When browsing the St David’s Hall brochure, a variety of performers that I hadn’t heard of before, appeared interesting. In particular I looked up Breabach, listening to a little of their music and thought let’s give it ago. I’m quite open to all genres of music and certainly glad I attended.
The five piece Scottish folk band, Breabach, came back to Cardiff for their second visit, while on their Winter UK tour. The talented musicians have been together for 15 years, and more recently visited Canada, Australia, and Switzerland.
Part of the Roots Unearthed world music at St David’s Hall in Cardiff, Breabach performed a selection of contemporary folk music including their own band members creative compositions. Their latest album Frenzy of the Meeting, is an exceptional diverse range of sounds by skilled musicians. Listening to them live in the intimate setting on Level 3, was full of energy and passion.
They explore a combination of sounds with their instruments and voice; violin, double bass, guitar, bagpipes, flute, whistle, bouzouki, cajon and vocals.
The Level 3 Lounge at St David’s Hall, had a bar, seating facing and focusing around the stage, and also some chairs and tables on the edge. There was space at the back where you could stand if that’s what you wanted to do, and even have a little dance! Along with the music, it had a warm and moving feeling.
St David’s Hall is in Cardiff. An accessible venue, a central location, with city centre parking all around. Myself as a wheelchair user, parked on Churchill Way in the disabled spaces. Of an evening there are usually plenty. Although slightly further away than St David’s or John Lewis car park (that charge), it is free to park here with a blue badge for a few hours.
At St David’s Hall, there is a door at the side that has ramp access, to take you into the main reception box office, and then a lift to get you to the level you need to be on. Disabled loo access was on the same level as the performance.
I will certainly try and see Breabach again. It’s made me open up to trying more performances that I may not have thought of attending. Whether it’s something your use to and know, or new and different, take that step, go along!
Behind ‘Rush’ lies a simple theme. This is my story. This is where I come from, this is why I came here. This is what life is like for me here. Here is my story told through the universal medium of music. We all have a story like this, and to a degree every story is engaging because people are interesting. It is just that some stories are more interesting than others and this one involves three continents, colonization, death of an indigenous people, brutal slavery, rebellion, warfare, migration and racism. Welcome to Jamaica and its tour of Britain, February 2020, destination Mold.
We were promised a joyous Jamaican journey and judging by
the fact all bar a handful of people in a crowded theatre were on their feet at
times, this is what we got. Even my left
knee was shaking in time to this rhythmic feast despite my pathological phobia
of dancing. The fact that I was pinned
back in my seat to avoid the gyrations of the lady standing next to me did not
detract from the spectacle. Sometimes it
is just great to see people join in with unfettered enthusiasm.
Yet here was a contradiction. This story is far from joyous, it is tainted
with more than a bucketful of blood, sweat and tears and while this was pointed
out with a wry sense of humour, this was not what we heard. Instead we were
treated to an endless list of Jamaican song encompassing a brief history of ska
and reggae with songs from Jimmy Cliff and Desmond Decker amongst a host of
others. Special mention was made of Bob
Marley who would have celebrated his 75th birthday this week and who
played Deeside Leisure Centre in 1980.
It’s a small world. There were
some surprising sounds, ‘The tide is high’ is so heavily associated with
Blondie that many have forgotten its Jamaican roots.
The music was performed with distinction by the JA Reggae
Band, all of whom were consummate musicians orchestrated by the lead guitar and
musical director, Orville Pinnock. True to the development of ska in
particular, the band was racially diverse with a rich tapestry of experience
from different musical genres. They were
ably supported by DJ Paul who played a variety of tracks supplementing a long
The two lead singers IKA and Janice Williamson both had
rich, powerful voices that were adaptable to a range of song. My particular favourite was the gospel
standard, ‘Oh Happy day’ acknowledging church influence on the Jamaican
community. The story was introduced and
narrated by John Simmitt, who did so gently, rhythmically yet with a waspish sense
of humour. One pleasing aspect here was
that there were no ‘stars’ in this ensemble, just a team working closely
together who so obviously enjoyed and entered into the musical feast they
My question is, how important is the Jamaican story? This, and others like it should be a staple in every secondary school curriculum. It speaks volumes to us about our national identity, our historic legacy and comments forcefully against those xenophobic elements in our society that seem to have found a voice in the past few years. From the brutal colonization of the 15th and 16th Centuries, the loathsome practice of transatlantic slavery to the shocking betrayal of the Windrush generation by a populist government pillorying immigrants to win votes, this story reeks of injustice. I would have liked to see more historical narrative, to learn more about the Maroon rebellions and leaders such as Marcus Garvey and Paul Bogle instead of being satisfied with allusions to these events and people. But increasingly as the show developed it was a celebration of music that has its roots or was influenced by Jamaica.
Perhaps the most important theme of the show was to emphasise the fact that the presence of Black and Asian communities in the UK is the result of a direct invitation to live here by the British government after World War 2. Once people arrived, despite a pernicious level of racism these communities have integrated into, influenced and enhanced our society. The reception given to 2-tone music and the energy generated by numbers by The Specials and Madness was a prime illustration of this. Similar statements could be made especially about those communities from the Indian sub-continent who have made their home here. Few people prior to 1960 would have heard of Tandoori chicken, yet to some, this is more of a national dish than roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
These communities are building their own cultural legacy
now, a great example being the Notting Hill Carnival, one of the biggest street
festivals in the world, attracting over 2 million visitors each year. The carnival in itself is unique, being a
fusion of Jamaican reggae and Trinidadian steel band and is now officially a
British cultural icon. Perhaps we have
forgotten the roots of this carnival lie in a response to racial attacks on
West Indians. Few have heard of the 1959
death of Kelso Cochrane at the hands of white youths. And few will know that the perpetrators were
never charged or convicted for fear of the public unrest that may incite. This was despite the fact that the identity
of the killer was an open secret in the local community.
This demonstrates that we have a lot to learn from this
history yet despite such a powerful message it was not the key theme of the
evening. There was no axe to grind, no
bitterness at this shameful treatment.
Just a nice line of humour poking fun at people like Enoch Powell and
his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. The
Conservative club in his former constituency is now a West Indian Cultural Centre. How times have changed.
The pervasive theme of the evening for me was the rhythm
which permeated every song, energised the audience and left people with a feel
good factor. It was remarkable that a
mainly white, middle aged, middle class audience found such movement and joy in
this Caribbean cultural festival. John
Simmitt joked that the audience might be better suited to a cup of Milo or
Horlicks before bedtime but this was far from the case. The audience warmed to the rhythm with
gusto. Full credit to the cast, who
after taking their bow made their way to the foyer to greet the audience as
they left. After three hours of performance
they need not have done this but was a most welcome end to a fabulous evening.
Go and see this performance.
Feel the rhythm, enjoy the music, learn the history.
In November 2018 we published an article in response to the new Arts Council Wales Corporate Plan “For the benefit of all..” with a range of contributions from Creatives in Wales. We revisit this area in the updated article below with responses from one of the creatives featured in the article as well as an additional contribution.
Our mission statement at Get The Chance is “Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events.”
We were very pleased to see some of the priority areas in the new Arts Council Wales, Corporate Plan, 2018 – 2023 “For the benefit of all”
In particular we were interested in Commitment 2 below
We will enable a greater number and a wider diversity of people to enjoy, take part and work in the publicly funded arts.
ACW then go onto make a series of intentions (below) for where they want to be in 2023 (5 years)
We will be able to demonstrate clearly that all our funding programmes promote and contribute to equality and diversity
There will be a narrowing of the gap between those in the most and least affluent social sectors as audiences and participants
We will develop the creative work of disabled artists by funding “Unlimited” commissions and developing a scheme similar to “Ramps on the Moon” operated by Arts Council England
We want to introduce a “Changemakers” scheme placing BAME and disabled people in senior executive positions in the arts
We want to see a doubling of the number of disabled people in the arts workforce
We want to see a doubling of the number of Black and Minority ethnic backgrounds in the arts workforce
We want to have introduced an Arts Council Apprenticeships scheme designed to provide opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds
We will have achieved a trebling of the number of BAME and disabled and on APW boards of governance
I struggle to fully engage this as a response. My recent experience has revealed that there is certainly a surge to include diversity in all its forms on boards and in creative spaces and projects. However, this new ‘interest’ feels more like organisations ‘needing’ to diversify rather than ‘wanting’ to diversify, in order to secure their future and funding. I am hopeful though.
Artistic Director, Taking Flight Theatre Company
What a year of change 2019 has been. For Taking Flight it has seen the company move away from the annual Shakespeare production to more indoor, venue-based work.
peeling by Kaite O’Reilly, opened on International Women’s Day in March at The Riverfront, Newport and then toured Wales and England and was a huge success earning 4 and 5* reviews.
The Guardian stating “Accessible theatre? Do it properly – do it like this”. Following this Taking Flight was invited to Grenzenlos Kulture festival in Mainz, Germany as an example of best practice in accessibility. It was a huge tour and highlighted once more the inaccessibility of much of Wales; accessible accommodation is very hard to find, and some venues struggled to meet our access riders. However, this did lead to some very inventive solutions involving temporary dressing rooms created with flats, curtains and even a marquee! Obviously not the ideal but with our hugely creative stage management team always looking for solutions rather than the problems and the support of venues we made it work. High applause to Angela Gould at RCT Theatres for her work in this department.
One of our lovely actors toured with her dog who was a lovely addition to the team. Max is a therapy dog; many places we visited were only familiar with guide dogs, which made us realise how much there is to learn about the different types of assistance dogs.
Everything we learnt during this extensive tour will feed into the work we have been developing towards a scheme like the Ramps on the Moon initiative. A scheme like this can never be replicated, but the interest and passion from venues in Wales to be involved is overwhelming. Creu Cymru, hynt and Taking Flight have been in ongoing discussions about ways to make this happen. We read with interest that it was also a priority for ACW and have begun conversations with them around a similar scheme. As we have been researching and pushing for this to happen since ‘Ramps’ began in 2016, we are passionate that this becomes a reality. Taking Flight has just received funding for their next production, Road, at Parc and Dare, RCT Theatres and we hope this partnership will be the first step. Taking Flight will give support to participating venues to be confident to manage and produce inclusive work, to provide excellent access and a warm welcome to all- both audiences and creatives.
While peeling was out on the road in the Autumn, we also remounted the hugely successful and totally gorgeous You’ve got Dragons. After a run at WMC we hit the road again for a UK tour including a week run at Lyric Hammersmith which was almost sold out and incredibly well received. The desire for inclusive and accessible work for young people is growing. Watch this space for more news on You’ve Got Dragons next adventure.
Taking Flight has often dreamt of setting up a Deaf- led Youth Theatre for D/deaf and Hard of Hearing young people and with funding from BBC Children in Need we have finally done it. Led by the tremendous Stephanie Back in BSL and English, the youth theatre began last week and the results are already fabulous. The Wales Millennium Centre are our amazing venue partner and host the weekly sessions for D/deaf children aged 4-18. We have been overwhelmed with interest in this project, demonstrating that this has been needed in Wales for a long time.
There has also been a surge in interest from companies and individuals wanting to consider access while writing funding applications. There is a general excitement around making work accessible. There are some brilliant intentions and I’ve had exciting conversations with companies about different types of access and have been able to recommend consultants and access professionals.
The ground has been fertile for change for some time and there is much more inclusive and accessible work being created here than when we first started 12 years ago. Theatres are also much more interested in programming diverse work and many have invested in Deaf Awareness training with Taking Flight (Led by Steph Back).
There is a real desire to diversify audiences and welcome them to theatre spaces. Taking Flight’s next symposium on 28th Feb at Park and Dare RCT theatres on Relaxed Performances brings the brilliant Jess Thom, Touretteshero to Wales to discuss ways to provide the warmest possible welcome to those who may find the traditional etiquette of theatre a problem.
There has been a surge of work featuring D/deaf and disabled performers, productions like Jonny Cotsen’s Louder is Not Always Clearer, Leeway Productions Last Five Years and Illumine’s 2023 really engaged new audiences and the venues have really built on this success. There have been more productions that embed access in a creative way, a gorgeous example in Gods and Kings by Fourinfour productions with integrated BSL from Sami Thorpe. I had lots of fun working with Julie Doyle and Likely Story integrating BSL interpreter Julie Doyle into Red. Companies are choosing to interpret, audio describe or caption all the shows in a run rather than just one which is really encouraging and promoting more equality of access to shows.
So, the will to make accessible work is absolutely there, the best of intentions are definitely there and, now the funding for access is factored into budgets, the funds are usually there. However, why is it still access that falls through the cracks, gets pushed aside or forgotten as a production approaches opening night? I hear stories of interpreters and audio describers who can’t get into a rehearsal space to prep or are placed somewhere on stage that is neither aesthetically pleasing nor practical. It can still sometimes feel like access is something that needs to be ticked off a list in order to fulfil a funding application.
I am absolutely sure that this is not the intention; but we are all so overstretched, one person is often doing multiple jobs (especially in small companies) and when no one is directly responsible for access or it simply forms ‘part’ of someone’s role. So those best intentions and exciting plans are really hard to fully achieve. Taking Flight are exploring this lack of provision for access co – ordination with Bath Spa University so watch this space for the results of our research… The next generation of theatre makers are coming, and they really care about making work that can be accessed by all – that makes me happy.
You know you’ve hit on something good when the support act is as good as the headliner. It may have been The Trials of Cato that we had come to see, but it was the five-piece female band Tant that we went away talking about. Running slightly late, we wandered into the theatre at Pontio Arts Centre and were immediately transfixed by their magical and melodic tones. They proceeded through a half hour set that traversed the boundaries of folk and pop with tremendous subtlety, producing a sound that felt highly original and resultantly captivating. All are clearly talented musicians, whether on harp or guitar, but it was their combined vocals that really struck me. Performing acapella on the song ‘Gwydyr Glas’, their voices played together like wind chimes, singing in beautiful harmony whilst also producing distinct tonalities that made this a really fascinating piece to listen to.
At the end of their set, Tant were wildly applauded off stage. Recognising their popularity, The Trials of Cato twice paid tribute to them during their own set, where the praise was again handed out, and deservedly so. It was clearly an inspired choice to have them open. Only the best could follow. The Trials of Cato are certainly that, having already scooped up Best Album at the Folk Awards in spite of their relatively short career. Opening with an instrumental piece before going straight into ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’, these early numbers demonstrated the toe-tappingly catchy rhythms that make their music such a joy to listen to. ‘Haf’ added a lightness of touch to proceedings before ‘Cân John Williams’ was given a Lebanese vibe thanks to a particularly strong instrumental section at its end. The only slight melancholy in the evening came courtesy of ‘My Love’s in Germany’, but even here the performance was more rousing than depressing.
We were then treated to some new material in the form of ‘Dog
Valley’, from an album that should be out later this year. It was a track to
sit back and enjoy, reminiscent of freestyle jazz and showcasing their skills
as truly accomplished musicians. This and ‘Gawain’ are highly recommended for
first-time listeners, the latter their “prog rock” offering, which turned this
intimate venue into a few thousand seater stadium through excellent lighting
and amplified sound. Two favourites in ‘Aberdaron’ and ‘Gloria’ then followed
before they closed out with an excellent rendition of ‘Kadisha’. So good was
this final number that there was no need for an encore. Indeed, in hindsight,
there should not have been one, for it was hijacked by a woman intent on
playing tambourine with them on stage. The intervention of security a few
moments later meant that any chance of the band making the best of this
unexpected entrance was lost. A chorus of boos followed, and the subsequent
final song fell a bit flat. It was a disappointing end, but the only blot on
what was an otherwise incredible night of Welsh folk music. The strength of and
sheer originality on the national scene at the moment is inspiring. The Trials of Cato most definitely
reflect that, and after their performance here, Tant are undoubtedly doing the same.
I am walking up the High Street in St Asaph on an unseasonably warm January evening. The final remnants of Christmas hang in shop windows. The town’s tree is already stripped bare. It stands awkwardly on the side of the street. Meanwhile, opposite, a yellow glow emanates from the inside of the Cathedral. It stands, as always, resplendent at the top of the hill. As I reach the door, I can hear Robert Guy, Artistic Director of the NEW Sinfonia Orchestra, introducing the opening piece. I pull out my phone to show my ticket and notice that I am three minutes late. As a result, I decline the kind steward’s invitation of a seat at the front, and wander to a row of seats at the back. It helps that I know the place, for it allows me to settle immediately and enjoy the final section of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Waltz. It receives the first of many rapturous applauses on the night, and deservedly so. Made up of professional musicians from across North Wales and beyond, Robert and his brother, Jonathan, have assembled a talented cast whose collective sound brings the bricks of this ancient venue to life. It is no wonder that the well-dressed crowd in front of me look relaxed and fully engaged in every bit of what follows on this mild eve.
There is a rousing rendition of Strauss’ Thunder and Lightning Polka, a sprightly performance of Chit-Chat Polka, and a fascinating piece by Vittorio Monti called Czardas. However, it is a special guest appearance by Erin Rossington that particularly grabs my attention. Winner of the ‘International Voice of the Future’ at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod in 2019, the Guildhall School of Music student both looks and sounds like a future star. Dressed resplendently in a silk dress, she delivers a note-perfect performance of Porgi Amor from the Marriage of Figaro. Following that up with Waltz of My Heart, I am struck by the gentle power of her vocals. Hers is a voice that never overwhelms. Instead, it reaches out and softly touches the wooden beams that adorn the roof of the Cathedral. It is strong, but not overbearing; confident without being arrogant. It sits beautifully alongside the orchestral score.
Rossington is indeed a rising talent, as is Jonathan Guy,
who showcases his aptitude for composition with a new piece called Fire Dance. Coming at the start of the
second half, it is an intriguing bit of music that reflects the tempestuous
element of the title. The low tones of the introduction speak of danger, before
a more uplifting section produces something of a magical effect that, in the
final part, produces a majestic sound that captures the awful beauty to be found
in flickering flames. It is a far cry from those fireside images of Christmas
which are now fast being extinguished from the memory for another year. In their
place, thoughts turn to those caught up in the Australian bushfires. It is
fitting that an encore of Auld Lang Syne is
touched with poignancy. The string section is solemn, and the audience, in
unison, lend a certain pathos to the closing moments of this excellent concert.
Thunderous clapping gives way to a politely crowded exit. And as I walk out
into the pleasant calmness of the weather, I wonder if there could have been
any better way to start the New Year? The answer, I conclude, is no.
1) getthechance.wales/2019/10/30/review-heartsong-by-tj-klune-by-sian-thomas/. I was so excited for this book to come out and it really delivered. It’s on one of my favourite series with an exceptional way of world building and atmosphere, and the way the characters act towards each other and their surroundings is incredible. It’s funny, loving, and full of action, and I love it.
3) getthechance.wales/2019/03/02/review-how-to-train-your-dragon-3-by-sian-thomas/. End of an era! I loved this series when I was in my early teens and kept a close hold of it all the way until the end. I cried when I saw it in the cinema, at the end, when Hiccup and Toothless went their separate ways and then saw each other again a good number of years later. An amazing film about people and creatures and their relationships. Also, visually stunning. Animation is a top tier medium.
Personal: I finished my first year of university this year, and did so well in my classes that the university gave me a cash prize. There was a chance for people to win £1000 by getting a really good mark for their first year, and I had no idea about it until I received an email saying I’d won. Which was amazing news! It made me really proud of my both my actual work and my work ethic from the first year. It was a big academic confidence boost!
With such a cornucopia of goodies on offer theatre-wise during the past year, it isn’t easy to single out just three. For my money, two of these have to be musical theatre productions: Kinky Boots and Les Misérables, both staged in the Donald Gordon Theatre at the Wales Millennium Centre.
First on my list has to be Les Misérables. Cameron Mackintosh’s production, first staged
almost a decade ago to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Les Mis,
once again proved what a sure-fire winner it is. Grand theatre at its best, top
of the tree for music, lyrics, storyline et al.
A privilege to watch, all presented by a multi-talented cast, among them
Welsh actor Ian Hughes as a nimble-footed Thenardier who brought the audience
to its feet on opening night with his uproariously funny rendering of Master
of the House.
Closely followed, I must admit by Kinky Boots which
was, start to finish, a joy to watch. So
much more than “Just another musical,” it has at its heart a subject which nowadays
is treated in most cases empathetically but which was by any means the case
only a few short years ago. I refer to
transgender. Kinky Boots tackles this head on, with the
occasional heartbreak mixed with the fun and verve which is characteristic of
this amazing show, all dished out by a superb cast.
On to number three – also at the WMC, home of Welsh National
Opera who once again proved what a top-notch company they are with their new
production of Bizet’s Carmen. An operatic sizzler with wonderful
music, the story of the torrid but doomed relationship of the gypsy girl Carmen
and her solder lover is given a contemporary twist by director Jo Davies which
works brilliantly, with the added advantage of French being the native tongue of
mezzo soprano Virginie Verrez in the title role. With the mesmeric Habanera in
Act I, wonderful music and at times gut-wrenching libretto, this Carmen is
proof – if, indeed, proof was needed – that a new slant on an old favourite can
And now to the best “Cultural experience.” I am going to go off piste here, for to my
mind it has to be the film Solomon and Gaenor, given a twentieth
anniversary screening at Chapter with the film’s writer/director Paul Morrison,
producer Sheryl Crown and leading lady Nia Roberts on stage afterwards for a Q
and A. The Oscar-nominated and BAFTA
award-winning film, with dialogue in Welsh, English and Yiddish, set in the
Valleys back in the time of the Tredegar riots, tells the story of forbidden
love between a young Jewish peddler and a young girl from a strict Chapel going
Pinpointing how attitudes have changed, despite still – as Morrison commented during the discussion afterwards – having a way to go, Solomon and Gaenor, shown as part of the Jewish Film Festival, is riveting from start to finish in a drama that is upfront and unique in its presentation.
2019 was a brilliant year for Welsh theatre, a real
abundance of riches across the stages of Cardiff. American Idiot started off
the year with a bang, Peter Pan Goes Wrong brought comedic chaos, and Curtains
brought the kind of vintage charm you can only usually find among the bright
lights of Broadway and the West End. Narrowing it down is a tricky task, but
there were a few shows that stood out among the rest for me…
#3: The Creature (Chapter Arts Centre)
In what daily seems like an increasingly unkind, apathetic world, The Creature was a beam of hope in a dark time that didn’t shy away from trauma or tragedy but which held with it the promise of a better future – if we fight for it. It seemed perfectly tailored to me and my research interests – a modern take on the criminal justice system via a pseudo-Frankenstein adaptation, it hooked into my soul and still hasn’t let go. I’m eagerly anticipating the future endeavours of this fantastic creative team.
#2: Cardiff Does Christmas – Cinderella (New Theatre) and
The Snow Queen (Sherman Theatre)
The Christmas shows this year were the best I’ve had the privilege of seeing in quite some time. Cinderella was the show that reignited my long-dormant love of panto and saw the season in with festive cheer, while Sherman Theatre’s The Snow Queen was brimming with Christmas magic and a sweet tale of friendship, courage, and the fight against seemingly-insurmountable odds – a message we could all use about now.
#1: Hedda Gabler (Sherman Theatre)
It’s become increasingly apparent to me that the Sherman is
the soul of contemporary Welsh theatre – consistently producing creative,
fascinating and timely plays ‘rooted in Wales but relevant to the world’, as AD
Joe Murphy said of his artistic vision. Their staging of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler was
an utterly stunning adaptation that haunts me to this day – and Prof Ambreena
Manji and I were blessed to be able to bring our Law and Literature students to
the production as we’re studying the text this year. You know it’s a roaring
success when the students want to write their coursework on Hedda!
Reviewing for Get the Chance has been my cultural highlight, which includes being continually in awe of the kindness and generosity of the Sherman, New Theatre and Chapter: the future of Welsh Theatre is in good hands indeed!
Losing Home, My 2019 Highlight, Les Misérables, Eva Marloes
As 2019 comes to a close, so vanishes the last hope of stopping Brexit. It is decided. Parliament has agreed our ‘divorce’ from the EU. Some feel elated, some relieved, some dejected. The morning after the 2016’s referendum, some people in Britain woke up and felt stripped of their very identity. The EU question was never about rules and regulations, trade agreements or sovereignty; it was about identity. In the political debate, only the Leave side appealed to identity. The European identity of many Remainers was and still largely is neglected. This is what makes Mathilde Lopez’s interpretation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables so poignant. It gave voice to the emotional attachment to the EU some people have always felt or have begun to feel once that belonging came under threat.
The beauty of Lopez’s take on Hugo’s masterpiece lies in interweaving the ‘small’ lives of individuals with the ‘big’ events of history. It is personal and political. It speaks of today by reaching into the past. With Les Misérables, Lopez brings together the battle of Brexit with that of Waterloo. It is a tragi-comedy that makes the lives of ordinary people part of history. Amidst the blood of Waterloo, the crisps devoured while listening to the referendum results, and the summer music of holiday-makers, we experienced the banality and significance of the Brexit decision.
The play was fun and moving. It was original, innovative, and thoughtful. It wasn’t perfect and wasn’t the best show I’ve seen in 2019 (that should go to WNO’s Rigoletto), but it was the most significant of what the country is going through. By mixing the escapism of the holiday feel with the horror of Waterloo and the shock of people watching the referendum results coming in, Les Misérables captures the closeness and distance we feel when caught in events of historical significance.
In one night, something changed radically. For European citizens in Britain, Brexit has created insecurity about their status, brought extra costs to get documentation that might allow them to stay, and has made them vulnerable to attack and insults. They don’t belong. The nostalgic identity the ideologues of Brexit have conjured is too narrow and homogeneous for some British people too. They too don’t belong. As Britain seeks to close its borders and refashion a nationalistic identity, some of us have lost their home.
In my review of Lopez’s Les Misérables, I wrote that the play appealed to faith, hope, and love. It was an acceptance of defeat without despair, a search for strength in love, not distance. Hugo described Waterloo as ‘the beginning of the defeat.’ As the first phase of Brexit concludes, it is tempting to use Hugo’s words for Brexit as the defeat of the dream of an inclusive and welcoming society, but it is not over. Nostalgia is incapable of meeting the challenge of the present, let alone of envisioning a future. That is for us to do. It is for all of us to imagine our future and rebuild our home. It begins now.
(My behind the scene article on the production Les Misérables can be found here)
Bodyguard at The WMC
The biggest and boldest production I have ever seen with music that has become iconic.
Meet Fred, Hijinx Theatre Company
A fantastic piece of theatre thy showed the true meaning of inclusivity while also showing an unique art form of puppeteering.
A fantastic and modern piece of theatre that literally gave a voice to someone who doesn’t have one.
Pavilion, Theatr Clwyd
A sharp and witty ode to small town Wales, Emily White has produced a great piece of engaging drama out of the mundane, the everyday. With recognisable characters brought to life by a hugely talented cast, this represents an excellent debut for a Welsh writer whose talent is sure to be noticed.
Writer Fflur Dafydd continues to demonstrate why she is one of Wales’ foremost scriptwriters with this intriguing mystery drama. Her intimate characterisation and weaving narrative kept viewers gripped right to final moments of its eight-part run.
A really important and culturally significant film, providing a fascinating insight into the Welsh language music scene. Huw Stephens deserves huge credit for spearheading it. I urge you to see it if you can’.
Cotton Fingers, NTW by Rachel Trezise and On Bear Ridge, NTW by Ed Thomas, both at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. Having returned from University in Brighton this year, it was brilliant to see the Sherman Theatre flourishing as much as it was when I left Cardiff 3 years ago. The detail that went into Cai Dyfan’s set design for On Bear Ridge was incredible to witness. His level of craftsmanship, often only found in commercial and west end theatres, was a delight to see on a smaller, regional stage.
Meanwhile, a more stripped back Cotton Fingers let its script do all the talking and was skill-fully delivered by actor Amy Molloy.
Shout out must go to Katherine Chandler for her play Lose Yourself, also at the Sherman Theatre. Although I did not review this play, it was definitely one of my highlights of 2019. Gut-wrenching for all the right reasons, its finale left the audience silent. I’ll never forget heaviness in the air at the end of play felt by everyone in the audience who just experienced something very important together.
Personal cultural event of 2019: Slowthai at Glastonbury – never before have I been so instantly hooked on an artist I’ve never listened to before. The way he riled up the crowd with his boisterous, unapologetic stagemanship was incredible to witness and I haven’t stopped listening to him since.
Christmas Carol, Theatr Clwyd
A thoroughly enjoyable interactive performance that communicated much of what Dickens intended yet had a lightness of touch, an impish humour and a sense of occasion that made it well suited to a Christmas show.
Walking into Fresh at the Wales Millennium Centre, I had no idea what to expect from the show titled Lovecraft. Strangely the thing that sprung to mind was that it is a sex shop (I have heard!) located in Cardiff which was a joke repeated many times throughout this show. However, this isn’t just crude and hilarious show but also carries a very important message about combatting loneliness which is an issue that affects many, many people even today.
This show was co-produced by Carys Eleri alongside Wales Millennium Centre themselves. Lovecraft (Not the sex shop in Cardiff) is a one women show that was ‘hosted’ as such by Carys herself. She was an incredibly awesome host as she possesses a very loveable and friendly personality which the audience instantly warm to. The material within the show was relatable to all ages (above about 16) as she discusses issues such as relationships, alcohol and social media which made every single member of the audience, despite their age, feel as if Carys was talking directly to them and talking about issues they may have ever experienced. This was very clever and helped to make the comical aspects of the show even more hilarious as it was all based on real-life experiences. She delivered these touches of humour moments excellently but also managed to carefully manipulate the mood the incorporate the more serious and important messages of the show such as relationships going wrong and loneliness etc.
This show does contain very strong language, mature themes and sexual references which means it is not appropriate for children and also young audience members may not relate to the messages of the show as much as more mature members of the audience would. Some of these ideas were portrayed through song which is, in my opinion, very unusual but in this case, it worked excellently. Obviously many of these songs were comical but Carys has an incredible voice and so it was actually marvellous to listen to the singing itself instead of just the lyrics. Carys is clearly a very talented performer and she managed to develop a way to showcase her skills excellently in this show without it seeming like she is showing off which was great. In fact, the album of the songs is available across all music streaming platforms so if you want to have a listen just search for Lovecraft and have a listen.
The combination of hilarity and musicality of this show makes it an excellent choice if you are looking for someone to watch of your next girls night as it would be a fantastic thing to watch with a group of friendship and you can even grab a bottle of wine in the bar to complete the evening.
What was also unique about this show was that towards the beginning the audience were encouraged to turn to the person next to them and give them a hug as a way to test the chemical reactions in the brain and also towards the middle of the show the audience were each given a piece of lint chocolate. Both of these things are things I have never experienced before and helped add to the uniqueness of this show.
All that I knew about this show is that it had been performed at the Adelaide fringe festival and it is clear this show has been designed accordingly. The ‘set’ is simply two screens and a microphone but Carys has a huge sense of stage presence which means that anything else would be a distraction. This makes the show very easy to transport and your around and one day I hope to see a huge nationwide tour of this production as it is a unique show that everyone (age-appropriate) needs to see. As well as being hilarious and musical it is also somewhat educational. It was billed as the ‘science musical about love’ like it at certain points teaches the audience about the chemicals involved in love and how they are caused etc. This was something I did not know before walking into this show as so it was an educational experience for me personally.
Overall this is an incredibly uniquely hilarious musical that is unlike anything I have ever seen before with a fantastically talented host and moments of education. If you are interested in a comedy musical journey through love then this is the show for you. I would rate this as 4 and a half stars out of 5 and would recommend it as your next girls night out show. This show will be in the Millennium on the 29th and there will be a special welsh version of the show on the 30th so I would encourage you to catch it if you can!
Many people have said that you can’t call yourself a true musical theatre fan unless you have seen Les Miserables and I have to be honest I watched the movie for the first time two weeks ago and while that was good, this production at the Wales Millennium Centre knocks spots off the classic film. The show managed to touch on many keys moments from the film for people who are only familiar to Les Mis through the film (myself included) but also managed to alter it enough as a stage show to be different to the other versions going around.
The thing about this show is that most people have heard of it or seen it and as there have been so many adaptations and versions the bar is already set very high. But still there manages to be a massive excitement about the show, inside the actual theatre you could feel the excitement in the air before the show even started and even during the interval. After the show, there was a massive buzz that every single person could feel. It says a lot about a show where every single person in the audience gives a standing ovation at the end. Like the film, this musical is an opera and so there is no dialogue in the entire show but instead, the whole thing is sung. This is obviously a fantastic way to promote this genre as many people say “I hate opera” but at the same time ignore musicals such as Les Mis and Jesus Christ Superstar as operas. Seeing an opera in mainstream musical ‘world’ is obviously great and it may encourage people to watch other operas when they can.
One of my criticism for the film is that the time frames are at times hard to follow (I enjoy laughing about this fact in the film, every time I looked at the screen Hugh Jackman was a different age) but this stage version managed to make this one setting easy to follow. When the opening show discusses the backgrounds of certain characters, there was a blackout with the title ‘Les Miserable’ spread across the backdrop sort of like there would be in a film etc. This was obviously done to signify that the opening scene took place before the main part of the story and allows the audience to take in key and important details that will reappear later in the show. I never thought that Les Mis would be a very tech-based show as I thought it was just about authentic drama and singing but the effects they used specifically in this production were incredible. Some key technical aspects to look for in the show were how they managed to excellently stage the gunshots with lights, how a certain iconic suicide is staged and the use of high-raise buildings on stage. These buildings were flawlessly used to help cover the scene changes that happened while other scenes were taking place which was a genius way to keep the show going while also being beautiful to watch.
Every member of the cast was fantastic in this production and a special appreciation needs to give to the ensemble of this performance who clearly worked very hard both acting and singing was to support the key characters. The choruses singing was amazing and really helped to add to the drama of the show. A lot of the pressure was set on the shoulders of Dean Chisnall who took on the role of Jean Valjean as this is one of the most important roles in this musical but Dean seemed to reveal in this pressure and turned out an excellent performance. His voice was incredible throughout but a highlight for me was ‘Bring Him Home’ which was so powerfully performed that many of the audience members were moved to tears. He also managed to portray the various stages of this character perfectly including the later part of his life which shows Dean’s range of acting ability.
Marius is the character which is Supposed in love and Pursuing the daughter of Jean Valjean. This character was played by the fresh-faced Felix Mosse who fitted the role perfectly. He has a massive sense of naivety, innocence and likability about him which is perfect for the love-hungry character. Also, Felix has a youngish appearance which worked really well with this character who is apparently a student. Not only this but yet again Felix was a very talented singer who performed songs such as ‘Empty Chairs, Empty Tables’ both incredibly heartfelt and beautifully. His duet of ‘little fall of rain’ alongside Frances Mayli McCain (who played Eponine) was incredibly emotional to watch and these two clearly have great chemistry on and off stage. Felix Mosse is an actor who I look forward to seeing in future productions as I believe he has a very bright future in the performing industry. Nic Greenshields, who played Javert was absolutely incredible. His physicalisation as Javert was perfect as it showed his sense of superiority over the rest of the villagers. His voice was that of an authoritative person but also he managed to blend to the desperation of the character beautifully. Nic clearly has a high level of professionalism and experience which he truest showcased in this role. The highlight of his character, however, was their singing inability. ‘Stars’ was out of this world! It was beautifully performed with a strong sense of power behind it. Nic excelled in this role and I cannot wait to see where he end up in the performing world as he clearly has massive talent.
The two gems in this performance were Thenardier and his wife (who were played Ian Hughes and Helen Walsh respectively) who delivered many of the comical moments in this show. There were hilarious throughout and didn’t miss a single joke which can be very difficult in musical. ‘Master of the House’ was an excellent number that was not only performed excellently but also involved an astonishing sleight of hand tricks which wowed even me. The quick movement of and stealing of objects was a marvel to watch and clearly they had worked hard to make this scene as smooth and flawless as possible which should be applauded. Also, the musical number ‘Beggars at the Feast’ was also performed by this double act which they performed excellently while wearing the most elaborate and over the top costumes I have ever seen.
Overall this was a near-flawless introduction into the musical world of Les Miserable and it is definitely a musical that I would watch again if I had the chance. This is a show that loves drama and delivers it by the bucket full throughout so if you are into that sort of show them this is definitely one for you. I would rate this show 5 out of 5 stars.
What an incredible first experience of the infamous Les Misérables.
So much thought and care had been given to each and every part of the evenings’
performance. It was this specific attention to detail that really drew the
audience into the world of pre-revolutionary France.
Firstly, the set, Wow! The set used a mixture of visual
effects alongside moving structures to create an immersive experience for the
audience. The onstage set, predominantly wooden, was etched with details. From
small engraved phrases to the layering of different components. The visual
effects truly brought the set to life by adding intricacies to things that
would otherwise be forgotten. Such as the water rippling and the stars twinkling.
But only ever so slightly, just enough for you to question whether it’s really
there at all or just your mind playing tricks on you.
The lighting played such a crucial role within the piece.
Alongside the projected visual effects, it would bring a sense of realism to
what was occurring on stage. An image of the meeting of the revolutionaries
comes to mind. The light seeping through the barred windows, reflecting off the
faces of the Males whilst they walked through the shadows making small talk
with one and another. It was also with moments like the gunshots, where a
bright light would suddenly glare, making the plot more accessible to the
Even in the way the actors spoke it was evident the clarity
and precision in which they gave out their words. Those deemed more common were
usually paired with a Northern accent and those of a higher class with a more
queens English. The use of different accents and dialects allowed clarification
for the audience but also context as to the stereotypes and opportunities in
The use of detail was also not only evident in the voices of
the performers but most predominantly in the ensemble. Each performer held
their own character, with their own physicality and own storyline. One could
easily get lost watching the ensemble, with so many options to engage with. It
was often the more hidden moments happening in the background which would cause
me to smile or question things more deeply.
It wasn’t usually the way in which the text was presented as
to how your emotions were driven. The text tended to set the pace, which kept a
high engagement for the audience throughout the piece. Instead, the orchestra
were key to how you responded to what was occurring on stage. At the moments I
received goose bumps, I realised it wasn’t from the solos. Instead, from the
accompaniment and the resonant quality that it echoed around the theatre
creating an atmosphere unlike no other.
Each member of the cast was incredibly talented and without
one, the piece wouldn’t be the same. It is truly the fine details which make
this piece so magnificent and I predict it’s one of those where regardless of
the amount of times you watch the performance, you would be drawn to different
characters and their own tales each time. There are limited tickets available
for the remainder of the performances but if you do get the chance to go, you
are certainly in for a treat.
Written and performed by Carys Eleri (‘Love Goddess’ in English) this one-woman show is like a cross between Fleabag, Eminem and Bonnie Tyler, exploring the science of love in a way that is earthy, informative and Welsh. It’s also very, very funny.
At heart it’s a monologue about the dangers of loneliness, which now has its own page on the NHS website, asking questions like do we have to have lovers we don’t love to fill that void or can friends suffice? Carys takes us through both the science behind why and how we fall in love, and also her own love life, revealing that our brain chemistry has a lot to answer for.
She intersperses the dialogue with unforgettable songs and a pretty good voice, ranging from rap to disco to heavy metal, and it’ll be a long time before I forget ‘Magic Taxi’ or ‘Tit Montage’, her ballad on a drunken lesbian threesome that probably didn’t actually happen.
There is also some audience participation about Tinder, and where we are all offered cocaine, only to discover that for logistical reasons it’s been replaced with chocolate instead. (Although it was very nice chocolate).
Lovecraft is a delightfully bawdy, funny and enlightening show that keeps you laughing throughout. The only thing I could find fault with is that the narrative is a bit all over the place at times, but that’s a minor detail.
Cerys hugged every member of the audience before the show started, and it was so much fun that after it ended, I really wanted to hug her back in gratitude!
Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events. / Lleisiau amrywiol o Gymru yn ymateb i'r celfyddydau a digwyddiadau byw