Hi Becky great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hi, thank you for meeting with me. Well, I’m currently a freelance dancer/ choreographer/ teacher based in Cardiff. I’m originally from Huddersfield (Yorkshire) and moved to Cardiff to train in Contemporary Dance at USW. I graduated in June 2019 but have stayed in Cardiff since. Since then, I have really found myself invested in the arts scene here in Wales.
So, what got you interested in the arts?
I’d like to say I’ve always been creative but that would be a lie. I started dancing quite young at my local dance school and loved the competitions and team dances that we’d do together. It wasn’t until I was much older and was exposed to more of the arts scene, that I started to see the beauty within the arts sector and understand how collaborative it can be.
Can you tell us about your dance process? Where do your ideas come from?
My creation process with making dance varies. I take great influence from the things around me. Being that, things that inspire and intrigue me or something I want to understand further. Either that or I use my personal experiences of my interactions with the world; things that I believe should be highlighted to others or need to be understood more widely.
You were recently involved in curating, House of Rhythm presents… A night of Hip Hop which took place at Kongs Cardiff on Thursday, March 5, 2020. The event is described as “A celebration and discovery of all that is Hip hop and is in partnership with Kellys Records and Grassroots Cardiff” How did you get into Hip Hop and Streetdance. How supported is the scene in Cardiff?
One of the dance schools I was involved with as a teenager, “Fidget Feet”, prioritised teaching the true foundations and principles of HipHop. This touched upon all five pillars of Hip-Hop as well as the various styles of dance within Street Dance culture.
That, alongside growing up with two brothers who thought they were destined to be the next Notorious B.I.G, meant I was immersed within the culture and that it’s been a pivotal part of my upbringing and even in my attitude and approach to movement (and life in general) now.
This series of events is an opportunity to provide a gateway into HipHop culture and not just the music form. I feel this sense of community within HipHop, especially in Cardiff, is lacking and hence why we have decided to partner with Grassroots.
By doing so, we are working with up and coming artists and providing them with opportunities to meet people they wouldn’t otherwise. Also, with the inclusion of workshops within different pillars of HipHop, we are combining the culture as a whole and not just focussing on one part.
There are a range of organisations supporting Welsh and Wales based dancers, 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 dance artist in Wales and if not what would help?
I’ve been extremely fortunate in the fact that as soon as I graduated, I found work that was within my field of practise. This has kept me financially stable and allowed me time to fulfil my own projects outside of my teaching work. I believe Cardiff and Wales has an extremely supportive network of artists, all willing to share their own knowledge and craft. Throughout my degree, I worked extremely hard to network and to meet the right people with the suiting opportunities to help me develop within my career. If it wasn’t for me outsourcing my own network of people (from all fields of the arts sector), I would’ve struggled to get to the place I am now, never mind the place I want to be by the end of the year.
I do feel there is an absence of ongoing opportunities, especially for recent graduates that are new to the sector. However, if we are willing to make our own work and source our own opportunities, making our own projects, yes, there is work but we must be prepared to pave this path for ourselves. This isn’t disregarding help and assistance from other creatives/ professionals, but the help is more to kickstart our own ideas rather than to flourish with other people’s.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
Wow, tricky question. I’d probably have to say spacing.
Providing space for artists to develop their own practise and ideas, whether
that be, musicians, dancers or visual artists. As not only is there a lack of
creative and accessible space in Wales, there’s a huge lacking of funded space.
If there were more funded residencies around Wales, we would see a lot more new
work being developed and a much more diverse community engagement from artists
in the area.
What excites you about the arts in Wales?
I feel like this is such an exciting time for
collaboration within Wales. There are more opportunities coming to bridge the
divide, whether that between artistic practises or between bodies of dancers.
There are some exciting opportunities in the works for disabled dancers which I
can’t wait to be involved in as well as new pools of artists moving to Wales
from areas such as London bringing new skills and assets.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?
Well there’s nothing like a little bit of shameless
self promo but this is honest and genuine. It would be The House of Rhythm
event which we had on the 5th March. There were people from lots of
different communities and backgrounds all coming together to support the
artists performing. We had people involved in the workshops that would never
normally be in those sorts of social experiences. I also had talks with
participants on how we can make our events more autism friendly and accessible
for those suffering with social anxiety etc. It was this coming together of
people which was really beautiful to witness as all of the participants were
supportive of each other, regardless of background and experience.
After its acclaimed debut on S4C in 2017, it was surely only
a matter of time before Bang returned to our screens. Over
two years have passed since the first series, with writer Roger Williams
wasting no time in getting down to business. A visceral opening scene throws us
straight in at the deep end, posing plenty of intrigue. What follows is a
well-plotted second season that melds the development of returning characters’
stories with those of brand-new faces.
There is no sign of second series syndrome, with Williams
developing a strong central crime narrative that works perfectly well as a
stand-alone. This means that there is no overreliance on the likes of Sam
(Jacob Ifan) and Gina (Catrin Stewart), the brother and sister who were central
to the show’s original run. Instead, the continuation of their storyline is
just one of a number of other narrative strands – each fully rounded and
complete – that tie together nicely. It is the tightly-crafted way that
Williams weaves these strands and slowly draws them into a collective whole
that makes Bang such a satisfying
The gun remains a potent symbol in series two, though its
appearance is much more sporadic. It has shifted from being the singular
obsession of one to being the shared object of many. Its presence is felt, but
always underneath the surface in this latest six-episode run. The ramifications
of its use, however, are potently displayed in the character of Sam. Still
trying to come to terms with the death of his father by such a weapon in series
one, we find him grappling with PTSD. Ifan does an excellent job of conveying
Sam’s mental state; in fact, it is one of the most genuine onscreen portrayals I
have ever seen. Most make clear what they are trying to do. Yet here, through a
combination of fine acting, clever editing, choice camera angles, and pervasive
music, the producers of Bang manage
to capture Sam’s struggles so powerfully that I couldn’t help but be
The domestic abuse by DI Morgan Riley (Dyfan Dwyfor) on wife
Caryn (Hedydd Dylan) is no less affecting. Williams captures the subtle
manipulation and invasive cruelty of the husband really well, causing me to
turn away from the screen several times such was my discomfort in the face of
his underhand brutality. In fact, this subplot became more absorbing than the
central storyline, involving a serial killer enacting revenge for the rape of
Marissa Clarke (Sophie Melville) ten years earlier. The bloodbath that ensues
across the course of six episodes is fairly graphic. Yet it was the unseen
mental and emotional scars inflicted on the show’s characters that had me
reaching for the remote in distress.
Writer Roger Williams has not returned to Port Talbot in a
hurry. This second series of Bang feels
as much a labour of love as its first. It is another compelling story full of well-defined
characters dealing with pressing issues. Returning fans will not be
disappointed. And for those who haven’t yet seen it, I would recommend adding it
to your isolation watch-list.
I wasn’t exactly disappointed but I wasn’t
satisfied either – for several reasons.
This puts me in a minority of one, as it seems both the play and this
production have been universally well-received:
– A must see
– a talented young cast
– terrific energy as the fight goes on
– so good all you want to do is roll out one
superlative after another
– and so on. So, why dissatisfied?
‘Blue Stockings’ is issue-based. The subject – the refusal of Cambridge
University to recognise women’s equal intelligence by awarding female students
degrees and allowing them to graduate – takes precedence over the
characterisation of the cast and any personal drama. The general circumstance – that of an institution
pigheadedly refusing to accept women as men’s intellectual equals – is a given
and it replaces the normal dramatic tension set up in scenes where there is a rising
tension between the protagonists. So,
does this subject provide suitable material for a play? For one thing, we know the ending in advance,
so there is limited suspense.
approach to tackling issues is to show a sympathetic character – a hero or
heroine – as being involved in or effected by what is going on in society. Thus in ‘Henry
IV’, Prince Hal and Falstaff can play out their relationship against a
backdrop of what it means to be a king in waiting; in ‘The Crucible’, Proctor and Abigail’s story explores the immediate
meaning of national paranoia; Hedda Gabler’s passion has nowhere to go and her
behaviour when confronted by an unassailable patriarchy becomes both
fascinating and horrific.
None of the people
portrayed in ‘Blue Stockings’ are of
heroic stature. They are not intended to
be. By giving us a number of female and
male undergraduates and a number of men and women academics, Jessica Swayle
spreads the load, as it were. But I
think she has done this too evenly. She
avoids the problem sometimes caused by having a pre-eminent main character –
the feeling that his/her problem is
unique – by her spread approach, but she leaves an attentive audience wondering
exactly where and on whom to place their attention.
pool of dramatis personae gives her an additional problem. Those associated with Cambridge, whether
working or studying there, are not and never have been representative of wider
UK society. We can’t shrug off our view
of them as elitist and privileged. En
masse they put us on the defensive. ‘Why,’ we ask ourselves, ‘should we care tuppence
about these toffs?’
One answer is because
they are not all toffs. Even in the
nineteenth century there would have been those at Cambridge who did not fit the
mould. Swayle shows us this by having a
working-class female undergraduate, Maeve Sullivan, and a genuinely egalitarian
male lecturer, Thomas Banks. (Banks’
career is derailed because he refuses to give up his Girton teaching when offered
a fellowship at Trinity. I thought
though, because of a bit of injudicious staging in this production, he might
have got into trouble because of the proximity of his hand to a student bottom,
occurring when he pushes Tess around on a bicycle – but maybe I wasn’t meant to
Swayle also sets
up an overarching tension by giving us two real historical characters: Elizabeth Welsh, the mistress of Girton, and
Henry Maudsley, the famous psychiatrist.
Mrs Welsh has been working patiently towards obtaining degrees for her
girl students; Maudsley has been diligently exploring hysteria and has a number
of theories about it.
of Maudsley needs much more careful handling because he is shown as representative
of contemporary male thinking. Swayle
gives him the space to present ideas which today appear as complete nonsense
but the way she does this is quasi-farcical.
We are encouraged to find him ridiculous, to laugh uproariously at his
‘wandering womb’ theory, without being simultaneously obliged to place the idea
in its real context. It was not funny
for the women of the time to be considered wholly at the mercy of their
thinking that Maudlsey and others put into hysteria was well-intentioned,
insofar as it was part of the early attempts to understand why women were so
unhappy and why many of them succumbed to severe mental illness. In other words, today Maudsley is both absurd
and understandable. In fact he
made a huge contribution to the treatment of the insane, giving what Wikipedia
describes as an astonishing amount of his own money to ensure the completion of
the hospital that was named after him – and which is still providing mental
health services today. If he was shown
on stage as a more rounded and complex character and not just as a blithering
idiot he would be both funnier and more interesting.
Wikipedia again – Elizabeth Welsh managed to rise from being a tutor at Girton
to become the first mistress to have any say in the college’s direct
management. She did not, however, manage
to achieve what the play suggests was her great ambition – the awarding of
degrees to female undergraduates. Cambridge
obstinately continued its male-centred approach until 1948. It was the last British university to reach
this point, some seven hundred years after Bolgona, where a woman got a degree
in 1237. A couple of women were teaching
at Spanish universities in the seventeenth century. Ironically enough, the first woman to be given
a BA Cantab was the Queen Mother, and this was only an honorary award. What does that say about respect for women
The problem as far
as the play and this production is concerned is how to flesh out Elizabeth
Welsh. Again I think Swayle needed to
handle this more carefully. As it is there is just insufficient modulation in Welsh’s
behaviour. One moment she is seen
talking quietly and intelligently to her out of order or worried students and
the next she is shouting at a member of her staff she disagrees with. She comes across as more like a stressed out
secondary teacher than a thoughtful member of an intellectual community. In the end she is transformed into a
monstrous harridan, booming at all and sundry.
I was relieved when she was pushed over and the ranting came to an end.
people, whether female or male, don’t resort to shouting one another down in a
hurry, because they have been equipped with a wide variety of vocal and verbal
resources. They deploy these resources so
as to be able to avoid direct confrontation – which they normally consider to
be both pointless and ridiculous. (It’s only when they get to the House of
Commons that they forget what they have been taught and start behaving badly.) I don’t object to violent arguments on stage
but they require preparation: they are only effective when we have experienced
the build up behind them. You can’t fast
forward. Because Elizabeth Welsh is not
the primary focus of the play’s story, she appears in the way to have a very short
fuse. Thus, her mood swings work against
the play’s main theme – that women are not driven exclusively by their
emotions. Who, honestly, would want
someone like her in the common room?
I expected the plot
as it unravelled might centre on Maeve Sullivan and her struggles to integrate
with her peers whilst she laid the foundations for a professional career and her
escape from her family background.
Instead, when her brother brings news of her mother’s death she is told
– by Elizabeth Welsh, no less – that she has to go home and look after her
siblings and accept her limited destiny.
The glades of academe are not for such as she. But, as we have not got to know her properly
before this happens, we don’t feel very sorry for her. She is quickly forgotten – like the girl or
girls murdered at the beginning of a Scandi noir TV series. Rather than serving as a dramatic
counterbalance to the other, upper middle class female undergraduates, she
remains – as described in the cast list – ‘a mystery’. Why?
One of those other
female undergraduates who is given a bit more air space is Tess Moffat,
described as ‘a curious girl’. This sounds as if it might be ironic – aren’t
all Cambridge undergraduates curious? – but she is not given very much more
room to manoeuver than Maeve.
In an early scene,
we watch her pluck up the extraordinary courage required to confront Maudsley
in a lecture. But here again, Swayle’s
touch is wrong. Maudsley rapidly loses his temper when Tess interrupts and
throws the uppity girl out of the lecture hall.
In reality he would have resorted to irony, the favourite linguistic
device of the academic. He would simply
have cut her down to size with a few well-chosen put-downs. That’s all it takes in a tense public space
where a practiced sneer can reduce anyone a bit insecure to human jelly. Any presentation of Cambridge life which
doesn’t show irony as almost the lingua franca is just unconvincing.
Because she has
not been humiliated, Tess’s holds her head up high – until she falls for a
Trinity man – Ralph, a cad and a bounder.
Ralph bowls her over with the trick that must have been old even in the
1890s, reading her a piece of Italian poetry.
Being a romantic nineteenth century nineteen year old – rather than an
unsentimental modern miss who would collapse in fits of giggles – Tess succumbs to Ralph’s less than obvious
charms. We are not, therefore, surprised
when we find out he is going to propose to another. In any case, university love affairs are not
often of more than passing interest.
Does this sub-plot add anything to the main story? Only insofar as Tess’ stormy love-life
disturbs her concentration, so she flunks her exams. Female intellect being undermined by emotion. Why not show Tess as bouncing back
easily? Everyone gets dumped. Most shrug it off.
There seems to be
a minor error in the unfolding of the love story. Tess and her beau have a picnic on what is referred
to as a hill from which they can see Kings College Chapel. I believe you can see the chapel from a
distance – or you could until modern buildings got in the way – but this is
because Cambridge is almost completely flat.
There was another
minor error, too, in the conversation flowing from the male
undergraduates. One remarks that
‘employers all want firsts’. This is an anachronism. Gentlemen did not go up to Cambridge in the
nineteenth century to please prospective employers. They went up because it was expected that
they would complete their education. It
was only the poor – like Maeve Sullivan (remember her?) who had to think of
getting jobs. The gentlemen had ‘prospects’
that would not be affected by the class of degree they took. They would be supported by Papa until friends
of the family set them up and opened the necessary doors. I understand even today it can be a bit like
that for some of them…
All the male
students appear to be paid-up members of the Cambridge equivalent of the
Bullingdon Club, with the exception of one, Will, who for some reason is hiding
the fact that he has known Tess all his life.
The aristocracy certainly behaved in the way shown but, yet again, it
would have been more interesting if there had been depth and variation in this
group of characters– if we had seen some of them worried about debt, others
obsessed with sport, even some concerned about their sexuality. Having Will as a student at Kings rather than
Trinity hardly counts as variation.
A scene which had
potential and which went awry involved a confrontation between one of the
Trinity men, Lloyd, and one of the Girton students, Carolyn Addison, – ‘an early bohemian’ – in a shop. Carolyn falls back, cowed into silence, when
Lloyd launches a tirade against her. I
think he would have been rude rather than bombastic, sniggering cleverly in the
way that misogynists do when they don’t have a gallery to play to. I’m also sure that Carolyn, smart and
demi-mondaine, would have had a killer riposte at the ready for when he refers
to female students as unnatural. Young
post -adolescent men like Lloyd are terrified of women. It doesn’t take much – a gesture, a movement
referring to real femininity – to reduce them to nothing. Lloyd is not in any position of power over
Carolyn and she has nothing at all to lose from ridiculing him. By having her turn away, as beaten down as
the female shopkeeper obliged to serve him, Swayle suggests that women were all
powerless. This goes too far. There is ample evidence in the literature of
the nineteenth century, from Trollope to George Eliot, showing women could hold
their own in social exchanges. That’s
one reason why they did get degrees in the end. You can’t imagine a Jane Austen
character backing off like Carolyn – and they had to operate a century earlier.
In terms of
holding their own, one of the reasons why women were finally admitted to
Cambridge was that they began getting better marks than men in exams. Not only were they acquiring knowledge but they
had the confidence and the skills necessary to use it and present new
ideas. This is an important historical
and sociological point but – can it make for great theatre?
Swayle shows us the
Girton undergraduates coming out with snippets of knowledge about more or less
every conceivable subject. They are bright,
well informed and well prepared for University Challenge. We do not see, however, what this
intellectual attainment has cost them, so it is hard to connect with it. We are informed by one – Celia, ‘a fragile hard-worker’ – in the course
of a conversation, that she has had a nervous breakdown. This hardly seems important as shortly
afterwards she sails through her viva.
I confess to being
puzzled by what seems to be another anachronism. In this viva, Celia refers to
Einstein, although relativity didn’t appear on the scientific scene publically
until 1915, about twenty years after the period in which ‘Blue Stockings’ is
set. Time and space may be relative but
Celia would not have been able to travel through them, however brilliant she
I think most of
the problems this production faced came from weaknesses within the play itself,
rather than the performers. It’s hard to
fail with some plays but it’s not easy to deliver on a combination of cameos
and set-pieces. Other than Polly Lister as
Mrs Welsh going over the top, nobody did anything wrong. The trouble was that
nobody did anything very right or memorable, either. If there are no characters with depth and complexity, actors
have to work very hard to ensure they can find individual ways of differentiating
themselves from one another. Groups of
undergraduates are rarely exciting on stage and there was a lack of detail
here: both the young women and the young men appeared to be little more than
their normal selves, with a touch of acting applied. Neve Kelman did manage to squeeze some
original life into Carolyn but none of the others were remarkable in any
way. If the production is revived this
could be addressed. Everything and
everyone was a little too safe and conventional. Nobody went mad or was truly weird – even though these are staple quantities of
Cambridge university life.
I gather that ‘Blue Stockings’ has entered the national
curriculum, where it is used for teaching purposes. This seems to me reasonable, although I hope
it won’t displace any major works. With
its large cast, there is scope for student productions and the ideas in the
play are of interest. In many ways, the
play is more suitable for a young audience than for adults. It’s easy to see
how it would spark off writing projects and further reading.
Whilst it left me
unsatisfied, ‘Blue Stockings’ did
prompt me to go away and look into the background – and to write an overlong
review. I’m grateful for this, of
course, but plays are about a lot more than education. I need to be distracted and fascinated,
disturbed and enthralled, when I go to the theatre. I don’t want to have to do background study
work afterwards. I may not normally have
Jessica Swayle is
adapting ‘Blue Stockings’ for TV. This is
probably where it belongs as material, not on the stage. TV is a medium suited to docu-drama, because
it operates on its audience in a different way.
Good camera work, for example, can make up for brief moments of
dialogue. By and large, too, there seems
to be an insatiable escapist demand for period drama on TV, where there is more
room to explore a wide range of people on a superficial level. Production
companies love the challenge of recreating the nineteenth century and you can
include scenes that are impossible in a theatre.
One of the most
extraordinary events associated with the issue of women at Cambridge was the
huge riot that took place in 1897, when an effigy of woman cyclist was
suspended from the Cambridge University Press bookshop. Showing this would make for a tremendous
start for a series and it might really open up the world of the play’s time. The repressed violence that emerged in the
riot connects after all to what was to happen only seventeen years later in a
war where the sons and younger male relations of the Cambridge blue stockings
were ordered to don red-ribboned caps and walk across open ground towards
In the year of that
riot, too, one Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, deemed only a minor threat, was
sentenced to three years exile and found himself in to a hut in Siberia. Away from Cambridge, the times they really were
a-changin’. For me, Swayle needed to tap
into the Zeitgeist of the period a lot more thoroughly.
Hip-Hop was created out of struggle in New York during the 1970s as poverty and discrimination hit the African American and Caribbean communities. It has since grown into arguably the largest arts-movement in the world.
Generally, British society knows hip-hop as a music genre which is often put to one side. However, the reality is the fingerprints of hip-hop are everywhere. From music, to fashion, to dance, to graffiti, film and theatre. Spanning the globe from New York, to LA, Tokyo, Cape Town, Seoul, Moscow and London. Hip-hop is everywhere.
In Wales, Avant Cymru are pioneering the Welsh hip-hop theatre movement following in the footsteps of the likes of Jonzi D and ZooNation. Taking stories from where the company is based in Rhondda and around Wales to platform them locally, nationally and internationally.
I’ve seen Avant Cymru’s work for myself at the Cardiff and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals and company director Jamie Berry’s solo dance in People, Power, Perception is still one of my personal favourite pieces of art I’ve seen on the stage. It proved to me that you could tell a compelling story full of emotion using only dance. Which beforehand, despite having seen a variety of different dance-based theatre, I’d never felt for myself.
It’s hard to ignore the sense of impending doom brought on by the COVID-19 epidemic. Work doesn’t stop for Avant Cymru though. Krump workshops with Duwane Taylor are available on their YouTube channel and next month they will be releasing a video where world renowned popper Shawn Ailey will be teaching the foundations for popping.
They will be running workshops through to July, either online or around Wales when safe, including sessions with beatboxing, rapping, graffiti and DJing teachers to introduce learners to all elements of hip-hop outside of dance.
As a disabled-led
company, with a variety of health and mental health conditions, Avant Cymru
really is open to any and everyone. With the help of the British Council they
are travelling to Canada in October for the No Limit Jam to connect with fellow
disabled artists and explore opportunities and encourage those with
disabilities, mental or physical, to pick up hip-hop.
The passion to do this comes from personal experience:
“For us Hip-Hop has had a positive influence on our lives.” For Jamie, “suffering with depression, breakin’ was the one thing that gave me drive and ambition… The theatre aspect allows me to express these thoughts. We have noticed other Hip-Hop artists, rappers, graffiti writers and dancers do the same. We want to make sure others have hip-hop as a tool to improve their health and well-being.”
For artistic director Rachel Pedley she found a home in Hip-Hop culture. “As a working-class artist, I struggled to afford the lifestyle of ballet dancers and other theatre makers. In Hip-Hop the training and social side was more affordable and the other artists were easier to relate to. It helped build the confidence I needed to go and create and understand my value didn’t come from the cash in my pocket. Working in the Rhondda Valleys, we want to make sure that our young people have the confidence needed to walk into other aspects of life, we believe confidence comes from celebrating our differences and that hip hop even encourages this.”
As well as offering workshops and encouraging people into forms of hip-hop, Avant Cymru also produce their own work. Working with artists from all pillars of hip-hop, from beatboxers, emcees, graffiti artists, dancers and DJs. As well as with artists from outside hip-hop such as theatre writers or musicians from outside hip-hop.
Hip-Hop is often stereotyped as ‘gangster rap’, but it is so much more than that. Avant Cymru aim to change this view as they “would like to share our knowledge with different audiences to show how varied and creative Hip Hop can be and how positive it can be when you get involved.”
Hip-Hop is arguably the largest artistic movement in the world today. But maybe the most misunderstood also. So, if you’re interested, check out an upcoming show from Avant Cymru or another hip-hop company. Or even give it a go yourself.
Terry Gilliam’s three-decade-long struggle to bring Miguel Cervantes’ seventeenth-century novel Don Quixote to the big screen is an epic saga worthy of its knightly hero. Everything short of divine intervention seems to have scuppered the Monty Python alum’s numerous attempts, including lost financing, flash floods, legal disputes and personal injuries. The film took so long so produce that the two main roles, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, were recast numerous times, with the likes of Robert Duvall, Michael Palin and John Hurt for the former and Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor and Robin Williams for the latter. It was such a chaotic production that it’s intended ‘making of’ featurette, 2002’s Lost in La Mancha, turned into a documentary of its quixotic plight, predating the actual film’s completion by some fifteen years.
That the film finally got made is nothing short of a miracle. That it’s not particularly great is unsurprising, though it’s a triumph that it’s anything resembling coherent at all. Here’s the gist: while shooting a vodka commercial in Spain, Toby Grisoni (Adam Driver) comes across his first student film, an adaptation of Don Quixote he shot in a nearby village, Los Sueños (which aptly translates to ‘The Dreams’). Having long abandoned his scruples in pursuit of the big leagues, Toby ditches the shoot in an attempt to rekindle any artistic integrity he has left by revisiting the place where his love for movies began – only to learn of the collateral damage he unwittingly caused to the village where he shot his first feature. This is embodied in the fate of local cobbler Javier (Jonathan Pryce), whom Toby cast as the titular hero in his movie, and who now believes he is Don Quixote and that Toby is his loyal squire, Sancho Panza.
That synopsis alone may give you an idea of how convoluted the film is, but despite its over-complicated premise, its execution is often too simplistic. Most of its drawn-out run-time is spent on watching our odd couple traipse around the countryside with no real aim (or end) in sight – it’s even referenced when Toby breaks the fourth wall to exclaim, ‘There’s a plot??’ And while rural Spain looks utterly beautiful thanks to Nicola Pecorini’s sumptuous cinematography, the visuals mean little without some kind of plot to back them up. Perhaps it was meant to play like a nightmare, but it’s lacking even the dreamy coherence of a fairy tale. Many scenes feel superfluous, but none is quite so poorly handled as the grand ball, an exercise in exasperation which plays a lot of casual xenophobia and misogyny for laughs, and which features a truly abysmal scene where Quixote is fooled into ‘going to the moon’ to save fair maidens.
But at least the acting here more than makes up for the shaky narrative. As sardonic ad director Toby Grisoni, Adam Driver turns in yet another excellent performance. His character is supremely unlikable practically from start to finish, but his arc wraps up an interesting and not entirely predictable way. He’s a lightning bolt of smarmy charisma and manic energy, and any strength the film has traces back to the strange and spiky chemistry between Driver and his onscreen partner in crime: Jonathan Pryce, as the charmingly delusional Quixote. Pryce is absolutely wonderful here – he feels simultaneously ancient, chivalrous, masterful, adorable, mad, sane, wise, foolish, otherworldly and mischievous. Perhaps something magical happens when Pryce and Gilliam collaborate, given that some of their best work can be found in their last collaboration, 1985’s Brazil. There are shades of Midnight Run in the scenes where Driver’s sweary Millennial tries to cart around Pryce’s endearingly doddery oddity like an exasperated babysitter. Their interactions are funny, chaotic and sometimes moving, and they are easily the best part of the film. Even Óscar Jaenada and Jason Watkins excel in small roles.
It’s a shame they’re saddled with such scant material. Don Quixote may be Gilliam’s best work since 1995’s Twelve Monkeys, but it’s still a haphazard scrawl of a movie with way too many eccentric sojourns that makes it feel like ten different versions smushed together. Its despicable portrayal of women is easily its worst element, though, throwing Gilliam’s Madonna-Whore complex into stark relief. Jacqui, the character played by Olga Kurylenko (a supremely multi-faceted actress who excels across multiple genres from drama to action to romantic comedy) is portrayed as a nymphomaniacal harpy who throws herself at Toby any chance she gets. When Toby gropes a woman on his crew, it’s played as some kind of joke; in fact, it’s Toby’s inability to remember her name that is played for laughs – his casual groping of her is completely brushed over. And Angelica (Joana Ribeiro) caught Toby’s eye on the set of his original film when she was fifteen years old. They never progressed past innocent flirting at the time – thank god – but it’s uncomfortably specific, especially as Toby and Angelica do become romantically involved during film.
It’s a difficult film to review because, in a way, it feels as if it involves appraising Gilliam’s soul. Gilliam has long been likened to Quixote, both dreamers who defiantly live a fantastical existence in the face of orthodox society. Watching his finally finished treatise to the elusive knight errant feels like a trip into the windmills of his mind. He even gets to wreak cinematic revenge on the producers who dashed his hopes for decades by framing Stellan Skarsgård’s producer character as the embodiment of all evil in a way that resonates with M. Night Shyamalan’s decision to write the gruesome death of a callous film critic in Lady in the Water. It’s a fittingly metatextual adaptation given that the novel played with those kinds of elements, branded as a relic from the ‘archives of La Mancha’ in order to enhance its credibility. And though the line between fantasy and reality remains, as in much of Gilliam’s filmography, blurred, its period features seem to comprise a fantastical gloss over the modern world – modern-looking security guards with shades and earpieces line the castle walls, and Kurylenko, resplendent in gaudy medieval finery on a horse, taps away at her smartphone.
The narrative may be rickety, but the film’s presiding theme decidedly isn’t. Gilliam expresses it through one of the film’s tertiary characters – Rupert, Toby’s agent (Jason Watkins) – who tells his client that ‘we become what we hold on to’. It’s sneaked in so early in the film, and spoken by such a minor character, that it almost slips under the radar, but it’s essentially the mission statement of the movie, which goes on to literalise it in many ways, not least through Pryce’s Quixote, and of course through Gilliam himself. A significant portion of his personal and professional life has been tied up in this movie’s making (and ‘unmaking’, as he memorably states in the title credits); to even conceive of its completion was viewed by many as Gilliam tilting at windmills, so of course he feels justified in a little self-indulgence. But Gilliam does seem acutely self-aware of his own impractical endeavour, as the film directly tackles the notion that collateral damage always accompanies obsession, and that a singular artistic vision may take its toll on many.
I think Mark Olsen of the L.A. Times said it best: ‘For anyone struggling with whether to give up, concerned that the result will not match the effort, Gilliam seems to be planting a flag — or more accurately charging a windmill — to say the effort is the reward.’ Having seen the film while I was in the final weeks of my PhD corrections, I felt rather warmly towards it – like Gilliam, I too just wanted to get the thing done at last. There are moments of brilliance here, when Gilliam considers the social cost of filmmaking, the melancholy of growing old, of losing hope, and becoming set in your ways. But the power of transformation, for better or worse, also remains. There’s merit in watching a filmmaker produce something so bizarrely incoherent that only about three people will enjoy it – and though it makes The Adventures of Baron Munchausen look as finely crafted as Memento in comparison, I was grateful that Gilliam still has windmills at which to tilt.
We are both saddened to see the vast array of cultural cancellations over the past day and proud to see so many companies putting the health of their staff, participants and audiences first.
The arts are an important part of many of our lives, and we’re also excited to see so many isolation friendly options arising. We’ve started a list of online dance and yoga classes, digital only festivals and a huge array of dance, opera, theatre, museums and CPD activities you can do from home – including full NDCWales performances. Please share this resource and let us know of other fab things we can add to it.
______________________ Mae’r ddau ohonom yn drist iawn o weld yr ystod eang o ddigwyddiadau diwylliannol sydd wedi cael eu canslo ers ddoe ac yn falch o weld cymaint o gwmnïau yn rhoi iechyd eu staff, cyfranogwyr a chynulleidfaoedd yn gyntaf. Mae’r celfyddydau yn rhan bwysig o fywydau sawl un ohonom, ac rydym hefyd yn teimlo’n gyffrous i weld cynifer o opsiynau y gellir eu gwneud wrth hunan-ynysu yn codi.Rydym wedi dechrau rhestr o ddosbarthiadau dawns ac ioga ar-lein, gwyliau digidol yn unig a llu o bethau yn seiliedig ar ddawns, opera, y theatr ac amgueddfeydd, a gweithgareddau y gallwch eu gwneud adref – gan gynnwys perfformiadau CDCCymru llawn.
Rhannwch yr adnodd hwn a rhowch wybod i ni am bethau gwych, eraill y gallwn eu hychwanegu ato.
NDCWales P.A.R.A.D.E. including choreography by Caroline Finn, Marcos Morau and Lee Johnson, in collaboration with BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rubicon Dance and Vertical Dance Kate Lawrence; filmed by The Space Arts. https://vimeo.com/248459479
CPD FROM HOME ETC have made their online training courses free during this time: training for technicians Courses.etcconnect.com The following performers offer one to one tuition, find them on facebook.
Rubyyy Jones – Cabaret MCing Paul L Martin – mentoring for cabaret performers John Celestus – one to one Flexibiliy and Strength, contortion, compare Skillshare International Offers photography, illustration, design with a 2 month free trial available https://www.skillshare.com/
pan y’ch chi’n aros i weld ail gyfres ddrama ar Netflix neu iPlayer mae’r heip
a’r ‘build up’ yn anhygoel. Ond yn amlach na pheidio, braidd yn siomedig yw’r
canlyniad. Dyw hyn bendant ddim
yn wir am ‘Tylwyth’ sef y dilyniant i ‘Llwyth’, drama hynod lwyddiannus Dafydd
James sydd ar daith ar hyn o bryd. Waw! Dyma gyfanwaith gwbl trawiadol a
chaboledig. Mae’r holl elfennau sydd eu hangen i greu darn o theatr ysgytwol yn
perchnogi’r sioe hon. Heb os nac oni bai y prif uchafbwynt yw’r sgript
sy’n grafog a chignoeth ar adegau ac yna’n delynegol a huawdl ar y llaw arall.
Mae’r awdur yn dilyn strwythur y ddrama flaenorol i ryw raddau ond credaf bod
sgript ‘Tylwyth’ yn fwy clyfar eto. Mae monologau Aneurin yn gweu yn gynnil
drwy gydol y ddrama ac yn cyfuno arddull gynganeddol, gyda dyfyniadau
o lenyddiaeth, emynau a rhigymau Cymreig. Mae’r chwarae ar eiriau a’r dychan
pwrpasol yn gampwaith llwyr. Dyna pam mae angen i mi brynu’r sgript gan fy mod
eisiau ei darllen er mwyn ei gwerthfawrogi eto!
Hanes yr un
cymeriadau â ‘Llwyth’ a geir yma – Dada, Gavin, Gareth, Rhys ac Aneurin, ond
degawd yn ddiweddarach – y llwyth hoyw sydd bellach yn bobl proffesiynol, yn
rhieni, yn aeddfetach a challach i fod, a’r llwyth felly wedi troi’n
dylwyth. Yn gymysg â’r cymeriadau hyn cyflwynir un cymeriad newydd sef Dan – gogleddwr
a phartner amyneddgar a chariadus Aneurin. Mae’r ddau wedi mabwysiadu dau o
blant bach ac er bod Aneurin wedi bod ‘ar y wagon’ ers pum mlynedd, mae
diafoliaid y gorffennol yn ei boeni o hyd. Mae bwganod ei isymwybod yn ei
arwain a’i demptio i fyd tywyll ei orffennol ac mewn un noson wyllt o gyffuriau,
rhyw ac alcohol, mae’n mentro wynebu ei gyfrinach a’i ofnau personol dwysaf.
Canlyniad y weithred yw bod Aneurin yn agor hen greithiau sydd wedi’i boeni ers
a’r perfformiadau i gyd yn ardderchog – ensemble gwych sy’n cydweithio’n
effeithiol, ond i mi mae Danny Grehan fel Dada a Simon Watts fel Aneurin
yn serennu. Ceir gwaith corfforol bwriadol symbolaidd gan yr actorion
ar adegau sy’n creu awyrgylch hynod effeithiol. Hefyd mae llwyfannu a chyfarwyddo
cynnil a chlyfar Arwel Gruffydd yn arbennig. Mae’r set yn gyfuniad o lefelau a fflatiau
symudol ar ffurf hanner cylch, ond sydd hefyd yn medru cael eu trawsnewid i
greu lleoliadau gwahanol. Roedd hyn yn f’atgoffa o set draddodiadol Roegaidd, ond
ar ffurf lawer llai wrth gwrs, ac roedd y goleuo yn llwyddo i greu naws hyfryd.
Dimensiwn ychwanegol ond hynod bwysig yw’r trac sain a’r defnydd o ganu unigol a chorawl a oedd yn hynod ddoniol a dychanol. Roedd y cyfan yn ategu at un o driciau clyfar Daf James sef gwneud sbort deifiol am yr iaith Gymraeg a’n ffug barchusrwydd fel Cymry. I ddweud y gwir, mae’r coegni atom fel cenedl yn hynod lwyddiannus, bwriadol a dyfeisgar sy’n ein hannog fel cynulleidfa i ystyried ein credinedd ar adegau. Ymysg y themâu yma mae’r awdur yn trafod Brexit, hunaniaeth, rhywioldeb a moesoldeb. Ond y prif thema yw cariad a sut mae cariad yn trechu popeth yn y pendraw. Yng ngeiriau cân Eden ‘Gorwedd gyda’i Nerth’ “Cyffwrdd â’r grym yr hyn sy’n gariad pur”.
Os nad ydych wedi gweld ‘Llwyth’ ddeng mlynedd yn ôl, sdim ots – mae ‘Tylwyth’ yn sefyll ar ei thraed ei hun fel drama annibynnol. Ewch da chi i’w gweld. Llongyfarchiadau i bawb sy’n gysylltiedig â’r cynhyrchiad rhagorol hwn ac yn arbennig i weledigaeth Daf James a thîm Theatr Genedlathol Cymru.
It is hard to overstate the talent and
importance of Carole King as a songwriter.
118 top fifty hits in the US gives some indication of the success she
has enjoyed, but doesn’t in itself demonstrate the quality of her writing or
its importance. Her first hit, written
with Gerry Goffin as lyricist, when she was just sixteen, ‘Will You Still Love
Me Tomorrow’ is astonishing in its quality, particularly for one so young and
from such a non-musical background.
Writing a string of hits for women and black artists, predominantly
though not exclusively, in the sixties and then the move to LA after finally
having enough of Goffin’s faithless behaviour, shows her incredible courage. The weeks recording ‘Tapestry’ – one of the
most successful albums of all time – next door to Joni Mitchell recording
‘Blue’ and Jackson Browne recording ‘Late For The Sky’ have gone into modern
musical folklore with some justification.
Carole King is essential and central in the rise of the
singer-songwriter. She is an essential
and wonderful part of the story of women’s voices being heard and
celebrated. She is a wonderful,
Given all this, a musical telling the story of
her early years, leading up to her legendary solo performance at Carnegie Hall,
should be a glorious and fascinating thing.
‘Beautiful’ certainly is not that.
What this is, unfortunately, is a cut and paste comic-book story homage
of the sort which might have been serialised in ‘Jackie’ in 1973. A sequence of incredibly short and trivial
scenes, fly in or slide in, at bewildering pace, with cardboard cut out
characters of managers and mothers and friends, who speak in ghastly and
trivial cliches before being whirled away to be replaced with more cliches on
the breakdown of married life from a cardboard Carole and Gerry, who seem to
have stumbled onstage from a black and white episode of ‘Bewitched’ circa 1968.
The songs and the dances which attend them are adequately
delivered at very best. These are
amazing and wonderfully memorable songs, loved by the audience, and, given the
budget of this kind of show and the talent pool available, should have been
superbly and innovatively choreographed, orchestrated and sung. However, on an expensive but deeply
unimaginative set, some very, very ordinary dance and movement did nothing to
enhance the songs or bring the stage to life.
There was nothing wrong with Daisy Wood-Davis,
Adam Gillian or Laura Baldwin in the lead roles. I quite liked Wood-Davis – she had an energy
and commitment which was pleasing and a decent voice. But it is hard to imagine what anyone could
have done with a script like this. When
you think of the issues Carole King’s story throws up around women, race, the
music industry, the sexual revolution, the inequalities marriage imposes etc –
this is a playwright’s goldmine, surely?
There was not a memorable line or genuinely
theatrical moment in the entire piece.
When Carole decides to leave New York to set off for LA as a performer
as well as songwriter, she sits at her piano and tells her friends that she is
‘saying goodbye with a song’ and sings them, ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ as they
circle her at the piano and join in.
There is a ghastly level of embarrassment to this smaltz.
Cards on the table, juke-box musicals are not
my favourite forms of entertainment and I wouldn’t dream of paying money to see
anything about Abba or Queen under any circumstances, but this is Carole King
and what an opportunity to tell explore her incredibly important story is
missed in this silly fluff-piece.
The Time Machine is based on the different dynamics existing around time travelling – written by Jonathan Holloway & directed by Natasha Rickman. Featuring Rhodri Lewis (time traveller), Funlola Olufunwa (chat show host), Graeme Rose (computer), Paul Taylor (time traveller), Sarah Edwardson (DRI), Clare Humphrey (time traveller). This play was derived from the book HG Wells giving it a different spin, even more so having this play performed at The London Library.
The start began with a scientist captured in a hologram screen prepping the audience by giving us a mental break down of the implications that was going to be unravelled. Then driving us down a road of discovery by providing a brief overview of the fundamental factors we as the audience would be encountering in solidarity motion . A unique achievement of being explicitly imaginary but maintaining the feel of being realistic as we experience a close reflection of what it’ll be like to tap into a new era through time travel. Shortly after the hologram we were accompanied by a time traveller who held a big brown bag which contained primal survival tools to break free from the power of the unknown that goes beyond our era when we as an ensemble yell ‘Zoom’!!!
‘Time Machine’ depicts technical intelligence, artificial intelligence infused with exclusive insights into the implications of the barriers facing us through trial & tested climaxes throughout humanity. This play projected the manifestation of the consequences of knowing too much, knowing too little, etc. All information used to produce this play were a collection of research data from scientific findings.
This play is truly a powerful dystopian as well as an utopian visionary becoming the space between the extraordinary taking us through a primitive space of human being counterfeits operated primarily on robotic-systemised technology; diminishing the present from the future giving off a nurturing fugitive space. The exploration of the library feel was what led this to feel like fantastic promenade performance. Extracting elements from smart devices, computer sequences, repetitive patterns helped to structurally enhance a rich flavour to secure an effective transition as we continued to time travel throughout the library, in various locations inciting new information to process every time.
Time Machine speculates on all the If’s & but’s, hidden truths that could make or break, cause heartbreak, confusion, seclusion then delusion before it all becomes to much handle! This play offers a unique experience shared between the audience & the actors creating a divine collective experience explored when going on a journey through some of lives most evocative spaces.
The use of space in this play was pure genius! the creativity, inspiration & innovation to what the future awaits was key to successful suspense & tension in this play! I managed to catch up with Jonathan Holloway after the show who’d gently touched on the amount of research which was a massive contribute to putting the play in its full effect!
Edalia Day has brought a very unique and very interesting
production to the forefront at this year’s Vaults.
Beginning slow and slightly awkward, Day seems nervous and
uneasy in this plain white room. Soon we are to realise, this is very much a
clever theatrical technique to their story and very much the beginning of
Too Pretty To Punch brings Day’s autobiography to the stage.
Identifying as trans, Day transforms the stage into their life story, the
trials and tribulations and turmoil in accepting who they are and seeking
acceptance in society. It then continues into a widen view of the issues trans
people face and eventually brings in verbatim videos to others facing the daily
It would be easily and still powerful to have used these
videos to support Day’s points, but they go the step further – animation is
projected onto screens, one an ordinary square screen, another slightly
misshapen and another as a moveable canvas. These are used to flick between
images and animations as they move across the stage, along with physical
theatre by Day, making the action come to real life in our eyes.
Some of the performance feels like we are getting to know a
new friend – Day addresses us and talks to us like a new friend being made, but
then some poignant moments being transferred into visual elements adds a unique
and clever nature to this production and hits the points home.
Supported at times with kitsch music that reminds me of
Golem by 1925, this makes the production feel a little special and like nothing
on the theatre scene right now.
Too Pretty To Punch is not only a really important production to see but is also one of the most unique and fascinating pieces of theatre I have seen in a long time.
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