a police-inspired number where a lucky audience member was selected to go on stage and receive a sensual lap dance live in front of everyone. The performer was able to totally command the stage while also allowing for a reasonable amount of chaos and comedy with the audience member involved which is always a gamble in shows! I also thoroughly enjoyed the rendition of “Feeling Good” by Asha which ended with a vibrant explosion of streamers with every performing storming the stage to help mark the end of act one!

Overall, creating a queer retelling of a story originally created by a devoted Christian is not only an extremely powerful and political statement but also the fantastical elements of Narnia lend themselves beautifully to the series of unique performances. Polly managed to anchor the explosion of sensual eroticism (of whips, chains, spanking etc) with a mind-blowing performance and wonderful vocals (from Polly included) which is no easy feat! I would rate this show 4.5 stars out of 5!

You can find out more about the production and book tickets here

“I believe if people can imagine stories where Wales has a greener future, then it can become a reality” An interview with Bethan James.

credit: Donna Ford

In our latest Writer interview Director of Get The Chance, Guy O’Donnell chats to Bethan James. They discuss her development as a writer, her career to date, being shortlisted for the Rhys Davies Short Story Award and a future free workshop ‘Storytelling for Beginners: Retelling Welsh Myths for a Greener Future’

Hi Bethan, you and I have known each other for some time as you were one of the original Young Critics supported by Get The Chance, since then you creative career has blossomed, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

 I grew up in South Wales, and getting involved in The Young Critics scheme nearly a decade ago ignited my creative industries career journey. This enabled me to see world-class productions like Belarus Free Theatre at the Sherman for free, and get my work published in stellar places like Wales Arts Review. That experience launched me into freelance work at National Theatre Wales, then a Marketing & PR role at Oxford Playhouse theatre.

My love of writing led to a comms job at a Welsh publisher, then a career as a Senior Book Publicity Manager in London, but the written word has always been my calling. This month, I was shortlisted for the Rhys Davies Trust Short Story Award. I moved back to Wales recently, and I’ve just submitted my debut historical mystery novel to my literary agent. Fingers crossed for a tidy book deal!

Fast forward to October 2022, and I’m halfway through an Arts Council Wales ‘Create’ grant for a storytelling project. My project includes time to write, mentoring with amazing storyteller of over 25 years Fiona Collins, and training at Ty Newydd Writers’ Centre.

Fiona Collins

A dream come true. It culminates in delivering accessible and free virtual storytelling workshops on theme of climate change and Welsh myths. More on this later in the Q&A, and I hope your readers can join us for a free workshop on the 1st November.

So, what got you interested in the arts?

I remember when I was about 7 years old, the National Museum of Wales did a competition for children to choose a painting in their collection and write a piece of art criticism about it. Larkspurs by Henri Fantin-Latour drew me to it – a still life with a vase of flowers.

My review was basic. A few lines about pretty pastel colours and how it made me happy. But it got published in the competition booklet. That made me feel listened to, and I realised that I had a voice in the artworld despite being a child.

I’m also lucky that my parents read me bedtime stories and took me to the library every week. That seeded my love of storytelling for life. I was about 18 years old before I visited a bookshop for the first time and bought a book, which people in the publishing industry find odd!

The other gamechanger was a scheme called ‘A Night Less Ordinary’ when I was a university student at Southampton University, a world away from the little Welsh village I grew up in. That enabled me to see a play every week for free. My passion for theatre was cemented. Prior to that, I’d only really been exposed to panto (which I love by the way, but I appreciated my eyes being opened to new and classic works).

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

Great question.  One of the best – and strangest – tips I’ve ever had for getting ideas when you’re stuck is to find water, because water makes you feel inspired. Wash dishes, brush teeth, have a shower, or walk by a river, and ideas will probably flow!

On a more practical level, I recommend the book The Artists’ Way by Julia Cameron to everyone. It takes you on a 10 week journey of creative discovery and inspiration. Some aspects are a bit spiritual for me, but her advice such as doing a few minutes freewriting to start your day – a subconscious brain dump where you don’t edit yourself – is invaluable.

The way stories often appear to me is as lines of dialogue popping into my head at random moments. I start writing to try and work who’s saying those lines? Where are they? What happening? It’s like getting a line of script, and then you’re a director and the TV episode or film starts taking shape. Eventually, I can sit back and the scene plays out in my mind’s eye.

I just have to type quickly enough to catch everything I can see before me, and what’s being said.

Always carry a notebook with you to jot down the quirky things you overhear, or sights that catch your eye, or strange encounters. Keep it by your bedside too for scrawling down your dreams after you wake. You’ll never remember afterwards otherwise!

Things like ‘story cubes’ dice with pictures can help writer’s block, or using Tarot cards as visual prompts.

The other top tip is to read a lot in the genre you’re writing in. You’d be surprised how many writers I know say they’re too busy writing to read, but how can you fill up that well of ideas otherwise? For example, writing my Victorian crime novel, I binged on Sherlock Holmes stories to immerse myself in the atmosphere, voice, details of the era.

 I love this quote from Sylvia Plath: ‘everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.’

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

I’m definitely not a ‘get up at 6am with the sunrise’ writer! Because of my thyroid disorders, I get brain fog first thing. On a day I’ve carved out for writing, I take my time to get going. I’ll clear my email inbox, check social media, and have a some porridge, do a little walk outside, and try to be at my desk by 9.30am. Earl Grey tea fuels me.

Throughout the day, I write in 25-minute sprints followed by 5 minute breaks (known as the Pomodoro method). The game-changer for me was discovering a free productivity app called Forest. For every stint of focused work, you can plant a beautiful virtual tree. Once you’ve planted enough, the app plants a real-life tree for you to help the environment. Rewarding myself for sitting down at that blank page works for me.

Unusually, I have a “no wordcount” rule on my writing days. I never track or count words on a project – only time. But the reason is, writer’s often get demoralised by not hitting a wordcount target, whereas maybe that 8-hour wordless day was the most important one all month, because they sat back, stared out the window, and solved a huge plot hole. Mindset over wordcount any day: one you carry across projects, the other ends when the story does.

I’ll have another little walk at lunchtime, then work intensively until late. I’m a night owl so my best time to write is evening from 8pm to midnight. I enter the state between wake and sleep and the ideas flow.

I end the day filling in my bullet journal – a tip from author VE Schwab. You think of things you want to do that month: maybe yoga, novel writing, and cutting down on caffeine. Then you colour in a journal square for each day you achieved it. Whether you did 1 hour of writing or 10, you colour it in and feel a sense of achievement.

VE Schawb

 Why and where do you write?

 The simple answer is I write because I can’t not write. Creative expression is up there with food, water, and oxygen as an essential.

 There’s a brilliant Seamus Heaney quote on poetry: ‘I rhyme / To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.’ I suppose writing short stories and novels is the same for me: an act self-reflection and understanding myself better.

It also helps me make sense of others and the world around me. Writing can be an act of empathy and connection, or a form of escapism and freedom. Sometimes my underlying health issues makes me tired, but when I’m in the flow of writing, I enter the realm of imagination and can forget all about that.

As for where I write, I find it hard to focus in noisy cafes or on a train. My ideal setting is a desk in my bedroom surrounded by snacks, with peace and quiet for hours, and a window with a view of nature. How often I achieve that is another matter!

Bethan’s ideal writing space

It was harder when I lived in a house share in London and worked exhausting 12 hour days in a busy book PR job. It’s easier now I’m back in Wales and working on my Arts Council Wales storytelling project.

You’re currently working with storyteller Fiona Collins, on a project called ‘Storytelling for Beginners: Retelling Welsh Myths for a Greener Future.’  The natural world is a strong theme in the tradition of Welsh Myths how does your new project re-interpret these for contemporary society?

 Yes, Welsh myths are rich with nature imagery and themes. My initial approach to re-interpreting these was to work with my mentor Fiona, and explore different tales that resonated with the climate crisis and ecological issues. Then we’d pick one to make the focus our Zoom workshop.

For example, in the Third Branch of the Mabinogion, magic lays waste the kingdom of Dyfed and all agriculture, domesticated animals, and humans vanish. The only four people left behind must find ways to survive and restore the land.

But the story that most resonated with me is The Tale of Taliesin, because it features the powerful woman and sorceress Ceridwen. She uses ingredients from nature like herbs in a spell to help her son gain knowledge and become accepted by others. In the story, he’s described as deformed and crippled, so it’s also a gateway to address current issues like eco-ableism.

The narrative has an incredible chase scene when Ceridwen transforms into different animals like a hare, otter and bird of prey. It brings nature to life and creates a strong connection with the environment and local species in listeners. This was important to me, as according to a Welsh Government July 2021 report, only 15% of the population believe climate change affects them. But issues such as extinction and habitat destruction are happening right under our noses in Wales.

Our workshop begins with a short present day re-telling of Ceridwen’s tale, where she’s a scientist instead of a sorceress. She mixes medicines in her lab instead of potions in her cauldron. Then participants can plant their own stories by taking part in creative activities with a green twist, to help them grow as a storyteller.

I believe if people can imagine stories where Wales has a greener future, then it can become a reality. Myths speak to us with powerful truths, and can be tools for planting the seeds of change, and for challenging narratives. The Welsh Government’s net zero goal by 2050 won’t succeed if people don’t believe in hopeful possibilities and get behind it.

A great resource about eco-lit and rewilding stories is https://dragonfly.eco/

The workshops are offered with access support including, “live captions and bilingual Welsh/ English workshop slides. You also state If you require sign language interpretation, or other access requirements, please let us know in advance. We will do our best to accommodate.”  Is access provision important to your delivery as a creative writer?

I live with chronic illnesses, and seek to support new writers and aspiring storytellers who are disabled / chronically ill/ neurodiverse/ or D(d)eaf. I understand first-hand how many barriers are out there. Now Covid lockdowns are over, it’s frustrating to see creative workshops and events becoming 100% in person only again, with no virtual offering or hybrid models.

Disabled people are underrepresented in publishing. The U.K.’s Publishers Association’s 2021 diversity survey found that 13% of respondents identified as having a disability. Few stories are told by disabled voices. I’m keen make sure my workshop is as accessible as possible to this community, so everyone feels welcome and can participate.

This also links to the ecological theme of the session. Disabled people are among the groups most affected by climate injustice. According to a World Health Organisation 2021 report, climate change is “the biggest health threat facing humanity”.

Likewise, I’m keen to make sure Welsh speakers have bilingual workshop slides and can access the activities in their preferred language. Although the workshop is in English, Fiona who co-delivers it, is a Welsh speaker who will do a reading in Welsh during the session. Afterwards, participants also receive a bilingual storytelling and climate change PDF resource pack.

How do we take part in the workshops and is there a cost?

 The workshop is totally free thanks to funding from Arts Council Wales and National Lottery Good Causes. We’d love you to join us on Tuesday 1st November via Zoom from 6.30-8.30pm!

It will be a 2-hour breath of creative fresh air, and we welcome anybody who wants to have a go at telling a story and exploring Welsh myths.

Just email storytellingwales@gmail.com to secure your free place and receive a Zoom link.

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? Do you think its possible to sustain a career as a writer in Wales and if not what would help?

I’ve recently moved back to Wales after five years away in London, so I’m still trying to find my feet with exactly what support is out there for Welsh writers!

I’d struggle to support myself as a writer right now if not for my Arts Council Wales Create grant, which I’m extremely grateful for. They have a host of funding opportunities. I also recommend writers check out the Literature Wales website resources section.

As for storytelling in Wales, Beyond the Border organisation are doing great work, and their Mycelium Hub opens up opportunities for freelancers across the country.

That said, with risings bills and living costs, it can feel like a pipedream for many writers to sustain a career. The Society of Authors’ calculated that the average full-time professional author only has an income of around £10,500 a year. Most have to do a part-time job, or things like teaching or freelance editing/copywriting, to make ends meet.

I believe a key step to transform the lives of writers in Wales is introducing a Universal Basic Income for artists, like the trial scheme that just launched in Ireland. A total of 2,000 musicians, painters and writers in Ireland are set to receive a weekly basic income of €325 ($330) per week under a new 3-year pilot by Ireland’s government. Imagine how much more incredible work writers in Wales could produce if they weren’t exhausted from juggling two or three jobs to make ends meet?

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

Obviously I’m biased and would love to see storytellers, creative writers, and the literary world fully funded and thriving! But I see the arts as a bit like an ecosystem, or a garden. When the plants, trees, flowers, soil and so on are all nurtured, it blooms. If you only focus on one flower bed, the garden won’t flourish. That’s partly why I feel the above creative industries’ pilot scheme in Ireland is so exciting – imagine how much collaboration and support between disciplines will grow there now? Not to mention how much the health and wealth of the nation as a whole will bloom when you invest in the arts.

 What excites you about the arts in Wales?

I’m particularly fascinated by the work going on in the Welsh cultural sector to tackle the climate crisis. For example, Arts Council Wales have funded a series of fellowships for artists, and are commissioning a ‘Strategy for Climate Justice and the Arts’ with Natural Resources Wales. I’m part of the Wales Climate & Culture Working Group, which has opened my eyes to the many incredible freelancers and organisations pushing tirelessly to make an impact in this area. It fills me with optimism for the future.

I also find the increase in social prescribing and utilising arts projects for well-being in the community a marvel. I was speaking to a Welsh storyteller the other day, who told me about her care home workshops and events with people living with Alzheimers. A promising development in the arts, and it opens up even more opportunities for freelancers.

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

Yesterday, I attended the book launch for The Rhys Davies Short Story Award anthology published by Parthian Books. It was a buzzy night of Q&As and readings. I’m always intrigued to hear what inspires and moves writers. I was thrilled to get my hands on a copy. It was wonderful to be shortlisted for this, and Laura Morris is a worthy winner – her story Cree, inspired by her job as a school teacher, is astounding. Grab a copy if you can.

Thanks for your time Bethan

 The free online workshop ‘Storytelling for Beginners: Retelling Welsh Myths for a Greener Future’ takes place on Tuesday 1st November at 6.30-8.30pm UK time. Email storytellingwales@gmail.com to secure your free place and receive a Zoom link.

“We have lots of fascinating, unique, and distinctive collections here, I am excited to share them with new audiences” An interview with Judith Dray and Mandie Garrigan, Library Services, Royal Welsh College of Music

Top Judith Dray, Head of Library Services, RWCMD, below Mandie Garrigan, Libraries Assistant, RWCMD. Judith Dray Photograph © Edmond Choo Photography

In this interview, Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell chats to Judith Dray, Head of Library Services, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and Mandie Garrigan, Libraries Assistant, RWCMD. We discuss their roles at the College, access to the library, the Drama Association of Wales Collection and their latest recommendations!

What got you interested in the library service?

MG: I have a background in the performing arts and managing bookshops in Hay-on-Wye but more importantly my jobs have been customer serviced based which is required for this role. The library service here is a little different, it allows me to interact with our staff and students, but I’ve also been working with our archives and special collections (mostly the College Archives and The Foyle Opera, Rara Collection).

Working in the library also involves helping on projects, creating working systems and generally having a go at anything! I started managing the DAW (Drama Association of Wales) collection when I covered for a maternity post 5 years ago. I manage all the memberships, orders, invoicing and have catalogued the sets in the past.

JD: Like Mandie, I have a background in performing arts. I also have lots of experience working in higher education, both working with research collections and supporting learning. I originally came to the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) as an archivist in 2018 and then was seconded to Head of Library Services during the pandemic and became permanent in 2022. The role marries together my background in the performing arts with my passions for libraries and higher education. We have lots of fascinating, unique, and distinctive collections here: I’ve loved finding out about them and I’m excited to share them with new audiences.

The RWCMD library houses the Drama Association of Wales (DAW) collection. This is the largest lending collection of scripts in English in the UK and is available for hire to individuals and groups. Can you tell me more about the collection and how it’s used?

JD: The Drama Association of Wales formerly housed the largest lending collection of scripts in English in the UK. In 2014, the play text collection transferred to the RWCMD Library and is available for hire to individuals and groups. Mandie is the person who works most closely with the collection and the people and groups who borrow from it.

MG: The collection inherited some members when it came here, so when it arrived a membership scheme was set up where groups or individuals pay to become members. This allows them to have access to the collection and borrow plays. We have some University of the Third Age members, amateur drama groups, play reading groups and individuals who enjoy our plays. Over the last few years, Covid has changed the way people meet and groups are only just getting back together, so the service is now running again. We would like to develop the service over the next few years, and it is currently under review.

Michael Sheen patron of Drama Association of Wales and International Chair of Drama, RWCMD said of the collection “This drama collection is of hugely significant cultural value. It’s imperative that it’s saved for the nation. It seems fitting that it’s been rescued by the Royal Welsh College, and found its rightful home at the National Conservatoire of Wales.”

Michael Sheen, © Kiran Ridley Photography

Can the public access the RWCMD Library?

JD: We welcome community members to the RWCMD Library. It’s free to browse and members of the public can join in order to borrow items. There’s more information about joining online here and we welcome enquiries by email (library@rwcmd.ac.uk).

MG: Yes, anyone can join as Judith says, and you can now browse a portion of the DAW collection online. I think around 2,800 of the DAW plays have been catalogued now, mainly the sets.

With increased pressure on public funding many Library services have been cut or are under threat, why are libraries important to you and wider society?

JD: As an academic library, we are not facing the same existential threats as many public libraries have faced in recent times, but it is a worrying trend. Libraries are not just about lending books. At their best, libraries can foster communities; they can provide safe spaces; and they can promote equality and inclusion by giving free access to resources, computers, and equipment.

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

JD: Earlier this year I read Whole Notes: Life Lessons through Music by Ed Ayres. I’ve been recommending it to everyone and bought a copy for the RWCMD Library. It is about music, healing, the lived experiences of a transgender musician, teaching, learning and so much more. It also includes Spotify playlists which enable the reader to share in some of Ed’s experiences which I thought was a lovely touch.

MG: Not my last but I am reading Breath: A New Science of a Lost Art by James Nester which is also available in our library. I’m only on the first few chapters but it’s one of those books that can challenge your perception on something we all do. I enjoy books that question the way we think about our bodies and mental health. I am also very keen browser of our art and design books, one of my favourites being Stages of decay by Julia Solis, a book depicting various theatres/performing areas in dilapidated conditions which are strangely beautiful.

Review: The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, by Sian Thomas

Three stars.

I have struggled to get stuck into Welcome to Nightvale books in the past, and I worried that this would be the case when I bought this book, The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home. I have put down and picked up the original Welcome to Nightvale podcast a few times and consider myself committed to it again, currently. I’m caught up on the material, but find it admirable that the novels usually are able to stand on their own two feet, though they certainly hit harder when the homework has been done.

I feel Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor’s writing is something to be listened to, rather than read, sometimes. Though I don’t think this is any fault of theirs – I’m just used to it being done this way, in that particular medium, from years of a bimonthly updated podcast appearing in my feed. This isn’t to say the writing is weak, but there is a particular voice to it that seems lulling, perhaps. Not slow, but steady. This did cause some difficulties for me while I was reading – waning interest, feeling, somehow, incredibly tired after a bout of reading. But this doesn’t mean that the book is bad. Quite the opposite, I think the book is quite impressive, especially as its from the perspective of a secondary Welcome to Nightvale character.

The book follows the life of the faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home, a well known character from the original podcast, exploring her life, history, and purpose, as well as how she came to be the recognisable character in the podcast that she is. It’s a fun read, with a lot of high stakes action and adventure, and a long sense of history behind it. I prefer not to spoil books in my reviews, but I find that this story was a nice piece of a puzzle I didn’t know that I was originally missing. I enjoyed the way that the novel almost felt larger than life and older than time – full of travel and the slow march of time in the face of a person’s goals.

I found it to be an enjoyable read. The chapters being fairly short complemented the steady flow of the writing style, to save from any encroaching boredom and to create intrigue with sharp endings. I would, however, only really recommend it to anyone who has some knowledge of the main show at least, as I believe the final few chapters feel a lot more complete that way, and end quite neatly if you fully understand what is happening around the central character. That being said, the story can stand on its own, and if you’re not too bothered about understanding the “lore” then dive right in! Enjoy a pirate story on a winding path to your heart’s content. 

Sian Thomas.

Review John Waters, False Negative Barbican by James Ellis 

John Waters, filmmaker and writer presents his comic monologue covering his career, movies, fashion and art in the Barbican Hall on Friday, 10 June 2022. Photo by Mark Allan

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Dubbed “The Pope of bad taste”, anyone who has ever seen a John Waters film (I’m talking about the early stuff) will never forget it, try as they might! With this notorious reputation, John aged of 76 finally written his first novel: Liarmouth. I get the feeling he has done his live show just to do a shameless plug, the queue after the performance was a long as the Barbican is a maze. No doubt he would never take offence to any of my words.

His film work is a revelation, a huge point of reference for the LGBT community, even with the tidal wave of problematic themes and subplots. The giddy air at the Barbican greeted John with huge burst of loving applause, arriving in a bold, yet fashionable floral, black and white smock (something I adored). Of course, he had his famous, pencil moustache to boot. It’s the insights, the references, the name dropping and the snarling comebacks that made this live experience an overwhelming gush of camp. The spirt of drag artist Divine, John’s most infamous collaboration was ever present on this night. Divine, who may have been one of the funniest and brilliant people ever to be on film, also proved his chops with more acclaimed work of John’s with Polyester and the original incarnation of Hairspray. 

I knew this would be funny and it was. I found myself scoffing as many times as I was amused, the compulsion of big, hearty laughs caught me off guard. More recent remarks about Covid, vaccines and even Johnny Depp (he worked with John on Cry Baby) stood out as highlights. The amazing thing about this man is he makes you love trash, through a mirror of irony and self confidence. No one really makes me feel like John, his openness and mockery of things he adores are proof that comedy can be funny and not always mean at the same time. You just can’t cancel him, try as they might. A frenzied Q & A proved how much adoring fans can’t get enough of him, John declaring on a few occasions “One at a time!” due to his poor hearing. 

He declared that Liarmouth is the most outrageous piece he has done since Pink Flamingoes of 1972. That is saying a lot, but the book is now top of my list of must read books. Only I don’t think I’m quite ready for it…            

Liarmouth, published by Corsair is now available online and all good retailers. 

Review: Conversations With People Who Hate Me by Dylan Marron, By Sian Thomas

Four stars

I remember when this podcast went live, boosted somewhere into my online feed because I had been a fan of Welcome to Night Vale, even as I felt it slipping from my grasp of enjoyment (it’s back now).

“Conversations With People Who Hate Me” is a podcast initially beginning with Dylan Marron, the creator, reaching out to people who have left him mean comments on his online work. They discuss the comment, among other things, and while not strictly having to come to some ample, satisfactory conclusion, usually both parties leave the table feeling different to how they sat down at it. It would later evolve into Dylan moderating a conversation between two people – one whose work or art piece or the like received a mean comment, and the person who left it.

I thought this was an interesting idea when it first came out back in 2017, mostly because I’d seen nothing like it outside of thinking back to when you’d get taught as a kid to “be nice”, or “not get angry” that kind of thing, that parents kind of do: “Remember to share!” when they’re, I don’t know, in the kitchen, and not watching you not share. “Just talk!” felt like impractical advice, I wasn’t sure how it would help, if it even could. But I remember listening to a few episodes before I fell off of podcasts entirely, (not for any particular reason, I think it would mostly down to this itch in my brain that told me if I’m listening to people speak then I have to listen and I found myself unable to do anything else if I had a podcast on, and I must not have been getting enough A-Level revision done as a result) listening to the back and fore of a conversation that would definitely frustrate me, but I found Dylan was navigating well. It wasn’t something I could have done. I’m not certain it is now, five years on.

The book was quite a lot about how the podcast came to be, and what was learned during its creation process. Which is fine, truthfully, I wasn’t sure it would be about anything else since the book and the podcast shared the same name. There is a tale woven within it about what the internet is and what it could be – how it effects us and the kinds of things, good and bad, it can lead us to doing or feeling. I enjoyed seeing the depth of something I had liked and then lost hold of years ago, re-entering my vision in a way that contextualised and solved what probably caused me to drop it in the first place. I don’t think I was ready to have the kinds of conversations Dylan was having then, and while I’m not convinced I am now, either, one thing I found dazzlingly soothing was the understanding of the “Everything Storm”. The “Everything Storm” is kind of how it sounds: everything is happening all the time, all at once, and if you can’t keep up, someone on the internet definitely thinks you suck. I never realised this was what was causing my own version of an internet fatigue, but on reading Dylan’s detailing of his own (even as it was attributed to discussions he was having and manifesting as different emotions and actions for him), I was like, oh man, this is it. This is what pushed me to the private twitter with all of my ten highly vetted followers, what made me rest my phone face down. It was nice to put a name to that weird feeling of guilt when something happens and all I can think when I look at it was, “Oh no. Not now. Please.”

This was definitely a feature of the book I really enjoyed, the detailing of the arcs of a conversation, serving you pieces you can recognise and take away with you, the smallest of navigation tips to assure your nerves if you ever take on the kind of conversations Dylan does.

The book is delightfully written, reading like a winding story while instilling a genuine lesson. I don’t often read non-fiction, but when I do I find I prefer it to feel almost personal. I enjoyed this deep dive into the very back of Dylan Marron’s mind: what lead to the podcast and the further book, and all the nuances of creation that came both before, and during, this chapter of his life. I can see why it would have been difficult to write, after learning it was supposed to release in mid 2020, not the first half of 2022. The deliberation of what may come of these “pieces” – the consequences to all of Dylan’s actions, in a way -was purposeful and honest. Which is refreshing to see in world tearing itself apart wondering who the main character of the day is, and how exactly then can get got.

I think Dylan Marron is the kind of person you either quietly follow through the years, even if you’re not aware that you are (which is the category I fall into: I heard of him through his work on Welcome to Night Vale, and found myself coming back to his page every so often to see what, if anything, had changed), or, one day, you happen upon him by accident entirely. For a long time he was just “that voice on that show I used to listen to”, but I realise now Dylan is much more and has been doing much, much more than that. I get the feeling that this is something of a memoir rather than a self-help-essay-type of book like Good Vibes Good Life by Vex King, which I really, really like. It feels real and honest; genuine and undoubtfully true. It has a similar kind of vibe to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic – a snippet of a wide, three-dimensional life, and how it made an unfathomably large ripple across the rest of that person’s days.

It was a fantastic read. I don’t know that I would recommend it to everyone, but I think it’s one of those books where if you look into it yourself and think yeah, I can get behind this, then do.

Sian Thomas