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Review, Dal y Mellt, Episode One, Vox Pictures for S4C, by Gareth Williams

It could be that Dal y Mellt is S4C’s most ambitious drama to date. Episode one certainly promised much from a series that looks set to deliver. Adapted from the hit novel by Iwan ‘Iwcs’ Roberts, the narrative weaves mystery, comedy and crime seamlessly to create a world that is universally recognisable whilst being inherently Welsh.

The first thing to note is its scope. Dal y Mellt spreads across the country, taking in the busy streets of Cardiff and the beautiful vistas of Gwynedd in between visits to London Euston and Chester. Connections to Ireland via the Holyhead-Dublin ferry will come into play as the series progresses, making this a drama of ambitious scale. We are no longer confined to a narrative centred on small town Wales or even a singular region. Instead, Dal y Mellt combines the best of previous Welsh dramas to extend its reach to the whole of Wales and beyond. It does so not as a gimmick but in keeping with a kind of unspoken contemporary tradition of intimate character portrayals (Keeping Faith; Enid a Lucy), expansive landscape shots (Hinterland; Hidden), and a complex narrative web (Yr Amgueddfa; 35 Diwrnod). The cinematography, with its stylistic shots and trained lighting, ensures that it works by adding a touch of quality that underlines its movielike proportions.

Dubbed “a hoot of a heist”, there are already some familiar tropes that appear in episode one, including plans sprawled out on a table, secret meetings in an art gallery, and a car chase involving the police. What feels so fresh about this context however is that they’re given a Welsh spin. Gronw (Dyfan Roberts) holds down his drawings of a ship’s decks with a cup of tea and other items from his traditional farmhouse kitchen. The National Museum of Wales provides the backdrop to a conversation between wayward lad Carbo (Gwïon Morris Jones) and garage-owning gangster Mici Ffin (Mark Lewis Jones). Carbo drives through country lanes and takes a detour through some very muddy fields to get away from the cops. Each incident is tinged with humour which lightens the mood. The result is a series that is not gothic a la Peaky Blinders or violent like The Sopranos but nevertheless takes some of their ingredients and mixes it with a distinctly Welsh flavour. It means that the characters are all believable, reflective of their particular locations; and the story remains grounded even as the plot becomes more elaborate and outlandish.

Mici Ffin (Mark Lewis Jones) a Carbo (Gwion Morris Jones)

The characters of Mici Ffin and Les are worth particular mention from this first episode, Mark Lewis Jones and Graham Land making for an instantly likeable double act whose straight faces only add to their comedic value. The fluffy seats and dice dangling from the rear-view mirror of their Capri conjure up a Del Boy and Rodney type partnership which also expresses a lovable incompetence reminiscent of Horace and Jasper. Their dealings with happy-go-lucky protagonist Carbo are a delight to witness, the cheekiness of his responses toward them making him an affable rogue. Morris Jones brings a dexterity of emotion to the role to create a character of both confidence and vulnerability. It is a combination that wins admiration from the viewing public, no more so than in the final scenes, as we witness his fear and ingenuity play out whilst dangling from a forklift tractor. It indicates to Mici the importance of this lad in the events to come, events which remain very much a mystery at the episode’s end.

The eclectic soundtrack, with its reggae-inspired beats and operatic moments, reflects an expansive taste across genre, location and emotion. It is a drama of dark and light; witty and gritty; familiar yet full of mystery. Dal y Mellt is not easy to categorise, combining as it does various elements, but it definitely looks set to entertain audiences with a narrative full of adventure and intrigue. If Y Golau saw it go off the boil, this looks to be a series that brings S4C’s dramatic output back to something that represents their best.

The first episode will be broadcast on Sunday 2nd October 2022 on S4C at 9pm. You can then watch the full series on BBC iPlayer or S4C Clic.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams


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“I truly believe it is an exciting time of positive change.” An Interview with Rebecca Jade Hamond.

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.

Credit John Angus

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:

  • Bricks
  • Reckoning
  • Patterning
  • 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!

Rebecca’s Writing Desk

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)

INTERVIEW WITH GARETH MALONE, SING-ALONG-A-GARETH! UK TOUR

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.”

Gareth Malone

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.”

Sing-Along-A-Gareth is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff for one night only on Tuesday 8th November 2022. For tickets to Sing-Along-A-Gareth!: visit garethmalone.com

REVIEW Bat Out of Hell! The Musical at New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

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.

Martha Kirby and Glenn Adamson in Bat Out of Hell!

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.

Glenn Adamson as Strat

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.

Glenn Adamson and Martha Kirby in Bat Out of Hell!

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.

Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton in Bat Out of Hell!

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!)

The 2022 UK touring cast of Bat Out of Hell!

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 2022 touring cast of Bat Out of Hell!

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 2022 touring cast of Bat Out of Hell!

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!

Bat Out Of Hell! is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 27 September – 1 October, and across the UK through to April 2023.

PREVIEW Bat Out Of Hell! at the New Theatre Cardiff 27 Sep – 1 Oct

You took the words right out of my mouth: Bat Out Of Hell!, the electrifying hit musical featuring the greatest hits of Meatloaf and Jim Steinman, rocks and rolls its way to the New Theatre this week!

Bat Out Of Hell! is a post-apocalyptic Peter Pan set in a dystopian version of Manhattan (aka ‘Obsidian’). It’s the stomping ground of Strat, immortal eighteen-year-old leader of ‘The Lost’, a biker gang locked in a deadly war with Falco, Obsidian’s crooked commander-in-chief. When Strat falls in love with Raven, Falco’s rebellious daughter, the game is on and all bets are off.

Winner of the audience-voted best musical at the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards, Bat Out Of Hell! features iconic songs like ‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’, ‘Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad’, ‘Dead Ringer For Love’ and the legendary title track that will have you rocking and rolling in the aisles.

Glenn Adamson as Strat in Bat Out of Hell!

Bat Out Of Hell! is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 27 September – 1 October, and across the UK through to April 2023.

Review, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, All 4 by James Ellis

Photo credit: Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It’s been ten years since artists Rebecca Sloan and Joseph Pelling perplexed YouTube with their first offering of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. Through a huge cult following, they have finally broken through the interwebs and made it onto Channel 4. Though there is a varying success rate from this, DHMIS can proudly hold it’s place next to Bo Burnham and Smiling Friends, runaway hits with roots from the worlds biggest video site.

At first, I did wonder if it could reach the heights of its original form, with a delay of nearly two weeks just to be streamed on All 4. Things quickly got as twisted and disturbing as the episodes went on. Uncanny doll twins, creepy worm advocates and crusty old train men all feature to teach life lessons or just antagonise the three blissfully ignorant, lead puppets: Yellow Guy, Red Guy and of course…Duck.

I’m so proud of all involved in this. The funky songs almost reach the heights of the online counterpart, though the visuals are perhaps even more disgusting and disturbing. Much creativity is within these puppets, funny lines and the Theatre of Cruelty also fly by. Debates over the three characters and where they exactly reside still cause friction, is it a simulation or a nightmare? The show may try attempts to find answers, though never goes overboard with all its cards on the table. There are some genuine messages about friendship, death, grief, jobs, families and advice. Never pandering, only ever holding up a mirror to our own states of discord.

The show remains also very English. I think I detected a brief Welsh accent in the first episode, though this came and went. It is nice to hear some regional accents pop in and out. I think a few more voice actors could had added a bit more spirit to the array of dark and biting characters that feature. Baker Terry seems to set his net wide, filling in for a lot of the effort, as well as the creators. We can only assume the budget made things difficult. We’ve still yet to see the pilot which was presented at Sundance, something fans old and new alike would love to see.

To say too much would simply spoil the allure of the series. So drink in the rich flavours of Twin Peaks, Kafka, Wonder Showzen and Rainbow. Go forth and find the mysteries within…

Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared is streaming now on All 4 for free.

Review, Elin Grace, Bee Without Wings EP, by Gareth Williams

One of the most exciting talents coming through this year’s Forté project is surely 18-year-old Elin Grace. The singer-songwriter from Mid Wales has just released an EP of sheer brilliance. ‘Bee Without Wings’ may only be her debut release but it demonstrates a maturity far beyond her years. Lyrically complex, sonically fascinating, vocally mesmerising, the whole record is absorbing from start to finish. With touches of Kate Bush, Lily Allen, Rona Mac and Amy Wadge, along with her particular inspiration Laura Marling, it is generous with genre while maintaining a consistency of sound. Always serving the narrative, the music becomes an accurate representation of each song: the fragile piano on ‘Little Bit Delicate’, the rhythmic synth of ‘Breathe’, the music box sound underlying ‘Doll’. All touch on mental health in some way, whether it be anxiety, self-esteem or depression. All contrast the expected angst of their subject matter with a poise that is strangely comforting – sometimes soft and light; ironic and even comic – to make this an EP shot through with eccentricity. It is as if Elin Grace is wanting to hold a mirror up to her experience to reveal its peculiarity. She is an artist of genuine depth, unafraid to share moments of personal vulnerability and confident to deconstruct the false values of contemporary society. ‘Bee Without Wings’ is a consummate piece of music-making. Elin Grace has a very bright future ahead of her.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Review The Makropulos Affair, Leos Janacek-Welsh National Opera WMC 16 09 22 by Gwyneth Stroud

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Having seen the various production of Janacek’s operas by Welsh National Opera (WNO) over many years, it is particularly thrilling to have the opportunity to see one unfamiliar to me – The Makropulos Affair.  On reading background about the plot and theme of the opera, it sounds remarkable, so it’s somewhat surprising that it doesn’t seem to be performed very often.  Olivia Fuchs’ new production for WNO rectifies this.

What does it feel like to have already been alive for over 300 years?  Clearly, none of us can know, but this is the premise of The Makropulos Affair.  Emilia Marty was born in 1585, and, by virtue of a potion devised by her father, has achieved immortality.  The recipe for the concoction was given to a Baron Joseph Ferdinand Prus in order that it be incorporated into his will.  But Emilia – true identity Elina Makropulos – now needs this formula if she wishes to live for a further 300.  It’s decision time.  Will she take the potion or accept her mortality?  But first a century-old battle over a will must be settled in order to secure the elusive recipe.

Act 1 opens in a solicitor’s office.  The paper-heavy nature of the business is deftly portrayed, with huge mountains of files everywhere, the feeling of depth created through the use of suspended paperwork as columns.  A sense of time and place comes via a video projection onto the back of the stage (credit to Sam Sharples), placing the action firmly in the 1920s and providing a reminder of the role of time via clock mechanisms and a metronome. Lighting is skilfully employed throughout, the muted hues ever changing to match the mood. Credit to Robbie Butler here. 

Backstage at the opera house, Act II brings movement and colour, flamboyant red dominating throughout in the pile of roses left for Emilia Marty and her top-to-toe (including hair and necklace) outfit – it’s all or nothing with her.  Ice-cold Act III beautifully captures Emilia steely demeanour – combing her hair is of more interest than learning of Janek’s death.  The all-white set – outfit, bed, dressing table, suitcases – is in stark contract to the opulence of Act II and a fitting backdrop to the heightened drama and tension of the final scene. Designer Nicola Turner has done a fantastic job.

 Keeping up with the various family relationships is challenging and the projection of the family tree onto the back of the stage at various points feels heavy handed, particularly in conjunction with reading the surtitles.  Better is the use of a comedic interlude between the first two Acts, in which the doctor seeks to explain matters (aided by a blackboard and easel).  I could almost hear a collective “at least it’s not just me” from the audience.

Angelas Blancas Gulin shines as Emilia Marty.  She manages to capture her guile, passion, torment, cruelty and coldness at various points throughout, and her soaring finale is captivating.  Nicky Spence as Albert Gregor is perfectly cast, frustrated throughout and, against his better judgment, falling for Emilia.  Dr Kolenaty’s role is taken by Gustav Belacek, his clipped tones ideal for conveying lawyerly detail and precision. Baron Jaroslav Prus is played by David Stout, tragic in the face of his son Janek’s suicide.   Credit must also go to Harriet Eyley (Krista) and Alexander Sprangue (Janek) who performed their small but not insignificant roles well.  Alan Oke takes the role of poor Count Hauk-Sendorf, played empathetically and with feeling.  Mark Le Brocq’s clear scene-setting at the beginning of the opera is welcome, given its (relative) complexity. Other roles were Julia Daramy-Williams (Chambermaid) and Monika Sawa (Cleaning Lady).

Conductor Tomas Hanus is at home here, veering from the terrifying to the beautifully melodic to the  tragic, and always providing a masterful lead.  The orchestra of WNO is as flawless as ever.  Long may this opera company’s warm relationship with the operas of Janacek continue.

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

Review Will Pound & Jenn Butterworth, Stoller Hall, Manchester by James Ellis

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

It would be my last night in Manchester where I made the discovery of Will Pound and Jenn Butterworth. This folk duo are doing the rounds on tour and my love for them has grown thanks to this lovely concert they gave in the intimate Carole Nash Hall within Stoller Hall.

It is their mix of harmonica, vocals and guitar that make them so endearing. Be it folk proper, sea shanties or country songs, their talents shine forth. A smattering of feminist folk songs stood out, Jenn being cheeky and removing some problematic elements from others songs (a cautious decision I didn’t really mind) , yet still kept up the earthy, thrilling ride. Will was showing off the only bass harmonica in the world, whilst proving his money’s worth through fabulous playing. Jenn with lush vocals and stirring guitar playing, both musicians a wonderful mix, the delight of this Sunday night.

After viral success on Tik Tok, they seem to be reaching new heights thanks to new audiences. The whole thing just felt very accessible and had an easy going quality I often enjoy in the concert environment. I should see more folk events, if they are as good as this. It’s rare to find a duo who seem to really understand one another, their cheery personalities also on show. It is the spirit of the British Isles that lives in these two, along with the fire of European nations, since we were also treated to music from Spain and elsewhere. This of course, gave Will the chance to show off his diatonic accordion, a sweet and acute instrument known by different names in different lands.

These two gave me the spirit to say goodbye to Manchester and to head home to Wales.

Will Pound and Jenn Butterworth continue on tour around the UK till 21 November 2022.

Review A Room of One’s Own, Dyad Productions, Chapter Arts Centre by James Ellis

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In Dyad Productions latest show, A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf lives again. Almost a century old, Woolf’s words remain as apt and filled with fierce observations against the world around her. Her gender was used against her in many aspects of her life on an academic, personal and general perspective. Her pen tells her testament with a vivacious use of the craft.

In this no frills production, Dyad make the written words the focal point of this hour long piece. Rebecca Vaughan is a chameleon, her past endeavours proving her versatility. With much energy and gun-ho spirit, Vaughan has a good go at Woolf and it pays off. The lack of a set, makes for extra concentration purely on our performer and thankfully the show was not overtly long. It remains a fine thing to hear these words come to life again, staggering how we have changed so much as a nation, yet very little in other areas.

Woolf’s dry eye in her anecdotes are spiffy and amusing. She can easily recognise her privileges: class and status, yet call out other people for unbounded ignorance and sexism. There is no real feeling of hate in her words or from this performance, rather bewilderment and frustration at the opposite sex. Dates are pulled out of the air to remind the audience how only a few decades prior could a woman earn her own money. Many female writers of note are touched upon and even a fabricated examination of a sister of Shakespeare is under the scope.

Through it all, it remains the love of literature that seeps through. Writers always found ways around the systems they were confined in and Woolf was no different. With much respect to her, the staging simply pays homage to her passions and search of the truth through women’s suffrage.

A Room of One’s Own continues at Chapter Arts Centre till 18 Sept 2022, then on tour.

Female Gothic will be on at Chapter 7 & 8 November 2022, also on tour with Christmas Gothic.