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Don’t F**k with Cats – A Review by Eva Marloes

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The Netflix true crime mini-series Don’t F**k with Cats is not a documentary. If you expect a documentary exploring the who, what, how, and why of a crime, you will be disappointed. You will also miss what Don’t F**k with Cats is all about. The show is about the porous boundary between reality and social media. It’s about us watching videos created for social media, the reality behind the videos, and how real social media are in bringing people together to act in ‘real’ life.  The weakness of the show is that director Mark Lewis is not fully aware of that.

Don’t F**k with Cats follows is a bunch of amateur sleuths investigating a killer. It is an entertaining and disturbing Miss Marple on Facebook. Gripping, fun, and shocking, but showing little awareness of what true crime is about and spoiling it all by blaming the audience for being voyeurs. The show fails to grasp the relationship between reality and cyber-reality, how social media make us actors not mere audience.

It begins when a shocking video of a young man killing a couple of kittens is posted online. Facebookers in horror, anger, and condemnation. Then Deanna Thompson, a data analyst for a casino in Las Vegas, who uses the alias of Baudi Moovan on FB forms a group to track down the killer. Baudi and a man using the alias John Green are the key investigators of the group looking for clues in the video to identify something that might lead them to the location of the killer.  

The killer is a narcissist seeking attention. When the group has taken the wrong turn, he seems to throw them a bone to get them to chase him. Does the investigation encourage the killer to commit more crimes? I personally doubt that the killer, Luka Magnotta, would have stopped killing had the group stopped chasing him. People become serial killers because they get away with crime after crime, and their crimes escalate. Don’t F**k with Cats should have included an expert commenting on this, especially given the fact that the amateur sleuths ask themselves the question.

Don’t F**k with Cats is not a documentary!  It is a show playing with our curiosity while at the same time wanting to expose our thirst for blood, real blood. We are the sick people watching and enjoying the crime. Filmmakers like playing innocent (see this analysis of Vice), but if they choose to lead us in a direction, they are to blame. Not to mention the fact that they do so to profit from it. Crucially, Don’t F**k with Cats does not focus on the crime. It gives us no details of it, nor does it explore the personality of the killer.

The show focuses on the investigation. It is the investigation done by ordinary people that is engrossing. Director Mark Lewis should have had a little more awareness of the structure of his own show and how it ‘reads’ to the audience, and have spared us the preaching.

Don’t F**k with Cats fails to focus on the most interesting and socially relevant element: the investigators are ordinary people. It is us. We do not experience social media passively, like a film or TV show. We are actors. We discuss, condemn, form opinions, and influence people using mainstream and non-mainstream media. We create misinformation and spread conspiracy theories. We also collect evidence, we shine a light onto police brutality, we organise protests. All on and through social media. The old saying, ‘Police don’t solve the crime, people do’ is at the basis of Don’t F**k with Cats. It is its strength. Someone should tell the director.  

Review Vagrant Queen by Barbara Hughes-Moore

[This review contains spoilers for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker]

Imagine, if you will, that the ‘Scavenger Rey has royal lineage’ twist had been the plan from the beginning of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, and not just The Rise of Skywalker’s tacked-on cynical move to appease sexist fanboys? If you want to know how to do that plot properly, look no further than Vagrant Queen, Syfy’s latest swashbuckling series set in a galaxy far, far away.

Co-produced with Blue Ice Pictures, Vagrant Queen is that rarest of gems: an under-the-radar show that truly deserves the spotlight. Created by Jem Garrard and based on the Vault comic book series of the same name by Magdalene Visaggio and Jason Smith, the series stars Adriyan Rae as Elida, a scavenger on a desert planet who has long been running from her secret past. Elida, aka Eldaya El-Fayer, was once the child-queen of Arriopa, a sprawling celestial empire in another galaxy (not ours), until she was deposed by a band of revolutionaries led by Commander Lazaro (Paul du Toit) who shot Elida’s mother (Bonnie Mbuli) in front of her. Over a decade after she went into hiding, news that her mother may be alive after all leads Elida to team up with the roguish Isaac (Tim Rozon) and the effervescent Amae (Alex McGregor) on a hazardous quest to learn the truth and overthrow the corrupt government that stole everything from her.

VAGRANT QUEEN — “Sunshine Express Yourself” Episode 107 — Pictured: (l-r) Adriyan Rae as Elida, Alex McGregor as Amae, TIm Rozon as Isaac — (Photo by: Riyaaz Dalvie/Vagrant Productions/SYFY)

Space train! Karaoke death battle! Spaceship murder mystery! What more could you possibly want from a show? In its DNA is the antipodean oddness of Farscape, Mad Max, and Thor: Ragnarok, coupled with a Mystery Men-style wackiness that ticked every one of my boxes. Colourful, campy and cool, it’s a delightfully zany mishmash of all your sci-fi faves – Star Wars, Killjoys, Firefly, Guardians of the Galaxy – but with a tone and style that’s completely its own. Whilst a lot of low budget sci-fi restricts its setting to a single spaceship and a handful of samey locales, Vagrant Queen is filmed in Cape Town, South Africa, and takes its audience to a smorgasbord of smorgasbord of distinct, memorable and diverse locations, making it a genuine delight to see where the characters will go next. The series isn’t afraid to end a fight scene with a cheesy pun or a pop culture reference, but it’s all done with a winking self-awareness that is so refreshing in our recent glut of grimdark genre fiction. In a landscape of po-faced programming, Vagrant Queen was bright, breezy breath of fresh air that didn’t take itself too seriously. My kingdom for a bit of light entertainment!

VAGRANT QUEEN — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: Adriyan Rae as Elida — (Photo by: Marcos Cruz/Vagrant Productions/SYFY)

Showrunner Jem Garrard has assembled a multi-talented team of brilliant women both in front of and behind the camera – not only is every episode written and directed by women, Vagrant Queen’s lead character Elida is a Black queer woman who is wonderfully complex and multi-faceted: impulsive, kind, cynical, loyal, occasionally cavalier, and delightfully unafraid of punctuating a punch with a dorky pun, Elida is reluctantly heroic and compulsively likable. Adriyan Rae is utterly magnetic in the role, moving effortlessly between comedy, drama and action – by the end of the show you’ll want to go for a drink with her and take down a totalitarian government with her! Rae, a multi-talented Renaissance woman (she was a scientist before becoming an actor, singer and model) with recent credits in Atlanta and Burning Sands, is definitely one to watch.

Although Elida starts out as something of a lone wolf, she quickly assembles a motley crew in her quest comprising of Isaac Stelling (Tim Rozon) and Amae Rali (Alex McGregor). Isaac is more Jack Sparrow than Han Solo, haplessly selfish and frustratingly self-centred, but Rozon (of Wynonna Earp and Schitt’s Creek fame) manages to make the character relentlessly endearing in spite of his many transgressions. Amae is a whip-smart, endlessly kind and joyously optimistic engineer who is probably the only reason Elida and Isaac haven’t killed each other yet. I wish we’d seen more of Amae’s bartender brother Chaz (Steven John Ward), but their bond was excellently sketched even in the brief time they shared the screen. McGregor is utterly charming in the role, and it’s easy to see why she and Elida fall for each other.

To see a healthy, loving and well-written queer romance in any show is something to celebrate, especially in an era in which showrunners are more than happy to bury its gays (*cough* The 100 *cough*) or string its audience along with the promise of an LGBTQ+ love story while never intending to make it canon (looking at you, Teen Wolf). Representation in Vagrant Queen is straightforward and unfettered right out of the gate: we first meet Amae in bed with another woman, and often see her flirting with other women throughout the show. The sweet, sparkling chemistry between Rae and McGregor is right there in their first interaction, and the bond they strike up through various (mis)adventures makes for both a breathlessly swoony and emotionally healthy romance – they support each other, trust each other, listen to each other, protect each other, and truly care about each other as friends first and (potential) lovers second. Not only is this a particularly brilliant queer romance, it’s just a gorgeously written romance full stop, one which doesn’t function solely on angst for angst’s sake (*ahem* Vampire Diaries).

The show’s fun, feminist and cheekily badass vibe has shades of Lost Girl and Wynona Earp, but sometimes it goes full-on Saw – and the character responsible for most of the bloodshed is the meticulously unhinged Commander Ori Lazaro (Paul du Toit). If you were to mash together Joaquin Phoenix’s roles as Emperor Commodus and Johnny Cash with a pot of hair gel and a pair of elf ears, you’d get Commander Lazaro. Du Toit may be having the most fun of the entire cast, which is really saying something – and it’s easy to see why. Lazaro is a completely looney tune; a preening sadist with both a raging superiority streak and an inferiority complex (a dangerous combination). This is a galaxy which feels genuinely dangerous, especially for our three ramshackle heroes, and it’s largely down to du Toit’s unnervingly psychotic performance.

My only real point of contention is that I think the show is often too gory for its own good. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of gore – but it has to fit the tone of its story. The campy ultraviolence of Punisher: War Zone matched its hyperbolically brutal tone; the casual carnage in Deadpool is an essential part of its cynical metatextuality. Vagrant Queen’s not afraid to Go There™ – and that’s commendable, but its gore often feels disturbing for the sake of it – there are things that Lazaro compels lackeys and prisoners to do to themselves that will haunt me for a long time, and while it reinforced his credentials as a worthy villain, it often feels gratuitous and unnecessary given the otherwise tongue in cheek tone. At the same time, it’s commendable of the show to have the courage of its convictions and go to some truly dark places…

…Because this is a show which is 100% itself. It’s refreshingly proud of its strangeness, and its scrappy, unpolished charm is a real draw in an age of by-the-numbers blockbusters. This is a show that cares. It cares so deeply – about its characters, its story, its world, and its audience. It knows when to be goofy, when to be cool, and when to be emotional. Everyone on this show is giving it their all, from the hapless loyalists to the Republic guards (essentially Goth Stormtroopers) who all have distinct, quirky personalities. One particular standout is Thembalethu Ntuli who plays Nim, a canine-faced humanoid who steals any scene he’s in and is in too few of them. Ntuli’s performance is so good he makes you forget that the CGI on his face is little more a marginally enhanced Snapchat filter.

There is a genuine warmth and sincerity infused in every frame – and shows with a low budget and a big heart are my kryptonite. It’s clearly having a ball and wants you to join in with the fun. It’s a terrible shame that Syfy thoughtlessly cut the party short when it was only just beginning – and also a huge mistake for a channel with the least inspiring line-up of shows that don’t come close to filling the void left behind by Vagrant Queen. It could have been their new Killjoys – but instead, with Van Helsing ending and Wynonna Earp as their sole remaining draw, most of their remaining content is composed of rookie shows in their first seasons – like Vagrant Queen, which had so much potential that I can only hope another network has the guts to put their faith in.

With very few exceptions, it is unwise to judge a series on its first season alone. They need time to breathe, to experiment, to play, until they’ve settled into a tone. Cancelling a series after one season is like throwing a first draft in the bin – and Vagrant Queen, like many shows cut down before their time, got better and better with every episode. There’s a common misconception that a pilot has to hook you for a show to be worth investing in. I’ve been guilty of switching off a show mid-premiere, only to give it another try and become involved. Killjoys’ first season was shaky but promising. The Expanse’s first episode was almost unwatchable, but a mid-season turn got viewers hooked. Dark Matter had an intriguing pitch but its slow burn approach to character and plot rewarded viewers by the end of its first season. Season one is where you work out your tone; season two is where the story you want to tell truly begins. You need to give a series the time and space to find its footing and build its audience.

VAGRANT QUEEN — “Requiem For The Republic” Episode 106 — Pictured: Tim Rozon as Isaac — (Photo by: Marcos Cruz/Vagrant Productions/SYFY)

For my part, I feel that every series should be automatically locked in for a first and second season when a network green lights them – a single season is just a graveyard of missed opportunities otherwise. There seems to be an increasing aversion to investing in shows which aren’t an immediate worldwide sensation. Networks are giving hope and opportunity to creators without actually giving them a chance to build new worlds with long-lasting mileage. It seems that if a series isn’t an instant hit, it’s binned – and there’s a trend of co-productions not lasting long at Syfy (I’ve never got over them cancelling Dark Matter three seasons into a five-season plan). Haven’t networks learned from Firefly that cutting down a promising show before it’s even hit its stride is a mistake in the long run?

VAGRANT QUEEN — “Sunshine Express Yourself” Episode 107 — Pictured: Adriyan Rae as Elida — (Photo by: Marcos Cruz/Vagrant Productions/SYFY)

After The Rise of Skywalker crushed my love for Star Wars into a fine pulp, Vagrant Queen was like the fix-it fic I desperately needed. Knowingly campy, pulpy fun with fantastic costumes, striking makeup design, a goofily psychedelic tone and technicolour palette that makes it one of the most distinctive and innovative shows on TV right now, Vagrant Queen is a neon-splashed, gung-ho space adventure that has an enormous amount of fun and wants you to bring you along for the ride.

Sign the petition to #SaveVagrantQueen and stream the series on Syfy.com.

Review Justified (2010- 6 series ) by Kevin Johnson

The Get the Chance team share some of their favourite binge-watch series they have been enjoying during Lockdown. First up Kevin Johnson with Justified.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️

Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens shoots a hitman while both are sitting in a Miami rooftop bar, the latest of many such incidents. Although the shooting is considered ‘justified’ by the authorities, as a punishment he is reassigned to his home state of Kentucky, a move he considers a demotion. There he’s forced to face his past, including his ex-wife Winona (for whom he still has feelings), his estranged criminal father Arlo (for whom he doesn’t), and his old friend, and crime family kingpin, Boyd Crowder (for whom?).

While ostensibly a crime show, Justified is also a modern take on the western, as well as a psychological drama. The characters are rarely either completely good or bad, with relatives and friends on both sides of the law. They’re living in a state that is poor, jobs are scarce but drugs aren’t, and corruption is rife. To show how morally confused things are, in one story Loretta, a teenage girl, outwits a sexual predator, who is an enforcer for the crime family that also employ her & her father to grow cannabis for them.

An excellent cast is well-served by superb writing that not only conveys believable characters, but has a rich vein of laconic wit running through it. At one point Raylan, after warning a criminal about trying to kill him, punches him to the floor, drops a bullet on his chest, and remarks “next one’s coming faster”. To a snitch too scared of another criminal to talk, he says “You think you’re scared of him? You got no idea what you can expect from me.”

Nor is he the only one to be given good dialogue. About to be shot by a member of the Bennett clan over a family feud, he’s told ominously “this bullet’s been on its way for 20 years.”.

While Raylan is terse, Boyd Crowder is all Southern charm, whether he’s trying to relate to someone or about to shoot a rival criminal. There’s a bond between the two from when they worked in the mines:”we dug coal and drank beer together”, as Raylan puts it. He joined the Marshals and Boyd enlisted in the army and served in Iraq, both trying to get away. Both failed.

Despite being the ‘hero’, Raylan is actually a tragic figure, often his own worst enemy. His boss Art, a father-figure to him, driven to exasperation by his actions says at one point “you’re a great lawman but a lousy Marshal”. Brooks, a black female Marshal, also tells him that he wouldn’t get away with such behaviour if he weren’t white, male, and handsome, which given that this was said in 2013 was a little ahead of its time.

There are also many layers to the storyline, and events often take place without Raylan’s participation or knowledge. One of the best scenes is in a diner where his Aunt Helen is meeting with Mags, the head of the Bennett family. What seems like a simple chat over a coffee is actually a parlay between the matriarchs of two warring families, both trying to negotiate a peace treaty before there is more bloodshed. It’s subtle, but almost Shakespearean in its execution.

Each series also features a new antagonist, as well as recurring characters, and it helps to keep the show fresh. The scope also varies from Kentucky to Florida to California, as well as Mexico, which feature memorable figures who may or may not turn up again.

Despite it being a great series overall, I was disappointed that the characters of Tim Gutterson, a former army Ranger, & Rachel Brooks, a black female Marshal, colleagues of Raylan’s, are not really developed over six series, despite both being fascinating. But with so many others in the cast, that’s understandable.

The show was based on an Elmore Leonard novel, who got the idea for it after meeting a young man at a book convention in Amarillo, Texas. When finding out that the man’s name was Raylan, Leonard asked him, “How would you like to be the star of my next book?”.

One more thing, Raylan always wears a white hat. Whether this is a tongue-in-cheek reference to him being the hero, I don’t know. As he says himself when asked about it: “I tried it on and it fit”.

If you’re looking for a good drama with plenty of action, but also one with a lot more depth than your average shoot-em-up, this is the show for you.

Review Fy Ynys Las, Eddie Ladd, A Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and National Theatre Wales production in partnership with BBC Cymru Wales and BBC Arts

From one Country Bumpkin to another..

Eddie Ladd provided us with a virtual tour unlike any other. This captioned performance gave the audience an insight into Eddie’s childhood home and where she was residing for lockdown. By using a pre-recorded Zoom session, Eddie shared her screen as she looked back through images of her home, telling whimsical tales and allowing us to experience her nostalgia of her childhood with her.

Eddie sat in one corner of the screen, using the rest to direct us through her process of thoughts. By seeing her reactions to what was occurring on screen, the audience resonated with her and her experience of these events whilst still allowing us to create our own experiences of what was happening. She used layering of images in a stylistic way, much like how we would layer movement to create effect. A box of files also sat on the screen, organised by section into folders of Subheadings. This gave a very organic feel to the performance as was if she was flicking through her memories rather than watching a finished performance. By also using her dialect and country slang, all formalities of the performance were lost and hence it became a sharing, from one person to another.

The performance paralleled with Martin Parr’s exhibition “Martin Parr in Wales”. These snippets of images resonated with a sense of home and a resemblance to growing up on a farm (although mine was a sheep farm in Yorkshire). This is something I have never come across before. Through the familiarity of how ordinary farm life was and the niftiness of adaptations (using a soil filled bucket as a dumbbell), the piece really resonated with me and my lived experiences. It held truth and honesty about a simple life of living in the sticks, and especially highlighted how British farming has changed over the past decades and even more so the economic struggle of British Family farms today.

Not only did this resonate through farming life but also through the isolation of being in Lockdown and how it has affected our livelihoods as artists. The resilience needed to continue and adapt with the change happening all around us (and in Eddie’s case, with a fallen tree full of memories) was eminent as looked through past, present, and future obstacles. With comparative reflections of the events that occurred over time, Eddie used a mixture of light-hearted anecdotes and trivial props to provide a wonderfully human experience. This alongside the pulsating techno, carried us through a vast range of shared experiences whilst also gaining insight into Eddie’s creative process.

This piece was refreshing and an honest reminder of the beauty within simplicity and the importance of shared human experiences. And for that reminder, thank you Eddie, as it’s something we all need. Now more than ever.

Becky Johnson, GTC

The Far Away Plays, Championing Welsh Voices, An interview with The Creative Team.

In this exclusive interview, the Directors of The Far Away Plays Scott Arthur and Francesca Goodridge speak to Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell about their Welsh background, the work of The Far Away Plays and where they think funding for the Arts in Wales should be prioritised.

Hi  great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Scott – Siwmae! Thanks for having us. So, I’m an actor and co-founder of The Far Away Plays. I originally hail from the Wild West of Wales, known to most as Llanelli, and graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2010. Since graduating I’ve been fortunate to be part of some wonderful projects in theatre, tv, film, and radio, most recently the TV series ‘Good Omens’ for BBC/Amazon which starred Michael Sheen and David Tennant, and alongside Shia LaBeouf in the film ‘Borg/McEnroe’.

Fran: I’m from Swansea, I originally trained as an actor and singer at LIPA and since then have worked as a director alongside performing. The first show I directed was an all female 60’s musical, which went to Edinburgh Fringe for two years, and then transferred to The Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool. I was the Trainee Director of The Other Room Theatre in Cardiff, and I am now on of the first recipients of The Carne Trust’s 18-month Traineeship for Directors in Wales as the Trainee Director at Theatr Clwyd. 

So what got you interested in acting and the arts?

Scott – School plays, local theatre, and any Robin Williams film. I used to go to the theatre quite a lot as a child, mainly to watch my uncle Greg who was a member of Llanelli Youth Theatre at the time, and then I finally plucked up the courage to join myself at the age of 13.

Fran: When I was a little girl my uncle would introduce me into the room whilst playing the spoons, I would hide behind the sofa, wait for my introduction and lap up the applause from my family, then run back behind the sofa and do it all over again (I can now imagine how annoying this was for everyone involved…) My uncle was the person who ignited my love for stories and really encouraged me to have a totally bonkers imagination. 

Your new company The Far Away Plays is a new online play reading company, which champions  Welsh voices. How did the new company develop and how does it work?

Scott: So, myself and Francesca initially had the idea to produce an online reading of Under Milk Wood, but then quickly discovered that the idea of creating a company which re-visited lot’s of brilliant contemporary Welsh plays, whilst at the same time championing Welsh voices to read them, seemed so much more worthwhile to put our energy in to. The Far Away Plays is an online play reading company that brings together a new company of actors and creatives every week to read some of Wales’ most loved plays, giving those involved a chance to be creative and stay connected during a time when our theatres and rehearsal rooms are off limits. We also host free, weekly workshops and Q&A’s with industry professionals too.

Did the concept of the company exist in its current form prior to Lockdown or did you have to alter your plans? Was Lockdown an advantage for your company rather than a traditional playreading process?

Scott – The Far Away Plays wouldn’t exist without Lockdown. Without everyone being stuck inside their living rooms I doubt we’d have been able to bring such fantastic reading companies together – we’re incredibly lucky to have worked with some of the best talent Wales has to offer.

Fran: I wouldn’t say Lockdown was an advantage, but it did mean that actors were really needing a way to exercise their creativity, and that went hand in hand with our mission of wanting TFAP to connect and champion Welsh artists. We try and make it as much of a traditional play reading process as we can, with no pressure and just the joy that this is a one time opportunity to all be together, in that moment, with that story. You have had readings of existing plays by established playwrights as well as readings of work in development.

How do you decide on the plays to read and the creatives involved?

Scott: We just chatted a lot and created a list of the plays that we really wanted to hear again or in some cases for the first time. Actors and creatives have suggested plays too which always helps.

 In terms of the work in development, I called Katie Elin Salt to see if she had anything that she’d written that we could have a read of, and luckily for us she had her insanely brilliant play ‘Splinter’ that hadn’t been touched for a few years, so we jumped at the chance to workshop it and give it another life. And in Matthew Trevannions case, we approached him as we wanted to read his play ‘Bruised’, but luckily for us he really wanted us to host a reading of his brand new play ‘Lyrics to a Birdsong’ instead. It was our 2nd new play reading in just under a month – we couldn’t have felt more lucky that the likes of Matthew and Katie trusted us to help them develop their works.

The Lyrics to a Birdsong reading by Matthew Trevannion.

Fran: There are playwrights that both of us love and admire, so there’s the obvious plays- but we try to have a new playwright every week and so far haven’t done more than one reading of the same playwright yet! Myself and Scott discuss the plays, but a lot of it comes from emails from creatives wanting to get involved, and the plays they suggest! We have a huge database of actors/creatives and the plays they suggest- once we start to see the same play crop up, we know we have to do that one. We try to get a director on board for each reading as soon as we decide on the play, and we ask them to go through the database of actors to see who is best to read what roles. We try to include both graduates and experienced actors together.  We also encourage playwrights to get in touch if they have new work they want to hear out loud, or work on over a few weeks with actors. It’s so important to keep making new work, even when right now it feels like we’re far away from putting it on, we have to keep making! 

The reading of ‘Pan Ddaw’r Byd i Ben’ by Daf James

Scott you put a call out on Twitter in the early stages of the project for suggestions for Welsh Plays. What sort of response did you get?

 I had over 90 different play suggestions. They’re all in our database now, and hopefully we can revisit them all at some point. 

The play readings have been hugely successful, with real interest from the theatrical community. The readings can’t be accessed by the public and are invite only. Is it possible to say why this is and do you have any plans for an online audience to be able to attend?

Fran: We’ve been asked this a lot, and we would love to allow everyone who wanted access to watch each reading. However, we’re both working for free on this project, and so the actors and creatives are very generously giving their time for free too. We don’t feel like it’s right to ask the actors to “perform” for anyone other than for themselves without payment at the moment. The purpose is to allow them a place to flex their creative muscles, without any pressure of a performance. Like an athlete attending the gym! Obviously we would love to then have a separate strand that paid actors and creatives for their time, and allowed the reading to be open to the public- we’re actively trying to seek funding for this, so fingers crossed, because it would be great to open some of these amazing play readings up and more importantly pay people for their incredible talents! 

What response have you had from the sector and what are your future plans for the company?

Scott – One thing we can’t have any complaints about is the love and generosity that’s been shown to us from the off. Artists like Adele Thomas, Tim Price, Tamara Harvey, Trystan Gravelle, Catherine Paskell, Daf James, Rebecca Jade Hammond, Julia Thomas, Gary Owen, and Matthew Bulgo to name a few, have all given us their invaluable advice.

The immediate future plan is to keep on doing more readings and workshops. Long term, who knows. Personally, I’d like the company to evolve and for us to one day produce a production. There’s a huge lack of revivals in Wales, so we think we could happily fill that gap in a similar vein. Another idea of ours is for ‘The Far Away Plays Festival’. A long weekend in Cardiff with a whole load of play readings, workshops/Q&As, and a good old knees up with everyone.

Fran: The response we’ve had has been like nothing either of us could have imagined. It’s a huge testament to how much creatives are itching to flex their muscles and surround themselves with other creative minds. The readings are wonderful, but for me, seeing a “room” full of artists discussing the play afterwards always gives me goosebumps- those creative conversations are the thing I miss most (and the banter! You cant beat a room full of Welsh people… ) We plan to continue these readings for as long as people need them. 

If you had to be put on the spot what are your favourite Welsh plays from the last decade?

Scott – Violence and Son/Iphigenia in Splott both by Gary Owen, Grav by Owen Thomas, Bird by Katherine Chandler, Pan Ddaw’r Byd i Ben by Daf James.

Fran: All of the above, I properly loved the most recent reading we did of Daf James’ play Pan Draw’r Byd i Ben, and also Emily White’s Pavilion will always be a really special one for me. But a play I’ve always loved is Salt, Root & Roe by Tim Price. I’m also really excited by new Welsh playwrights right now, I’m working with Rhys Warrington on a new play of his, plus we’ve been lucky enough to read new plays by Matthew Trevannion, Kristian Phillips, Katie-Elin Salt… we have so much talent in Wales, and so many incredible stories to tell.  

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

Scott: Wales has so many amazing theatres all across the country that hardly get used to showcase Welsh work with Welsh actors and creatives at the heart of it, so I’d love more money to be pumped into making sure that plays are toured more. I’m also unashamedly a huge fan of big scale productions – so more of those please! 

Fran: The programme I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in is supported by The Carne Trust and Theatr Clwyd. It allows two directors to work at Theatr Clwyd for 18 months, assist on the productions, to work in every department in the theatre which is a truly unique type of Artistic Director traineeship where you get to see exactly how a building is run and operates. As well as that, at the end of the 18 months, you get the change to direct your own show at Theatr Clwyd. This kind of opportunity is few and far between and I’m incredibly grateful to Tamara Harvey and Philip and Chris Carne for providing it. I’d love there to be more possibilities like this for directors, to be able to attach themselves to an organisation or even a mentor for a longer period of time to allow their creative development. Working as an assistant director is great, and provides a lot of experience, but from being attached to a building I’m gaining so much more than just my ability as a director. 

What excites you about the arts in Wales? What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers? 

Scott: We have an insane amount of talent at our disposal in Wales. The possibility of all the incredible productions that could happen in the future excites me the most. The last really great thing I experienced was being in a packed auditorium at The Sherman for On Bear Ridge by Ed Thomas. The buzz inside was something I’d not experienced in a long time, and seeing actors like Rhys Ifans and Raike Ayola on a Welsh stage is so important. It creates a huge dollop of aspiration all round. 

Fran: I always get so excited about shows that come from Wales, we really do have such a unique ability to tell stories. Before lockdown, I was lucky enough to be the assistant director on a new musical by Seiriol Davies called Milky Peaks. Unfortunately lockdown landed on our first day of tech, so we never got to open the show at Theatr Clwyd (don’t worry we will!) so we asked the cast what they would like to do in that heartbreaking moment. They responded saying that they would like to sing the opening and closing number before we left, one last time. The amazing tech team did some epic live cueing to provide lights and sound, and the cast performed the numbers breathtakingly. In that moment I realised that artists are such resilient people and we have a deep, unabating need to tell stories, no matter the circumstances, and we always will. 

During Lockdown a range of arts and third sector organisations and individuals are now working online or finding new ways to reach out to audiences. Have you seen any particularly good examples of this way of working that you would like to highlight? 

Scott: I really loved listening to Dirty Protest’s Ritual plays online, and I thought The Sherman’s 10 monologues was a great project too. Any company that gives us theatre folk the sense of being creative and staying connected should be commended!

Fran: I’m probably one of the many, many people who have watched Hamilton on repeat since it was released, as well as the NT live productions. It’s not live theatre that we know, love and miss, but its something- and it’s brilliant. It’s allowing people to bring theatre into their homes, some who may not have been able to afford to go and see these shows originally, and it’s a great example of making theatre accessible for everyone. Gwennan Mair, who is director of Creative Engagement at Theatr Clwyd, and her amazing team is a brilliant example of how you can continue to reach audiences and more importantly communities during this time. They are still running online theatre workshops for hundreds of people weekly, including teaching elderly people how to use Zoom to they can keep connected to people, even if it is virtually! 

Thanks for your time.

Connor Allen, Opportunity (Two Years On…)

This article is a follow on from “On Opportunity” Written by Connor Allen in 2017, which can be found below

“We need to ask ourselves how do we encourage the next generation of artists and creatives to strive and aim for the stars? A big factor in encouragement is inspiration. If they never see role models they can relate to win awards how are they ever encouraged to become the next Octavia Spencer or the next Steve McQueen.”

2 years ago I wrote that above quote

On Friday 28th June 2019 … Thousands of young boys and girls sat at home from their “cheap seats” and watched history play out.

They watched a 24 year old Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr. headline The biggest music festival in the world. Or as many and most people know him by the name of Stormzy.

The reason I start this article with that is because 2 years ago I wrote about Oprah being sat at home as a little girl in 1964 and watching history play out with Sidney Poitier winning an award and found herself inspired.

Now fast forward over 50 years and the exact same thing has happened.

There are little boys and girls who were either there like I was lucky enough to be, or at home watching, but either way were inspired to see a young Black British man on the biggest stage in the world and his talent and hard work got him to that position.

That inspiration is priceless. And that’s how we encourage the next generation to strive for bigger and better things.

By showing them what they can achieve.

Like I said 2 years ago “If opportunity is not given to people then how are we ever going to be in a position where we can showcase our talents?, be nominated for awards? and inspire our peers and the next generation?”

Stormzy, for example, got the opportunity to headline and smashed it out of Worthy Farm. His talent got him there, not the colour of his skin and that’s inspirational to everyone that can relate. Thats inspirational to all our peers and to the next generation who can watch that and believe that they can headline Glastonbury, Or perform or direct at the National Theatre or on Broadway, Or be on the front cover of GQ, Or play football for a premiership team, or be in the next avengers movie. Or be the next Stormzy or Oprah.

During Stormzy’s set he bought on Dave and Fredo to perform ‘Funky Friday’

He used his platform and his moment to give an opportunity to Dave and Fredo to perform on the pyramid stage and to experience that thrill and allow them to share in the moment.

Thats huge!

I say it all the time in conversations with friends, when running workshops or giving talks – If I’m winning then we’re all winning because I’m going to learn some new skills, new knowledge and make new networks etc which I can then relay back to others to allow them to bask in the new found knowledge and glory I have gained and vice versa.

If YOU are winning then we are all winning because you’re going to learn things that can only help benefit others journeys and careers.

To quote Denzel (as I always do) – “I’m not in this to compete, I’m in this to get better”

That night in June at Glasto, Stormzy was winning but he gave an opportunity for others to win as well.

That for me is on the Macro Level in Stormzy and Oprah and I’m going to bring it to the Micro Level of myself and Wales.

Back home in Wales the last 2 years have been a whirlwind (for me personally)

I’ve been given so many opportunities that have led to me:

  • I’ve had organisations like Literature Wales believe in me and my talent to help develop further works of mine.
  • I’ve been on TV (which for a kid from Hammond Drive is huge – Check out changing the narrative from 27 for more clarity)
  • I’ve been a part of a sold out show by the incredible Tin Shed Theatre again in my hometown.. bringing top class theatre to my doorstep (something I never had when I was growing up)
  • Ive been made Associate Artist of The Riverfront in my hometown of Newport.

And so much more

And when I think of all that and more, I’m so blessed to have had the opportunities to get me to this position in my life and career 2 years later.

Ive had so many people like Julia Thomas, Branwen Davies, Gary Owen, Helen Perry, Justin Cliffe, Louise Richards, Olivia Harris, Bryony Kimmings and more, all give me an opportunity and help nurture my talent and craft so I can be in a position where I can help and inspire the younger generation. I can open doors for them (potentially) that were never opened for me.

But again as I echoed 2 years ago the key word in ALL of that is opportunity.

They’ve given me the opportunity so i’m on the same page as other creatives and artists.

They gave me that opportunity to either sink or swim but it’s that chance that is so greatly needed. Without that chance, very few people can reach the potential that they have the ability to reach.

Without opportunity all that remains is an imbalanced and under-represented system where inspiration can’t flourish.

And without Inspiration many journeys won’t even start and many potentials never realised.

I can’t write this and act like opportunity hasn’t been present for me because it has but hard work and determination has been right along side it as I’ve built a career for the past 6 years.

The more I reflect on the past 2 years since writing that article the more I realise that it has been a good starting point in Wales where more of my peers and community are getting given opportunities and they’re smashing it outta the park everytime.

Alex Riley is breaking down barriers with her Mixed documentary and being a member on the above writing groups alongside myself and starring in smash hit TV like The Tuckers and End of the F***ing World

Mali-Ann Rees is killing it in the Tourist Trap alongside Leroy Brito.


Kyle Lima, like myself with The Riverfront has been made associate artist of HIS hometown theatre at The Sherman.

The reason I list these Kings and Queens is simply because like myself, 2 years ago they weren’t in the position that they are now.

Through hard work they’ve been given opportunities which they have consistently smashed.

So many young Welsh black and mixed race girls can turn on the tele and see Alex and Mali on their screens. Thats huge! because that’s inspirational. Thats showing them that it can be done and they can one day be in the same position as them.

Like Oprah did when she turned on the TV back five decades ago.

Youth who see Kyle and myself in Associate roles at their hometown theatres again can start to think that they too can achieve the same success. That those local buildings are for them as much as anyone else. They can start to aim for similar aspirations.

Once opportunity is given then all you’re judged on is your talent. It’s a level playing field where all it comes down to is you. BUT opportunity has to be given for the talent to shine.

So carry on giving opportunities to the talented individuals that warrant them and if you can’t find those talented individuals then seek them out. Because trust me theres plenty of them!

Talent comes in all shapes and sizes and we simply HAVE to find that and represent that.

We can’t afford to be lazy.

I guess what am I trying to say with all of this ….

Well simply put, I recently asked a close friend of mine to list White Welsh Published Playwrights and without hesitation they were able to list many amazing playwrights, many of whom I look up to myself and have helped paved the way for me BUT then I said now name me Black Welsh Published Playwrights and there was a pause as we both tried to think.

That pause is what has to change!

And that’s why I list the amazing individuals and there are so many more but in future when little welsh boys and girls of colour are talking about playwrights and writing that represents them and inspires them, they can think of Connor Allen, Alex Riley, Kyle Lima, Darragh Mortell, Taylor Edmonds, Durre Shahwar and so many more

There won’t be a pause.

Thats how we change the system and keep that encouragement for the next generation to follow in the footsteps that we lay before them. We must become the change that we seek. We must become the role models that we never had growing up.

Mentorship and role models are huge and so vital to development. It’s the work of them that lays solid foundations and blueprints down for the next generation to follow and build upon, so they can make a more equal and justified system and industry.

Opportunity is now being given and its a great and much needed starting point.

But we have to develop that starting point.

There is still more that can be done to make equality and inclusivity a more normalised thing within the arts.

Create more gate keepers, role models and mentors that relate to and represent the communities that make up Wales’ rich diverse culture and history.

According to Welsh Government Data only 6% of Wales is made up of “Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic” (not sure how much I believe that) but my point is that in a country that is predominantly white we need to make systems and industries that represent ALL walks of life. Even the 6%.

We are experiencing a real positive shift at the moment and this can only be fully realised through education and sacrifice of power and privilege.

I realise that the more I am improving and the more success I gain, the more power and privilege I am given. BUT with that power and privilege I am given, I can make a choice to share that.

Take my recent Literature Wales commission 27, I chose to give some of my commission to other artists to allow them the opportunity to have paid artistic work where one of the artists is still in high school, one is yet to graduate and another has only recently graduated. Now I don’t say that to be like “oh look at me” I say it simply because if I can do that then people in far bigger and more important positions than me can do that as well.

I know how important opportunity has been in getting me to the position I am in today so i’ll never shy away from offering opportunity to those coming up

J Cole says it brilliantly in Middle Child – “I’m dead in the middle of two generations I’m little bro and big bro all at once”

It was only 5/6 years back that I myself was one of those artists looking for a chance and if it wasn’t for people taking a chance on me and believing in me well, I wouldn’t be where I am today, so its only fair that I give back where and when I can.

And if I can do that so can other organisations and institutions. I’m just one man with a modicum of influence. Imagine the potential if others with far more influence and power made the same approach that I have done.

Its about being courageous and then we will see some positive changes. Changes that are generational. That can have an impact for future generations.

Every single role model/person that we look up to, started off exactly like us. As people learning and working to get better.

Yes, many of my community are angry, upset, confused and more at the moment. And its the likes of role models on a global and local level that will maintain the inspiration and development of the next generation. If we don’t see ourselves and our representation then how are we meant to be engaged and inspired to be the next generation of role models and trend setters.

It’s cyclical.

In these dark times we must never forget our own power, our own talent, our own strength.

It’s only in the darkest of times that we can see the light.

And even though opportunities are becoming more and hopefully more of the younger generation are finding hope and inspiration in looking at the current generation of us achieving success we have to strive for more.

Opportunity is just the planting of the seeds, For real fruition we have to see representation in all forms, from all walks of lives showcased throughout the arts and throughout all sectors.

We live in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world where all forms of race, gender, sexuality, disability and more are ripe and without positive and sustained change then we run the risk of an industry not embracing that and not showcasing every form of the human condition.

Art is a reflection of life, in ALL its forms.

Real collective change can only be made when representation is across all levels of infrastructure.


So as always

Much Love

Keep dreaming

Keep striving

Con x

Participatory Arts: Thinking Beyond Lockdown – Community Arts. Jên Angharad, CEO, Artis Community

Jên gave the presentation below as a part of the recent Zoom Participation Meetings. This meeting was supported by Art Works Cymru, NDCWales and Tanio. Thanks to Jên for sharing her statement.

Cyflwyniad Presentation: Participatory Arts: Thinking Beyond Lockdown – Community Arts. 18/06/2020

Bore da… good morning! Jên Angharad ydw i… I’m Jên Angharad… a year into my current post as prifweithredwr… CEO with a wonderful organisation that is Artis Gymuned – Artis Community.

Cyn i mi ddechre… before I begin… hoffwn jesd diolch i Guy, Lisa a’r partneriaeth, sy’ ‘di gwneud y sgyrsiau ‘ma’n bosib… ac am fy ngwahodd fel un o’r siaradwyr… I’d just like to say a big thank you to Guy, to Lisa and the partnership, that has made these discussions possible… and for inviting me to contribute as one of the speakers…. Diolch o galon!

So here we go…. Yn meddwl tu hwnt i lockdown… Thinking Beyond Lockdown … catapulting between what was…. what is … and what MIGHT be… at a time projecting into a future that is still unknown! Sounds like a dance improvisation to me! 

I’m not going to talk about the work that Artis did before lockdown, (perhaps you can visit the website if you want to know more about that – https://artiscommunity.org.uk) because beyond lockdown is of course, about our futures… the future of us… as creative, cultural organisations, of independent artists… the future of us as a practice… and the future of us as a community of practice that includes the people who we are building relationships with and people who we’ve yet to have the privilege of meeting, making and growing with…

A future that sits within a broader arts ecology, currently in crisis.

Mae ‘na fwy o gwestiynnau nag atebion… There are many more questions, than answers and so, I asked the Artis team and board, what are the questions they are asking about our future as an organisation and as part of a national practice beyond lockdown and I’m focusing this reflection on just some of the many questions they’ve shared with me!

So this is a collective effort that we can continue to explore further with our communities.

The first question is a big one! It asks for thoughts on how the community arts sector might navigate its way out of lockdown? This is probably a question many of us are trying to answer!

When we consider community arts as a sector, currently capsuled into zoom boxes and flat screens, I think navigation requires kindness, it requires us to take good care of our health and wellbeing and to support our colleagues and friends, so that we are then able to maintain good connections and support as best we can, the people in our communities who make and feed our collective creative practice.

Then I like to think that we can draw strength from being a community of practice that holds a common unity locally, regionally and nationally, we are after all a people practice. We are a community of improvisers, planners, dreamers, strategists, collaborators, communicators and engagers and isn’t it fantastic when we come together to share concerns, find solutions to puzzles and celebrate successes! Conversation platforms like this one are providing a space to reflect, share and learn… connecting, re-connecting and I hope, strengthening our collective knowledge, practice and passion into the future. The more we do this, the more we can feed a shared understanding and form a united voice, which I’m sure we can all agree, is needed if we are to convince the Westminster government, that the social and economic value of community and participatory arts, is crucial to the wellbeing of our both our current and future generations.

The next question asks… What impact can we have now, in the next few months and further ahead into the future? 

In Artis we’re learning through the stories of current lived experiences that in as much as it can never replace social 3 dimensional gatherings and interaction, we are making some difference to people who are engaging in our current digital, local doorstep drop offs, telephone conversations and posted activities… for some living in isolation and without access to digital technology, the non-digital activities provide a crucial connection with the outside world and that of their own imaginations.

Our digital activity has had a surprising impact, I think mostly on our own thinking about the possibilities that digital engagement can create!

The main driver for this development was an urgency…. a concern about how, during lockdown, we could possibly maintain a connection with the people who regularly take part in activities.

Refocusing practice into a digital domain is time-consuming work, but it’s worth it in terms of connecting people during social distancing, it means we can continue to employ freelance artists and we’re learning new skills!

But, if we are to survive beyond lockdown, we face an even bigger challenge and that is to add our voices to the voices of Arts Council of Wales and Welsh Government in influencing the thinking of the Westminster government… to call them to understand the need for and the benefits of, locally driven community and participatory arts experience… on health & wellbeing, on learning, on skill development, on identity, on our sense of place in this world, on our environment and on the economy and regeneration of communities. [These are] Community and participatory arts practices and experiences that are priceless and can be life changing.

Efallai mwy nag erioed… We now need perhaps more than ever, financial investment in the arts, and importantly, not just in the larger organisations, but in smaller companies and charities and independent artists who do incredible work in and with communities of people who can otherwise be invisible and feel the weight of injustices, amazing people who are entitled, after all, to explore a world of imagination, creativity and growth.

I attended an ArtWorks Cymru partners meeting yesterday to discuss the Parliamentary Committee for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s call for evidence, of the impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors… the deadline is Friday – that’s tomorrow! ArtWorks Cymru is drafting a national response and if we can, as organisations and individuals also submit responses, however small, our national voice – our sector voice can be louder. Our immediate challenge is to convince the current powers that be, of our relevance. 

Projecting forward… Beth yw’r heriau… What are the challenges of facing a new and different future?

There are undoubtedly big challenges ahead, not only in the practicalities of coming out of lockdown, and transitioning into choreographed… physical… social… spaces, but also in how we approach this… mindful that social distancing, isolation, ill-health and grief will have impacted individuals in many ways and require sensitive approaches to re-engagement.

Lockdown has unearthed the ugly truths about inequalities and injustices in our society and in as much as the Artis vision is well intentioned, we, as an organisation need to question what we mean when we say:

Mae ein gwaith yn ceisio creu lle i bawb

I brofi rhyddid mewn creadigrwydd a grym i ddarganfod gwychder mewn dathliad o fynegiant artistig.

Our work seeks to create space where all people

find freedom in creativity and are empowered to discover great moments in a celebration of artistic expression.

If we truly mean ‘pawb’ … ‘all people’, then we must proactively change our focus towards areas and cultures we are failing to reach in the South Wales Valleys. We know that we can’t do this alone. We need to work together with organisations and individuals to achieve this.

The unknown is perhaps, for most of us an uncomfortable prospect. But I think if we look to our community and participatory practices, that are by their very nature, improvised, uncertain, adventurous, unexpected… we can remind ourselves, that we can call on these same resources to propel us forward into the unknown, knowing that our collective creativity and resilience will see us through.

Diolch am wrando… thank you for listening!

REVIEW Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams star as a quirky Icelandic musical duo who fail their way to the top in representing their nation at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Eurovision is, at its heart, a celebration of togetherness; it’s essentially a festival of campy delights that annually gathers the wondrous and the weird together on a single stage. It’s so singularly, spectacularly strange that I’m not surprised to hear that Will Ferrell of all people is a fan. The man loves to sing! He sings in practically all of his movies, like this one, this one, this genuine belter from Casa de Mi Padre and of course this classic. He even sang at the Oscarstwice!

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: The Story of Fire Saga – Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong, Rachel McAdams as Sigrit Ericksdottir. Credit Elizabeth Viggiano/NETFLIX © 2020

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga brings two of these loves together in a joyous ode to being completely and defiantly true to yourself. Directed by David Dobkin, the film follows Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell), a lovably unlucky wannabe-musician who dreams of nothing but winning the Eurovision Song Contest. The only support from his small-town home of Húsavík comes in the form of his long-suffering bestie and Fire Saga bandmate Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams), who has been in love with the oblivious Lars since they were children. Through a series of loopholes, freak accidents and government wrangling, the unlikely duo finds themselves representing their nation in the contest.

Ferrell could play the lovable man-child archetype in his sleep, and in his last few films he seems to have done just that – Daddy’s Home 2, Get Hard and Holmes & Watson all missed the mark in so many ways – but here he’s on top form (aided in no small part by an absolutely fantastic wig). Rachel McAdams shines once again in a comedic role after her hilarious turn in Game Night, and they have real chemistry – even if the film veers into fantasy by suggesting that McAdams and Ferrell could have grown up together or that she would be the one pining for him and not the other way around. Fire Saga is not quite a musical, not quite a pastiche, but its songs are enjoyable across the board. I liked that neither Lars nor Sigrit are inept musicians – the lavish music video for the extremely catchy ‘Volcano Man’ may exist only in their dreams (for now), but their songs are genuinely excellent, from the foot-tapping ‘Double Trouble’ to the sweeping ballad ‘Húsavík’.

The highlight of the whole thing is Dan Stevens having the time of his life as Alexander Lemtov, an ostentatious singer representing Russia in the contest. Not to spoil the film, but you should absolutely know in advance that there is a scene in which Stevens, wearing a gold-brocade suit and a Careless Whisper-era George Michael wig, sings a song called ‘Lion of Love’ while flanked by a group of scantily-clad hunks. You owe it to yourself to watch that in HD.

A starry medley featuring a multitude of Eurovision winners (I spotted Conchita Wurst and Alexander Rybak) is the cherry on top of a loving homage to the hilarity and exuberance of the contest. It compelled me to revisit my Eurovision favourites of yore – Only Teardrops, Running Scared, Hard Rock Hallelujah and Fairytale – and though nothing could ever beat Ukraine’s entry from 2007, Ferrell has distilled the magic of what makes a classic Eurovision act, capturing the campy charm in a way that only a superfan could.

Sometimes Ferrell’s comedies veer into the mean-spirited (Get Hard, Anchorman, Daddy’s Home) – that’s not the case here. Instead, the film affectionately teases a show which is already acutely self-aware, and gloriously proud, of its quirks. In terms of Ferrell’s filmography, it’s his most successful blend of good comedy and genuine emotional warmth since 2003’s Elf (although I have a place in my heart for both The Other Guys and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, you would be hard-pressed to call either film particularly warm-hearted).

Although it’s a shame we won’t get to witness Daði Freyr win the top spot with the immeasurably catchy ‘Think About Things’ due to the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling this year’s contest, Netflix’s endearing, fun tribute is a loving send-up of the things which make Eurovision bizarre and brilliant in equal measure. It may not be for everyone, but for me it’s the best film released in lockdown so far, and a welcome slice of escapist fun.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is currently streaming on Netflix.

Review, Her Ffilm Fer, Hansh, S4C by Gareth Williams

The old adage that the two most difficult genres to write are comedy and horror seemed to have bypassed the ears of some of Wales’ top producers. The likes of Ed Thomas (Hinterland) and Euros Lyn (Doctor Who) decided to devilishly choose the latter for a short film challenge put on by S4C’s Hansh (of which they were judges). To raise the stakes even further, the films were required to be made within 48 hours, which under lockdown conditions, seems like a pretty tall order. But I guess that’s where creativity can either flourish or flounder, producing a fight-or-flight response which, for those of the former persuasion, led to some pretty professional-looking and eye-catching pieces.

The variety of films that were sent in made it difficult for the judges to compare them. But they managed, in the end, to narrow it down to a shortlist, before announcing a couple that were deserving of special merit; that came very close to the standards of the overall winner. Of the three runners-up, Martha a’r fantell ddu was my personal favourite. It contained a lovely, light humour which, in typical horror fashion, slowly turns sour as strange things begin to occur in the life of the protagonist. Much like other entries Dilynwyr and Y Glesni, it uses the prevalence of digital technology to create a familiar experience which, like The Blair Witch Project and Unfriended, is then brilliantly skewed to generate unease, concern, and, finally, terror. But it is the performance of the actor who plays Mari (the film’s producer, Erin?) that makes Martha a’r fantell ddu stand out from the crowd. The effervescence she brings to the role perfectly encapsulates that of the enthusiastic YouTuber. Yet as things get weird, her increasing paranoia is displayed not only in her facial expressions but in the nuanced delivery of her dialogue. She succeeds in taking us on a journey through a narrative that is character-driven, leading us to be entertained, concerned and fearful for her, as we are drawn into her experience to really emotive effect.

The overall winner takes a somewhat more conventional line. There are no livestreams or Zoom calls here. 03YB is a clever, playful and absorbing film that takes familiar tropes from the horror genre and executes them incredibly well. There is enough originality and fresh impetus in the plotline though to test your expectations, as the creators use skilful editing to keep you guessing throughout. The ear piercing music is largely effective, grating only slightly at points, whilst the costume is utilised brilliantly. More specifically, the ears on the hood of the protagonist’s onesie become a fantastically devious signifier for blood at one point, representing the kind of deceitful intentions that the film’s creators look to insert at almost every turn. 03YB reminds me of the kind of visceral scenes at the start of many contemporary Welsh television dramas, posing just as much mystery as them too. It leaves you with enough questions to want to enquire further. It has the makings of a full-length episode, if not series. It is a well-deserved winner.

It appears that there is plenty of talent in Wales when it comes to the creation of original, suspenseful, and entertaining shorts. Thomas, Lyn, et al, clearly sussed that setting such a hard challenge would lead to some excellent entries. I wonder if it did leave them surprised however by the quality of the filmmaking. Given the lockdown restrictions, alongside the competition’s time constraint, I would say the films were of a remarkably professional standard. If they are representative of Wales’ young creative talent, then the current generation can rest assured that the future looks to be in very safe hands. I just hope that the opportunities come for these young filmmakers to grow and develop in their creative potential. Without investment in the arts at all levels, but particularly at the grassroots, going forward, the worry is that their chances will be severely curtailed.

You can watch all 42 films that were entered into the competition here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Acting for Others By Connor Strange

Hi, my name is Connor Strange, and for those that do not know me, I am a Freelance Theatre Technician & Event Crew. I have written a couple of articles on the Get the Chance platform before, and the article I am writing today is especially poignant and relevant to me.

I am making this public appeal, in light of the current Covid-19 outbreak. The closure of our theatres and live events has spelled disaster, with theatres on the brink of collapse and redundancies already starting. I felt a sense of sadness and despair looking at the disaster unfolding before me, I could not and would not stay silent on this issue.

So this is a story of how I am standing up and supporting our theatres colleagues and friends across our beloved country, and sharing the event that I am organising and taking part in to raise money for Acting For Others.

I am an avid gamer in my spare time, and thought to myself how could I raise money? It dawned on me that I could do a charity gaming livestream and raise money that way. So here’s what I am doing:

I am taking part in a 12 hour gaming livestream on the 1st of August 2020 between 9am and 9pm (UK BST) playing 5 well known game titles, in this order: Minecraft, Fallout 76, Forza Horizon, Fortnite, Elder Scrolls Online.

The event will be raising money for UK charity Acting for Others, and will be broadcast on Twitch – www.twitch.tv/connorstrange145

Acting for Others is a charity that represents 14 UK theatrical charities. The funds raised are used to offer emotional and financial support via their 14 member charities to members of the entertainment industry who have fallen on hard times through illness, injury or circumstance.

They support actors, dancers, singers, variety performers, backstage workers from the dressers to the techs, front of house & box office, theatre admin and behind the scenes creatives such as directors and choreographers.

I am raising money because I want to help colleagues from across the country who are struggling financially and emotionally due to COVID-19, and I want to give something back to a community of creatives that are truly accepting and inclusive. Our community has been let down by government, and some colleagues have not been able to access funding, grants or government loans. This is unacceptable, and I felt that I could not turn a blind eye or stay silent on an issue that means so much to me. 

As a Freelance Theatre Technician, I have been accepted and included and I am truly thankful to the theatre industry, for giving me an opportunity to thrive and succeed.

The work that Acting For Others do is truly inspiring, and I hope that you can donate. However small or big your donation is, it will truly help. If you can’t donate, that’s completely okay. If you could share my page far and wide, I would be extremely grateful. If you would like to donate the link is www.justgiving.com/fundraising/connorstrange1

Thank you for your support, and I hope you’re all safe and well.