Tag Archives: Gareth Williams

Review, The Answer, Jodie Marie by Gareth Williams

Muscle Shoals comes to Pembrokeshire as singer-songwriter Jodie Marie releases her latest genre-defying album ‘The Answer’.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Welsh singer-songwriter Jodie Marie is an artist who refuses to play by the music industry rules. Her latest album The Answer is an exemplary response to those who would wish to classify her sound under a single heading. For though there is a blues thread that runs soulfully through this 12-track collection, the genre-blending that goes on both within and between each song makes this a musical tapestry of the highest quality. It is rich with meaning, drawing on inspiration from the past and mixing it with a contemporary sound to create something that is both reminiscent yet highly original. The result is a sublime record that makes for a captivating listen.

The Answer opens with the smooth funk and soul of ‘You are my Life’. It is characteristic of much of the album insofar as it transports you back some fifty years whilst remaining firmly rooted in the present. ‘Ain’t No Doubt about It’ echoes this same feeling, with a gorgeous arrangement that soaks you in the sounds of Motown whilst being resonant of the music of people as eclectic as Amy Winehouse, Paolo Nutini and CeeLo Green. It demonstrates an altogether playful approach to music making as Jodie mixes and matches various flavours to compose songs that are replete with nods to the past. In doing so, she does not just pay homage to the music she grew up listening to but, on songs such as ‘A Whole Lot of Loving’, she breathes new life into these timeless sounds. Nowhere is this more evident than on ‘Don’t Go Telling Me (That It’s Over)’, a ludicrously enjoyable song that combines classic doo-wop with electric guitar blues to create an incredibly moreish track.

Even when she strips things back to produce moments of acoustic tenderness, Jodie’s sound remains impossible to clinically define. ‘Carageen’ washes over you like the gentle crashing of waves on a shore. Its central metaphor seems to represent a kind of spiritual grounding for Jodie: a place that centres her and from which her music, in all its eclectic glory, therapeutically flows. ‘Saving Grace’ offers up a beautifully intimate picture of love that requires deep listening. It is storytelling in the vein of a Nashville Songwriter’s Round yet one cannot claim it as pure country. Just as ‘Kiss These Tears Away’ cannot simply be a ballad of the blues. Instead, Jodie manages to weave enough elements into each track so as they become wonderfully ambiguous. This is most true in the title track. ‘The Answer’ contains hints of modern country, ‘60s rock, and Welsh electro-pop, undercut with a blues vibe and layered with pure soul. The result is a raw and rousing sound of real emotion and depth.

‘Hanging by a String’ is like an audio illustration of the kind of building blocks that go into making Jodie Marie’s overall sound. From its humble intro, Jodie stacks brick upon brick of musical instrumentation to construct a track that is perfectly-formed and insulated with solid soul. ‘This House’ is built on the blues and is kitted out with the best of classic rock. Such rock is infused with pop to create a catchy refrain on ‘Curse the Day’ that sparks with electricity. The Answer is brought to life by such commingling of genres which, one cannot help but feel, reflects the beating heart of Jodie herself. This is what makes the album so special. She has not compromised or standardised on anything. Instead, she has made a record that is truly her. And that authenticity shines through. Jodie Marie is a champion of artistic vision over and above what the industry demands. The Answer is the answer to anyone who thinks otherwise.

Click here to listen to the album on Spotify.

To find out more about Jodie Marie and/or purchase the album, visit her website here.

Review by
Gareth Williams

Interview with Welsh singer-songwriter Jodie Marie, as part of BBC Horizons’ ‘Tour of Wales’ 2021

Throughout the past week, BBC Horizons have been touring the nation, stopping off at some of Wales’ most treasured independent music venues to bring us a series of live sessions from some of the country’s top, upcoming musicians. From the mountain top venue of Neuadd Ogwen in Bethesda, to the Queen’s Hall in Narberth on the west coast, to the inner city hub of Le Pub in Newport, across seven days we have seen and heard the crucial role that Grassroots Music Venues (GMVs) play both in their local communities and in fostering the next generation of musical talent.

Artists who have performed across the week have included emerging artists from a wide range of genres: from hip-hop artist Mace the Great to rock band Those Damn Crows; stripped-back sessions from Ifan Pritchard and Rona Mac; and alt-pop from female duo Body Water and solo artist Malan. You can check out all the sessions here.

Here at Get the Chance, we caught up with singer-songwriter Jodie Marie, another of the artists who performed as part of this special project in association with Independent Venues Week. She chatted to us about the importance of the Queen’s Hall both as a music venue and community hub, the vital role that Horizons and BBC Radio Wales play in supporting home-grown talent, and the artists that have influenced her unique sound. She also reveals what we can expect from her upcoming new album, as well as what she’s been up to in lockdown.

To find out more about Jodie Marie and/or to pre-order her new album The Answer, released February 12th, click here.

To check out the full week of sessions, visit the Horizons website, or follow them on social media, where the team would love to hear your stories and experiences of GMVs, especially those in Wales.

The ‘Tour of Wales’ has been supported by Creative Wales and BBC Introducing, and is championed by the likes of BBC Radio Wales’ Adam Walton and Bethan Elfyn.

Series Review, Rybish, S4C by Gareth Williams

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

When a sitcom gets funnier as the series goes on, you know you’re onto a winner. So it is with Rybish, written by Barry ‘Archie’ Jones. Set in a recycling centre in North-West Wales, it avoids the rookie mistake of focusing primarily on the workplace situation. Instead, Jones develops a cast of well-rounded characters whose idiosyncratic personalities rub up against one another to form the basis of much of Rybish’s hilarity. There may be the odd joke at the setting’s expense, like standing on a ladder in the pouring rain, attempting to get a mobile signal. But Jones unearths most of the comedy gold from the interactions between his characters. It is the people that he has created that make Rybish such a success.

Sion Pritchard

Sion Pritchard is simply brilliant as site manager Clive. He ramps up the sullenness of his character Mark in Tourist Trap to take Clive beyond expressions of mild annoyance whilst tempering his exasperation so that his comments remain witty and teasing rather than scathing and cut-throat. He resembles the best of banter, light-heartedly mocking his colleagues with nicknames and put-downs that lovingly encapsulate their personalities. There is no malice in the man, as some might conclude; rather, he represents the masculine type that struggles to show emotion and masks their insecurities with humour and a certain aloofness.

Meanwhile, Eurwyn (Dyfed Thomas) wears his heart on his sleeve. He is a gentle and kind soul whose sweet nature is in stark contrast to the moody Clive. Whilst the humour created by the latter is often through his witty comments, it is the innocence of Eurwyn that draws laughter from the audience. It is never intended to be cruel however, and Jones ensures that in his script. He presents Eurwyn as a man of great wisdom and knowledge, though the way Thomas emphasises his character’s naivety has the effect of downplaying this. The result is a deeply empathetic portrayal of an archetypal, rather than stereotypical, Welshman who is devoted to his nation’s culture.

Dyfed Thomas

Alongside Clive and Eurwyn sits Nigel (Rhodri Trefor), a young lad who likes to think he’s more important than he actually is. He will often talk the talk but very rarely does he follow through with action. In fact, it is in the incongruity between what he says to camera and then does afterwards that is the source of much comedy. Jones does not simply pour scorn on Nigel however. Like the rest of his characters, he brings complexity through the subtle incision of moments that reflect genuine sentiment and vulnerability. Nigel’s reaction to new arrival Bobbi (Betsan Ceiriog) is one example, with his suspicion of her perhaps wrongly assumed by some to be veiled sexism. But when, in episode five, the ex-manager of the site wanders around making blatantly sexist remarks, Nigel stands with the rest of the crew in opposition. Such action reflects the strong camaraderie between them, of which Bobbi becomes a vital part.

Ceiriog, in her debut television role, is a steady and confident presence onscreen, affording Bobbi a self-assured and strong personality that means she becomes a vital part of the Cefn Cilgwyn family. She does so to the extent that, when it comes time for her to leave in the final episode, their sadness is akin to grief. It is felt so viscerally through the screen that I am already pining to re-join them for another series with the hope that Bobbi comes back. It would not be the same without her.

Betsan Ceiriog

It is very rare that I have felt such strong affection for a group of sitcom characters. I can think of only This Country and Derry Girls as contemporary examples where a similar strength of feeling has existed. The difference is that the characters in Rybish resemble a reality that is within my grasp. Contained in their specifically Welsh foibles, alongside their universally-felt flaws, is a reflection of something (someone) in my real world.

I suspect that the factual aesthetic and naturalistic dialogue also contribute to this sense of familiarity, the effect of which leaves one reflecting on the importance of community. For the concept of community that has been created here is something to behold. Whether a result of the cast and crew’s experience of filming under lockdown restrictions (they were in a bubble together while filming some of the series) or not, the familial-like ties that bind the characters of Rybish together is something to take to heart.

Writer Barry ‘Archie’ Jones has created something in Rybish that is not just memorable but lovable too. The title may be ‘rubbish’ but this sitcom is anything but.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Review, The Goat Roper Rodeo Band, Theatr Clwyd, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Or so it seems. The arts sector is not out of the woods yet by any means. But there is a glimmer of hope. Like the neon bulbs dangling across the stage at my first live gig since March, there are rays of optimism breaking through the darkness. As the sun set on the magnificent red brick building towering over us, aglow with rainbow-coloured light, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of joy and relief that I am back. That I have been able to come back. That my theatre, unlike others, still stands.

It never stopped, of course. It innovated; collaborated; diverted its resources; sought creative solutions. And now, it is slowly returning to a sense of the old normal. Not indoors, mind, but out. On a grassy field marked with white boxes and filled with makeshift chairs of all shapes and sizes. A tapestry of camping and outdoor furniture laid out before a plain black stage, simply lit and acoustically sound. Onto it step three lads with three instruments ready to entertain the throngs that have ventured out on this Friday evening. And entertain us they most certainly do, with a barnstorming hour of country, blues, and alternative folk.

Their blistering set was much needed to get the toes tapping; to counter the cold wind blowing across the site. The audience applauded in enthusiastic appreciation throughout, determined to enjoy an hour of music after the dearth of live performance over the past few months. The Goat Roper Rodeo Band certainly offered plenty of enjoyment and more besides, an eclectic sound keeping things fresh and lively, with no let-up in their high-octane delivery. Even in the slow, ballad-like songs such as Toss and Turn and Old Joanna, there was intensity in their presentation, perhaps caused by the welcome release that this post-lockdown opportunity presented for them. Whatever the case, it only added to the brilliance of the evening. With a carefully-crafted back-catalogue of wonderfully-catchy songs – reminiscent of Mumford & Sons one minute, sounding like a 1950s WSM Radio broadcast the next – The Goat Roper Rodeo Band certainly left their mark on proceedings in an hour that went by way too fast.

It was a very different experience of Theatr Clwyd to the one that I am used to. But it is moments like these that weave themselves into our memories. They are the unexpected surprises that make our relationship to a place so rich with meaning. They crystallise into a particular instance on our timeline that helps us tell the story of our lives to those that come after, when we recall how this theatre and its work has impacted us down the years. It may appear to the one looking in and gazing upon the photographs that this was just another outdoor gig. But to those who were there, or to me at least, this show marked the occasion when the arts began to breathe again, as the tightly-bound corset of Covid-19 restrictions was loosened enough to allow for such a socially-distanced gathering to take place.

There will be many bumps in the road to come. We are not out of the woods yet. But beyond the many trees still to wind past to get to the edge of what can seem an overwhelmingly-bleak scene, there is a light that shines. It will not be the same one we left behind. And neither should it be. Lockdown has been an opportunity to view and do things differently. Live performance as we knew it will return I’m sure. But the arts sector must also move forward. Change must be embraced.

Click here to find out more about The Goat Roper Rodeo Band.

Click here to find out what’s coming up at Theatr Clwyd.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Review, Laura Evans, Running Back to You EP, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

When I composed my ‘Top 5 Welsh Country Music Artists’ for a recent article, I made a glaring omission. How could I forget Laura Evans? Yet such has been the success of the Aberdare-born singer-songwriter, one can easily forget that her roots lie on this side of the pond. Her music has been featured on several US TV shows. She has performed at the famous Bluebird Café in Nashville. In fact, her time spent in Music City, writing and producing songs, means that she could easily pass for an American citizen.

On saying that, her voice retains a certain Welsh flavour that is evidenced on her latest EP Running Back to You. Her sultry tones are reminiscent of fellow Welsh warbler Duffy. Indeed, the strong soul vibe on the title track cannot help but evoke such a comparison. It is also shot through with blues, and contains some delicious guitar licks in the middle that make for a tasty listen. Its catchy groove sits nicely alongside the music of namesake Laura Oakes – though it is much more layered than Oakes’ straight-laced pop sound.

Laura Evans is no one-trick pony. This EP is defined by eclecticism that ranges from the heavy rock of ‘Drag Me Back In’ to the traditional country-sounding ‘Take Me Back Home’. The latter confirms her Welsh roots with a call to home that is beautifully written and played with gorgeous simplicity. Its sound is embedded in Nashville-inspired song which could belie the distinctly Welsh imagery within the lyrics. It fails to do so however, the two marrying well to create a lovely, heartfelt lovesong to Aberdare. Following on, as it does, from the heart-wrenching ballad ‘Mess of Me’, about the lasting damage that can be caused by a broken relationship, the track takes on further resonance that was perhaps unintended. Here, ‘Take Me Back Home’ takes on a Prodigal Son vibe in light of the despair contained in ‘Mess of Me’. It suggests the healing power of home which, given Wales’ Celtic spirituality and natural beauty, has the potential for truth.

Whatever the potential significance of the song choices and their running order, Running Back to You displays the type of music that showcases why Laura Evans is so highly thought on both sides of the Atlantic. She is a genre-crossing artist whose songs all have the potential for broad appeal. I think it will be only a matter of time before she is given much wider recognition on national radio here. It will be the least she deserves.

Listen to the EP on Spotify here.

Click here to find out more about Laura and to purchase her EP.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Review, Bryony Sier, Personal Monster EP, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It is hard to categorise Bryony Sier. The Welsh singer-songwriter has a rather eclectic sound. There are bits of blues, flecks of folk, glimpses of gospel. She is cut through with country, with a slice of soul, lightly packaged in pop. Her new EP Personal Monster displays an exciting mix of all of these various sounds, sown together to create a mottled tapestry from a thematic thread of personal identity. Despite the deeply personal nature of this record however, its musings on mental health in particular speak to a universal experience which make it highly relatable.

The title track is one on which the disruptive and destructive nature of anxiety is expertly exposed by Sier. It makes for a rather sharp sword that penetrated right through to my own heart, all-too-familiar, as it is, with those tall tales telling me ‘I’m not worthy’ and ‘if I jump it will be my biggest mistake’. The song’s infectious rhythm belies its lyrical darkness, the sort of paradox that seems to mark much of Bryony’s music. Merry Go Round, for instance, exudes a form of pessimism that actually feels remarkably reassuring. Its tune is shot through with a melancholic hope that put me a wonderfully pensive mood. Meanwhile, Hurricane combines the whimsical movement of a Celtic folk song with the darkened sky of a gritty Johnny Cash number. The musical arrangement goes off on some unusual and unexpected tangents, producing a mystical quality that ends the EP on a rather intriguing note. I went back to listen to it again straight away, such was my fascination with Sier’s honest exploration of her own inner world as well as the astute observations of those around her.

Personal Monster represents a broad horizon of musical sounds upon which Bryony Sier feels free to explore. She borrows from here and there, constructing a multi-coloured road of sound along which she travels into the dark recesses of her anxious mind. It is a record that makes one feel less alone, and provides reassurance that the monster within us is perhaps not as personal as we might think.

Click here to listen to Personal Monster on Spotify.

Click here to find out more about Bryony Sier.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

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

Series Review, 35 Diwrnod: Parti Plu, S4c, by Gareth Williams

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

There is nothing like a dining table to expose a series of lies and untold truths. Many would point to Mike Bartlett’s terrific 2015 drama Doctor Foster as the epitome of that. Yet there is a scene in the latest series of 35 Diwrnod that comes close. After four episodes cranking up the tension, this moment represents the point at which the bomb, slowly ticking away since the opening scene, truly starts to go off. It is an extraordinarily gripping scene, full of revelation, as the incalculable web of mystery and intrigue that writer Fflur Dafydd has spun begins to quickly unravel. True to her style however, she leaves enough enigmatic plot points to keep the viewer on tenterhooks to the final moment of the final episode.

What I love most about the writing of Fflur Dafydd is her attention to detail. The series may set up Beth (Gwenllian Higginson) as the main character, whose impending marriage to Dylan (Geraint Todd) provides the focal point, but the interlocking narratives of every single character and the gradual exposure of their secret links to one another means that, in the end, it becomes an ensemble drama. We as viewers become invested in every single person because Dafydd herself has gone to great lengths to make each of them complete and fully rounded characters in their own right. It means that there is no let up; no subplot that exists simply to give the viewer a break from the main focus of the drama. Instead, it is a constant stream of deliberate action, in which every interaction, however mundane on the surface, becomes a point of information that feeds into the wider narrative. The viewer gets drip fed little details, sometimes through dialogue, sometimes via a cleverly crafted camera shot, which act as tantalising threads that keep us hooked. It is a visual guessing game that springs surprises and often plays with our expectations. Dafydd is without doubt one of Britain’s best screenwriters.

This latest series of 35 Diwrnod also features some of Wales’ best acting talent, with Sion Ifan (Efan) and Rhodri Meilir (Bill) starring alongside some inspiring new faces, none more so than Emmy Stonelake (Angharad). Indeed, Meilir and Stonelake are excellent as a married couple whose relationship becomes increasingly fractious due to the former’s controlling behaviour. The calm and calculated persona that Meilir adopts in Bill’s attempts to isolate Angharad from her friends helps achieve a verisimilitude that offers a welcome contrast to some of the more outlandish content in this drama. Stonelake portrays the emotional effects of Bill’s behaviour on Angharad with such obvious subtlety that though it may not grab you by the scruff of the neck like in series two of Bang, this domestic abuse storyline still resonates with a quiet power. Dafydd handles it with great sensitivity, just as she seems to with transgenderism. The inclusion of a character in the process of transitioning may be used as a plot twist, but the emotional impact on them and their family strikes me as sympathetic and considerate in its portrayal. Dafydd balances high-octane scenes with delicate moments really well. 35 Diwrnod: Parti Plu is an emotional rollercoaster for the viewer as much as it is for its characters.

I am always fascinated by the exploration of memory and perception that is a feature of all Fflur Dafydd dramas. In this series of 35 Diwrnod we witness the mental traumas that some characters carry, the mental anguish that others feel, as well as the mind games that a few play. Viewers are frequently challenged in their perception of what is happening onscreen, the many surprises and twists throughout providing plenty of mental stimulation that causes us to think twice about our own theories and assumptions as we engage with this incredibly intricate world of Dafydd’s own imagination. I did think that I had her writing figured out. But as my early expectations failed to match with the outcomes onscreen, I realised that it was facetious to even entertain the notion that I could second guess her every move. 35 Diwrnod has deservedly returned for another series with critical acclaim. It further cements Fflur Dafydd’s reputation as a master storyteller.

Watch the series on S4C’s Clic here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Hers, A Short Film by Alexa Morden (with Katie Elin-Salt), Reviewed by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In Alexa Morden and Katie Elin-Salt are two actors determined to change the industry. Through their excellent podcast ‘The 98%’, they give a warts-and-all account of what the #actorslife is truly like. It is an insight that will prove particularly valuable to recent graduates; and for other creative types like me there is plenty to learn from and to relate to. More than anything, it brings a new-found respect for those pursuing this most fraught and fragile of “career” paths.

The creation of Hers by Alexa Morden springs in part from the difficulties of the jobbing actor. For anyone already familiar with their podcast, the idea of acting as a full-time profession is a distant dream for most. Thus, in response (and to quote Morden), ‘When the industry isn’t giving you lemons… grow your own oranges’. The result is this short film that is fresh, fragrant and ripe for watching.

Morden stars as Beth, a young woman who happens upon kindred spirit Laura (played by Elin-Salt) in the bathroom of a house party. They hit it off immediately through a conversation about online dating apps, soon finding themselves acquainted with one another on the tiled floor. What follows is a wonderfully frank scene, featuring full frontal dialogue that is smart, witty and well-polished. Some may consider the so-called ‘X-rated’ content here as being too much. Some would argue that it has been pulled straight from the Fleabag Scriptures. In either case, Hers feels fresh and raw (in spite of the ordinariness of its characters and its mundane setting) suggesting that such explicit conversation around women’s sexual experiences remains rare onscreen.

I would expect nothing less from its two stars however, who to some extent play versions of themselves here. Their no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is approach to their podcast is reflected here in the casual flow with which this duologue is delivered. The film benefits greatly from their off-screen chemistry, which makes the friendship that blossoms between their characters onscreen all the more believable. They are well-suited, with Elin-Salt’s strong South Walian phrasing and expressive movement providing a nicely-balanced contrast to Morden’s softer tone and sharply defined actions. They have the makings of a very entertaining partnership. In the real world, of course, this is already a reality. But there is also something about these two characters that, at the end of the film, makes you want more of their company.

This may be a one-off piece. But Hers has the potential to be something much bigger.

Click here to watch the film*.

To find out more about The 98% podcast, click here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

*contains strong language and adult themes

Series Review, In My Skin, BBC3 by Gareth Williams

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Don’t get me wrong. The first two episodes of Normal People were beautifully-crafted, and I am looking forward to watching the rest of the series. From this initial glimpse, I can see why it has received such high praise from critics and viewers alike. Whilst this show has been taking all the plaudits however, another BBC3 commission has been quietly going about its business. In My Skin may not have been given a privileged primetime slot on BBC1, but I would argue that its voice has been no less powerful than that of its highly-acclaimed stablemate. The series has just come to an end, hanging on a somewhat explosive cliffhanger that suggests a second series is already confirmed. If so, it is hugely deserved.

In My Skin has been misunderstood in some quarters as being about popularity. I don’t believe that to be the case. In the main character of Bethan (Gabrielle Creevy), I found someone not wanting fame or even attention. In my eyes, she simply wants to be liked. As a result, she spins a web of lies surrounding her family in order to paint her life as an alternate reality wherein everything is “normal” and she is “ordinary”. She tells these lies to Poppy (Zadeiah Campbell-Davies), an archetypal Miss Popular, not because she desires to be with the in-crowd. It is not status that Bethan seeks but a relationship. She fancies Poppy. Part of this coming-of-age drama is the exploration of one’s sexuality. This is done with such gentle understatement as to capture a truth very rarely seen in fictional portrayals. The heterosexist narrative that presents same-sex attraction primarily (only) in terms of the closet is instead replaced here with a delicate acknowledgement of her sexual orientation. It is neither a problem nor a revelation; a source of pride nor of shame. It just is. And there is something quite beautiful and refreshing about that.

Some people may sigh at the thought of another teen-focused drama. Yet In My Skin places a spotlight on a corner of the world still underrepresented on television. Writer Kayleigh Llewelyn has talked about ‘wanting to recreate accurately the Wales we knew’. She has praised the likes of Ruth Jones (Gavin & Stacey, Stella) for capturing the ‘warm, broad characters’ of her homeland whilst taking this further, into the realm of traditional kitchen-sink drama, presenting ‘the grittier side’ found in the nation’s working-class communities. For all that I have delighted in the TV dramas emerging from Wales over the last decade, I must concede that most of these shows have been middle-class in nature. In My Skin takes us to the coalface, as it were; to life on a typical semi-urban street on a Welsh council estate. It doesn’t shy away from the challenges of Bethan’s home life, but it is also shot through with plenty of humour. Her dad (Rhodri Meilir) is an alcoholic; her mum (Jo Hartley) bipolar. In her Nan, played wonderfully by Di Botcher, Bethan finds a warm, witty and supportive companion. Hers is a world that is very rarely seen, yet represents for many an everyday reality. This is what the BBC, when it works, does best. We take it for granted at our peril.

Kayleigh Llewelyn

The relationship between Bethan and her mum is the pivot on which the series rests. Hartley is astronomical in her representation of bipolar disorder, giving a performance of such magnitude as to believe she was the real deal. It shows in the accuracy and detail of her portrayal that she has taken on board everything that Llewelyn sought to put across of her own experience. For her part, Creevy presents an inner strength to Bethan that both masks an underlying fear and grows out of a persistent love for her mother. She reflects the vulnerability of her character at the same time as drawing out a steely determination within her. In their relationship, we see the pain, joy, frustration, anger, humour, and love that bind them. It is harrowing, heart-rending, and inspiring. It is what makes the series tick. But like many of its fellow comic-noirs (Fleabag chief among them), its supporting cast are so well-rounded as to add pungency to the show’s centripetal force.

In My Skin is a complete and utter triumph. It deserves major plaudits too.

Click here to watch the full series.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams