We are both saddened to see the vast array of cultural cancellations over the past day and proud to see so many companies putting the health of their staff, participants and audiences first.
The arts are an important part of many of our lives, and we’re also excited to see so many isolation friendly options arising. We’ve started a list of online dance and yoga classes, digital only festivals and a huge array of dance, opera, theatre, museums and CPD activities you can do from home – including full NDCWales performances. Please share this resource and let us know of other fab things we can add to it.
______________________ Mae’r ddau ohonom yn drist iawn o weld yr ystod eang o ddigwyddiadau diwylliannol sydd wedi cael eu canslo ers ddoe ac yn falch o weld cymaint o gwmnïau yn rhoi iechyd eu staff, cyfranogwyr a chynulleidfaoedd yn gyntaf. Mae’r celfyddydau yn rhan bwysig o fywydau sawl un ohonom, ac rydym hefyd yn teimlo’n gyffrous i weld cynifer o opsiynau y gellir eu gwneud wrth hunan-ynysu yn codi.Rydym wedi dechrau rhestr o ddosbarthiadau dawns ac ioga ar-lein, gwyliau digidol yn unig a llu o bethau yn seiliedig ar ddawns, opera, y theatr ac amgueddfeydd, a gweithgareddau y gallwch eu gwneud adref – gan gynnwys perfformiadau CDCCymru llawn.
Rhannwch yr adnodd hwn a rhowch wybod i ni am bethau gwych, eraill y gallwn eu hychwanegu ato.
NDCWales P.A.R.A.D.E. including choreography by Caroline Finn, Marcos Morau and Lee Johnson, in collaboration with BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rubicon Dance and Vertical Dance Kate Lawrence; filmed by The Space Arts. https://vimeo.com/248459479
CPD FROM HOME ETC have made their online training courses free during this time: training for technicians Courses.etcconnect.com The following performers offer one to one tuition, find them on facebook.
Rubyyy Jones – Cabaret MCing Paul L Martin – mentoring for cabaret performers John Celestus – one to one Flexibiliy and Strength, contortion, compare Skillshare International Offers photography, illustration, design with a 2 month free trial available https://www.skillshare.com/
It is hard to overstate the talent and
importance of Carole King as a songwriter.
118 top fifty hits in the US gives some indication of the success she
has enjoyed, but doesn’t in itself demonstrate the quality of her writing or
its importance. Her first hit, written
with Gerry Goffin as lyricist, when she was just sixteen, ‘Will You Still Love
Me Tomorrow’ is astonishing in its quality, particularly for one so young and
from such a non-musical background.
Writing a string of hits for women and black artists, predominantly
though not exclusively, in the sixties and then the move to LA after finally
having enough of Goffin’s faithless behaviour, shows her incredible courage. The weeks recording ‘Tapestry’ – one of the
most successful albums of all time – next door to Joni Mitchell recording
‘Blue’ and Jackson Browne recording ‘Late For The Sky’ have gone into modern
musical folklore with some justification.
Carole King is essential and central in the rise of the
singer-songwriter. She is an essential
and wonderful part of the story of women’s voices being heard and
celebrated. She is a wonderful,
Given all this, a musical telling the story of
her early years, leading up to her legendary solo performance at Carnegie Hall,
should be a glorious and fascinating thing.
‘Beautiful’ certainly is not that.
What this is, unfortunately, is a cut and paste comic-book story homage
of the sort which might have been serialised in ‘Jackie’ in 1973. A sequence of incredibly short and trivial
scenes, fly in or slide in, at bewildering pace, with cardboard cut out
characters of managers and mothers and friends, who speak in ghastly and
trivial cliches before being whirled away to be replaced with more cliches on
the breakdown of married life from a cardboard Carole and Gerry, who seem to
have stumbled onstage from a black and white episode of ‘Bewitched’ circa 1968.
The songs and the dances which attend them are adequately
delivered at very best. These are
amazing and wonderfully memorable songs, loved by the audience, and, given the
budget of this kind of show and the talent pool available, should have been
superbly and innovatively choreographed, orchestrated and sung. However, on an expensive but deeply
unimaginative set, some very, very ordinary dance and movement did nothing to
enhance the songs or bring the stage to life.
There was nothing wrong with Daisy Wood-Davis,
Adam Gillian or Laura Baldwin in the lead roles. I quite liked Wood-Davis – she had an energy
and commitment which was pleasing and a decent voice. But it is hard to imagine what anyone could
have done with a script like this. When
you think of the issues Carole King’s story throws up around women, race, the
music industry, the sexual revolution, the inequalities marriage imposes etc –
this is a playwright’s goldmine, surely?
There was not a memorable line or genuinely
theatrical moment in the entire piece.
When Carole decides to leave New York to set off for LA as a performer
as well as songwriter, she sits at her piano and tells her friends that she is
‘saying goodbye with a song’ and sings them, ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ as they
circle her at the piano and join in.
There is a ghastly level of embarrassment to this smaltz.
Cards on the table, juke-box musicals are not
my favourite forms of entertainment and I wouldn’t dream of paying money to see
anything about Abba or Queen under any circumstances, but this is Carole King
and what an opportunity to tell explore her incredibly important story is
missed in this silly fluff-piece.
This is an enchanting show which is both pacey and entertaining. It follows the early life story of Carole King, an aspiring young American songwriter and musician who teamed up with her then partner and later husband, Gerry Goffin, moving to Manhattan to compose songs to sell to other artists in the 1960’s – some of the most evocative and iconic songs of their generation. The plot shows the struggles and frustrations facing the fledgeling composers and how they were controlled and ultimately manipulated by the dog eat dog nature of the music industry. We witness each song constructed in their purest form, before being transformed into full production numbers sung by various top chart artists and groups, from The Drifters and Aretha Franklin to James Taylor and The Shirelles and Neil Sedaka and King herself.
The audience were engrossed by the litany of hits which were performed most authentically, proceeding to sing along to the likes of ‘Locomotion’, ‘Natural Woman’, ‘Will you Still Love me Tomorrow’, ‘You’ve got a friend’ and ‘Take good care of my Baby’ to name but a few.
I particularly enjoyed the staging which
was very effective, without fuss and with efficient transitions. We
were transported from one location to another by way of an array of moving
rostra and backdrops creating the perfect mood and atmosphere for each scene.
Costumes were in keeping with the style, reminding us of the quirky, colourful
fashion of this heady creative period.
However, without doubt the main highlight was the music – the crisp, vibrant band arrangements by the eminent Steve Sidwell to the well known tunes and songs written by Carole King. The majority were sung with vigour and enthusiasm by a number of the talented ensemble cast.
The performances of the two main characters – Daisy Wood Davis as King and Adam Gillian as Goffin – were believable and emotional with lovely interaction. They were accompanied by many other actors who sang and danced and multi roled throughout the show providing a very compelling overall experience for the audience.
I thoroughly enjoyed my evening with these 60s legends and it was very pleasing to see the Donald Gordon Theatre full and bopping to the hits. If you are around, check it out – I’m certain you won’t be disappointed. You’ll no doubt feel the earth move and you won’t want to get out of this place!! The production is in Cardiff until March the 14th before resuming their UK tour.
Hi Jon great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
I was born in Llanelli, acted in Cardiff, in various bands in London, back to Llanelli to write TV and moved to Laugharne in 2012. I live in a house where a murder was committed in 1953 and a friend of Dylan Thomas was arrested. Dylan called Laugharne, ‘…the strangest town in Wales.’ He wasn’t wrong. I’ve written the Dylan Thomas ebook for the BBC, TV comedy drama for BBC & S4C and the David Garland Jones Youtube channel. Hail Cremation! is my fourth play after two plays for Llanelli Youth Theatre; Raw Material: Llareggub Revisited for NTW (co-created with Marc Rees) in 2014, and I’ve have been working on Hail Cremation! since 2016.
So, what got you interested in the arts?
My Dad read Dr Seuss and Charles Dickens to me when I was very young which I loved. I later raided Dad’s bookshelves and his Anglo-Welsh poetry, and became big fan of poet and polemicist, Harri Webb. In school I got into acting after seeing a performance of Wind In The Willows and later trained as an actor in the (Royal) Welsh College of Music & Drama. I’ve been in bands and written songs since I was a teenager, and once I started creative writing around twenty years ago, a musical was a logical step, tho’ it took me some time to realise it.
Can you tell us about your writing process? Where do your ideas come from?
My ideas seem to percolate for years. I try to create something I’d like to watch, and that I don’t think I’ve seen before… but those ideas are often outside the bounds of what people are prepared to commission. In terms of ideas, thinking about it, most of my writing is about real life stuff but then I like to drag it into left field.
Can you describe your writing day? Do you have a process or a minimum word count?
I don’t like staring at a screen for too long. I have a young daughter so writing time is precious, and when I do have time to sit and write, I throw everything at the screen. Sometimes it’s better to clear your head by writing 1000 words of rubbish rather than nothing at all. It’s all in the editing. I find a good walk, or a drive, is often beneficial, recording ideas into a phone ready for those gaps in real life when writing happens.
Why and where do you write?
We live in an 18th century cottage in Laugharne and my office is downstairs with a view of the street. I’m surrounded by books, cards, pictures, ornaments – or ‘junk’ as my partner calls them – and often scan the shelves when I’m stuck. It looks a bit of a mess, but you should have seen it before I tidied up.
Your latest play Hail Cremation will be produced by National Theatre Wales at Newbridge Memo from the 23 March- 04 April. The production is described as a musical odyssey through the life of cremation pioneer, Dr William Price – a complex and extraordinary Welshman. What drew you personally to telling your interpretation of Dr William Price?
Like many I knew about the infamous cremation, but initially I wasn’t aware he was a ground-breaking surgeon, vegetarian, feminist, nationalist, radical, a dandy and clearly a genius. However, his eccentricities in later life meant that many of those elements were ignored. If Price was around today, he’d be an inspiring leader, passionate about history, language and culture and I wanted to celebrate him with a spectacle that he would have enjoyed. On reflection most of my work is about Welsh identity, and Price was probably the person who tried to define it more than anyone else in the last two hundred years.
National Theatre Wales describe the nation of Wales as their stage. Their productions have ranged from We’re Still Here portraying the lives of Neath Port Talbot Steel Workers. On Bear Ridge which took place in “a lost village, blurred by redrawn borders” to this new production taking place at Newbridge Memo. Do you feel that Welsh Theatre is presenting representative stories of its citizens on our stages?
I’m interested in stories and legends that are uniquely Welsh. Wales is definitely the ‘secret Celtic nation’, and yet we have one of the oldest literary traditions in Europe. There is an ancient, supernatural, magical, mythical, witty, wild and wide-eyed side to Wales – Wales on mushrooms if you like – which is unique to us. I think more plays in this area would help establish, and then cement a Welsh theatrical identity not only in Wales but around the world.
Why do you think audiences should see this new play?
It’s part gig, part catwalk show, part cabaret. It has a wonderful troupe of dancers and actors, a rock band, incredible costumes, mad props, druids, goats, punk toads, wall to wall video projections, and an astonishing creative team lead by director, Adele Thomas. Yet at its heart is the story of a man who wanted his people to thrive. Dr Price met a woman called Gwen who was sixty years his junior, and they were a very loving, if highly unusual couple. They’d be unusual now, so it’s hard to imagine what 19th century non-conformist Wales would have made of them. Price and Gwen lost a child, and I nearly lost my daughter, so I had a small understanding of the grief they must have gone through. Then when Price’s powers started to wane and he went through a number of ordeals, he continued to charge on with Gwen at his side. He lived for ninety-two years and it’s still amazing how he crammed so much in. People should see this play because it tells a story of a dynamic couple in a wild theatrical arena, is both fun and emotional, and has something to say about Welsh identity.
Is it possible to sustain a career as a writer in Wales and if not what would help?
If the question is: ‘Can someone who writes plays about Wales and Welsh issues sustain a living in Wales, or indeed, anywhere?’ Then apart from maybe one or two exceptions, the answer is probably no. There are a lot of playwrights in Wales chasing a small pot of money and Welsh writers probably need working partners, day jobs, lecturing posts, etc., to survive. What would help? I don’t really know. We’re unlikely to see more arts funding for a while as the Welsh Government is looking to reduce public subsidy. Trying to be positive, successful and profitable shows that reach beyond Wales, and that couldn’t come from anywhere other than Wales, would help. We need to find our voice.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
There should be more development deals, so that writers are nurtured in plays, poetry, TV scriptwriting etc. More people need to feel they have a chance, get some feedback, be part of a dialogue, even if the ideas end up uncommissioned. There could always be more arts, but we also need to build and educate audiences too. It’s tough in this era of Netflix, deadly diseases, Just Eat and smartphones, but the more people that take an interest in the arts, the better off we’ll all be.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
My daughter, Sylvie, has had two heart operations and spent five days on life support, so seeing her enter a pool for the first time in Butlin’s Minehead last weekend was a truly great thing.
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.
Where to start with Six? Is it a musical, is it a concert or is it a degree in Tudor History?
It’s all the above and some more. If like me you didn’t do very well on your History GCSE, but have since seen Horrible Histories, the story of Henry 8th’s six wives should be known to you in some way.
Divorced, beheaded, and now live, Six The Musical’s success of the last few years has been extraordinary. From humble beginnings at the Edinburgh Fringe, back to the West End, UK tours and being performed around the world. It’s quite a feat for something that on paper doesn’t sound that brilliant, but when you see it, you get proven very wrong.
Performed as a concert, Six is the 6 wives of Henry 8th telling their individual story through the means of song. The twist is that each queen is based on a 21st century female pop icon. Be that Adele (Jane Seymour), Lily Allen (Anne Boleyn), and Beyonce (Catherine of Aragon). What this brings is a modern contemporize twist to history from hundreds of years ago, but in realizing that, there’s an underlying cause that brings it to the present with the likes of #MeToo.
The production, the sound and the overall feel is something that hasn’t really been done before. Maybe this will see more musical theatre being created this way. It was nice to see a spread of ages attending too. People going for different reasons, maybe history students, young teenage girls, or wanting to witness something quite special and different from a normal musical.
Performance wise it would be unfair to pick one individual since that’s what the whole remit was supposed to be. Individually, the Six women sing amazingly, as a group is where their power truly lies. If there’s going to be a new girlband, maybe they’ll come from the one of the Six’s line ups? All I do know is that it was an amazing afternoon spent at Wales Millennium Centre, witnessing something quite unique – plus it meant I went home and watched documentaries on Youtube about the 6 wives.
Don’t worry about losing your head – it’s worth it.
3) https://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.
I walked into Kinetic Theatre Arts performance of Ghosts knowing very little about the story. I obviously knew it was based on the movie which involved Patrick Swayze and I was familiar with the iconic pottery with a ghost scene but apart from that, I knew nothing. So I was really excited to watch this production and it did not disappoint. In fact, this show was one of the most professional feeling amateur shows that I have ever seen. Every single person who was involved in this show clearly worked extremely hard to make sure everything was perfectly ready for the audience to watch.
The lead character of Sam Wheat is a massive role to take on especially in this musical as it was played in the movie by the legend Patrick Swayze, on top of this in the musical it is a very difficult part to perform as the vocal ability required is very high but Jack Williams (who played this character in Kinetics performance) did seem fazed in the slightest. He was boldly confident throughout, stayed in character constantly while on stage, his singing was amazing and he also appeared to have a great relationship with all the other cast members which was clear to the audience through the dynamics on stage. He clearly has a bright future ahead of him and is some to look out for as I know he will make it big someday. The only issue I have with this character is not based on Jack’s portrayal but rather a creative decision. There was a guitar on stage which was used for the song ‘Unchained Melody’ and while I understand the importance of guitar playing in this song it was quite distracting for the actor to be mining playing the guitar. This is not an issue with jacks acting as he tried very hard to make this look as realistic as possible but it was clear it wasn’t him playing which was very off-putting for the audience.
Molly who was Sams love interest in this story was played by Sophie baker who blew everyone away with her incredible singing. She posses an extremely strong powerful voice and was able to manipulate the audience’s emotions perfectly. One of the stand moments for this character appeared in the song “With You” which was a pure showcase of Sophie singing talent. It was beautifully performed and had many audience members very close to tears. Despite the power of Sophie’s voice, she was also able to balance the more vulnerable and weaker side of character excellently. Jack and Sophie clearly have great chemistry as there two characters gave a realistic and believable performance as a couple which was fantastic to watch. There duet ‘Here Right Now’ was impeccable. The voices blended beautifully together to deliver this emotionally charged song in a way that it was heartfelt and felt real to the audience which is obviously very important for any performer.
Sam and Molly’s closest friend in this story is a character called Carl who was played by Taylor Morris who is also an extremely talented performer. Taylor has a kind and lovable air to him which he utilised in this character perfectly and made the shocking revelations even more impactful. The partnership of Taylor and Jack was clearly very strong and they have wonderful chemistry with their friendship clear to see on the stage. Their two voice combined beautifully in songs which they appeared together and they are I excitedly wait for another production was these two stars in the making get to work together again. Taylor managed to portray both sides of the character perfectly as well as having the internal plucky desperation that fitted his character to a tee. This role played on every one of Taylor’s strengths and he seemed to excel in a darker role than I am used to seeing him in. With this in mind, I am excited to see where he ends up and look forward to seeing him play some more sinister roles specifically in the future.
The highlight in this show was Oda-mae who was played by Rhian Holmes. I have to be honest at first I was apprehensive of the iconic role (originally played by the remarkable Whoopi Goldberg) being adapted to fit the cast available but Rhian’s portrayal was OUT OF THIS WORLD! The creative team who developed the scene in which Oda-mae makes her big entrance absolutely nailed it. This scene did everything it needed to and more. From the inclusion of two sparkly dresses support actresses (Taylor-Paul and jasmine Muscat) to the choreography, costumes to Rhian’s actual physicalisation of the character everything was just so spot on. This character goes on a journey from the audience perspective from a clear fraud and theft to a loveable character by the end of the story and this is done, I believe mostly through her songs. Songs such as ‘Out of Here’ and ‘Do you Believe?’ were excellently performed by Rhian who had the audience laughing through with her quick wit and sarcastic nature as well as demonstrating here wonderful singing. Rhian is clearly a very talented and professional performer as there was a small mistake with a prop and instead of her letting that put her off, she simply continued the scene, swiftly turned her back to the audience when the prop was in use which many people in the audience would not have noticed something was wrong which goes to demonstrate Rhian quick thinking and professionalism. Ignoring the performance side of this character he best thing about Rhian’s portrayal was that she was evidently enjoying her time on stage and was having fun in the role. She had a sensible sense of joy and fun which was the icing of the top of this wonderful cake.
Lewys Ringham’s portrayal as the hired hand/thug Willie Lopez was extremely good that it was actually unsettling for the audience when he appeared on stage. He provides one of the most shocking moments in the entire show which had an audible gasp from the audience. My only qualm with this character is that is was clearly written for a Mexican influenced actor with the vocabulary and vernacular clearly demonstrating that but instead in this version, Willie spoke with a Brooklyn accent which obviously adds to the threading nature of the role but was a bit surprising to listen to. The subway ghost in this production was played by Ethan Davies who also gave a very aggressive and intense portrayal of the character. Due to the costume and characterisation, this roles did give off Neo (from The Matrix franchise) vibes which actually worked excellently. His song ‘Focus’ was very entertaining to watch while also being very tense which is very difficult to do and show Ethan’s talent for performing. In general, the entire show contained a superb ensemble who clearly worked just as hard as and felt just as valued as the lead roles.
I was surprised at how an amateur production can feel so professional and nail all the technical aspects of this massive show. The opening set of a newly discovered room was incredible. It was everything it needed to be to demonstrate a room while looking artistic and stylish. This amazing set did, however, make some of the other backdrops of the scene a little disappointing but the standard raised again during the official based scenes. The set used for the scenes that take place in a train was beautiful and allowed the actors to have a space to perform complex fight scenes while the audience can clearly see they took place in a train. This was again incredible to see. The actual death of the characters were somewhat confusing. After they died they were carried off by mysterious men in black which were cleverly done but the actual deaths were unusual. Each person had a sort of body double (although they looked nothing like the person they were supposed to represent) and when a character died the body double has become a dead body and the original actor would become a ghost. While I understand why this was done and I personally can’t think of a better alternative, this was very confusing to follow for the audience. We also had someone who was evidently missing a prop at the beginning of act two and while they didn’t appear dazed and they continued the number anyway, it was clear a prop was missing which did look strange from the audience perspective.
In general, this is an incredible show that had a truly professional feel, and Insanely talented cast and obviously an insane team working behind the scenes. There isn’t many amateur productions that I have seen where the cast receive a standing ovation from every member of the audience. I would rate this show 4 and a half stars and would recommend everyone to watch ghost before it departs and keep an eye out of Kinetics next production as they are not to be missed!
Having seen the last heaven on their minds concert the bar was set very high and this show did not disappoint. The fantastic thig about this show is was that it was just like a traditional Christmas service with every single performer visably having a good time and we’re excited to share their passion for Christmas with everyone who attended.
This show opened with fantastic group rendition of “Its Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas” which was an incredible way to start the show due to what the song is about. On top of this, the harmonic singing towards the end of the song was beautifully performed and gave the audience goosebumps. This was the perfect way to start the show and help inform the audience that they are in for a night of incredible singing. My only issue with this song was that there was a point where one of the performers sang the wrong lyrics and the other performers were visibly confused which was obviously unsettling for the audience. When I watched their last production I commented on the fact that the group numbers weren’t as polished as the solo performances, this wasn’t the case in this show. The group numbers in this show were of a much higher standard and even rivalled the solo performances which shows how well these performers work together but also how talented they each are individually which makes for a much more enjoyable viewing experience.
A highlight in this production for me was ‘Silent Night’ which was another group song but they had creatively performed his song in Welsh, English and signed the words. Not only was this song beautifully sang but the inclusion of these different mediums was incredibly heartwarming and moving. This could have been a perfect way to end the entire show but instead, it was closed by ‘White Christmas’ and ‘Fun Run Rudolf’ which was again beautifully performed but I think the emotional nature of Silent Night would have really helped punctuate the Christmas spirit of the show. Unlike the previous show, this performance contained a small amount of dance and small amounts of acting that set up songs. I think that this was at time unnecessary as it was a concert and it’s not what people expected. Don’t get me wrong they were entertaining but these theatrics were at times distracting from the songs and really the singing should remain the focus of the show.
All performers in this show were insanely talented and were a joy to watch due to their passion for sharing the Christmas spirit. Nicky Taliesin was one of the performers I had never heard before this concert but he clearly has a great future ahead of himself. He clearly had the most Christmas spirit out of the performance and had a massive sense of joy which made his performance even more enjoyable to watch. Nicky performed an extremely Christmassy rendition of ‘Belief’ from Polar Express, which is a song I personally had never heard of but has now been added to my Christmas playlist due to the stellar performance by Nicky. He also performed one of my personal favourite Christmas songs ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’ which was amazing to listen to.
Nicky and Ben-Joseph Smith performed a playful version of ‘Santa Baby’ with the two voices contrasting each other and on stage banter which joined together to create a very enjoyable and fun song to witness. Ben was another talented performer who seemed to excel in the duets including ‘ Santa Baby’ and ‘Cold Outside’ the matter of which he performed with Harriet Taylor. The only issue with the latter was it contained a lot of theatrics which distracted from the performance at times. But the sound of these two performers singing together was out of this world. They clearly have great on and off-stage chemistry which really worked well with the nature of this song.
Harriet performed took on the massive task of performing the Iconic Christmas hit ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ by Mariah Carey, which is a massive song to take on and Harriet did not appear phased at all. She performed this song in a unique and interesting way which was great to see. Another new performer that I had never experienced before was Chloe Rolland who is an extremely talented performer and again has a great career ahead of her. Chloe helped deliver some witty and entertaining anecdotes between songs but also performed one of the best rendition of ‘Oh Holy Night’ I have ever heard.
Although the signing in this show was as near perfect as possible it was clear that this was not the main purpose of the show. The majority of the songs in this show were popular songs everyone knew, even with a singalong of White Christmas at the end of the show, this alongside the theatrics demonstrates that this show was all about generating Christmas feeling and having the audience to be overcome with emotions which it most defintley did. This was an amazing show that did exactly what it needed to while also being a showcase of talent and I would rate it 4 out of 5 stars! I would encourage people to keep an eye on ’Heaven on Their Minds’ as it is a show not to miss and is clearly destined for great things in the future!
There’s nothing quite like a Sherman Theatre Christmas production to get you in the festive mood – and The Snow Queen, this year’s main-stage musical offering, is a sumptuous Yuletide treat for the whole family. Directed by Tessa Walker, the show adapts Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale about two young friends, Gerda and Kai, whose friendship is tested when Gerda hurts Kai, and goes on an epic journey to find him and make amends after he is lured away by the wicked Snow Queen.
Reimagining the Danish fairy tale as an urban myth told to the children of the South Wales Valleys fits with the vision of the Sherman’s artistic director Joe Murphy in telling stories ‘rooted in Wales but relevant to the world’. The show has all the cosy feels of being told a great story on a cold winter night, not least because it seems to draw its framing device from The Princess Bride: in this case, it’s told to us and a stroppy little boy (Morgan Lllewelyn Jones) by his beleaguered babysitter (Grace O’Brien) as they wait out a snowstorm that has delayed the return of the boy’s mother. Having taken out the lights, the heating and the wi-fi, the blackout might as well have turned their sleepy town back to the Stone Age, and the boy isn’t in the mood for a story – but before long, the sitter’s initially irate listener becomes as enrapt as the audience as she weaves an epic tale told to her by her grandmother.
The story is indeed a captivating one, skilfully adapted by Conor Mitchell who pulls quintuple duty as writer, lyricist, composer, musical director and onstage pianist! Mitchell’s music is gorgeous – not all the songs work, though the best are up there with Frozen, which was incidentally inspired by Andersen’s story – but it’s his script that is particularly lovely: funny, sweet and sincere, it feels more universal in scope than Andersen’s, focusing less on faith and more on the power of inner strength, self-determination, and friendship; how kindness is not a commodity but a treasure that should be cultivated, cherished and shared, especially during a time in our world in which it may seem rare.
The beautiful messages woven into Mitchell’s script are wonderfully brought to life by an excellent, enthusiastic and deeply creative cast. Anni Dafydd goes on an incredible journey as Gerda, at first a fun but entitled young girl, whose casual classism alienates her closest friend Kai (Ed Parry), and her subsequent quest to find Kai and make up for her mistake is an epic and emotional one. Given that he is the subject of Gerda’s crusade, Parry might not get many scenes as Kai, but he does get to chew the scenery as an adorkably befuddled prince and a sassy anthropomorphic geranium (if that description along doesn’t compel you to see this show, I don’t know what will!)
Along the way, Gerda meets a conveyor belt of eccentric characters, from Hannah Jarman’s bolshy Bandit Girl to Jo Servi’s delightfully irascible Crow (reminiscent of Bagpuss’ Professor Yaffle, with Servi fantastically animating a puppet designed and directed by Rachael Canning) to Julian the adorably heroic reindeer (brought to vivid, hilarious life by Callum Lloyd, who infuses the character with Disney-level charm through sheer skill and enthusiasm – how he managed to draw laughs, gasps and awwws from a lampshade, I’ll never know). Stephanie McConville’s Snow Queen has a glamorously insidious presence, but she appears a touch too infrequently, and her outfit could have been just a bit grander to match the larger-than-life characters that preceded her.
Not only is the cast superb across the board – swapping between their roles as actors, musicians and puppeteers with ease – but the show is just beautiful to look at. Cecilia Carey’s inventive sets evoke myriad locations from an eternally-summery garden to an ice palace worthy of Elsa, the season-spanning vistas animated by the atmospheric sound and lighting design (by Ian Barnard and Katy Morison respectively), and Helen Rogers’ inventive costuming (the Bandit Queen’s ensemble is particularly eye-catching), not to mention the snow near-perpetually falling from the heavens. The Garden of Eternal Summer, ruled over by Rachel Nottingham’s slightly demented sorceress, is one of the most vivid locales, and also the setting of the show’s best scene which I can only describe as the Golden Afternoon song from Alice in Wonderland as reimagined by RuPaul’s Drag Race (featuring the above-mentioned sassy geranium, Jo Servi as a timorous wallflower and Stephanie McConville as an ultra-chic rose).
The Snow Queen is brimming with Christmas magic for the whole family, and it’s the perfect show to usher you into the festive season. In my experience, there’s nothing quite as Christmassy as a musical, and the Sherman’s production not only has Disney-calibre songs but a Disney-calibre story and message to go along with them. Not only will it inspire and entertain you, it will teach you that you have to experience the winters of your life in order to appreciate the summers. It’s not the shards of a magic mirror that make a person cruel – that capacity is within us all, but so too is the capacity for kindness, courageousness, and even a little bit of magic.