Tag Archives: welsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams


Get The Chance is a social enterprise based in South Wales, working to create opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events. To donate to our work, please click here.

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

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

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Series Review, Y Golau, S4C by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

For such a highly-anticipated Welsh drama, Y Golau seemed to run the well-worn tracks of what has become the genre’s favoured train: the psychological thriller. Given its all-star Welsh cast, I expected something much more original and distinctly different from previous Welsh noirs like Hidden and The Pact. As a result, I felt underwhelmed by its decision to present yet another murder mystery, complete with the same familiar tropes as its predecessors. Not that there was anything inherently wrong with the production. It just simply didn’t thrill and engross in quite the way that it might have done had it not been in the guise of similar series that had gone before.

Joanna Scanlan as Sharon (photo by Alistair Heap)

The typically rural setting and small-town cast of characters is one thing; but the desolate landscape, solemn music, and gloomy figures present yet another side to Wales that panders to the bleak and pedantic detail of the crime subgenre. Iwan Rheon plays the haunted convict who is released from prison having served a sentence for the murder of the daughter of Joanna Scanlan’s haunted mother. He returns to the town that is still haunted by the events of 18 years previously, his presence disturbing an uneasy peace which is exacerbated further by the re-appearance of Alexandra Roach’s journalist, who is looking for a story. The three of them give ample performances for what are very rare appearances in a Welsh-language outfit. Yet none command the kind of screen presence that has come to be expected of them. In particular, the animated spark that enlivens Scanlan and Roach’s appearance’ in No Offence is largely absent here. Instead, vacant stares obtrude their presentations such that it becomes difficult to make a significant emotional connection to their characters.

Ifan Huw Dafydd

It is Ifan Huw Dafydd that gives the best performance here. He strikes a menacing veneer over his character Huw that is justifiably unsettling. It is no surprise that his growing presence onscreen and involvement in the central narrative coincides with the more compelling and intriguing parts of the drama. If anything, the return of his estranged daughter Shelley (played by Rhian Blythe) is the catalyst for the twists and turns that follow in the final two parts of the series. This is where Y Golau becomes gripping in a way that its shortcomings, up until this point, can be forgiven. It enters a similar phase to that of Yr Amgueddfa, whereby its web of disparate characters start to become interconnected, drawing the various strands of the narrative together to create a big grand finale. But whereas Fflur Dafydd manages to maintain interest in the opening episodes in spite of the expositional setting up of the story, Regina Moriarty’s script doesn’t possess the same hooks with which to retain the audience’s attention. The result is a requirement to persevere in order to be rewarded rather than being kept sufficiently entertained throughout.

In the end, Y Golau aims a bit too high. Issues of abuse and power are dealt with admirably. The final episode ensures the series ends strongly. But I expected more from this drama, not least because of the roster of Welsh stars that appear in its cast. Scanlan, Roach, Rheon, Hannah Daniel, Aneirin Hughes and Sian Reese-Williams, all lend it an air of quality that meant expectations were high. To then find a characteristic S4C offering in the mould of an Ed Talfan production that didn’t quite utilise the talent involved left me slightly dissatisfied. As a result, Y Golau lit up the screen but wasn’t a roaring success.

Click here to watch the series on iPlayer.

Review by
Gareth Williams

5 Minutes with Katie Elin-Salt, writer of ‘Celebrated Virgins’, Theatr Clwyd

Celebrated Virgins is Theatr Clwyd’s brand new play written by Katie Elin-Salt and directed by Eleri B. Jones. The show is based on the true story of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby who were forced to flee Ireland and took up residence in Llangollen. They were true LGBTQ+ icons of their time and this show sees them tell their story, on their own terms for the very first time.

We sat down with Katie, writer of the show, to find out more:

You will be a familiar face to many at Theatr Clwyd as an actor. What’s it like to be back?

When I first came to Clwyd, I was a nervous 21-year-old performing a cameo role in As You Like It, under the direction of Terry Hands. Since then, Theatr Clwyd has always been a home from home for me and I have been privileged to perform here as an actor many times – growing from bit parts to leads in shows such as Educating Rita and Under Milk Wood, I was even lucky enough to be the fairy in the panto two years ago – what an honour! To come back to Mold under this capacity, is just the most incredible feeling. I have always felt so supported by the team and the audience at Theatr Clwyd and I could not be in a safer place to be premiering my first full play. But I honestly feel if I could tell that nervous 21 year old a decade ago that her name would one day be on the front of those programmes – she would never have believed it!

Give us a brief of what Celebrated Virgins is about?

Celebrated Virgins is based on the true story of two remarkable women – Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler a.k.a ‘The Ladies of Llangollen’. We follow their story from separate childhoods in the upper echelons of 18th century Irish society to meeting each other at school and forming an unbreakable bond. This leads them to decide they would rather leave everything they have known behind than live without each other. We then follow their journey to Plas Newydd, their home for over 50 years in Llangollen and learn through them the bravery and the fear involved in living an authentic life in full view of a community who does not always understand who you truly are. 

What made you want to create this show?            

Well, firstly it is just an amazing epic love story and I remain amazed and bewildered that it has taken nearly 300 years for it to be put on a stage. It really has everything – love, risk, danger, even someone dressing in a suit and jumping out of a window armed with a pistol and a Jack Russell – I mean what more could you want? But also, I think it is incredibly important for today’s society that we see stories like Sarah and Eleanor’s represented on stage. It has taken such a long time for love between two women to be not only accepted but celebrated, and I want to show the next generation of LGBTQ+ that their stories and their history are just as important and worth celebrating as anybody else’s.

It’s such a fascinating story but this will be the first time they are telling it themselves. What can the audience expect?

The audience can expect to see two brilliant women at the front and centre of their own story. We have an amazing cast of professional actors and also added to that the addition of a cast from the local community – who will show us what life was really like for the Ladies as they tried to make their way in society. We have an incredible movement and sound team who will bring this story bang up to date and of course fantastic direction from Eleri B. Jones. I would tell the audience to buy an ice cream and get comfortable as the lights go down as they are in for a truly epic night of theatre – and after the last two years I think that is the least an audience deserves!

What advice would you give to people wanting to get into the industry?

My first bit of advice would be to try out as many facets of your creativity as you possibly can! Like many young people I got into this industry through my local youth theatre, there I found a love of theatre and a friendship and connection I couldn’t find anywhere else. I realised there that I could act but it took me until the age of 30 to realise I might be any good at writing – think of all that wasted time! I am also now training as a music therapist to spread my creativity even further. There are some elements of this job I definitely can’t do (trust me you don’t want to see me trying to move set around a stage), but that is when you find the people who can and let them support and help you. Basically, no matter where you come from or what your story is – find it, own it and let yourself be seen in as many glorious ways as you possibly can!


Celebrated Virgins will be performed at Theatr Clwyd from Friday 20 May – Saturday 4 June. Tickets start at £10 and can be booked here. Please check the website for Trigger Warnings.

Series Review, Stad, S4C, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It is the North West that seems to be in the Welsh TV spotlight recently. The final series of Hidden has begun, Rybish has returned, and a brand-new series called Stad has just completed its run.  Set on a council estate near Caernarfon, it combines the drama and comedy of the aforementioned to create a slightly off-piste narrative similar to Enid a Lucy. This has made it lightly entertaining and surprisingly engrossing; a series that does not make you want to binge from the off but, by the time it reaches its final episode, leaves you desperate for more.

Stad is not strictly original, coming ten years after its highly-popular predecessor Tipyn o Stad ended on S4C. Viewers of that series will recognise the return of a few familiar characters, not least the Gurkha family. However, no prior knowledge is needed to enter this new chapter in the life of Maes Menai, described as “North Wales’ most colourful housing estate”. The opening scene might feel a bit overwhelming and thus confusing for those, like me, entering this world for the first time. But it does not take long to adjust to its tragi-comic genre and realise that the historic connections between some of these characters are no barrier to its accessibility. Instead, one becomes steadily intrigued by the issues, situations and circumstances that arise within the first episode and as the series progresses. Mental health is but one subject which is tackled with a surprising sensitivity, particularly in respect of trauma and loss. Elen Gwynne, for example, gives the most acute performance as Susan whose struggle with bereavement is portrayed onscreen in such a way as to be funny without being derisive.

The writers Manon Wyn Jones, Angharad Elen and Daf Palfrey have pitched the darkness and light of this drama to perfection. There is a bit of a Breaking Bad influence that seems to hang over it in more ways than one. There is the obvious connection to the selling of drugs for financial security, but it is also the hapless nature of the partnership between Ed Lovell (Bryn Fôn) and Dan (Sion Eifion) that strikes chords with the father-son relationship of Walter White and Jesse. The two also find themselves in sometimes absurd situations, like being held hostage by a crossbow-wielding farmer by the name of Iona Kebab (Janet Aethwy). Such wild, crazy scenarios end up contrasting nicely with the far more real-world dilemmas of other characters, like Alaw. Begw Rowlands ensures a real likability towards her character, playing her with a confidence that is tinged with a deeper, hidden vulnerability. It draws much sympathy when she discovers that she is pregnant, and makes her gently blossoming relationship with Kim (Gwenno Fôn) all-the-more sweeter.

Stad can feel a bit pedestrian at times, measured and paced, with no rush to excite or entice viewers into a suspenseful or twisting narrative. It prefers to operate at the most basic level of human drama even as some of its storylines take on a surrealist edge. This means that we get to know the characters themselves in the context of their ordinary lives and is what makes the final part of the series so unexpected and heightens the tension around it. We come to really care as Alaw attacks her dad Keith (Rhodri Meilir), with seemingly-terminal ramifications, and Ed Lovell finds himself trapped in the basement of a burning house. It ratchets up the anticipation before running into the closing credits to devasting effect. Suddenly, it is edge-of-your-seat stuff. A second series is demanded.

Stad becomes a series that gradually wins your heart and then has the power to break it.

Click here to watch the full series.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, Life and Death in the Warehouse, BBC Cymru Wales, by Gareth Williams

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The first thing to say is that nobody dies. Yet that is hardly a ringing endorsement of the working practices on show in Life and Death in the Warehouse. The BBC Cymru drama lays bare the secret world of online distribution centres. And for anyone used to the quick and easy clicks of internet shopping, this is a must-see to make you think twice before placing your next order with Amazon. It makes for hard-hitting and eye-opening television. This is the worst of consumer capitalism.

Megan (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) has been accepted on a fast-track graduate scheme at her local centre. Becoming a trainee manager, she is tasked with ensuring that her team of workers keep up to speed with their daily ‘pick rate’. She is required to monitor their movements constantly via CCTV, praising those who exceed the target and calling out the ones who fall behind. Childhood friend Alys (Poppy-Lee Friar) becomes one of the latter when she confines in Megan that she is pregnant. Instead of receiving assistance and the appropriate support however, Alys is subjected to a ‘personal enhancement plan’ that remains fixated on the numbers at the expense of her health and wellbeing. It is hard to believe that companies operating in 21st Century Britain would treat workers in this way. Yet as it declares from the outset, “This film is inspired by hundreds of real stories”. To say it is shocking then is an understatement.

Director Joseph Bullman ensures that there are plenty of close-ups, with the majority of shots trained on the faces of the actors to capture the intensity, pressure and emotional strain that their characters are under. It means that their environment is pushed right up against the screen. There is no getting away from it. We become embroiled in the ideology of this high-performance workplace, not only witnessing its effect on Megan and Alys but being subjected to it in some way ourselves such is the visceral nature of the storytelling. Edwards brings an incredible vulnerability to her role. She is at once very different from her infamous turn as Esme Shelby in Peaky Blinders. Yet in spite of her obvious nerves and eagerness to please, there is something of the steeliness of that character that seeps in as the drama progresses. It becomes a negative force in this instance however, used to block out a compassionate and caring side to Megan in keeping with the ‘customer-fixated’ culture that she finds herself trapped in. Friar, for her part, puts in a noteworthy performance as one who experiences the most extreme impact of that culture. The gradual decline in Alys’s physical ability to undertake the tasks at hand, and the increasing level of stress she finds herself under, is acutely felt, in part due to Friar’s concentrated effort to keep her character’s emotions in check against a backdrop of sustained bombardment under which the exhaustion, tears and pain slowly to show.

In a sense, both of these characters are subject to the injustices of a system that exploits, dehumanises, and almost kills them. The obsession with media PR over and above medical concern for an employee is but one unbelievable instance that breeds anger in the heart of the viewer. To understand this as reality takes some coming-to-terms-with, not least in the face of the preposterous responses of the management team. Yet Craig Parkinson (Danny) and Kimberley Nixon (Donna) play their roles with such deliberate ease that the manipulation and false empathy emanating from their characters’ intentions becomes entirely plausible. It makes one very aware of the insidious nature of language; and how it can creep unsuspectingly into relationships.

Life and Death in the Warehouse brings us the best in factual drama. It shines a daring light onto the unseen but now-necessary world of warehouse workers who are at the coalface of our online purchasing habits. It finds the companies who ‘employ’ them, “Some… you will know, others you won’t have heard of”, seriously wanting. Bullman directs in the same unrelenting way as he did with its predecessor, The Left Behind. Meanwhile, Aimee-Ffion Edwards and Poppy Lee Friar lead a superb majority-Welsh cast in depicting the dark side to our unrelenting consumerism. It should make us pause a moment and take note. It should even make us turn to look for something better. It shows that the rights fought so hard for in the past are in danger of so easily slipping away.

Click here to watch on iPlayer.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, Shades of Ham, Rona Mac, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Rona Mac describes the pink cover of her latest EP ‘Shades of Ham’ as a dichotomy. It is a colour, she says, that is both “fierce, bold and strong as well as delicate, floral and soft”. It seems a particularly fitting description for an artist who finds strength in vulnerability. But it also captures something of the sharp contrasts that imbue this record. The Welsh singer-songwriter is perfectly capable of packing a punch one minute and tenderly caressing the next. Not only is she inspired by the Pembrokeshire landscape in which she lives, but the rugged cliffs and sloping green fields seem to represent her music too.

Opening track ‘Something Good’ oozes intimacy. There is something about those ambling guitar loops and sauntering vocals, carried over from her debut album ‘Sheelah’, that transfix, and traverse the line between light and shade that defines her work. Unvarnished truth-telling mixes with splashes of colour that speak of hope, not only on a personal level but a political one too. ‘Polidics’ is a well-versed dig at those in power. The pounding beats as Rona speaks of the privileged “men in jackets sit[ting] importantly… pouring port in front of me” contribute to a deeply-held frustration at the way the country is currently run. Add into the mix a damning critique of consumerism, with its “money wrapped in lights so take it”, and you get a sense of the raw honesty and unbounded personality of this quietly-countercultural artist.

‘Polidics’ does not remain in a state of anger. Rather, it is a song of two halves, the second of which moves on “to where they cannot find me”, amidst “the flowers and the grasses”, from which “we’ll rise, a bunch of honest creatures fill the skies”. Combined with a more free-flowing alt-pop sound, it makes for a track that is ultimately casting toward a better, brighter vision of the world. On a more practical level, it also prepares the way for the softer sound of ‘The Road to Your House’. Here, the usual shimmering soundscape is stilled by the clarity of the acoustic guitar. Suddenly, we are witness to a beautifully-told story through folk music that feels miles away from the frustration of a few minutes ago. Sadness and regret still seep into its reflection but there is also a sprightliness contained within. The guitar solo in the middle echoes such sentiment, and is easy to get lost in. ‘Smoke’ has a similar ruminating quality. It reminds me a lot of Georgia Ruth’s album ‘Mai’: soothing and affecting; complex, even in its simplicity.

*contains strong language

Final track ‘Paper’ has the same two-toned substance as ‘Polidics’. On the one hand a love-letter, on the other a seething criticism, it mixes alt-pop beats with acoustic reflection padded with the sound of waves. Similar to ‘Carageen’ by Jodie Marie, it suggests that Rona Mac’s Pembrokeshire location offers a kind of grounding, a place to which she escapes as well as from where she writes her songs. It certainly seems to have offered her the freedom to not be bound by conventions. ‘Shades of Ham’ continues to showcase this genre-fusing approach. It is a record that is undeniably Rona Mac. May she never compromise on that.

Follow Rona Mac on Instagram/Twitter @RonaMac_Music

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, Road to Ruin, Dan Jordan & The Warbirds, by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Dan Jordan and The Warbirds evade categorisation. They are poetry. They are music. They are outlaw country. They are moody blues. They are folk storytelling. They are heavy metal vocals. The only seminal thread that runs through their latest album, Road to Ruin, is main man Dan’s clear connection to the music of Bob Dylan. He may not readily admit to such an influence being a conscious thing, but it is apparent that his time spent with Dylan over the course of his first album has had a lasting effect. His vocal delivery may not be to everyone’s taste, but one should at least be able to appreciate the hard-felt poetry that emanates from it.

Opening track Slow Burn may get off to a slow start but its first few moments of silence create a real sense of anticipation. A whirring cymbal then comes spinning into existence before being knocked sideways by the hard keys of a piano. It introduces the heavy beat which symbolises much of the album’s dark veneer, Jordan’s own smoky Dylan-esque vocals then coming in to add further shade. There is a sultry otherworldliness to the piano and electric guitar which gives it a certain intrigue and stops it descending into a black hole. The various mixing of genres, from the Latinized Country of Rider to the Metalized Blues of Run, have a similar effect, the poetic nature of Jordan’s lyrics also contributing to this sense of fascination which surrounds much of the album.

Each track is greeted with surprise. Each offers something slightly different from the rest. Ain’t Got Nothin’ may have a classic Blues structure but Matts White and Taylor bring some wonderful organ and electric guitar respectively to give it an added dimension. The soft and delicate composition on Seven Deaths of You creates a beautifully light atmosphere which allows deeper access into Jordan’s poetry. There is a real slice of folk storytelling here, delivered rather nicely through a deep voice that contains the faint presence of delicacy and vulnerability. Sweet City Ruin manages to uncover this further in lines like “stumbling through the city like a spectre” and “all you want is for the world to know that you were here” even as they are hidden behind the up-tempo, western swing style music.

There is a mythical quality to Elena which could be said to draw on folk tradition. The track that follows, Nightingale,certainly seems to suggest a strong folk influence upon Jordan’s work. His always gritty and grave delivery never allows for the same cadences that one might find among the typical folk singer however, meaning the loss of emotionality to some degree. What is lost here though is made up for in another unexpected musical addition, this time the introduction of pop elements followed by a sudden flurry of different instruments that take the album in a completely different direction. It means that, even as Jordan’s vocal starts to feel staid, there is enough originality to keep you listening right to the end.

Final track This Land has No Name is definitely worth sticking around for. On its musical surface is a wild west evoking landscape, complete with tolling bell and front porch guitar. It is the country music of the outlaws, reclaiming their rural roots from the urbanisation of an earlier sound. Dig a little deeper into the lyrics, and you begin to see the parallels. Yet this song speaks not of a place across the pond but a land much closer to home. Those “structures… crooked… battered” are the stone houses dotted across the countryside. The “roofs made of tin” are the barns stood in fields “still breathing [though] barely alive”. The bar, “as dry as a bone” and “the shops, boarded up” represent the communities who have lost their amenities to the forces of globalisation and capitalism. It is a depiction of Wales that is keenly felt and of which Dan Jordan seems acutely aware, no doubt garnered from his own geographical movement across the nation’s map. It is a protest song, if you will, inspired, whether conscious or not, by folk pioneers such as Bob Dylan, with a contemporary resonance that ensures Road to Ruin finishes with a political bang.

To find out more about Dan Jordan & The Warbirds, click here. To listen to album on Spotify, click here.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, Curtain Up, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Curtain Up is a celebration. It is a celebration of creativity, imagination and Welsh talent. Over three fun-filled weeks, it has been the setting for a series of short plays that have all taken the notion of play to heart. And where better to host this menagerie of pure ingenuity than Theatr Clwyd. It has certainly delivered on its aim to make the world a happier place one moment at a time. Coming out of conversations with creative freelancers, Curtain Up has given writers the time and space to write again, actors the chance to perform on stage once more; and allowed stage managers, lighting technicians, and sound operators, to name but three, to return to what they do best. It is a reminder to all of us of the power and wonder of live theatre.

Oat Jenner’s smile said it all. It was the widest of smiles among the 10 actors taking part in the final week of plays. It seemed that he couldn’t contain his delight during both Normal Day and Seen, expressing the same euphoria felt by so many after so long. No wonder the excitement in the room was palpable. The opportunity presented to the audience at the start of the night, to choose which props would feature and who would play who, only heightened the sense of anticipation*. And with each week’s performance, the cast and crew delivered. It may not always have worked – the Cadbury’s Milk Tray in Kristian Phillips’ Trwsio: Repair was ripe for comic exploitation but came over rather dead in what was an otherwise touching story – but when it did, it produced chaos aplenty (see Sion Pritchard’s inventive use of a skipping rope in Just Another Blue Marble and the hilarious water spray face-off in In the End). Such fun.

There were moments of real depth alongside the humour. I found The Order of the Object by Lisa Parry to be a fascinating critique of both the religious and the secular; Jennifer Lunn’s Stop the Drop a deftly comic analysis of political power and influence, steeped in contemporary irony; and the symbol of a child’s pink and flowery wellington boot to be a potent symbol of subversive oppression in Alun Saunders’ Beginnings/Dechreuadau. It was left to Thieves by Mali Ann Rees to reduce me to tears, in a moving story of love, friendship and loss that was brilliantly written and wonderfully acted by Catrin Mai Edwards and Miriam O’Brien. Meanwhile, David Bower’s performance in Seen by Katherine Chandler was utterly mesmerising. What a storyteller he is, working his magic alongside Chloe Clarke in a tale of online dating, belonging, and love. And the improvisation of Sian Reese-Williams and John Carter in Life 2.0 was a masterclass, making it seem as though the prop chosen by the audience had been theirs to rehearse with all along.

To choose a favourite among this smorgasbord of 15 plays would be like picking your favourite child. They were all so very different, ranging from the virtual (The Ongoing Eternal Search for ‘Da’) to the real (Letting Go). The inclusion of the Welsh language in and amongst them was great to see, the surtitles accessible and undistracting. The way that they were weaved into Mari Izzard’s The Ongoing Eternal Search for ‘Da’ was cleverly done; and they held extra poignancy in Beginnings/Dechreuadau whilst adding superbly to the realism of Trwsio: Repair. If there was one play that really struck me though, it was Nine Point Two Minutes by Ming Ho. It shone a spotlight on some of the pressures of the healthcare system and its effect on both doctors and patients. It was so effective that the sense of injustice apparent in Ho’s narrative, pressed home through the fragility and passion of Llŷr Evans and Anita Reynolds in their roles respectively, was impossible to miss. It was but one of many highlights over the three weeks of Curtain Up.

Curtain Up has been the perfect opportunity to revisit the theatre safely again after lockdown. It has been an enjoyable pilgrimage to Theatr Clwyd every Wednesday night for the past couple of weeks for a fabulous evening of entertainment in the company of some of Wales’ finest. Its success must surely pave the way for similar shows in future, if only to continue supporting the very best in the nation’s emerging talent both on stage and off. I will miss this weekly trip to the theatre on a hill. But I am grateful to director Tamara Harvey et al for making it a return to savour. The words from Finding Your Feet by Samantha O’Rourke feel like the most fitting to end with here. They seem to sum up what has been the overwhelming response to Curtain Up from both creatives and audiences alike: “Thanks for being here. Thanks for listening. It means a lot”.

*This review is written in response to the Wednesday night performances over the production’s three-week period. Therefore, references to certain props and actors are made accordingly.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

An Interview with Francesca Goodridge, on Curtain Up at Theatr Clwyd, conducted by Gareth Williams

Curtain Up is a celebration of creativity, live theatre, and Welsh talent.

Over the course of three weeks, three companies, comprising of ten actors each, will perform 15 new plays – five each week – by 15 Welsh playwrights. That’s 15 voices with 15 very different stories to tell.

Associate Director Francesca Goodridge took some time out of her busy schedule preparing for week one to tell us a bit more about this exciting new project from Theatr Clwyd.

How would you describe Curtain Up?

It’s like a conveyor belt of theatre. So we start week one with a group of ten actors who work on five new plays, about 10-15 minutes long each, written by five playwrights who were specifically commissioned for this project. They have one week of rehearsals, one week of tech, and then open the following week. Meanwhile, during their tech week, a second company of ten actors come in and start rehearsing another five plays, with the third group of ten actors coming in to rehearse another five plays a week after. So that’s 15 new playwrights that have been commissioned for a project involving 30 actors in total.

How did the idea first come about?

It was borne from a series of conversations that Tamara (Artistic Director) and Liam (Executive Director) were having during lockdown with freelancers. They just asked, ‘What can we do to support you guys? What do you need?’ and the general consensus was that creative people can only live when they’re being creative – we’re just such strange beings, aren’t we, that nothing else really feeds our soul – and so Tamara and Liam came up with this concept, this conveyor belt of theatre, which allows us to give as many freelancers as possible the opportunity to be creative. It gives 15 writers a paid commission to write something after what might have felt like an age; to write something that is going to be seen, and hear people saying their words. It gives actors a space where they can just play and learn lines and be silly again. And it allows design, stage management, lighting, all of these freelance jobs, an opportunity to use their craft again after so long; to be creative on a huge scale.

And I’ve heard there is an opportunity for the audience to get involved as well…

So not only do the audience have the opportunity to see five new plays each week but the really good thing about Curtain Up is that an audience member can come every night and see something different. We’ve cast it in such a way that two actors learn every role, and at the start of the show we “rock, paper, scissors” it to see which actor will do which show that night and what part they are going to play. (So that’s the fun and excitement we’ve really been missing; the chance to not just be creative in rehearsal but for that to still live and breathe in the production.) Also, the writers were asked to include an unspecified prop in their play so the actors don’t know what that prop will be. The audience chooses the props at the start of the night and the actors are only handed the prop as soon as the play starts so there’s some improvisation: they have to react differently, which can change the course of the play. It’s all about having spontaneity again and feeling that excitement of live theatre. Every night is super-charged because things change, props change, the costumes change, an actor might do the scene opposite one actor one night and then do the scene opposite a totally different actor the next, so every night it’s something different.

Has it felt like an explosion of creative energy being back on stage after so long?

I think everyone has felt the same, me included. On day one, going into a rehearsal room and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, can I even do this anymore? I haven’t done this for so long. Can I still do this?’ But I feel so lucky right now to be sat on a stage, and it’s the same for the whole company, not just the actors but stage management too, to be able to do the things that we love and we’ve really missed. I think an explosion is a great way of putting it because I think that’s what it will feel like every night. It is going to be different; and I think, in a world where nothing really feels steady at the minute, it’s kind of nice to have that little bit of tension on stage as well, that little bit of no one knows what’s going to happen, and the excitement and energy that comes from that.

Was it a conscious choice to perform the plays in the round?

It was a conscious decision because it’s about bringing people together again and, ultimately, the reason why this project is so special is because we aren’t flying in sets or have a huge budget. What is at the heart of it is storytelling and actually hearing stories again, which is what I’ve missed so much. I think being in the round is so much like sitting around a campfire and telling a story – that is where we come from and how we tell stories. It also allows the actors to have real fluidity. They can move; and with it being double cast, it opens the space and it becomes like a big playing field for them. We want the audience to feel like they’re in this bubble and to feel like we are all united again in being together.

How important do you think it is that there is such a diverse range of writers with such a diverse range of stories to tell here?

You can’t tell a story the same, and what is so exciting about this is having five stories from five writers with five different backgrounds – totally different people, totally different identities, with totally different upbringings, from totally different homes – so every single play is different. One of the plays is set on a spaceship, for example, and then for another we’re in someone’s living room. And that is the beauty of theatre: that we are transposed from place to place and we totally believe that. It’s so imaginative.

But though each of the play’s are different, each of the five writers was given a theme – so the first one is new beginnings, the second is finding feet, and so on – so that every night has got an arc that will take us through the night. So although the audience will see five different stories each week, they will have gone on a journey on the night through these themes. And to add to the diversity, we have some Welsh language stories too, which was a bit of a logistical challenge to make sure that four of the actors were Welsh speakers, but it’s been really great to have these Welsh language plays as well and to have Welsh language theatre included. I know that this was one of the most important things for Tamara and Liam, to make sure that it was truly diverse and was championing many different voices in Wales.

How excited are you about the writing talent coming out of Wales at the moment, and the opportunity that something like this affords them?

The thing that excites me most is working with a writer and sitting down to work on a new play and having that seed of an idea and seeing it through. It is one of the best things in the world. But aside from these sorts of opportunities, what Curtain Up has done is given 15 people a chance to write – how many of these writers may have come out of lockdown and lost their love for it, or not had the opportunity to do it, or were working elsewhere and had no time to fit it in – so as much as it’s about wanting to commission new writers, it’s also about giving people time and space to just write, without them feeling like they have to come up with anything. Yes, this is a commission, but more than that it has given them a bit of time and a bit of space to just do what they love. If that then ignites something in them to then write something else, great. But it’s about letting people have time and space to just do what they love without having to produce something all the time; where there’s no pressure to write. That’s hard when it’s something you might be doing alongside another job because you need to live. So, yeah, I think more of that would be great because that is where some of the best work is made, when there’s no pressure to have something in by a deadline, as you can make what you want when you have time and space.

Click here to find out more and book tickets.

Conducted by
Gareth Williams