Tag Archives: Catherine Paskell

The Force is Strong in Welsh Theatres This Spring

Dirty Protest blasts off into 2018 with launch of project inspired by Wales’s claim to Star Wars fame.
“Lightspeed from Pembroke Dock, a co-production between Wales’s acclaimed new writing company, Dirty Protest, Chapter and the Torch Theatre, takes the 1979 Pembroke Dock building of the full-scale Millennium Falcon as its inspiration

The Millennium Falcon under construction in Pembroke Dock

The drama written by playwright Mark Williams and directed by Julia Thomas is inspired by the real-life construction in Pembroke Dock shipyard of the full-size Millennium Falcon spaceship, helmed by Harrison Ford’s Han Solo in the film ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’.
Set in Pembroke Dock in 1979 and 2014, our hero Sam is a Star Wars obsessed kid in 1979 and a single father in 2014. His father is a redundant shipwright, employed to build the Millennium Falcon. Incredibly, far from being from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away; the ship featured in the second film in the Star Wars saga was constructed by a small army of tradesmen in the Pembrokeshire town’s Western Hangar. All were sworn to secrecy as the ship came together far from prying eyes. Now, Dirty Protest brings the story to the stage in a production that combines the thrill of 1980’s adventure movies with an intergenerational family saga all of its own.”
We caught up with Catherine  Paskell, Artistic Director of Dirty Protest Theatre Company and playwright Mark Williams to discuss this exciting new project.

Playwright Mark Williams

Hi Mark great to meet you, so what got you interested in writing?

I’ve always loved stories, and was a big reader of books and comics from an early age. I had a great teacher in primary school, who encouraged me to let my imagination run wild in creative writing lessons. I remember vividly the moment when I realised that in a story, you could transform the world, in any way you wanted to. As I got a bit older, I became interested in the ‘behind the scenes’ world of TV and film. Magazines and movie tie-in books often had interviews with writers, and that opened up the idea that writing was a process, and something it was possible to do as a career.

Catherine Paskell Artistic Director of Dirty Protest.

Thanks Mark, Catherine can you please tell us more about your role?
I’m Catherine and I’m the Artistic Director of new writing company Dirty Protest. I have recently directed Sugarbaby by Alan Harris which Dirty Protest took to Paines Plough’s Roundabout Summerhall venue with Wales in Edinburgh last  summer. I was a founding creative associate of National Theatre Wales – it was this opportunity that brought me back to Wales. I love what I do and connecting to people with theatre making in Wales.

Mark you are a playwright can you explain how this role operates within the creative team on a theatrical production ?
So far, every production has followed a slightly different model. Sometimes my role has more or less ended when rehearsals began. Other times, I’ve been more actively involved, right up until the show opens, and during the run. There can be lots of factors determining the writer’s role, ranging from how the director likes to work, to the needs of the producing company, or your own time commitments on other projects. Ideally, I love it when the process is as collaborative as possible.
As a playwright you reference and are inspired by a range of elements of popular culture, why do you think this is?

George Lucas on the set of Star Wars with Mark Hamill (Luke Sywalker)

Many of the artists and writers that inspire me have always been proud of the eclectic mix of pop culture that informs their work – Ray Bradbury, Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, Russell T Davies, and, especially in relation to this new production Lightspeed, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Pop culture is what first inspired me to write, and continues to do so. I think negative value judgements are sometimes made on aspects of it (perhaps less so these days, now it’s all-pervasive!) But as well as being entertaining, I love the fact that you can stumble on depth and substance in unexpected places, if you keep an open mind and a curious eye.

Steven Spielberg on the set of Jaws

And to continue the query above is this something you consider when thinking about developing audiences for your work?
Yes, always. When it comes to audiences for your own work, you start to think about what you can bring to the table yourself. How that can inform your own characters and stories, and connect with an audience’s own experiences.

Catherine I wonder if you could reflect on Dirty Protests’s journey from script in hand performances in the yurt in Milgi’s to this new production?
It’s been 10 years getting us to this point! We’ve staged plays in tents, fields, kebab shops, hairdressers, basement dives, attack bars and even theatres. Dirty Protest started in August 2007, with crowds of people crammed into the yurt in Milgi’s backyard, craning their necks to see the performers, reading from scripts-in-hands, stood amongst the beds and sofa cushions.

Script in hand event at Milgis

It was a must-be-there new writing event, and ever since then Dirty Protest have spent the last decade at the head of a revolution in Welsh new writing, building a community and being a place for theatre makers to belong. Now we work across Wales, with fantastic Welsh co-producers, theatres and venues. We have worked with over 250 writers and collaborated with fantastic partners outside Wales, including legends like the Royal Court, the Almeida, Paines Plough, Traverse Edinburgh, and Latitude. We have kept the same ethos and ambition to nurture a community, and forge new spaces and higher profile platforms for exceptional Welsh new writing to be performed in and out of Wales. We have always kept ourselves busy but so far, our 10th year anniversary is our busiest time yet! We have performed at least one event each month since our celebrations began in August. As I mentioned earlier we took Sugar Baby by Alan Harris to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as part of Paines Plough’s Roundabout programme. The show was well received, we were 1 of only 8 shows added to the British Council Showcase, alongside Soho Theatre, The Bush Theatre, Tobacco Factory and National Theatre of Scotland. We were so chuffed with that! But not content to just take one show to the Fringe, we also staged 5 additional new short plays by 5 Welsh writers at the Fringe to show international audiences just how fantastic our new writing talent is in Wales.

Production image ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’ with Volcano.

Back home in September and October, we then created our Welsh language short play event Protest Fudur with our partners Galeri in Caernarfon, and staged more short play events with Wales Millennium Centre and Fuel, staged a 10-year take over of The Other Room, and celebrated that It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) with Volcano for their Novemberfest in Swansea. This December, over 4 days we are staging a development production of a brand new Christmas monolougue, Cut and Run by Branwen Davies with the incredible performer Catrin Stewart who will bring the story to life in the most beautiful way. This development Christmas monologue follows in the steps of our previous annual anti-panto Christmas shows, including the hugely popular Last Christmas by Matthew Bulgo (which was The Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh’s studio Christmas show last year).

All that, and we are only 5 months into our anniversary year! So then we will deserve a Christmas breather before January kicks off with us producing a Contemporary Theatre Festival with the University of South Wales, before we travel across Wales trying to meet as many writers and actors and directors as possible. We will be developing writers and new plays with venues across Wales in the lead up to the Lightspeed From Pembroke Dock tour.
I can’t wait for the culmination of the tour: a Star Wars-inspired arts festival in Pembroke Dock, called the May the Fourth (be with you) festival happening on – yes, you’ve guessed it! – Saturday 4th May.
There’s still lots more planned that we can’t announce yet and loads more ways that people can get involved. Our 10 year anniversary isn’t just about what’s passed – it’s about what’s yet to come. I really hope that people will come and be part of Dirty Protest all across Wales and help us create the theatre of the future.
 Mark, what do Dirty Protest mean to you as Welsh playwright?
Firstly, via their short play nights and events, they provide a brilliant opportunity for new and emerging writers to get their work read by actors in front of an audience, and for more established writers to try out new ideas, and have fun in a relaxed environment. Secondly, they’re fast becoming a leading producer of new writing in Wales, helping writers to get their work made, toured, and seen further afield. Their commitment and enthusiasm to actively developing both of these strands is a vital part of the arts in Wales.
Catherine this will be Dirty Protest’s third fully staged drama? is this correct? With your biggest tour to date, what does this mean for the company?
 Lightspeed From Pembroke Dock is actually Dirty Protest’s sixth fully staged drama since 2007, on top of numerous development productions and short play events which bridge the gap between rehearsed readings and full-scale productions.
This production is hugely exciting for us because we can join the Rebel Alliance of Welsh theatre! It’s our chance to tell a story that is uniquely Welsh, connected to the people and society of Pembroke Dock, but also places Wales at the heart of one of the world’s biggest film franchises.   It’s our first show that is specifically created for audiences of all ages. If you’re old enough to see a Star Wars film, you’re old enough to see Lightspeed From Pembroke Dock!
We are excited to be working with two collaborators – writer Mark Williams and director Julia Thomas – who have been with Dirty Protest since the early years, working with us on numerous short play events over the last 10 years. It’s fantastic that they will be making a fully staged production together with us and explore a new area of theatre making for Dirty Protest, as they are both experienced in making theatre for all the family. Julia is currently directing Leicester Curve’s Christmas Show, George’s Marvellous Medicine and I remember seeing a stage show of Horrible Science that Mark had written, where I had to wear 3D glasses so digital poo could fly out of a toilet into my face!
We can’t wait to take Lightspeed From Pembroke Dock on tour all across Wales and to meet new audiences who won’t have ever seen Dirty Protest before. We will be returning to some venues where we have performed previous hit plays like Last Christmas by Matthew Bulgo and Parallel Lines by Katherine Chandler, or staged our short play nights.

Parallel Lines

We are also going to new venues who we’ve wanted to visit for years, and now we can! I really hope that people who already know us, and people who we have yet to meet, will come and join us as we blast across the nation on our newest adventure.
 Thanks you both and finally do you have a favourite character from the Star Wars movies and why?
Mark Han Solo. Who wouldn’t want to fly the Millennium Falcon?
Catherine Lando Calrissian from Episodes V and VI. He’s funny, and dramatically interesting and complex: he’s a kinda bad guy – he’s a gambler who loses his ship the Millennium Falcon to his friend Han Solo, and he also tricks his friends so they get captured by Darth Vader. But he then has a turn of conscience, helps his friends escape and joins the Rebel Alliance! So he turns into a good guy! He’s the epitome of what Star Wars is about, to me – growing up, surviving the galaxy, and being there for your friends.
Thank you both for your time
The production tour dates can be found below
Tour Dates:
 Wed 4- Sat 7 April
Chapter, Cardiff
 Tue 17 April
Soar Centre, Valleys Kids
 Wed 18 April
Ffwrnes, Llanelli
 Thu 19 April
Taliesin Arts Centre
 Fri 21 April
Riverfront, Newport
Mon 23 April
Halliwell Theatre, Carmarthen
Tues 24 April
Pontardawe Arts Centre
 Wed 25 April
Borough Theatre, Abergavenny
 Thurs 26 April
Blackwood Miners Institute
Fri 27 April
Galeri, Caernarfon
Sat 28 May
Aberystwyth Arts Centre
 Wed 2 May
Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon
 Fri 4 – Sat 5 May
Torch Theatre, Milford Haven


An interview with Catherine Paskell, Artistic Director, Dirty Protest.

Hi pleased to meet you. Can you please give our readers some background information on yourself and your role in the arts in Wales?
I’m Catherine and I’m the Artistic Director of new writing company Dirty Protest. I’m directing SUGAR BABY by Alan Harris, which Dirty Protest is taking to Paines Plough’s ROUNDABOUT @ Summerhall venue with Wales in Edinburgh this summer. I was a founding creative associate of National Theatre Wales – it was this opportunity that brought me back to Wales. I love what I do and connecting to people with theatre making in Wales.
Can you tell us about the work your company is taking to this Edinburgh Festival Fringe?
SUGAR BABY is a new one-man comedy drama, about a young lad from Fairwater, in Cardiff, called Marc. Marc is trying to borrow £6,000 from a local loan shark, help out his old man, save a girl and survive the day. It’s very funny. Alan’s got an exceptional voice for these Welsh characters, the stories and details pull you in, and you are rooting for Marc the whole way. The cast is one man: Alex Griffin-Griffiths, he’s a graduate of RWCMD and he’s brilliant. It’s a lot of fun to work on together and we are previewing the play in Chapter at the end of July. Chapter are fantastic supporters, their help means that anyone who can’t make it to see the show in Edinburgh can come and see the previews in Cardiff, and help us to develop the play before we head up.
How is work selected to go to the festival?
We want to showcase the best of Welsh new writing, from a writer living in Wales. Alan’s writing is exceptional, and we wanted a play that was uniquely Welsh but that wasn’t stereotypical in its exploration of a lived Welsh life. We chose Sugar Baby because it’s authentic, and an antidote to all the poverty porn plays and TV programmes that we have seen lately. Sugar Baby is a Welsh play at an international-looking Fringe Festival, and will stand alongside some of the best theatre in the world.
Wales Arts International who have funded some of the companies this year state,
The idea is to help the selected Welsh companies to present their work at the Fringe in the best possible way – with the best conditions – and, importantly, to connect with international promoters and programmers participating in the British Council Edinburgh Showcase.”
 Why is their support important along with Arts Council Wales and British Council Wales?
We couldn’t go to Edinburgh without this support. It’s vital for our company growth and to get the best new writing out of Wales. We took Dirty Protest’s production of LAST CHRISTMAS by Matthew Bulgo to Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2014, supported with Wales in Edinburgh funding. That whole experience was very successful for Dirty Protest. Producers, theatre programmers and promoters from across the world came to see our play and booked it for their venues. We produced LAST CHRISTMAS in the Soho Theatre in London and the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. We also had many more conversations about other projects, that are now starting to come to fruition. This happened with the support of Wales in Edinburgh. Dirty Protest is a project-funded company, and usually the grants we receive only allow a maximum 15% of a project to happen outside Wales. For us to build our company, we have to stand on a more prominent stage. It’s difficult to get reviewers and promoters outside Wales to see our work when we perform at home. Going to such a high-profile festival as Edinburgh Fringe has benefits for us, for the artists making work here and for the promotion of Wales’ arts.

The festival features a huge range of productions and there is great deal of competition for audiences, why should audiences come and see your companies work?
It’s a proper laugh – you’ll leave and have had a really good time for less than an hour, so you’ll have loads of time to walk to your next show without having to rush! SUGAR BABY is part of an incredible programme in an amazing venue. There’s something really exciting about being in that environment, watching an excellent actor as you are pulled along this funny and edgy Cardiff story. All that matters is the writing, acting and the relationship between performer and audience. It’s the ultimate live event!
Welsh artists/Companies will be showcasing a range of art forms including theatre, new writing, site-specific work and contemporary dance. In your opinion is there anything that is distinctly Welsh which links them?
What links the artists and companies is a distinct camaraderie. We are a collective who are representing Wales and are proud of presenting our world-class work together. We are all there to help each other out, to bring each other up, and that is something special about the Welsh arts scene. The diversity of art form in the WIE showcase shows that this community belongs to everyone, whether they are into well-made new plays, live art, contemporary dance, reimagined classics – and this needs to be reflected not just in Edinburgh, but in Wales throughout the rest of the year.
What would you recommend seeing from the other Welsh/Wales based companies going to this year’s festival or perhaps the festival as a whole?
I loved F.E.A.R., the one-man show created by Mr and Mrs Clark and performed by Gareth Clark when I saw it earlier this year. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who’s going to see it, but there are so many joyful and beautiful and thought provoking moments in the performance. I’ve heard a lot about Revlon Girl, the cast are awesome and I have a huge love for Pontardawe Arts Centre, so I’ll be seeing that. I thought A Regular Little Houdini was great at the Fringe, so I want to see Flying Bridge and Daniel Llewellyn-Willians’ next show, Not About Heroes. I can’t wait to see Seagulls, especially because Volcano who are making it have a whole venue in Leith we can hang out in! I haven’t yet seen all the shows this year, so I’m looking forward to seeing all the productions in the WIE showcase. For the festival as a whole, I’m mainly looking for new, young companies, actors, playwrights and comedy writers. Every year at the Fringe, I discover artists who I know I’ll be looking out for in the years to come. This year, I’ll be checking out FRED AND ROSE in Venue 13. The show is by a group of USW Atrium drama graduates, who are going to Edinburgh for the first time and it looks great contemporary theatre piece. I’ll be watching a lot of comedy too. I’m excited by Tom Neenan’s ATTENBOROUGH, Tom’s a great character comic. His show last year was a about a haunted old vaudeville theatre and it was great comedy storytelling. And who doesn’t love David Attenborough?! Also, the brilliant Jordan Brookes’ newest comedy show on the Free Fringe is him talking about his nan; last year, I saw him re-enact his own birth. This guy is surreal and excellent. And if you missed it last year, my favourite show of the Fringe in 2016 was the Free Fringe comedy, Richard Gadd’s Monkey See Monkey Do. It was exceptionally funny but also hugely brave and just incredible. The show won the Edinburgh Comedy Award last year and is back, this time at Summerhall, just for a limited run.

What do the artists and companies do when they aren’t performing?
We watch other artists’ shows, we see people we haven’t seen since last year, we support each other and meet promoters and venue programmers to get the show on again after the Fringe. Edinburgh is a bit of a bubble, so you try and maintain some perspective and remember there is a world outside the city. I always go to the art galleries and museums in Edinburgh because they are chilled spaces with wonderful exhibitions during August. They open my mind and give me space away from the buzz of the festival. Last year, I went to the Harry Benson photography exhibition in the Scottish Parliament and was in there for 4 hours.
 What’s the best Fringe show you’ve ever seen?
I’ve visited the Fringe, as an artist and a punter every year except one for the past 17 years. The Fringe show that sticks with me through that whole time is VICTORY AT THE DIRT PALACE by Adriano Shaplin and the American theatre company, the Riot Group. I saw it in 2002. It was an intense, satirical play, in a tiny performance space that wasn’t one of the big commercial venues. It was about the post-September ’11 American mindset. 9/11 had only happened less than a year ago; the writing was sharp, funny and urgent. The details acutely observed. The ensemble of four were witty and clear. As an emerging artist, about to leave the UK for training in America, I knew that was theatre I aspired to make.

Thanks for your time Catherine.

Top Tunes with Catherine Paskell

Hi Catherine great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself?
 Hi Guy, sure, I’m an independent theatre director. I’m from Cardiff and I run a new writing theatre company called Dirty Protest. We develop and produce new writing for performance, and that includes full length plays as well as our short play nights.

This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?
I’m currently celebrating Janice Long coming back on the radio. I used to listen to her late night Radio 2 show and at the start of this year, the BBC made a mistake taking her original programme off air to broadcast repeats and playlists. I can’t believe they replaced her with repeats. But, Janice and her original programming is back! BBC Radio Wales has given her her own show and brilliantly, she is choosing her own music playlists rather than having to stick to what she’s told. I love her, and she loves music – I have discovered new bands through her playing upcoming artists on air, as well as music I already love. I’m so pleased she’s back – and broadcasting from Wales!
In terms of artists, at the moment every day I’m listening to Lady Leshurr’s “Mode” EP – it’s so catchy and I like the comedy mixed with social commentary and the production is great. She brings me joy. There’s a really catchy track called “Juice”.

Weirdly, I’m also watching the “OJ: Made in America” documentary right now, so the two seem to go together, I keep shouting “I got the juice!”
We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why?

McAlmont & Butler “The Sound of McAlmont & Butler”  This record came out when I was a teenager and it sums up that period of my life for me. I’m transported back to 1995 when I listen to it. But also, it’s a real album, in that I have to listen to it from start to finish, in song order. I don’t do that so much today because on a day-to-day level, I listen to Spotify and have thousands of songs I love playing on shuffle. I love the feeling of something I love coming on unexpectedly and I can have a boogie about. My culture of how I listen to music has changed. But this record for me sums up the artistry of the album as a long play listen. And David McAlmont has an incredible soaring voice.

The Mamas & The Papas “If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears” This was the first album I had. It was on cassette and I was in Primary School at Eglwys Newydd, Cardiff. I was enthralled with the sound they created and I went to Whitchurch Library and read a book all about hippies and 60s counterculture. I remember vividly the description of the drug-fuelled parties the Mamas and the Papas used to have and how they had a pool table covered in a drugs buffet. I imagined all the coloured pills and tabs, like very tiny pool balls. I think you’re always influenced by the music you grew up with and that was music my parents introduced me to, as well as contemporary musicians played on Radio 1. I feel lucky that I have a vast access to music, which my parents didn’t have when they were growing up – because I’ve got all the music that they listened to AND the music that’s created now. There’s just a much bigger treasure trove to dip into and discover. And I think this influenced my interests (I did an American Studies degree because I thought that was the most interesting way to become a theatre maker, by learning about the world and travelling to the States and training there). My favourite Mamas and Papas song is “Twelve Thirty”, it sums up what I love about them, it’s beautiful in its sadness and totally pure, with no cynicism.
“Now 30”  1995 was obviously a glorious year for music, well I think so! It was peak Britpop and we had loads of amazing albums that I still love, Pulp’s “Different Class” is one of my favourite albums of all time and came out that year.

Also, Oasis’ “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory”, “The Great Escape” by Blur, Supergrass’ “I Should Coco”, all of these big Britpop bands had landmark albums that year. But I’m picking “Now 30” because when I listen to it, I remember exactly what was happening to me and the world in that year. And also it’s a fantastic way to keep your nostalgia in check, when you remember that not all the music in 1995 was great. That’s the nature of a Now album. Which is a good thing I think. I’m wary of “oh things were better in my day” – that’s kind of what some people were voting for in Brexit. And we see things with these rose tinted specs. But “Now 30” reminds me that in the year we had such glories, we also had Sean Maguire turning his heel from EastEnders to pop singing and the Outhere Brothers releasing “Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle)”.

Leonard Cohen “Songs of Love and Hate” When Leonard died last year, his was the artist death that really affected me. Leonard is my favourite artist of all time.
He’s been with me my whole life – apparently he was my birthing music! I saw him live and it was transcendental. I cried when he died and for weeks after. A few days after he had died, I went to an event in ITV Studios and whilst I was waiting, there was a huge wall of tellys tuned to ITV. And they had the news on. There was some sort of news piece about Leonard and I just sat there in the foyer weeping, when a production assistant came to collect me. Even now when I listen to his albums I have a tear. “Songs of Love and Hate” is another LP that benefits from listening from start to finish, to get the story Leonard is telling us.
“Diamonds in the Mine” is an extraordinary song. I love the quality of his singing and the words: a mix of comedy, drunken, angry growling, and a juxtaposition between grandiose and beautiful images, and the everyday. The last chorus makes me laugh and it’s quite shocking too: the way he sings the last “there are no chocolates in your boxes anymore” has such contempt to the way he spits it out. I think when people think of Leonard, they don’t think of that performative side to him. It sounds to me like the song sums up the end of the idealistic 60s. The album came out in 1971 when it was all crashing down. I think Leonard wrote it at a time when everything was also falling apart for him. And I kind of empathise with that sentiment. 10 years ago, it felt like there was a lot of hope. Now, with everything that’s going on in the world, and how the arts in Wales are developing, people feel caught between the natural optimism that artists have, wanting to imagine and create the world we want to live in, whilst we are caught in the reality of the way things are right now. Every time I listen to Leonard’s songs I discover something new, in the lyrics, in the cadence of his voice. All of his songs can morph to fit the time you are listening to them in. He’s always contemporary. I truly love him.
Erasure “Wild”  I am so excited that they are back with a new album. They are one of my favourite bands of all time, maybe because I listened to them when I was young and they have always been around making music that elevates me. I love Vince Clarke’s synths, I love Andy Bell’s voice. I love how when I went to Brazil to direct “Merchant of Venice” last year, the artists and producers also all loved Erasure, and we had a wonderful moment of all coming together through dancing to “Blue Savannah” from the “Wild” album. It’s soaring and uplifting and I love music for how it can bring people together in a shared experience, just like theatre.

Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?
I’ve already pre-empted this by talking about some tracks already, haven’t I! “Yes” by McAlmont and Butler. Because whenever I put this on, it’s positive and uplifting. It’s about being strong, about recovery. I love how grandiose the production is, from the first soaring strings it makes my chest burst. Yet the lyrics are very low key, “Yes I do feel better, Yes I do I feel alright”. I love the contrast because that feels very human, to feel a heightened emotion but not have the words to match.

 Thanks Catherine. What’s next for Dirty Protest?
Our next short play night is coming up on 8th June and it’s happening here at Outpost Coffee & Vinyl. It’s happening on Election Night and it’s our response to the general election. The theme we have asked 8 writers to respond to is “Here We Go Again” and it’s going to be a great night.
We also have a lot of Welsh language short play events coming up: we are working with Tafwyl here in Cardiff, as well as the Eisteddfod and Galeri in Caernarfon to stage these around the country.
Then this summer, we are working with the amazing Paines Plough to produce our new play, Sugar Baby by Alan Harris in the Edinburgh Festival as part of their Roundabout programme. Then come September, we start our year of celebratory year of events to mark our 10 year anniversary! We are really looking forward to that, it’s going to be brilliant and everyone can get involved, so it should be a year-long party!


Democratising Culture from Bridgend to Brazil Catherine Paskell


“And you said something
you said something stupid like
love steals us from loneliness
happy birthday, are you lonely yet?”

It’s now six years since Gary Owen’s play Love Steals Us From Loneliness was commissioned and performed in National Theatre Wales’ inaugural production year of 12 shows in 12 months in 12 places all across Wales. The production was staged in Hobo’s, a nightclub in Gary’s hometown of Bridgend in October 2010. It was my second year as a founding member and Creative Associate of Wales’ English-language national company. I had directed the 5th show in National Theatre Wales’ first year: The Beach, an interactive theatre game on the beach at Prestatyn in July 2010. I also created artistic and community debate-and-response programmes, including our New Critics scheme that supported emerging writers to develop their critical writing through mentoring, workshops, feedback and a conference.
I was really excited to see Gary’s new play: a strong drama that responded intelligently to the ubiquitous reporting at the time of Bridgend county’s suicide incidents. The creative team and wider National Theatre Wales company members worked with artists and young people in Bridgend to investigate and tell the truthful local stories. We partnered with Guy O’Donnell, who at that time was Arts Projects Officer for Bridgend County Council, to spread the learning of the New Critics scheme and offer similar training to young people through Bridgend County Council arts projects. We delivered critical writing workshops for Bridgend’s young people so they could have a greater range of writing tools to respond to their first show, happening on their doorstep: Love Steals Us From Loneliness.
From these first collaborations, the Young Critics movement in Wales was born. Guy worked to engage more young people, firstly across Bridgend county and then across South Wales and more widely across the nation. National Theatre Wales provided more support through workshops and feedback from our own New Critics, especially Ben Bryant who was being mentored by Lyn Gardner and wanted to share his learning more widely. The Young Critics membership grew and structured its own bespoke programme, engaging with more arts and cultural organisations to provide greater access to exhibitions and open rehearsals, tickets to performances and interviews with artists. Conversations and critiques about creative performance, arts and culture sprang up online, in blogs, in videos, on social media: we heard voices talking about the arts that were different than those we had heard over the past years. The Young Critics scheme always had the learning and experiences of the young participants at its heart; from these experiences, many young critics became young artists, who are now engaging in the arts world in a different way, as emerging directors, writers, actors, producers and other creative practitioners. Young Critics opened the artistic world to make myriad experiences, jobs and roles more visible and more attainable.
I remember a teenager in one Bridgend workshop talking to me about how I became a theatre director. I talked about my training, my life experiences; she told me about her passions and what she was up to. Three years later, she interviewed me as a Young Critic about my directing process during rehearsals for my production for Dirty Protest, Parallel Lines by Katherine Chandler. She said she was thinking about being a theatre director, and these interviews and seeing and talking about work were all helping her development. This young woman was Chelsey Gillard, who two years after this interview became an emerging director with The Other Room pub theatre in Cardiff and is now a young director in her own right.
The Young Critics’ collegiate approach has influenced the professional theatre scene in Wales. The Young Critics created the first ever Theatre Critics of Wales Awards in 2013. They invited professional theatre critics from Wales to join them in nominating and voting. The ceremony was open to all: a joyful celebration of Welsh performance and growing arts analysis voiced by young people. In 2014, the production I had directed for Dirty Protest – Parallel Lines – won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Production in the English Language. For the first time I could remember, because the Young Critics scheme had opened up arts criticism to more than a few privileged voices, I needed more than two hands to count the number of reviews and critical blog posts the show received. I was thrilled to win the award not just because I was proud of the show and the team; the awards ceremony seemed to show a turning point in democratizing Welsh arts culture and criticism, as smaller project-funded companies were celebrated (and won more awards) than the larger core-funded portfolio organisations.
It’s two years later, and a new production of Love Steals Us From Loneliness opens at Chapter in Cardiff this week, the first production created by new company Chippy Lane Productions. The Young Critics scheme has merged with the Third Act Critics (for older people) and Community Critics Wales for critics aged 25-50 years and now all three projects  operate under the umbrella of host organisation Get The Chance to engage even more people to see, participate in and write about arts and culture. Arts and cultural organisations ensure a seat for members at productions, alongside the national newspapers and TV journalists.
The Young Critics and Get the Chance are at the forefront of a movement towards democratisation of arts production and cultural criticism. Wales has a strong history of DIY arts activity, from choirs to theatre to craft. Digital and online media platforms mean that now more people can create and distribute art and cultural criticism. It’s very hard to make a living from arts criticism as newspapers close the few positions they have and digital distribution is largely unpaid. There are debates around whether opening up these fields to more people strengthens or dilutes the work.
I suggest that in line with American public radio host Ira Glass’ comments on creativity, when we all start out with creative endeavours, no matter our age, we get better the more experience we get through practicing, rehearsing and doing:
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
If anything is to be new, it’s got to be allowed to be different, or not as good as our ambitions want it to be, when we first start out. That’s how we create new things and make change happen.
It’s an issue that I reflected on whilst directing theatre in Brazil earlier this year. I created a new production of The Merchant of Venice for Shakespeare400, relocated to Belo Horizonte. Professional full-time actors in Brazil are rare; most performers are poorly paid and rehearse in the evenings only over a period of 9 months because they need full-time day jobs to live. The ensemble cast were chosen for their talent and their diverse mix of ages, backgrounds, religions, political leanings, class, race, gender, sexuality. Some of them almost didn’t audition because Shakespeare is seen as an elite theatre form in Brazil; it wasn’t something they are normally allowed to make. Through rehearsals, their barriers came down and their confidence grew. They made Shakespeare belong to them, they owned it, they spoke the language in their own voice, and reflected on their contemporary experiences through a 400-year old story. This was radical theatre in Brazil.
The critics and cultural analysts responded: we had TV, newspaper and online interviews, photo shoots, blogs, articles and previews in the lead up to the first night, and this generated queues of audience members snaking around the building to see the show. But after opening night – nothing. No reviews whatsoever. Critical arts culture just does not exist in the same way as we know it in Brazil. Arts journalists exist to preview and promote high profile art, they are almost a “what’s on” guide.
For a richly diverse culture, theatre production and arts criticism in Brazil is largely homogenous. The same voices are heard through the same networks. New productions and new critical avenues are opening up slowly. Culture is seen as democratic, as the population are keen dancers, singers, sportspeople and other cultural consumers, notably through annual Carnival celebrations and samba competitions. But hierarchies within social, educational and cultural structures mean that most people don’t have access to high art, like Shakespeare theatre performances. In a country of extreme gaps between poor and rich, with corrupt politicians and police forces, where violent crime is experienced daily and the legacy of slavery is omnipresent, there are big debates about ownership of stories and arts, and who has the right language, means and background to participate and comment.
Just as the UK’s media responded to the young suicides in Bridgend by creating a distorted narrative that didn’t reflect reality, this happens daily to young people from poor backgrounds in the favelas and slums of Brazil, as their regional and national newspapers misrepresent them. Just as Bridgend needed a different story at the time of Love Steals Us From Loneliness, so do many people across the world who are not permitted to tell their own stories.
In Wales we run the risk of a homogenised culture if we don’t allow new voices and faces to come through arts. The Young Critics scheme and Get the Chance are providing an avenue to support these voices to be heard on a validated platform, alongside professional and already-respected individuals. I hope the new updated production of Love Steals Us From Loneliness shows us how Bridgend has changed since 2010, leaving those news reports of the time far behind. I have certainly witnessed the creative scene in Wales change in that time, thanks to the activities of National Theatre Wales, the Young Critics and the many, many arts projects run by creative people and organisations across the nation, as well as those Welsh artists and companies who have raised the profile of Welsh arts outside the country through touring and co-productions.
As a theatre director, I want to share my experience, passion and any privilege I have as a cultural leader in Wales to support and elevate others. Democratising arts and critical response is vital to hear more voices, understand others’ perspectives, imagine alternative possibilities and create change. This was the aim of my work with National Theatre Wales when Love Steals Us From Loneliness was first produced, and six years later, although we have made positive advances, the current political climate towards bunkered populism means a fight for democracy, diversity and pluralism is even more vital than ever. The arts world in Wales mustn’t bunker down ourselves, close ourselves off through fear of losing resources, risk quality, or become responsive service providers for ‘customers’ or ‘users’. We need the vision to lead, democratise and share, so that through elevating others we elevate everyone and ourselves.

Review Parallel Lines, Dirty Protest by Kiera Sikora

Photo credit Kirsten McTernan Photography & Design 
Honesty is severe. We desire it and we require it, we recognise that it is some thing that we always need. But as soon as it’s not what we want, we despise it. We just can’t win, can we?
Dirty Protest bring to Chapter Arts Centre a fantastic 90 minute revamp of their already acclaimed ‘Parallel Lines’ which executes an impulsively precise look at how two colliding worlds affect each other. Playwright Katherine Chandler, through her freshly updated script, allows us to see how a longing for affection affects opposing worlds and the individuals in them in a very witty Welsh manner.
Nothing is hidden. These two worlds are projected right in front of you throughout the whole piece with the cast present on stage, before, during and after their scenes. There’s a clear sense of consistent colliding consciences.
Catherine Paskell’s very slick, precise, physical direction of the piece creates a fighting contrast with the stress, pain and uncertainty that the characters feel throughout. Their movements are thoughtful and are elegantly highlighted by Joe Fletcher’s sharp lighting design and equally supported by Dan Lawrence’s eerie sound scape, together creating a pathway into the minds of the characters and their sole situations.
The stage homes very little set, just a table and few chairs which echoes that idea of loneliness and lack of nurture. But the constant presence of this collision between these two very different lifestyles fills the stage with all that you need to feel their thoughts and experience their dilemmas. The characters’ complexity allows you to empathise with their situations while the careful pace of the piece allows you time to detach yourself from their spoken words, in order for you to see the paranoia that exists beyond the language.
Photo credit Kirsten McTernan Photography & Design
Paskell’s vision lets us explore the baggage that comes with power, class and truth and how we react to uncertainty, isolation and our own versions of normality. The relationship between Jan Anderson as the wayward mother Melissa and Lowri Palfrey as her daughter Steph is one that you can’t help but enjoy and dislike they allow you to laugh and pity them, without asking for either reaction. While Gareth Pierce as Simon and Sara Lloyd-Gregory as Julia are the corrupted and obscurely humorous couple who implore you to recognise the devastation that follows accusations and doubt while also reminding us how important it is to say your P’s and Q’s and park your car considerably.
Throwing away the previous script and starting a fresh two years on with the challenge of it being as real and as relevant as before is a one that would take being beyond brave to do. But, I’ve got to be honest playwright Katherine Chandler and Dirty Protest did it!  The play is intense, indulgent and intuitive. It feels familiar and it embodies a social situation at a raw and original level.
Photo credit Kirsten McTernan Photography & Design
So if you enjoy beautifully written Welsh wit and a story that you can believe then you know where to go. It’s honest, it’s funny and it’s inclusive best get going.
Dirty Protest’s first ever tour of ‘Parallel Lines’ continues at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff until 24th October. They then move onto: Pontardawe Arts Centre on October 28th, Aberystwyth Arts Centre on October 30th Galeri, Caernarfon on October 31st, Soar Centre, Treorchy on 2nd November Ffwrnes, Llanelli on 4th November. And finally, Theatr Hafren, Newtown on November 6th
You’d be crackers to miss it.