Branwen Davies appointed to lead the re-established Urdd Youth Theatre Company.
Today (6 October) Urdd Gobaith Cymru announce Branwen Davies as the Urdd Youth Theatre Coordinator. Branwen will lead the organisation’s re-established Youth Theatre Company, which is credited for creating opportunities and introducing young people to the arts as they discover the world of the theatre.
As the Urdd enters the final act of its centenary year, Wales’ largest youth organisation is looking forward to the future by re-launching the Urdd Youth Theatre Company. Thanks to a £1 million* investment by the Welsh Government, the Urdd Youth Theatre Company will offer new opportunities to young people aged 16-25 across Wales who have an interest in any aspect of the arts.
Today, under the experienced and creative guidance of Branwen Davies, the Urdd invites young people aged between 16-25 to register their interest to join the Company.
Branwen Davies, Urdd Gobaith Cymru Youth Theatre Company Coordinator said:
“Over the years many have benefited from and enjoyed being part of the Urdd’s Youth Theatre productions, gaining life-long experiences that have helped shaped their careers.
As part of the Urdd Youth Theatre Company, I’m looking forward to offering exciting and invaluable experiences to young people who are interested or curious about all aspects of theatre – performing, designing, stage management – there’s something for everyone. I want to give young people who have an interest but no previous experience in the arts an opportunity to explore and gain new skills. Collaborating with experts and specialists from across the arts will be both fun and challenging as we work with young people from across Wales to stretch horizons, build confidence and gain news skills.”
The Urdd Youth Theatre Company was first established in the 1970s and has been credited for nurturing and influencing talent across the arts. Over the years the Company has created a strong portfolio of original stage productions, offering young people the chance to perform and tour across Wales whilst developing their skills
Sian Eirian, Urdd Eisteddfod and Arts Director said:
“It is a great privilege to announce the appointment of Branwen Davies as the Urdd Youth Theatre Company Coordinator. The centenary has been an exciting year for the Urdd as we celebrate our history and roots, but it’s also an opportunity to grab new and future opportunities for our young people in the Welsh language.
Over the years Urdd Youth Theatre Company has influenced and provided a strong foundation for thousands of young people, with many names carving a successful career in the theatre. On behalf of the Urdd, I am proud to re-launch the Urdd Youth Theatre Company and look forward to seeing the Company grow under Branwen’s leadership.
Branwen brings a wealth of experience to the Youth Theatre Company. Branwen’s name and talent is recognised across the arts; she has extensive experience working with Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, the National Dance Company of Wales, and most recently as Literary Manager at the Sherman Theatre. Branwen has also been a Theatre and Performance lecturer at universities across Wales. I know that Branwen will create amazing opportunities for members of the Urdd Youth Theatre Company and I would encourage anyone between the age of 16-25 to register their interest and join the team.
I would also like to thank the Welsh Government for their financial support of £1 million over five years which has enabled us to realise the dream of re-establishing Urdd Youth Theatre Company.”
Yr Urdd yn penodi Branwen Davies i arwain ail-lansiad Cwmni Theatr Ieuenctid.
Heddiw (6 Hydref 2022) mae’r Urdd yn falch o gyhoeddi penodiad Branwen Davies fel Trefnydd Theatr Ieuenctid yr Urdd wrth i’r Mudiad ail-lansio’r Cwmni dylanwadol gan estyn cyfleon newydd i Gymry ifanc ym myd y theatr.
Wrth i’r Urdd ddechrau act olaf blwyddyn y canmlwyddiant, mae’r Mudiad yn edrych ymlaen i’r dyfodol drwy ail-lawnsio Cwmni Theatr Ieuenctid yr Urdd. Diolch i fuddsoddiad o £1 miliwn* gan Lywodraeth Cymru, bydd Y Cwmni yn cynnig cyfleon newydd i Gymry ifanc sydd â diddordeb neu chwilfrydedd ym mhob agwedd o fyd y theatr.
Dan arweiniad profiadol a chreadigol Branwen Davies, mae’r Urdd yn gwahodd bobl ifanc rhwng 16-25 oed i gofrestru eu diddordeb i ymuno â’r Cwmni.
Dywedodd Branwen Davies, Trefnydd Cwmni Theatr Ieuenctid yr Urdd:
“Yn y gorffennol mae sawl un wedi manteisio a mwynhau bod yn rhan o gynyrchiadau’r Theatr Ieuenctid a’r profiad wedi aros yn y cof.
“Rydw i’n edrych ymlaen i gynnig profiadau cyffrous ac amhrisiadwy i bobl ifanc sydd â diddordeb neu yn chwilfrydig am bob agwedd o’r theatr – perfformio, cynllunio, rheoli llwyfan – mae rhywbeth i bawb. Rydw i’n awyddus i roi cyfle i bobl ifanc sydd ddim wedi cael profiad blaenorol ond sydd a diddordeb ac sydd a rhywbeth i gynnig ac a fydd yn buddio o’r cyfle. Mi fydd cydweithio â phobl ifanc o wahanol ardaloedd o Gymru dan arweiniad arbenigwyr cyffroes ym myd y theatr yn ymestyn gorwelion, magu hyder, agor meddyliau yn her ond hefyd yn hwyl!”
Mae Cwmni Theatr Ieuenctid yr Urdd wedi meithrin a dylanwadu talent ar hyd y celfyddydau ers yr 1970au. Dros y blynyddoedd mae’r Cwmni wedi creu portffolio cryf o gynyrchiadau llwyfan gwreiddiol, gan gynnwys Y Brenin Arthur, Jwdas Iscariot, a’r Opera Pishyn Tair. Ers yr 1970au mae’r Cwmni wedi cynnig cyfleon amhrisiadwy i filoedd o Gymry ifanc ar draws y wlad, ac wedi bod yn lwyfan cychwynnol cadarn i rai o enwau disglair y celfyddydau heddiw.
Dywedodd Sian Eirian, Cyfarwyddwr Eisteddfod a Chelfyddydau’r Urdd:
“Braint o’r mwyaf yw cael cyhoeddi penodiad Branwen Davies yn Drefnydd Cwmni Theatr Ieuenctid yr Urdd. Mae’r canmlwyddiant wedi bod yn flwyddyn hynod o gyffrous i’r Urdd wrth i ni ddathlu ein hanes a’n gwreiddiau, ond mae hefyd yn gyfle i fachu cyfleoedd newydd i’n pobl ifanc yn yr iaith Gymraeg i’r dyfodol.
“Dros y blynyddoedd mae Cwmni Theatr Ieuenctid yr Urdd wedi meithrin sgiliau, dylanwadu a chreu sylfaen gadarn i filoedd o bobl ifanc – gyda sawl enw yn llwyddo i greu gyrfa lwyddiannus ym myd y theatr. Ar ran yr Urdd mae’n fraint gennyf ail-lansio’r Cwmni Theatr Ieuenctid ac rwy’n edrych ymlaen i weld Y Cwmni yn tyfu dan arweiniad Branwen.
“Daw Branwen â chyfoeth o brofiad i’r Cwmni. Mae enw a thalent Branwen yn nodedig ym myd y celfyddydau, ac mae ganddi brofiad helaeth o weithio hefo Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, Cwmni Dawns Cenedlaethol Cymru, ac yn fwyaf diweddar fel Rheolwr Llenyddol Theatr y Sherman. Mae hi hefyd wedi darlithio yn y maes mewn Prifysgolion ar draws y wlad. Gwn y bydd Branwen yn creu cyfleon anhygoel ymhob agwedd o fyd y theatr i aelodau Y Cwmni, ac felly rwy’n annog pob person sydd rhwng 16-25 oed i gofrestru eu diddordeb ac ymuno â ni.
“Hoffwn hefyd ddiolch i Lywodraeth Cymru am eu cefnogaeth ariannol o £1 miliwn dros gyfnod o bum mlynedd sydd wedi ein galluogi i wireddu’r freuddwyd o ail-sefydlu Cwmni Theatr Ieuenctid yr Urdd.”
For The Osmonds, family isn’t just important: it’s everything.Hailing from a small town in Utah, they shot to the stratosphere during their tenure on The Andy Williams Show in the 1960s and have kept climbing the charts ever since. Having sold over 100 million records, The Osmonds became household names, known for their clean-cut image and teen idol status – and now, Jay Osmond himself is bringing their story to the stage in a brand new musical which is currently touring across the UK.
Directed by Shaun Kerrison and choreographed by Olivier Award-winning Bill Deamer, this “living memoir” charts the rise and fall (and rise again) of the legendary all-singing, all-dancing supergroup. Written and produced by Jay Osmond, who not only played drums in the band but co-wrote and choreographed many of their songs, the musical crams 50+ years and 30+ megahits in just over 2 hours. It’s a nostalgic, whirlwind tour through some of the most memorable tracks of the 60s and 70s, from Puppy Love to Crazy Horses.
Mentored by Walt Disney, Chuck Norris, and Elvis Presley, the Osmonds were finding their feet in the industry at the same time that they were finding their feet as young men. As the Osmonds’ brood grew so did the Osmonds brand, with youngsters Donny, Marie and Jimmy embarking on their own successful solo careers. While family was paramount to them,it wasn’t always easy, as we see from George Osmond’s (Charlie Allen) militaristic parenting style. In a clever twist, the Osmond brothers and their younger counterparts often share the stage here, with the older incarnations of the characters looking back on pivotal moments in their youth and – in one of the show’s most effective and affecting scenes – actually perform a song with their younger selves.
The cast is superb across the board. As Jay Osmond, theincredible Alex Lodge leads the ensemble with aplomb, breaking the fourth wall and bringing the audience in on the jokes and the dance routines. It’s clear that the cast share just as special a bond as the Osmonds themselves: Henry Firth as Wayne (stepping in for Danny Nattrass), Tristan Whincup as Donny (stepping in for Joseph Peacock), Ryan Anderson as Merrill, and Jamie Chatterton as Alan, all bring energy, verve and style to their performance of Let Me In, One Bad Apple, and Yo-Yo. While the set (though eye-catching) could maybe benefit from little more inventiveness, and the pacing could be stronger in parts, the stellar performances make this an absolute must-see.
Georgia Lennon lends a little bit of country to Marie Osmond’s ballad Paper Roses while Lyle Wren performs a hilarious version of Jimmy Osmond’s novelty hit Long Haired Lover From Liverpool. Huge kudos must go to the supremely talented actors playing the young Osmonds: Nicolas Teixeira, Oliver Forde, Jack Sherran, Louis Stow, and Lonan Johnson.Their pitch-perfect harmonies are absolutely sublime, and theduet getween young Donny (Teixiera) and Andy Williams (Dance Captain Matt Ives, stepping in for Alex Cardall) was an adorable highlight. (Ives also plays about twenty other characters, all equally distinct and all equally brilliant).
The sincerity of the Osmonds has always been a key part of their appeal – “we call them friends, not fans”, Jay says – and his decision to premiere the show in the UK was inspired in no small part due to the Osmond-mania that met them in Blighty, with admirers climbing up flagpoles and abseiling down hotels just to get a glimpse of the brothers. And on this particular leg of their UK tour, disaster struck when due to sickness/injury, they happened to be nine cast members down on the opening night of their Welsh premiere (even Jamie Chatterton, who plays Alan, had to be cleared by physio to perform due to an injury). So they had to make a hard decision: cancel the show, perform it as a concert, or put on the show with a reduced cast. The decided that the show must go on – and I’m thrilled that they did, because they gave the performance of a lifetime. If you want to Love Them For A Reason, you couldn’t have a better one.
You would be forgiven for feeling a little put out that Tamara Harvey, Artistic Director at Theatr Clwyd is moving on to pastures new, and not just any old pastures but the lush, green pastures of the Royal Shakespeare Company, for one of her last directorial projects here at Theatr Clwyd, is an absolute triumph! No amount of jam sandwiches or ginger beer could have crafted a more nostalgic atmosphere than the one produced by the cast and creatives of The Famous Five, A New Musical. In conjunction with Chichester Festival Theatre, which this year celebrates its 60th anniversary, this exciting new musical is full of wonderful characterisation, whimsical songs, and clever nods to our modern world. A world which Enid Blyton, author of the wonderful Famous Five book series, never experienced, having been born before the turn of the 20th century and passing away in 1968. And yet, there are moments in the production where we realise, she was more ahead of her time than we originally thought; unearthing topics such as gender insecurity, anxiety, and bullying.
The set, designed by award-winning costume and set designer Lucy Osborne, transports the audience from onboard a train, at the beach, to Quentin’s lab and beyond. On arrival into the auditorium the set is laid out like a map of Kirrin with a miniature castle, cottage, tents, and trees and for those familiar with the books, we find ourselves pointing out locations and names we recognise from rainy days spent reading Blyton’s classics! Like a patchwork picnic blanket, there is feeling of the design being slightly ‘mended;’ a table is a piece of wood which has washed up on the beach, a rabbit is made from a potato sack and the goats are old suitcases with heads, legs, and a tail! Much like the Famous Five gang themselves, seemingly thrown together in a slight bungle but a total success all the same!
The story of this new musical is in keeping with the framework and foundations of the Famous Five book series but original in its plot and even acknowledges current environmental and climate change issues, yet it doesn’t shy away from the vintage feeling of Enid Blyton. There’s even a song dedicated to Aunt Fanny’s infamous picnic, performed wonderfully by Lara Denning, with a dash of Waitress about it! The music is punchy and the lyrics wordy and relevant to each character, giving us a taste of their personalities, flaws, and all. There are some beautiful harmonies created throughout the ensemble numbers and some stunning individual vocals from all performers. The piece is cast perfectly, and each has their moment to shine (in the case of Sam Harrison, several memorable personalities to boot!) Mention must also go to the Musicians of Kirrin, who were costumed to fit in with the rest of the cast and often played whilst moving around the stage, and to the band, who were just visible through the backcloth, a nice touch.
Scene-stealer extraordinaire has to go to Timmy the dog! Cleverly designed and directed by Rachael Canning and performed by Ailsa Dalling, it was a challenge not to have a constant eye on Timmy, despite the adventuresome action going on elsewhere! The use of puppetry throughout was awe-inspiring, from the sack rabbits to the suitcase goats and the birds and bats, but Timmy the dog really was something special. Everything from the barking, yelping, tail wagging, panting, running, and pouncing took the audience under its spell and had us believe we were seeing a real dog on stage. When Timmy is captured and placed in a cage, we feel emotion for this material creation!
This production has everything: sentimentality, uplifting songs, emotion, comedy and much more. This was a flawless musical, everything in its place, with a simple message and a boundless energy which would please theatregoers of all ages, whether they’d read an Enid Blyton adventure or not!
The Famous Five, A New Musical completes its run at Theatr Clwyd on October 15th and will then move to the Chichester Theatre Festival and will run from October 21st until November 12th.
In this free workshop Producer Tom Bevan and Director of Get the Chance Guy O’Donnell will cover areas such as,
Producing theatre and touring for new audiences
Portraying Working Class narratives on stage
How to sell out a small scale touring play
The workshop content will be based on the tour of Destiny by Florence Espeut-Nickless recipient of The Pleasance’s 2021 National Partnerships Award with Bristol Old Vic FERMENT and was shortlisted for Theatre West’s Write On Women Award.
This free workshop is geared towards new critics, producers companies, arts marketing staff and interested audience members.
What follows is Vicky Edwards’ syndicated interview with Jay Osmond.
Jay Talking They say you should never meet your heroes, but seriously? I mean, asking a 70s kid to interview an ACTUAL Osmond? The guy who sang Crazy Horses? WILD horses wouldn’t have stopped me.
Any fears about heroes having feet of clay prove unfounded. Jay Osmond is lovely. Meeting me to chat about the World premiere of The Osmonds: a New Musical, I’m curious about the show he calls a ‘living memoir.’
“I wrote this book called Stages about my life. It turned into more of a travelogue, so I always wanted to do a backstage version that included not only the good times, but the bad and sad times too,” he explains.
A friend and producer of Jay’s had an idea. “He said ‘why don’t you write a living memoir and put it on stage?’ And I thought ‘Exactly!’ I have always loved the stage – for me it was one last frontier to conquer.
“I wrote it from the heart. It was hard; I had to play my drums a lot to get my emotions out, but it all boiled down to this: why did we do what we did? It was because we wanted to help people; to use those talents to do some good in the world. I wanted to put that purpose into the show. I think you can do almost anything in life if you have a purpose.”
And you’d need a sense of purpose to get 30+ songs and Jay’s story into a two-hour production.
“It was a challenge,” he admits. “It’s about the four brothers who were at the start. I was one of them. The story starts at the 50th anniversary and then goes way back. Each of us has a different perspective, so this is very much my perspective; hard times, fun times, why we did what we did and how we did it as a family.”
The result is a show that, by all accounts, has broad appeal. Great music and a great story, in which Jay pulls back the curtain to reveal the real family behind all these hits – parents George and Olive Osmond and their nine children; it taps into something richer and is a show that will speak to everyone.
Shrugging modestly, Jay concedes only that “Our music really is multi-generational.”
He’s more effusive, however, about the show’s creative team, praising them and recalling the moment during the workshopping process when he realised that they had created something special.
“To see people laugh, cry and sing along – I knew then that it would work. We have been so blessed with the talented people involved.”
Jay started his barbershop quartet with Brothers Alan, Wayne and Merrill. They had no idea they would go on to become one of the most famous groups in history. Singing initially to fund hearing aids for their two older brothers, Virl & Tom, they were discovered by Walt Disney in 1961. Mentored by Walt, they were invited to appear on The Andy Williams show, achieving global fame. Adding brother Donny to the group, international tours and high profile TV appearances followed. Selling millions of records worldwide, earning dozens of awards and more than fifty gold and platinum records, The Osmonds remain pop royalty.
And even though he was voted one of the top 10 drummers in the country during the 1970s, co-wrote many of The Osmonds’ hit records and choreographed their shows – as well as being an accomplished TV producer – Jay brushes off his achievements. And again, the modesty is authentic. Our Jay is not a man who puts on an ‘interview’ persona. The kindness and warmth is sincere – and never more so than when he talks about the fans.
“We call them friends, not fans,” he corrects me gently, “and we hear them when they tell us that our music helped them at difficult times in their lives.”
Their ‘friends’, it transpires, were a big part of the decision to premiere the show in the UK.
“This is where our family was so welcomed. Osmond-mania kind of happened everywhere, but there was something about the UK; our family was so accepted and so loved here. We have been to almost every place on the tour list at some point and they are places that hold so many memories. We’ll go to Canada and America too, sure, but it feels right to begin here.”
It also feels like the perfect show for a world emerging from the misery of the pandemic.
“I think it really is,” he says, smiling. “I want it to be a celebration of helping people out. I want people to walk out of the theatre feeling lifted and excited about life; to feel joy. That’s my goal. I am humbled by the fact that we have been blessed with people who have loved our music and that we might have played a small part in their lives when they have faced challenges. I want them to know how much they have helped me and my family. They are part of The Osmonds. It will feel like a high school reunion when they come to the show!”
Or as one ‘friend’ said to Jay recently: “This is not just your story; it’s ours too.”
And that’s something he’s very respectful of. But then respect has always been important to The Osmonds.
“It’s a really big part of our belief system and of our perception. We had talent, but we didn’t do what we did to be famous or to make money; we did it to serve people. When we collected our People’s Choice Award, immediately after, Mom and Dad reminded us to do our chores. Our parents always reminded us what was important: Do what is right and the consequences follow. We have had to make a lot of choices along the way, but it’s been a great journey.”
Ah, but it’s not over yet, Jay. Next stop the show. And it looks set to be a spectacular jaunt down Osmond memory lane.
Take 5: five quick-fire questions for Jay Osmond
What’s your favourite Osmonds song and why?
Love me for a Reason. Because ‘let the reason be love’ is a message that is so powerful. But Crazy Horses would be my next choice.
You did karate as a young man. Still doing the fancy kicks?
No, not nowadays. But I keep fit. I’m a walker – I love to walk. And I love football. I’m also doing the Pure Trim diet at the moment. It’s organic and very pure and I have lost 30lb in the last 6 months.
Big families usually mean hand-me-downs. Did you have hand-me-downs?
We had so many clothes thrown at us in the 70s that we didn’t need to hand down. But when I look back at some of the things we wore – wow! But hey, it was the 70s and we all wore crazy stuff. I can’t wait for people to see the costumes in this show!
What’s your most memorable moment of being in The Osmonds?
So many, but one that stands out is the night we went to watch Led Zeppelin in concert. We were introduced to the guys and they were just the nicest people! Robert Plant asked us to join them on stage for Stairway to Heaven. We weren’t sure that their audience would appreciate us, but eventually we said OK. Robert introduced us as his brand new friends. I played percussion and conga. It was incredible!
What is your philosophy for life?
Go about life and do good. Because when you do good, you feel good. And have a purpose. Be a light to others. To me, that’s the goal in life. It’s the key.
How do you want people to be feeling when they have seen your show?
I want people to walk out of the theatre feeling lifted and excited about life; to feel joy. That’s my goal.
Dyma ddrama sy’n aros yn y cof ac yn agored i sawl dehongliad gwahanol. Tri chymeriad sydd ynddi ond mae rôl y trydydd cymeriad yn aneglur yn enwedig ar gychwyn y ddrama. Stori dau berson sydd yma mewn gwirionedd – dau sydd wedi profi cariad, siom a diflastod – pobl broffesiynol sy’n profi enwogrwydd yn gynnar yn ystod eu gyrfaoedd. Mae taith y cwpwl wedi dechrau yn hynod o gyffrous gan eu bod yn ysgrifennwyr sgriptiau i’r theatr a’r sgrin. Maent yn profi cyfnod hynod o doreithiog ac yn derbyn llwyddiant ar Broadway a thu hwnt. Gellir dweud eu bod wedi cyrraedd y brig – y ‘big time’ – ac yn mwynhau’r holl sylw, y mawl a’r bri a ddaw yn sgil hyn oll.
Ond nid yw’r freuddwyd fawr yn para, yn enwedig felly i’r cymeriad I sy’n cael ei gwthio i’r naill ochr tra bod ei chariad yn derbyn contract enfawr Sci Fi gan gwmni enfawr. Mae’n profi teimladau o dristwch a bradychiad, diffyg hunanhyder ac ansicrwydd. Er ei bod yn caru ei phartner, nid oes lle bellach iddi hi yn ei freuddwyd fawr ef, ac mae hithau’n cael ei gwthio naill ochr. Ceir yma deimlad bod y ddau bellach ddim yn rhannu’r un breuddwydion na dyheadau. O ganlyniad, mae cymeriad I yn symud nôl adre ac yn ceisio ymdopi â byw bywyd gwahanol a newydd. Ers y gwahanu,nid yw`n ysgrifennu bellach ond yn hytrach yn gweithio mewn siôp ac yn datgan ei bod yn hapusach ei byd. Ond tybed a ydy’r boen ac effaith y ‘rejection’ dal yn fyw yn y cof ?
Mae Hammond wedi creu sgript ddiddorol sy’n llifo’n berffaith o un olygfa i’r llall ac mae’r cymeriadau yn rhai gonest, aml haenog a chymhleth. Yn ystod y monologau (sy’n digwydd lawr llwyfan ac yn uniongyrchol i’r gynulleidfa) mae’r ddau yn olrhain eu teimladau yn ystod y cyfnod byr yma pan, ar y dechrau, roedd eu perthynas yn dda cyn i bethau droi’n sur. Dyma arwyddocad teitl y ddrama – “Right Where We Left Us” – Mae cymeriad I wedi’i effeithio’n enbyd gan y toriad yn y berthynas ac mae’n ail greu ac ail ddadansoddi’r camau, y camgymeriadau, yr arwyddion a arweiniodd at y rhwyg rhyngddynt. Cawn y teimlad bod y rhwyg hwn a’r gwahanu wedi effeithio ar y ddau ohonynt, ond hi efallai sy’n dioddef fwyaf.
Mae’r ddau actor, Hannah Daniel a Jacob Ifan, yn cydweithio’n arbennig ac mae eu portread o’r cymeriadau yn real a phoenus. Mae portread Hannah Daniel o’r cymeriad toredig yma ar brydiau yn adeiladau at uchafbwyntiau dramatig effeithiol. Ydy, mae hi wedi ei brifo gan y golled ond mae’n ceisio bod yn ddewr, yn barod i wynebu ei hunllefau personol er mwyn symud ymlaen. Dim ond yn araf bach drwy’r ddrama daw hyn i’r amlwg i’r gynulleidfa fod cymeriad I mewn sesiwn therapi ac yn ceisio wynebu ei hunllefau hi, ac mae atgof yw P yn ei meddwl. Dyna pwy felly yw’r trydydd cymeriad sef T, y therapydd sy’n ceisio arwain ei glaf i (gobeithio!) le gwell. Mae’r set, sef platfform syml, lliwgar yn symbol o enwogrwydd ffug Holywoodaidd a’r goleuo annaturiol yn awgrymu anghysonderau’r bywyd hwn. Roedd hyn yn effeithiol ond heb dynnu gormod o sylw o’r action a’r sgript. Mae’r ddrama’n gorffen ar nodyn ansicr ond calonogol ac felly’n agored i ddehongliad y gynulleidfa. Fy marn yw bod y clo’r ddrama yn un sy’n awgrymu bod pawb, ar ôl amser, yn medru gwella a symud ymlaen ar ôl trawma a thor perthynas.
Dyma ddrama oedd yn gweddu’n dda i’r gwagle ac i’r theatr hyfryd hon. Llongyfarchiadau mawr i’r holl dîm artistig ac os cewch chi gyfle, ewch i’w gweld. Mae perfformiadau yng Nghanolfan Chapter tan Hydref y 5ed ac mae modd prynu’r sgript hefyd.
In our latest Playwright interview Director of Get The Chance Guy O’Donnell chats to Welsh Playwright and Director of Chippy Lane Productions Ltd, Rebecca Jade Hammond. Rebecca discusses her career to date, her latest play Right Where We Left Us and her thoughts on opportunities for Playwrights in Wales.
Hi Rebecca, great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Born in Cardiff, I am a Welsh writer, dramaturg, actor, lecturer and Artistic Director/Founder of critically acclaimed Chippy Lane Productions Ltd.
In the last few years I have been shortlisted for the Papatango Writing Prize, placed in the top 10% for both the BBC Writers Room and the Verity Bargate Award, and longlisted for Theatre Uncut and the Traverse Theatre. I recently worked with National Theatre Wales and Lagos Theatre Festival on a Writers Exchange. I am published by Methuen Drama and represented by The Haworth Agency.
Academically I lecture at Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Mountview and Italia Conti.
As an actor, I trained at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and have appeared in several big television series including Bafta Cyrmru-nominated comedy The Tuckers (BBC), Silent Witness (BBC) and Trollied (Sky One), Mrs Sidhu Investigates (ITV) and I’m currently filming The Wet Look (Channel 4) starring Iwan Rheon and Steve Speirs.
So, what got you interested in the arts?
The first formative experience I had at the theatre was The Snow Spider (Sherman Theatre, 1993). I had no idea what I was watching but I knew I wanted to be part of it more than anything else in the world.
I think I’ve always gravitated towards the arts. Though none of my family have ever been interested in the arts, the idea of building and making something artistic was always something that felt natural to me. At a young age dancing was my life, I was obsessed with ballroom, disco, tap, ballet and cheerleading, until I realised I could sing. I remember being part of West Glamorgan Children’s choir and singing on my own at St David’s Hall at ten years old with a 120 piece orchestra and a full house and thinking, ‘This is magic! More please!’. That led me into Sherman Youth Theatre, Everyman Theatre and Orbit Musical Society. Then to University and Drama School at Royal Central School of Music & Drama. It is a path none of my family have walked, and at times has felt lonely but I have always taken what I do incredibly seriously.
Can you tell us about your writing process? Where do your ideas come from?
The play I have in production at the moment, Right Where We Left Us, is actually my fourth play. My first never got beyond a second draft, I hope to bring that back one day. It’s set on Gwaelod-Y-Garth Mountain and it felt so powerful finishing it. My second did very well in lots of literary competitions, and is another I hope to return to. My third is in development with a London theatre, so we hope and pray that it goes somewhere but one never really knows. You have power in your pen but beyond that you need to find an advocate and believer in your work to take it to production.
I have written about grief, grooming, county-lines, ambition, war, death, PTSD, youth, mental health and love. An eclectic mix but on reflection what binds them altogether is the human heart. The human reaction to these epic themes. I am consumed with how we pick ourselves up from the rubble of trauma and try to get back to life, back to home, back to some form of peace and solace.
In terms of my process, ideas and inspiration come to me in freefall, and get noted on my phone. The list is seemingly random and pretty extensive, a snippet would include:
Horn – Nick Drake
The ecstasy of quietness
I look at these concepts and ideas as seeds that I can come back to later when I eventually get back to writing something new again.
Can you describe your writing day? Do you have a process or a minimum word count?
My process usually consists of mornings in my writing shed or at my desk with a Spotify playlist. Or in Cafe Nero in Wimbledon (the staff even know my ideal spot now!) – I need background hum as I can’t work in silence and I love a little bit of chaos and life. I then walk the dog in the afternoon to debrief with myself. I tend to take more time on things than I used to. Allowing more time between drafts to digest and move forward. Things always come out in the wash when you give it the time and space to breathe. I don’t have a word count or page count. I tend to write for as long as I can handle it and have been known to write for twelve hours without eating if I am in the zone, but wouldn’t recommend this!
Your latest play Right Where We Left Us , is described as “a heartfelt examination of what happens instead of “happy ever after” Where did the initial spark for the play come from and can you update us on its development?
This play is an acknowledgement of the fragile nature of creative minds and a reminder that our industry is always in a state of delicacy. If the past few years have taught me anything it’s to keep the people you love close and to rid yourself of negative energies.
I wanted to write a piece that explored the murky world of creative collaboration and navigating professional and personal relationships. Right Where We Left Us explores the darkness of ambition and jealousy and how the healing of time can change your priorities and future plans. I long for it to resonate with so many and provide hope for anyone struggling to move forward. To know that you have the power to be ok. You have the power to change the narrative.
This play was born from the shock of having everything put on hold. As the third wave of the pandemic made it seem impossible to ever get back to the stage I wanted to write a love letter to creative collaboration and the great American memory plays.
The script has been honed throughout various development periods with support from The Bush Theatre, Paines Plough, Theatre503, Sherman Theatre, Chapter Arts Centre and The Carne Trust.
At every stage of development our audiences have seen themselves in the characters, feeling the frustration and longing of lost opportunities and lost love. Our urgency comes from the vulnerability and fear we are all experiencing as hundreds of us are forced to walk away and try to find a new path. We ask if it is ever possible to find fulfilment once the creative drive is gone? Are lost loves better left in memory? Can someone else ever give you closure? Will you alone ever be enough?
This production will reunite the Welsh creative team from sell-out show Blue, which The Guardian described as “smart and superbly acted” (4 Stars, 2019). Chippy Lane Productions are fast becoming one of Wales foremost new writing companies, at our core is a drive to champion underrepresented emerging talent. Methuen Drama have also agreed to publish this play.
The play will be performed by 2 alternating acting companies, this sounds fascinating, are you able to tell us more about this choice? Are they both performing the same play each night or will it be different?
While the show will be performed by 2 alternating acting companies, the character of T will work across both casts. The companies will alternate shows and while the script will be the same for each, it’s up to an audience to discover the differences!
In the script, the characters have no assigned gender. So as we developed the play we workshopped the characters with actors of all genders. We soon found that the play resonated differently depending on who the performers were. The power dynamics across age, gender and class all changed the experience of watching the play and added nuance and detail in different sections of the story. We wanted to give the audience the opportunity to experience these different versions of the play as we are sure they will be able to see themselves reflected in the characters at different moments. Joyfully, it also means we were able to offer employment to two more actors, which after the past few years feels like a small win for a company who wants to champion Welsh and Wales based voices.
There are a range of organisations supporting Welsh and Wales-based writers. I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you? Is it possible to sustain a career as a writer in Wales and if not what would help?
I wrote about this recently for The Stage as I feel really strongly about it.
The lack of funding across Wales for the arts directly affects a lack of development schemes that go beyond the beginning stages of playwriting. This means that the same canon of (mainly male) Welsh playwrights receive those rare opportunities of having work commissioned. This stunts the progress of more diverse writers, limiting opportunities to have their voices heard on Welsh stages and on stages across the UK.
In 2018, I set up the Welsh Female Writers Group in response to the lack of female voices being commissioned. My hope was to create an inclusive space for female and non-binary creatives to write, no matter their level of experience. More than 120 writers have joined our workshops. Some have gone on to work professionally for stage and screen, set up companies and collaborate together to make work. However, there are still many more voices struggling to get opportunities, commissions, productions and publishing.
I can’t control the future of funding in Wales, or improve the lack of programming opportunities at venues. What I can do is continue to shed light on this vital issue and keep the door open for any Welsh playwright wanting support from Chippy Lane to champion their developing careers. Chippy Lane prides itself on inclusive practice and will do everything we can to affect change in our sector.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
Writing initiatives and development funding for grassroot companies to pair with venues across Wales to make work and tell new regional stories that connect to the respective areas. We need initiatives that take playwrights through to productions. We need venues and companies to take the leap into programming newer / younger writers and supporting them with commissions so our cannon is more diverse and not the same voices heard yearly.
What excites you about the arts in Wales?
There is a wealth of exciting new talent coming through Wales. Whether born here or settling here to train, I truly believe it is an exciting time of positive change.
With the appointment of Chelsey Gillard at The Torch and Steffan Donnelly at Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru it feels like the theatrical keepers of the major buildings and companies are beginning to shift and change for the better in Wales. Along with new work being made by Mari Izzard and Nia Morais at Sherman Theatre, Katie Elin-Salt and Eleri Jones’ show at Theatr Clwyd in the summer. Emily White won the George Devine Award and Faebian Averies won the BBC Audio Drama Award and Connor Allen’s show at Wales Millennium Centre. It feels like the rumblings of more diverse theatre being made is happening and it’s exciting to see.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
I visit the theatre a lot. In 2019 I saw 147 shows and kept a spreadsheet of all of the productions I saw. For what? I have no idea, but for me one of the most difficult things about the pandemic and in particular 2020 was inability to frequent the theatre. In many ways the theatre is my church, a sanctuary for me to learn, laugh and weep. However, since coming back to my usual theatre-going habits I’ve felt like something was missing. I’m not certain whether it’s the heavy weight of the outside world seeping into the auditoriums, but nothing has really cut me deep or moved me since The Passover in early 2020 (pre-pandemic) until now.
The Normal Heart at The National floored me, it will be one that amongst the mountain of shows I’ve seen will sit with me always and I feel privileged I got to see.
After it finished I felt like I’d come through a war. I could feel the anger of Kramer’s pain in writing it. I felt helpless and powerless and thought about all the lives lost unnecessary. How they fought so hard for acknowledgement and support. It actually haunted me so much that I wrote to the Welsh government to ask if this could be considered as a key text on the curriculum for English and Drama.
“Don’t lose that anger. Just have a little more patience and forgiveness. For yourself as well.” (Kramer, L. 1986)
What follows is Richard Barber’s syndicated interview with Gareth Malone, who is touring his new Sing-Along-A-Gareth! show throughout the UK this autumn
He’s taken the Military Wives to the top of the charts. He’s had us all singing from our kitchens during the pandemic. Now the irrepressible Gareth Malone, choirmaster extraordinaire, will be spreading joy the length and breadth of the land together with his band, four professional singers and a choir, local to each venue, on a tour of Britain’s theatres.
Sing-Along-A-Gareth! (“I like the fact it’s got Gaga in the middle,” he says, with a smile) opens at The Lowry in Salford on October 26, taking in, among others, Liverpool, Cardiff, Bath, Norwich and London at the Cambridge Theatre on December 5, before coming to a rapturous climax in Poole on December 16.
“I’ve been involved in choirs for many years now,” says Gareth, “and then along came performance stuff on TV. But I’d never quite married the two together although, on previous tours, there was always audience participation, moments when I’d encourage people to join in with the singing.”
During the pandemic. singing was as good as banned. Then came the Great British Home Chorus which saw thousands of people around the country sing with Gareth from their kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms. Every day at the same time, Gareth would bring joy through music into people’s homes reaching an average of 20,000 live viewers every rehearsal.
So, was a tour part of the plan? ‘I promised myself that once lockdown was over, I’d get back on the road and get out in front of audiences. I wanted to hear people singing again and to entertain them’.
As soon as he put the word out, he started receiving messages from people saying their whole choir would be there. “I love that. I see this tour as a celebration of people coming together after all those months of isolation. It’s certainly the first time for almost three years that I’ll have been on the road performing in public.”
The first half of the show will see Gareth, and a group of singers and musicians, perform songs he’s sung over the last fifteen years as well as some tracks he performed with the nation during lockdown. Playing piano, guitar and bass, Gareth will tap into the musical talents of the audience to write their own songs composing something special and unique to every venue. In Cardiff, it might be about Cardiff Bay.
The second half will see a local choir from each venue perform with Gareth, continuing the fun and bringing people together. Improving mental health, wellbeing and happiness, singing encourages a real sense of community, something that was so lacking during the pandemic. Gareth is happy to bring back that sense of togetherness with a feel-good evening of upbeat fun tracks we all know and love which everyone can easily sing along to.
He’s put together a song list, available now online, for the show. “I’m adding to it all the time but it’s guaranteed to include arrangements for some of those numbers people will be familiar with from Home Chorus.
So, what will audiences be singing?
“Elton John’s I’m Still Standing for its positive message,” he says, “and Walking On Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves for its joyful optimism.” There will also be Hey Jude (arm-waving obligatory) and Wake Me Up, the Avicii song sung by Gareth’s All Star Choir which topped the charts in 2014 when it became that year‘s Children In Need anthem.
“And I’d have to have Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Then, of course, there will always be a place for Wherever You Are, the song that propelled Gareth’s Military Wives choir to Number One at Christmas 2011, selling more than the rest of the Top 12 combined.
He’ll also be including Fields of Gold, made famous by Sting. “It’s a beautiful and uplifting song, a particular favourite of mine and with a quality that will resonate with everyone, in my opinion, particularly if they were to think of the loss of the Queen.
“I was sitting on the sofa a moment ago, playing it on my guitar, and it’s one of those songs that you can read in a number of ways. There’s a haunting quality to it, something that evokes memories, both happy and sad.”
From as far back as he can remember, he says, Gareth always wanted to do something a bit out of the ordinary with his life. His father worked in a bank; his mother was a civil servant. At secondary school, he grew increasingly enamoured of performing: in plays and orchestras and jazz bands and pop groups.
“Choir was like the background of my everyday life. I’d go in at ten past eight and we’d sing for about forty minutes every morning except Friday when there was a school assembly which I hated. That was seven years at a very formative stage.
“I wasn’t quite sure where any of it would lead. I did a drama degree but, when I came back from university, I realised that music was missing from my life. My epiphany came in a concert. I sang a note which seemed to reverberate off the rafters and, on the walk home, I made up my mind I was going to be a professional musician.”
At the London Symphony Orchestra, he ran a number of educational workshops. When someone said they were starting a community choir and would he like to run it, he didn’t need to be asked twice. “In the end, I ran two choirs: one for adults, one for children.” It’s how he came to the attention of the BBC. “And that’s how Gareth Malone, choirmaster, was born.”
He’s a natural performer, something that was traced back to his mother’s father, Teddy, when Gareth was the subject of BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are?. “My grandfather was the sort of man who’d dance round the lawn in his underpants to make everyone laugh.”
In much the same way, Gareth enjoys working with an audience. “On this upcoming tour, I’ll be encouraging people to help me make up a song about their local town or city. So, in Bristol, it might be something to do with Isambard Kingdom Brunel. I like that interaction, the sense that you’re taking the crowd with you.
“The nice thing about a tour is that, if the lights went out, I’ve got my guitar so I could sit at the front of the stage and we could all sing a song together. It’s organic. I love the immediacy of a live audience.
“But I couldn’t possibly have predicted that, one day, I’d be going on tour, for instance, and filling theatres with people singing at my behest. I’m doing what I really love. I’ve been very, very lucky.”
The only possible downside in a life of wraparound music is that, nine years ago, Gareth was diagnosed with tinnitus. “I had an ear infection in 2013 which left me with a ringing in my right ear. But I’m lucky in that it’s not hearing loss and lucky, too, that’s it’s very mild – like a high-pitched whistle in one ear – because it can be very isolating and, at its worst, send you round the twist.
“Plenty of people respond to music that’s bone-shakingly loud. Not me. I look after my hearing. There’s been no degeneration in my hearing for some years now. And, given what I do for a living, that’s got to be a good thing.”
Recently, Gareth had special ear moulds made that let in the good sounds, as he puts it, and keep out the dangerous frequencies. “I wore them to a gig recently and it was such a nice experience.
“I shall be conscious of that on the tour. For me, volume does not equal quality. You can be moved by two recorders being played without amplification in the Barbican hall, for instance. It can be rhythmical and intense and it can still excite your brain which is where all music happens.”
But isn’t Sing-Along-A-Gareth! going to be a rather noisy affair? “No, it won’t be damagingly loud. A thousand people singing along together needn’t be deafening although a lot of people clapping really loudly can test me to the limit. So, no one should be put off if they see me putting my fingers in my ears.”
He skids to a halt, quickly adding: “Not that I’m discouraging applause, of course.”
Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through as Bat Out Of Hell!, the electrifying, award-winning hit musical featuring the greatest hits of Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, hits the highway to Cardiff’s New Theatre this week. I grew up on the music of Meat Loaf, but I’ve been burned by jukebox musicals before. Bat Out of Hell!, though, is a different beast entirely: it actually began life as a futuristic rock opera in Jim Steinman’s college days, a punk spin on Peter Pan called Neverland. Steinman turned his unfinished opera into his magnum opus: Bat Out of Hell, one of the best-selling albums ever made – and now it’s back in its original form, bigger, better, and more bombastic than ever.
Set in Obsidian, a post-apocalyptic Manhattan that’s a long way from Neverland, Bat Out of Hell! follows Strat (Glenn Adamson), immortal eighteen-year-old leader of ‘The Lost’, a biker gang locked in a deadly war with the tyrannical Falco (Rob Fowler). When Strat falls in love with Raven (Martha Kirby), Falco’s rebellious daughter, the game is on and all bets are off.
Operatic in scale and anarchic in spirit, Bat Out of Hell! is an adrenaline-fuelled rollercoaster ride through some of the most iconic songs ever written, from It’s All Coming Back to Me Now to I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That). They’re also some of the hardest songs to sing – but this peerless ensemble make it seem like second nature. Not only are these the best voices I’ve heard on ANY stage, they bring every drop of emotion to songs that demand nothing short of everything: high concept Wagnerian epics that are as a high risk as they are reward. A slew of talented people have trod the boards at the New Theatre, but this might just be the most exciting cast ever to do so.
Adamson and Kirby bring charisma and complexity to roles that could have become rote in less capable hands. Their chemistry is even more scorching than the real flames that shoot across the stage during the performance of the legendary title track – which is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced in a theatre. They make the star-crossed love story into a symphony.
This is a show that is in on the joke and wants you to laugh right along with it. It’s hard to tell who’s having the most fun, but that honour might just go to Rob Fowler and Laura Johnson (standing in for Sharon Sexton) as Falco and Sloane, Obsidian’s answer to Burton and Taylor. Their version of Paradise By the Dashboard Light might be the most fun you can have with your clothes on (even if theirs weren’t!)
Meanwhile, Joelle Moses and James Chisholm bring gravitas to their powerhouse rendition of Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad, while Killian Thomas Lefevre’s Tink steals the audience’s hearts with Not Allowed to Love, one of the ballads written specifically for the show. (The other, What Part of My Body Hurts the Most, is sung by Fowler and Johnson in an affectingly tender moment for their characters).
The songs are mini epics in their own right, self-contained sagas that lend themselves perfectly to the stage – and their unique sound is captured by South Wales-born musical director Iestyn Griffiths and his superb live orchestra in. Coupled with Jay Scheib’s kinetic direction and Xena Gusthart’s inventive choreo, the music underscores the immersive fever dream of the stage (designed by Jon Bausor, also responsible for the fabulous costumes), a world half dreaded and half desired.
The spectacle of this show is second-to-none. If you’re not a fan of the songs, you will be by the time the curtain falls – and if you are one already, you’ll be in paradise (by the dashboard light). The men who brought them to us may be gone, but the beat is theirs forever – and with Bat Out of Hell!, it’s ours now too. With a little faith, trust and pixie dust, your rock and roll dreams can come true – so get yourself all revved up, because you’ve got somewhere to go – just watch out for the sudden curve!