The beauty of The Merthyr Stigmatist lies in its contemporary gospel message. “Why shouldn’t God send a miracle to Merthyr Tydfil?” is the strapline. One would be hard-pressed to come up with an answer at this play’s ending. Writer Lisa Parry carries something into her production which feels like its been formed in the fire of direct experience. She uses Catholic theology and Jesus’ paradoxology to give it added form and meaning. It is a narrative which challenges the narrative – the narrative that seeks to define us; made by those in power which can silence us, if we let it; that Parry attempts to rewrite in this excellent two-woman show.
Bethan McLean makes an impressive professional debut as schoolgirl Carys, who claims to have the stigmata: Christ’s wounds from the cross. Challenging her at every turn is her science teacher, Sian, enigmatically played by Bethan Mary-James. The two riff off one another to great effect, Parry’s deft dialogue translating into a fascinating piece of ambiguous characterisation in their hands. The result is a one-hour piece which refuses to take sides. One is never entirely sure whether the fervent beliefs of Carys are a sign of mental ill health or the readily dismissive Sian is not masking some kind of deep trauma. What is clear is the passion that comes through in their exchange, as they wrestle with a sense of identity and purpose. Both McLean and Mary-James bring a bitter sense of the reality that their respective characters are facing. As a result, though the stigmata may present as a possible actual event in the narrative, its symbolic position at its centre is what’s most important here.
This is where The Merthyr Stigmatist really shows itself to be a story for our time. For it challenges the assumptions made by the establishment, told to us in our overriding cultural narrative, that in order to make something of ourselves we must leave our small, local, tight-knit communities behind; we must swap them for a university education in towns and cities where regeneration and chic, café-culture living represent a professionalism which indicates success; and if, for some reason, we don’t quite get on and have to return to our native home, we must become some kind of saviour to the next generation, repeating the same mantra to them, and thus becoming part of the false and disempowering system that does anything but allow young people like Carys to be proud of where they come from if only those in power would just stop and listen – really listen – to what they have to say*.
The Merthyr Stigmatist succeeds in deconstructing this established narrative, subverting the notion of salvific agency in the process. In the end, it is Carys who saves Sian, not the other way around. Yet neither is Carys left completely unchanged by her encounter with Sian. This is where I sense the theological dimension of Parry’s play coming to the fore, as the themes of interdependence (the power of community) and empowerment (self-confidence and self-belief) break through. The result is not only the championing of a repressed voice of the Valleys but also a tapping into an emerging zeitgeist with regards Welsh identity. In this way, Parry uses the local to also touch upon a national concern, namely how Wales sees itself, in the context of the UK and the world. It is a conversation already happening to which, I think, this play can certainly contribute. As such, those in power would do well to listen – really listen – to what it has to say. For it is speaking a truth that, sadly, remains unheard.
“Do I literally have to bleed in front of you to get you to listen?” This is the question that haunts Lisa Parry’s visceral new play. Co-produced by the Sherman Theatre and Theatre Uncut, The Merthyr Stigmatist is a lean, lacerating two-hander that tells the story of sixteen-year-old Carys (Bethan McLean, in her professional debut) who claims to have received the wounds of Christ. Meanwhile, her sceptical teacher, Siân (Bethan Mary-James), struggles to believe that the hand of divinity has alighted, of all places, on Merthyr Tydfil.
It’s hard to express just how incredible it is to have the Sherman Theatre back. They’ve kept the artistic flame burning through unprecedented circumstances, and their latest production is a blazing triumph of personal and epic proportions. Parry’s play nimbly traverses the rocky terrain of politics, culture, and faith, and director Emma Callander, marking the tenth anniversary of Theatre Uncut’s founding, brilliantly balances tension and emotional tautness as the play moves pacily through beat after enthralling beat.
McLean and Mary-James are not merely mirrors, personalities bleeding in between the cracks; they are each other’s prism. To bring more characters to the stage would have refracted the light these two blistering performers throw on each other. (Aptly, the patriarchal (God)head Mr Williams remains unseen and offstage). As the power dynamics shift they prowl around Elin Steele’s sinisterly symmetrical set, which variously evokes a classroom, a cage, and a confessional. Bordered by liminal space, and brought to pulsing life by Andy Pike’s vivifying lighting, the only signifiers of the outside world are the choruses of Carys’ disciples and a line of what looks like rocks, perhaps Welsh slate, lining the front of the stage. At first glance, it looked like kindling for a martyr’s pyre – but on further reflection, I detected littered scraps of the Valleys’ industrial past, and it called to mind the Welsh towns that were flooded to provide English regions with water: Tryweryn and Elan, Llanwyddyn and Claerwen. Each one an Atlantis. The ruins of these stolen cities can sometimes be seen on warm days.
Intergenerational Welsh trauma is a wound that runs deep in the show. The spectre of Aberfan is invoked more than once, and Carys chastises her teacher for leaving her hometown (and accent) behind for pastures new in Cardiff, which might as well be ‘a different world’. In comparison to the vibrant, distinct Valleys community ‘where we look after each other’, Cardiff is ‘somewhere that could be anywhere’, a metropolis in the mould of many before it. While potrayals of the Valleys have historically honed in on negative stereotypes, Parry’s play is a moving paean to Merthyr and its individuality, its beauty and its love, its humour and its character, and above all its sense of community.
Merthyr Tydfil, or ‘Tydfil the Martyr’, is named after the daughter of an ancient Welsh King, who was known for her compassion and healing skill. Her sister formed a religious community in what is now Aberfan – a vivid reminder that we are never far away from our saints. Tydfil did not run when Picts invaded her land: she knelt calmly and prayed. Parry’s play is very much in the spirit of its martyred namesake. You cannot heal a wound, or a town, by running from it. Ivan Illich described the stigmata as an ‘individual embodiment of… contemplated pain’, and Carys, like her peers and the generations to come, will have to bear the marks of damage wrought by their forebears. But, like the diamonds in Carys’ mock science exam, like the gems of the coalfields and of the pits, something special and beautiful can be formed under immense heat and pressure. You just have to know where to look.
Recorded live during the pandemic and available to stream online through to 12th June, The Merthyr Stigmatist is just under an hour of utterly transcendent theatre. It unflinchingly addresses mental health, rape culture, and self-harm, and makes space for women’s rage. The show itself is an open wound, presented to us, palms up, asking for supplication, or succour, or simply to be seen. Are the holes in Carys’ hands and feet the marks of divinity, or of delusion? That is a question for you to answer, but in doing so, you might risk missing the miracle entirely.
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I have only known and admired him in a professional context. Done.
In the fateful words of JTC, ‘everything online is weird and nebulous’, and the ‘South Wales-based performer + theatre maker-come-nonsensical ideasman’, Justin Teddy Cliffe, is no exception. Weird and nebulous figure large in his show, Welcome Back, livestreaming on YouTube, where his particular brand of weird and nebulous is well-worth watching.
In his 30-40 minute one-man show, Cliffe performs live at Le Pub in Newport (Gwent) to cardboard cut outs, while simultaneously reaching human audiences digitally in cyberspace. Nice juxtaposition.
Self-created, directed and performed, with dramaturgy by Jeremy Linnell, Cliffe shows up in his underwear on a circular stage the size of a lazy susan — enough space for one man and four cans of beer. I’m guessing the mini stage was a creative decision — it had to be tight enough to get an upstage shot of his arse and still get audience reaction.
Cliffe’s brand extends to a kind of civilised vulgarity, which, if you don’t typically dance to the vulgar beat, try it. Cliffe delivers vulgar on the off-beat — it’s charming, it’s gentle — but don’t be fooled, it’s still a roller coaster ride with heightened realism, giving us an up ’n over view of the human condition in all its pitiful frailty, perhaps a view from the ‘Pepsi Max aka The Big One’ he still dreams of, dreams crushed like his beer cans, crushed, to delineate scene changes. And if you do like to dance you won’t want to miss his beat box R&B number, Right on Time (Choreography, Kylie Ann Smith).
The extent to which Welcome Back is autobiographical isn’t clear. His only character isn’t named. I suggest he represents Everyman. He questions: ’How will we cope going back into the world after having been in survival mode for so long?’ The Universe answers, ‘Who knows, but before you start worrying about all that, why don’t you toast this strange time with a drink or four and dance like it’s the end of the world as we know it.’ And so he does, for all humans and cut-outs to see.
The show deals with mental health, survival modes, memories, self-preservation and accepting change through a contemporary kind of clowning, and backed up by the science of survival we see in a slideshow at the top of the show, designed to assure us when he goes off on one.
His dreams — abstract memories — form the backbone of the show; song, dance and mini-riffs — like the ‘If You Haven’t Done That’ tale about his wild swimming, kombucha drinking, culture growing neighbours — are crack fillers. Cliffe’s recollections are mutually painful — he hurts, we hurt; he confesses they are ‘not stories I really want to tell, so let’s get on with it,’ a way of bracing himself and suggesting we strap ourselves in, too. And he tackles some tough stuff — but he makes sure that there’s a soft landing, providing billows of laughter at his raucous characterisation and self-styled use of language.
Justin Teddy Cliffe’s kind of humour begs the world to be a kinder, more humorous place. He manages to deliver raw stories, giving us something to really chew on, and edgy messages, sharp edges you’ve got to be mindful of. The combination is a prescription for our well-being: all that chewing flexes and stretches the brain muscles; and those edges require a wholesome flexibility and navigation skills.
As a born and bred Valleys girl I have mixed feelings about plays that are set in “The Valleys”. Although it’s great to see these areas represented on stage, in the past I have been disappointed by productions that include stereotypical characters portraying stories that no longer seem relevant (anyone else feel like there is a bit of a theatrical obsession with the miners strike?). As a local, I’m also attuned to spotting a dodgy Valley’s accent a mile off – so, basically, I’m pretty hard to please.
However, The Merthyr Stigmatist written by Lisa Parry is a breath of fresh air amidst this catalogue of out-dated, tokenistic work. The powerful production which had its digital world premiere this week, is the perfect choice for the Sherman Theatre’s first fully staged performance in over a year. It signals a bold return for the Sherman, demonstrating the efficacy of Welsh theatre proving that local stories can have a global resonance.
As the play opens, we are introduced to the characters of sixteen year old Carys and her teacher Sian. Carys, played by Bethan McLean who makes her professional debut in the production, claims to have received the wounds of Christ. She believes that this is a sign that she has been “chosen” and is determined to capitalise on the experience to achieve social media fame. Her teacher, played by Bethan Mary-James, feels that the only way to protect her pupil is to silence her. Both actors give excellent performances, bringing authenticity to the piece. McLean is utterly convincing as a misunderstood, brash teenager who is desperate to be heard. As the piece develops and Carys learns she is able to push her teachers buttons, Mary-James’ “snobby” Cardiff accent subtly but cleverly slips back into her native Valley’s dialect signaling that she can no longer avoid her past.
All of the action takes place in a Merthyr classroom, the stage is simply set with bright intrusive lighting. There is little space for the characters to move which adds to the intensity of the piece as the tension builds. The play translated well as a digital piece and, although I couldn’t help wishing that I could watch this performance in the theatre rather than through my laptop, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the production.
Lisa Parry describes Merthyr as “one of [her] favourite places in the whole world”, it is clear throughout that she respects the area and would like to “stop the stigma” that some may associate with it. Whilst the play is littered with local references and vivid descriptions of the area, the beauty of the piece is its universality. The play explores global issues, covering politics, culture and religion. It raises pertinent questions about the motives of those in power and challenges our perception of truth.
Ultimately, this play could be based anywhere; it is relevant, contemporary and provocative. The fact that Parry has decided to base the piece in Merthyr, shifts the power paradigm, allowing new voices to be heard. Afterall, as Carys asks – “why shouldn’t someone from Merthyr be the chosen one?”
The production is available to view here online until the 12th of June.
Get the Chance supports volunteer critics to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.
Down the rabbit hole and across to Neverland we go, mix in a personal tragedy and that gives you Come Away. A mixed bag of a film that never seems to know where its own story is going, but yet, there are glimmers of hope within its 94 minute runtime. The film ponders the question ‘What if Alice from Wonderland and Peter Pan were siblings?’ Starring the likes of Angelina Jolie and David Oyelowo, the latter of which steals the show in every scene he is in, but the film primarily focuses on its younger cast, Keria Chansa and Jordan Nash, as the Littleton children, each destined for an adventure. The film takes a look within the imagination of a child, and how certain events, good or bad, can trigger it.
Within the time of the 19th Century, a time without technology or the violence we see today. Three children, David Littleton (Reese Yates), Peter Littleton (Jordan Nash) and Alice Littleton (Keria Chansa) enjoy their peaceful life, full of wonder in their tea parties or adventure in their forest, where either imagination can run wild as they can travel, encouraged by their mother Rose Littleton (Angelina Jolie) and their father Jack Littleton (David Oyelowo), the three children enjoy a happy, fun life. Unfortunately, a dark storm is cast over the family, with the accidental death of David, each family member spirals into a dark path in order to cope with their grief, Rose delves deep into the world of alcohol, neglecting Alice, who seeks solace with her aunt Elanor Morrow (Anna Chancellor), whilst Jack delves deep into his mysterious and dangerous past, costing him the safety of his family. As Alice and Peter seek to aid their father, they travel to London to put an end to their family’s tragedy, if it were only that easy.
The film’s two central characters Alice and Peter Pan, each come from a beloved piece of classic literature. Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, first published in 1865, whilst J.M. Barrie created the character of Peter Pan in a series of novels, the first of which came out in 1902 in his novel, The Little White Bird. Characters and story elements are drawn from both books to create this story, and many characters are found in subtle, but unique and unexpected ways. In fact, some story elements are even taken from the personal history of the authors, for example. J.M. Barrie had an older brother who died in an accident, leaving their mother devastated. J.M. Barrie later attempted to take his siblings’ place in her mother’s eyes. Similar to what Peter did in the story. The idea of the story itself first came to the screenwriter Marissa Kate Goodhill when she graduated from college, after taking a class, she wondered about ‘what if Peter and Alice were siblings’ and began working on the script for the film for years. Directed by Brenda Chapman, the first woman to ever direct an animated film from a major studio, Dreamworks’s The Prince of Egypt.
Her unique vision to the film, brought to life hundreds of different places and characters. Visually, the film looks like it had been ripped straight from an animated Disney movie, bringing a fantasy element, the way she is able to combine the real world as well as the children’s imaginations flow seamlessly, between the false and the real. The visual effects within the first half of the film are flawless. Whilst I do have my issue with the pacing of the first act, the first scene is mind blowing. The children are introduced, as well as establishing the general tone of the film. The characters themselves are a mixed bag, with many of the characters we see, a version of a beloved character from the books. With the exception of the family, each character is given a single character trait in order to make them memorable, however, they do this to the best of their abilities, making some of them extremely memorable. Clarke Peters’ portrayal of the pawn shop owner, the Mad Hatter, makes a lasting impact, and whilst only having a few scenes, he makes a lasting impression on the audience. The same could be said for the character of Elanor Morrow, who is this film’s version of the Queen of Hearts, a much more modern take on her character, with her views on class being her aim driving force, and I do think that her character is generally concerned for her sister as well as Alice, and the scenes of Alice and Elanor together near the start are heart touching. But out of every single character, the character I find we get most attached to is Jack Littleton.
Jack Littleton is perhaps the most interesting character, presented as a good father, and an excellent carver, coming from an unsavoury upbringing within the crime world. He is extremely hard working and sets in motion the story that gets their family into trouble, when after David’s death, he returns to his gambling ways. Whilst I do not think any of the characters is more essential than another, Jack is the character that holds the family together, having connections to both Peter Pan and Alice and Wonderland. After David, I would argue that he is a principal character.
However, despite the film’s highlights, there are a large number of issues that I think could have been fixed with a couple lines of dialogue and better pacing, the film could have been improved, significantly. My first major issue is the film’s pacing, during the first act as we led up to David’s death, the film was extremely slow, apart from the fast paced stellar first scene, the film doesn’t improve from there, until the death of David that is, were the film picks up the pace to deliver that in my opinion, the most interesting act, especially the Jack Littleton plotline. The true calamity however is the third act, by far the worst part of the film, a rushed conclusion that never tells us truly what is going on. I will not spoil the film, but, in the final scenes of the film, we are left to wonder what is real and what is not, leading to confusion, which is quite annoying, another issue with the final act I have is the terrible effects, which I am surprised at, since up to that point, the effects stood strong.
The connection between Alice and Peter was well developed, until it was not. At the essence of their relationship, is a strong dynamic, Alice is a child who wants to grow up, whilst Peter is a child that never wants to grow up, and through the second act, their bond is developed, with David now gone to hold them together, they are forced to find their own way, learning to work together. However, the two characters are too separated through the film, for them to forge a connection that was memorable, and therefore, forgettable. They also bring, A List actors, such as Michael Caine and Derek Jacobi, who only appear for one or two scenes. Scenes that I feel could have been replaced with up and coming actors that could have made the exact same effect.
Ultimately the film is bland, it is something special in my opinion, sure the actors make the best out what they are given, but it is not enough to save them from poor pacing and a story that feels unconnected and unhinged. What makes it even worse we that there was a strong and interesting story within the film, the story of Jack Littleton, I feel that the film could have been much better by focusing much more on this, I feel that, whilst I enjoy that particular aspect, the film fails to catch what made is so interesting in the first place. I enjoy the stories of Peter Pan and Alice and Wonderland, the latter of the two much more, however, by combining them, it was given a muddled story, down the rabbit hole they went, but when the story fell, it never stopped falling.
Signature Entertainment presents Come Away on Blu-ray and DVD on 12th April.
Ethan is a member of The Torch Theatre, Young Film Ambassadors, this is a new scheme for those aged 14-18 in Pembrokeshire that will give opportunities for young people to watch, discuss and review the latest independent, UK & International, and blockbuster films. The scheme will give the young ambassadors the opportunity to get their reviews seen, and, to find out more about cinema and filmmaking in focused workshop sessions for aspiring reviewers with special guest speakers.
National Dance Company Wales’ young Associates premiered their new Dance film titled ‘Now Begin’ at the U Dance Cymru 2021 Digital Dance Day on Saturday 15 May, it was made in collaboration with Artes Mundi, and creatives from across the theatre and dance sector in Wales. The Associates film has now gone on to be selected (along with other dance films) to represent Wales at the National U Dance Showcase 2021.
NDCWales’ Associates meet weekly at the Dance House, Cardiff between September and April through workshops led by a team of NDCWales dancers and leading instructors in dance. Each year the Associates work towards creating a final performance.
Guy O’Donnell, NDCWales’ Learning and Participation Producer said of this years final performance “We were really looking forward to creating a new piece in collaboration with Artes Mundi 9, which would have been a performance at the Artes Mundi exhibtion at National Museum, Cardiff and at the Youth Dance Night event held each year at the Dance House. Fortunately we were able to evolve and adapt this performance for online audiences, which has resulted with us working with some exciting creatives and now results in a special premiere for us at U Dance Cymru 2021.”
‘Now Begin’ is a reflective piece inspired by the current work exhibited at Artes Mundi 9 by Indian artist, Prabhakar Pachpute. The film portrays young dance artists sharing their desires for change in the world. Inspired by Prabhakar Pachpute’s Artes Mundi exhibition’s themes of protest, these dance artists share their vision for a new beginning through movement and voice. Choreography is by Kokoro Arts and The Associates. Music by Tic Ashfield and Film by Gavin Porter.
You can watch Now Begin below
Below you can watch a Behind-the-Scenes look at the making of ‘Now Begin’ featuring interviews with Prabhakar Pachpute, Kokoro Arts, The Director of Artes Mundi 9, Nigel Prince, Curator of Public Programmes, Artes Mundi 9, Letty Clarke and Associate Dancers Ellie Gale, Heidi Thomas and Harly Videan.
The National Dance Company Wales Associates programmes is currently open for applicants to audition for the term starting in September 2021.
For over a decade, National Dance Company Wales has been nurturing some of the most talented dancers from across Wales and developing their skills
Based at the Dance House, the home of NDCWales, the Associates (ages 14-19 years old) follow a programme created by Faye Tan, our Learning Lead Dancer, with the guidance of our Artistic Team. The Learning Lead Dancer is a member of our Dance company and is a point of contact for the Associates. The LLD gives feedback and support during the programme.
Over the course of the year, our Associates programme focuses on improving creative and technical skills, along with developing work for performance opportunities that the Company creates for them through the year.
We have a limited number of places available and successful applicants are chosen through a free audition workshop. The audition workshop consists of a contemporary technique class where dancers can show their skills and potential to our Company dance experts.
NDCWales Associates provides high level contemporary training for young dancers. Sessions run on Sundays during term time (Welsh schools’ term timetable) from 10:30am – 12:30pm and are taught by Company Dancers and guest artists.
As part of the Associates programme, members can access;
Assessments and guidance from our Learning Lead Dancer.
Additional creation and performance opportunities available to those interested.
Mentoring opportunities from NDCWales Associate Artists.
Access to reduced price tickets at The Dance House and Wales Millennium Centre.
Opportunities to access dance activity in collaboration with National Youth Dance Wales.
Career Development Talks
Work Experience Opportunities
The Associates programme also offers two bursaries, applicants are invitedto apply for the bursary upon acceptance on the programme.
With bursary one, you’ll need to pay £202 for all of the weekly contemporary training classes and Dancer Wellbeing Days. The optional Creation Week package will cost an extra £77. (Total amount payable, £279).
With bursary two, you’ll need to pay £50 for all of the weekly contemporary training classes and the Dancer Wellbeing Days. The optional Creation Week package will cost an extra £20. (Total amount payable, £60).
You can apply to audition at the link below, applications close on Friday the 4th June. Auditions take place on Saturday the 10 July and Sunday the 11th July. Applicants will audition in small groups for approximately 150 minutes.
Sir Anthony Hopkins was the latest of many Oscar winners with a Welsh connection, one in particular is often overlooked. The greatest film ever made is considered to be Citizen Kane, but it lost out on Best Picture in 1941 to a story about a family of Welsh coal miners.
How Green Was My Valley is about the Morgan family, and set between 1890-1914. It tells of the lives of Gwilym, his wife Beth, and their seven children living in a coal mining village in the Rhondda. Derided for its inaccuracies, mining families of the time could barely recognise their own lives. The novel was also far from authentic as the writer, Richard Llewellyn, was the son of Welsh parents who ran a pub in London. Born and raised there, he had an English accent, and never set foot in Wales until he was an adult. Most of the background came from listening to stories told by others, and written while on army service in India. The rights were bought by Fox for $300,000 and adapted by American screenwriter Philip Dunne, who had no idea about Wales. It wasn’t even filmed there: The original intent was to make it on location, in colour, and as a four hour epic like Gone With The Wind, but the outbreak of World War Two ended that. Instead an entire village was built in Malibu Creek State Park, taking 150 builders six months and costing $110,000, with the hill painted black to look like coal slag.
Studio executives also watered down the politics of the story, uneasy with its pro-union and socialist message. Gwilym Morgan is seen as being an independent leader, opposed to unions. Most of his sons disagree, and it is this issue that eventually leads to the decline of both the Morgan family and the valley itself.
The biggest criticism of the film is the poor Welsh accents by the actors, as there was only one Welsh person in the entire cast. Rhys Williams from Clydach plays Dai Bando, the miner who teaches Huw how to box. The rest are Irish, Scottish, English and even Canadian. One of the better accents comes from Mr Parry the chapel deacon, played by Arthur Shields. The brother of Barry Fitzgerald who plays Cyfartha, he fought in the Easter Rebellion in 1916 and was imprisoned afterwards in a camp in Frongoch, Wales. Oddly enough John Loder (Ianto Morgan) was a British officer and fought on the other side.
Despite the criticism it should be remembered that the film won 5 Oscars, and brought Wales to the attention of the world. It also managed to create a genuine feeling of Welshness by using traditional songs & hymns, such as Men of Harlech, Cwm Rhondda and Calon Lan, employing most of the Welsh singers in California. For me it has the one thing that Citizen Kane lacked, heart.
There is one scene in particular that captures the poetry, sadness and humour that are endemic to Wales: a disaster brings everyone to the mine, including Dai Bando, his constant companion Cyfartha, and Mr Gruffydd, the preacher who was about to leave the valley. With men still trapped, he appeals for volunteers to rescue them:
Mr. Gruffydd: “Who is for Gwilym Morgan and the others?”
Dai Bando: “I, for one. He is the blood of my heart. Come Cyfartha.”
Cyfartha: “Tis a coward I am. But I will hold your coat.”
The film left its mark on several of the cast and crew: Anna Lee (Bronwyn) became pregnant halfway through filming, Maureen O’Hara later named her daughter Bronwyn, Donald Crisp & Beth Allgood (Mr & Mrs Morgan) were nominated for Best Supporting Oscars, with Crisp winning, and John Ford won his third Best Director Oscar. The film also won cinematography and for Art Direction, due mainly to the village set. Although many believe Citizen Kane to have been robbed, I think that at a time when the world was going to war, a film about a family struggling to stay together through tragedy was the right choice.
“Men like my father cannot die. They are with me still – real in memory as they were in flesh, loving and beloved forever. How green was my Valley then.”
The revival of Lucinda Coxon’s Herding Cats, first produced in 2010 at Theatre Royal Bath, and directed by Anthony Banks is a raw, complex and twisted dark comedy that hacks away unapologetically at some of humanity’s worst ills. This time, again directed by Banks, it’s at the Soho Theatre in London, and presented with a live-stream component, promising to be a groundbreaking experience.
Set in a hardcore, passive-aggressive emotional landscape, the play deals with loneliness, intimacy and trust, and Coxon’s cutting, acerbic dialogue — especially out of the mouth of Justine, played by Sophie Melville (Iphigenia in Splott) — hurts, a lot. Justine and Michael, played by Jassa Ahluwalia (Peaky Blinders) are 20-something flatmates. Justine works long hours in an office; Michael appears to work way fewer hours, from home. She dresses well and looks great; he doesn’t change his clothes throughout. Justine is hyperactive, a non-stop talker and an open book. Michael, while responsive, is subdued and reveals little. She is trying hard to resist a drink; he drinks and offers her drinks. Their relationship looks, for all their differences, to be one of good friends, who like and trust one another. But behind Micheal’s sealed lips are secrets, and the underlying cryptic tension questions everything.
The aura of the entire production, including the pre-set, is edgy. The notion of this shared live and digital performance space is edgy. The soundscape (Ben & Max Ringham) adds more edge. There is a sense that we are all in this together, but only in that we are all, audience included, flying by the seat of our pants. In all other ways we are disconnected, and that produces an uncomfortable energy in the house. Well, in my house anyway. Even digitally, this play insists we feel something, even if we don’t know what to feel yet.
‘Enter’ the third, especially evasive, character, Saddo, played by Greg Germann (Grey’s Anatomy). He’s in his car on the phone, literally elsewhere, and that’s the point. The achievement of his playing the scene live from L.A., alongside and together with Ahluwalia live on stage in London, is very cool. That he hits his marks consistently without a hitch from start to finish is quite a feat, but once we’ve seen the technology work in Germann’s first appearance, it doesn’t wow us quite the same way again. We have become accustomed to the tech working in other settings, so I’d surmise that this is less breakthrough stuff for audiences and more for the producers (O’Henry; Stellar; Jeff Hollander; and Theatre Nerd). But you know, my response is based on having watched digitally at home. The in-theatre audience experience may be completely different, and I’ll be interested to find out more about that. I’d also like to get backstage and talk to the stage manager (Rory Neal-McKenzie) about his experience calling the show!
Through an exclusively on-screen persona and regular sexline chats with Michael, Germann delivers Saddo’s special recipe for evil-dipped-in-shameful somewhat flatly, but it is still a gut full. Saddo is Michael’s ‘Daddy’. Michael is Saddo’s daughter? More provoking is the jaded and skillfully manipulative Michael, and Ahluwalia’s vocal timing in these scenes is impressive. Almost in the same breath he switches using his little girl voice to seduce her Daddy and Michael’s adult male voice to insist that Saddo ‘put the payment through’.
Melville reaches the highs and lows of this woman’s desperately genuine, heart-on-sleeve attempt to be the best person she possibly can be, naively trusting, viciously self hating, with subtle precision.
Doubly mention-worthy is the costumes (Costume Designer, Susan Kulkarni). Michael’s ‘look’ represents the popular pajama culture spawned years before we were locked down in our homes, but one that took firm hold. Multiple costume changes intimate that Justine’s clothes define her, and that she also defines her generation, and I’d bet there is interest in where to find them.
Throw in Justine’s love-hate relationship with her boss, who crosses the line; her on the wagon, off the wagon relationship with alcohol; and the nebulous way her panties keep disappearing, and you may find yourself crying and laughing at once. Genders, roles, intentions, and outcomes are blended into a sick smoothie of sorts, rich in nutrients and toxins in equal measure, not all ingredients are clearly listed on the label.
Justine and Michaels duet of The Twelve Days of Christmas serves as an Intermission and is much needed to break the tension, but it is not enough to brace us for what is to come. And the caustic ‘punch’ line — is not a joke.
Leslie R. Herman Jones for Get The Chance Wales, May 2021
After 1 year of ups and downs in our industry, I cannot tell you how excited I was about tonight.
The brief period that we returned to Theatre near the end of last year felt like part of me returned but to be shut down again was hard for everyone. Suddenly, we are working our ways back and gosh, doesn’t it feel good.
What better way to celebrate our return than with The Producers (No, Not That One) at the Pleasance Theatre. With all proceeds going to the #TheatreArtistsFund, we were entertained with a cabaret style show full of talent, of fun and of joy while supporting those who have had a really difficult year.
While many, bar a couple of the performers, were new to me, we all laughed, we all felt comfortable and in tune with one another and it felt like a family enjoying a common love. To be back in a fringe venue felt like a homecoming amongst friends.
The Producers was as it says on the tin: A culmination of some of London’s finest Theatre Producers showcasing what else they can do. Often, we are all known in this industry as jack of all trades: giving our hand to a number of different elements (myself included) and often this is from starting with our love of the Theatre, perhaps to be performers and finding that our passion and talent in also in many other elements.
We were treated to wall shaking singing, some hilarious comedy, a circus routine, wonderful piano and a Host full of love and laughter. Every single person was full of talent and showcased that everyone from in the background to the forefront are full of talent and skills.
I could not imagine more of a perfect show to come back to, with our World returning somewhat back to how it was , than to bring some of the backbone of our industry and celebrate their talent as Producers but as performers.
Hi Gundija and Krystal, great to meet you both, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Gundija: I am an independent contemporary dance artist based in Cardiff. Originally from Latvia, I have trained and worked in dance in Denmark and England, but now I have found my home in Wales – I have been living and working here for over 5 years now. I am also the Executive Director of Kokoro Arts.
Krystal: I grew up in Bermuda, in a green bungalow with my seven siblings and our parents. I continued dancing at my local dance schools until I moved to Wales in 2012, to dance with Ballet Cymru. Currently, I’m a freelance dance artist, choreographer, writer and emerging director, based in Newport. I am the Artistic Director of Kokoro Arts.
What got you interested in the arts?
Krystal: The arts have always been a part of me, my maternal grandmother is a mixed media artist. She creates sculptures and paintings, and uses found objects and transforms them into intricate works of art. Her house is the most beautiful and colourful place I’ve ever experienced – hand painted floor rugs and walls covered floor to ceiling with her artwork. My grandmother’s sisters were all writers, musicians, poets and fashion designers. My mother is a writer and would paint the ceiling in our kitchen into the image of the day sky. Growing up I was always taught to think differently, creatively; the house was filled with books and blocks and painted walls. The arts are an integral aspect of my identity and culture.
Gundija: I have always been exposed to art when growing up – theatre performances, outdoor exhibitions, social cultural events, strong Folk dance and national singing traditions. Once dancing became my choice (rather than my parents) – I was exposed to different new dance styles, which led me to viewing dance as an art form not just a fun (and tough) movement activity. Through new international friendships – eventually collaborations – I started immersing myself into other art forms on a more professional level.
Together you run Kokoro Arts, the organisations mission is “Kokoro Arts supports and promotes the development and work of young artists, facilitates sector-wide discussion and champions inclusion, accessibility and diversity throughout the Wales dance sector.”
How did the organisation develop and what are you working on at the moment?
The organisation developed out of passion and love; passion for the arts and a love for Wales – its culture and the wide diversity of the people here. It developed through conversation; through seeing the gaps in the sector and finding a way that we could fill them. We saw that there was a lack of support for young/early career artists, and we each understood what that lack of support feels like. We decided that we wanted to connect those artists with opportunities, with the sector, and to offer support for their development.
We offer support to young artists through 1-2-1 sessions, bespoke advice and feedback, application and CV writing support, sharing monthly opportunities, and ensuring we offer an open door for any questions/concerns they have. Also, we build and support networks, individually and as a company. Through the company last year we facilitated dance sector conversations and through that, the Wales Dance Network was formed. The Wales Dance Network | Rhwydwaith Dawns Cymru continues to bring the Wales dance sector together and we’re part of that steering group. We began an EU Artist Network, to be a support to artists living away from their home countries, and to share contacts and networks within that group. These connections are very important to us and our work.
Currently, we’re working on an incredible Arts Council Wales funded ‘Connect and Flourish’ project – Emerging Artists: Access, Inclusion, Connection – which will offer five early career artists the opportunity to collaboratively explore how access and inclusion can be integral to their movement practice.
The programme is in partnership with Stephanie Back, Krystal Dawn Campbell, Eädyth Crawford, Matthew Gough, Chris Ricketts, and Ballet Cymru, The programme places anti-ableist actions and perspectives at the centre of developing the next generation of movement artists in Wales. Along with that, we’re working on an Erasmus+ project; a partnership between Finland, Latvia and Wales. It is a transnational, interdisciplinary project that aims to explore and exchange practices on using creative body-based approaches for social inclusion and community building. And finally, we’re collaborating with a Bermudian organisation on a research and development project. The History of Us | Ein Hannes Ni explores how artists from different backgrounds, cultures, and languages share their artistic process and practice through discussions and dance sessions.
Kokoro Arts has choreographed a new dance film for the National Dance Company Wales, Youth Dance company, The Associates. The project has been created entirely online and is inspired by the work of Artes Mundi 9 exhibiting artist, Prabhakar Pachpute. His practice “reflects on the working conditions, relentless excavation, unequal social development and land politics in his home state Chandrapur, known as ‘the city of black gold’.” Could you see any links between Prabhakars approach to Chandrapur and Wales in your work with the Associates?
Similarly to Prabhakar’s artistic approach to his work, we wanted the film we choreographed for ‘Now Begin’ to address issues that are pressing and important to young dance artists in Wales. In the film, they dance and speak about the change they want to see in the world – it felt really important to give them a platform to be seen and heard.
As the project has been delivered entirely online due to Covid-19 how did you approach the choreographic process and working with the young dancers?
It was important to us to make sure that the creation process was as engaging and interactive as possible. Collaboration with the Associates was essential to us – we really wanted to give them ownership over their creative process as well as the finished work.
While we had previously engaged with some of the Associates, it was our first interaction for most of the Associates. We spent time in the first session finding out about who they were as people and as artists; what was important to them about not only this process, but also their artistic development and ambitions.
We facilitated time and space for them to comment critically on each other’s choreographic work within the session using Zoom’s chat function. In giving feedback, artists engage quite differently with the work. The critique isn’t about higher legs or more stretched ankles, it’s about expression and movement; how the work is created, how it comes across and translates to audiences. Even the filming of their choreography allowed for them to engage further in the creation process. Each Associate chose their own filming location, choreography, and camera shots.
The NDCWales Associates are one of a number of youth dance organisations in Wales. Do you feel the opportunities offered by these groups are of value?
Yes, I believe that these programmes are of great value. They can connect young people to dancers from other dance schools, other parts of Wales, and the UK, in a way that helps them to engage differently with their practice and development.
Youth dance organisations have the ability to offer young artists a space to learn from different dance artists who come to teach and to create work on them and to learn different ways of moving from what they’re used to.
However, each of these programme’s could do with a lot more boldness in the range of dance styles they are offering and the range of artists that interact with the youth artists. I would love to see a wider diversity of young artists audition and accepted onto these programmes. This would offer young artists a diversity of lived experiences to interact, engage with, and learn from.
If a dancer wanted to stay and train in Wales and then pursue a career, what support system would you suggest they require in order to be able to do this?
Access to dance classes that would develop their skill-set continuously.
Sustainable ongoing support for their professional development rather than one-off engagements that have no continuity.
Mentorship and coaches to support their artistic practice and help them reflect on their career development.
Platforms and events that allow them to test their thoughts and creative practice at a variety of levels.
For organisations and project funded companies to regularly advertise for new dancers rather than turning to those they already know.
For organisations and project funded companies to have more paid apprentice positions or opportunities to observe and engage with them.
More public discussions about dance in Wales
A strategy for dance in Wales that helps the sector develop and therefore offer opportunities for those who want to remain here.
Undergraduate training would be a good option but isn’t necessary to become a professional dancer.
Are there any examples of training systems or support networks that exist in other nations that Wales could look to utilise?
This is difficult to answer, because each nation’s system reflects a particular context. What works in one place might not work in another.
In Latvia The Latvian Academy of Culture offers an undergraduate degree programme in contemporary dance with an intake every 4 years, which offers an increased intensity and focus to their education; however it does leave gaps in graduate years.
Irelands Step Up dance project for graduates aims to bridge the gap between dance education and professional contemporary dance practice in Ireland.
CAT schemes in England show how additional opportunities can be facilitated, but we would need to be careful that they don’t only offer routes to conservatories or serve those more privileged.
What does Wales do well in dance or cultural training and delivery?
There’s a great commitment to bilingual and multilingual work, including an emerging commitment to British Sign Language.
Wales has created an environment that allows visiting (short project) artists to feel like they want to stay here – live, work, and feel at home.
There’s a rich diversity of dance styles in Wales from Welsh folk dance, concert dance, and contemporary dance, to a wide range of cultural, social and competitive dance practices.
There’s a commitment to community dance in Wales which provides a framework of dance for everyone.
You are both parents of young children working in the arts. Given that you are both freelance artists and parents the Lockdown period must have been very challenging for you in combining the demands on your time? How did you approach this?
Krystal: For me, it was the same when I decided I would be a parent in the first place. I decided not just that I was going to do it, but that I could do it. That decision doesn’t change what happens, but it changes how I experience what happens. Those days that my son needs me even more than usual, I leave work alone and make myself available to him. I decide that that’s not a work failure but a moment to enjoy rest and connection. Motherhood has made me far more efficient in my work. I’m not lethargic, because I don’t have the time to be. I am definitely more tired than I was before I had a child, but I’m also more passionate, I’m more eager, and I have far more resilience. I decide that I can do it, and that doesn’t mean I always do it perfectly but it means I don’t give up.
Practically, I take on the work that I can do and I’m honest about the work that I can’t do. I find opportunities to get work done at odd hours. It’s about being really flexible. Learning that I could schedule my emails has revolutionised my working! If anyone ever gets an email from me at 8am, it’s because I stayed up the night before really late, responding to all of my emails. Making lists helps so much. I have pages and pages of to-do lists – this means that the tasks are out of my head so I don’t have to feel overwhelmed by them. I can look and decide what’s important to do each day. Another thing that helps a lot is having deadlines for when my work is due. This helps me to know when I need to focus on a specific task and when I have time to focus on other tasks; it’s essential to my wellbeing.
Gundija: The lockdown period, especially the very beginning of it was challenging, yes. There were suddenly new roles I felt I needed to fulfil as a mother whilst trying to work at the same time. What helped me was the repeated reminder (that came from myself, family and even social media sometimes) that I don’t have to be able to manage everything at once. So I learnt how to manage my time better (or tried to) – for example, when there were work meetings, I would tell myself it’s OK if my daughter has longer screen-time so that I can focus. Being present as a mother, for me is a priority, so whenever my attention is split and I’m neither with my daughter nor fully at work, I get stressed. The only way to avoid that is to clearly set times/moments when I know I will focus mainly on work and be less present as a mom and then have clear times where I’m fully engaged in activities with my child. And similar to Krystal – making to do lists helps me as well. It lets me get out of the chaos in my head when everything feels ‘too much’ and see all I need to do nicely organised on a paper.
Given the challenges you described above what support would help Creatives in Wales with young familes?
Flexible working hours and the ability to have children in the room whenever safe. Working with people who try to understand the unpredictability of life with a child would help reduce the guilt often felt by working parents. Having the ability to job-share more often would also be really great – that way a parent can engage with less worry about child-care costs. Where possible, including child-care as access costs would make a massive difference. Often, in order to work and have your child cared for, you end up losing money. Even a contribution towards child-care costs would make a big difference.
It would also be great, if there were a few parents, that the project or organisation could facilitate a shared child-care arrangement on the premises. Even something more informal would be a huge support. Potentially a child-minder who could take on a few children with the organisation/project covering a portion of the costs.
Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Are you aware of any barriers that creatives in Wales face? If you are, what might be done to remove these barriers?
Despite some changes, there is still systemic excluding around multiple characteristics. The system needs to act on equality not just talk about it.
Cultural Contracts and Arts Council Wales requirements for Portfolio organisations are a step forwards, but there needs to be deep thinking and radical doing to shift our perception of who is and who can be an artist.
A big issue is that not enough new job posts are being advertised, so those who are most marginalised are at a constant risk of precarious work, (hourly paid staff, fixed contracts, not secure in their position) so they don’t have time and space to develop their artistic practice.
With the roll out of the Covid-19 vacancies, the arts sector is hopeful audiences will return to venues and theatres. If theatres want to attract audiences what do you think they should do?
Gundija: I don’t think Vaccine Passports are a good idea. I have found live streaming performances alongside live events works well, so those who cannot attend physically, can still access it. It would be good to organise events for different specific audiences – perhaps have a coach that would pick up a group of members from a specific area. I think Venues should lobby the government so that our return to theatre spaces can be equitable. Perhaps there are ways of reducing costs for people who might struggle to attend or engage? And I think co-creating with people and communities might help us return together in a sustainable way.
Krystal: I think venues and theatres should continue to get even more creative about how they offer arts performances and engagement opportunities to audiences. Clearly outlining safety measures in place, more performances in public spaces, and shorter performances to offer more audiences an opportunity to engage safely.
It’s great to see many venues and theatres taking advantage of their outdoor spaces to engage audiences safely.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
Gundija: My priority would be to fund continuous support for early career artists. A scheme that would provide mentoring and opportunities for them to develop their artistic practice, give space to share their work and learn how to reflect on their practice and critically discuss it.
Krystal: I would fund disability arts. It’s important to me that all people are able to access and engage in the arts. I believe that the most effective way to develop and innovate as artists and as a sector is to engage closely with those who are different from us. Disability arts, and ensuring a diversity of disabled people are a part of this, would ensure a wider diversity of voices sharing and imparting into the sector, strengthening us all as well as developing audiences in Wales and beyond. I would love to see Wales become leaders in innovative disability arts. So often, within disability arts, people are still marginalised and forgotten. I am passionate about seeing Wales changing this – not becoming complacent but continuing to push towards more inclusion and an active respect and appreciation for difference.
What excites you about the arts in Wales?
Gundija: What excites me the most is definitely the potential I can see and feel in the Arts sector in Wales. Potential for the sector to grow, develop and co-create a Welsh identity that’s built on a strong support network for one another, diverse voices and inclusivity.
Krystal: I’m really excited about Theatr Iolo’s solar powered travelling theatre and the potential long-term possibilities for this kind of touring and showcasing work.
Aubergine Cafe’s unyielding commitment to offering opportunities and development to neurodivergent people.
Literature Wales and National Dance Company Wales’ cross artform collaboration for Plethu/Weave; their commitment to offering a wide range of artists the opportunity to be commissioned and to collaborate.
Articulture Wales’ consistent commitment to offering opportunities to under-represented artists.
Ffilm Cymru offering opportunities to develop a new generation of diverse film-makers.
Arts Council Wales’ Connect and Flourish funding strand – we need more real collaboration in the sector and even more so need a stronger commitment to Black, disabled, and Welsh speaking people.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
Our Voice Network | Rhwydwaith Ein Llais sharings have been an incredibly valuable and enjoyable space to be a part of. I feel that’s exactly what the sector needs – informal sharings of artist practices, a safe, supportive space to listen to artistic process and to ask questions. Each month this space is a place to enjoy the beauty of being artists; and each month the value of being a part of this space is clear.
Thanks for your time.
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Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events. / Lleisiau amrywiol o Gymru yn ymateb i'r celfyddydau a digwyddiadau byw