Tag Archives: welsh

Review, Fflam, S4c by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The recent S4C series Fflam was a slow-burner. I came to it with much intrigue and anticipation given the concept and acting talent. The idea of a woman, Noni, seeing her dead husband, Tim, again, after years believing he had died in a fire, sounded like the perfect spark from which to ignite a gripping narrative. The fact that Gwyneth Keyworth (Bang, Craith/Hidden) and Richard Harrington (Hinterland, Poldark) played the lead roles only served to excite and offer high expectations. So it was with sadness and disappointment that I found myself ultimately underwhelmed by its delivery. It did manage to strike a few matches throughout its six, half-hour episodes. However, these failed to set alight a series that was full of promise but low on satisfaction.

The performance of Keyworth was central to giving the drama a certain kudos that it may otherwise have lacked. Her ability to convey Noni’s internal emotions onscreen was akin to that of Eve Myles in Keeping Faith. The difference here though was the oft understated way that Keyworth did this. She demonstrated the conflict between grief and passion going on inside through very subtle expression which, nevertheless, with help from the camera and editing suite, was full of depth. Her appearances alongside Richard Harrington, particularly those in a restaurant over dinner, provided some of the most enjoyable scenes of the series. The gentle charisma that Harrington brought to his mysterious character, opposite the romantic infatuation that Keyworth successfully tempered as Noni, helped create a sense of ease. It led to a free-flowing script that meant their conversations appeared natural onscreen. These moments became absorbing as a result, giving some required fizz to a drama that, outside of them, felt a bit flat and unengaging.

I wonder whether the drama would have benefitted from having a more compressed narrative in which its central premise was played with a lot sooner and the final twist in the series was incorporated a lot earlier. This would have contributed to the retention of dramatic tension that, instead, bubbles up and then peters out at several points throughout the series. It is not helped by the fact that the characters of Deniz (Memet Ali Alabora), Ekin (Pinar Ögün), and Malan (Mali Ann Rees) were underserved by a subplot that lacked the same level of emotional investment as the main thread. And even in respect of the lead characters’ encounters, the pull-and-push of their developing relationship, though understandable in capturing Noni’s reticence, became increasingly frustrating. It simply took too long to progress, with the undesired effect being that, at points, the series felt like it was playing for time. By the time the revelations started to come out in episode five, they did not elicit the same degree of interest as they might otherwise have done had the narrative been pacier. As such, Fflam would have benefitted from an adaptation that condensed its source material into much more flavoursome half-hour chunks than we get here.

Overall then, Fflam has plenty of plus points to prevent it from being a damp squib even as it fails to set fire to the landscape of Welsh television drama. It is refreshing to see an image of Wales that is multicultural and inclusive played out onscreen, even if the presence of diverse characters only serve to circulate around a central narrative in which they play a limited part. Gwyneth Keyworth cements her status as one of Wales’ most exciting and talented screen actresses, with Richard Harrington and Mali Ann Rees again proving solid and reliable actors in their own right. If a second series is forthcoming, as expected, then Fflam has plenty of room for improvement. But it also still retains enough unrealised potential to warrant another chance.

Click here to watch the whole series.

Written by
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

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, 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

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

My Top 5 Showcase: Welsh Country Music Artists

Here at Get the Chance, with opportunities to respond to live cultural events curtailed by the current crisis, it presents an opportunity to showcase talent instead. As country music is one of my greatest loves, here’s my shout-out to five Welsh artists who are worth checking out…

Rosey Cale

To many, Rosey may be more familiar as a musical theatre actress, having starred most notably in Theatr na Nog’s production ‘Eye of the Storm’. However, she is also a talented songwriter, having released a series of singles which have all been very well received. What marks her music out is the vulnerability and honesty in the lyrics, which are often surrounded with an infectious pop-inspired sound. Her ‘Sunday Covers’ on YouTube are well worth checking out, with this one being a particular favourite of mine:

Eleri Angharad

On her website, Eleri’s biography states that she ‘blends traditional country music storytelling with catchy pop melodies’. Listening to her debut album ‘Earthbound’ though, I would say that she has also been influenced (whether consciously or not) by the folk music of her homeland too. It is the eclectic nature of her sound which makes the Swansea-based artist stand out from the crowd. Her single ‘Smokey Steel Lights’ is a case-in-point:

Megan Lee

For someone so young, Megan Lee has achieved an awful lot. Despite still being in school, this Wrexham-based artist is somewhat of a veteran musician, having already released a number of records as part of her family band Blue Genes. Now branching out as a solo artist, this girl has a very bright future ahead of her. Inspired by the likes of Alison Krauss and Cam, this original song is evidence of her burgeoning talent:

Bryony Sier

A prolific guitar picker, an inspired songwriter, and a versatile musician, Bryony is fast drawing the attention of many in the music industry. I loved her early stuff, infused with old-school Cash-inspired gospel, but her recent pop-produced singles retain an acute lyrical honesty that still manages to hit the spot. Check out her latest single ‘Merry Go Round’ to see what I mean:

Shannon Hynes

This Flintshire-born singer-songwriter already has a prolific track record when it comes to UK Country Music #1s. Her talent was recognised most recently at the ‘UK Country Music Spotlight Awards‘ when her single ‘Off Guard’ was nominated for ‘Song of the Year’. Blending traditional and modern country sounds, she may no longer be based in Wales, but she is certainly flying the flag for Welsh country music talent.

Written by Gareth Williams

Series 2 Review, Bang, S4C by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

After its acclaimed debut on S4C in 2017, it was surely only a matter of time before Bang returned to our screens. Over two years have passed since the first series, with writer Roger Williams wasting no time in getting down to business. A visceral opening scene throws us straight in at the deep end, posing plenty of intrigue. What follows is a well-plotted second season that melds the development of returning characters’ stories with those of brand-new faces.

There is no sign of second series syndrome, with Williams developing a strong central crime narrative that works perfectly well as a stand-alone. This means that there is no overreliance on the likes of Sam (Jacob Ifan) and Gina (Catrin Stewart), the brother and sister who were central to the show’s original run. Instead, the continuation of their storyline is just one of a number of other narrative strands – each fully rounded and complete – that tie together nicely. It is the tightly-crafted way that Williams weaves these strands and slowly draws them into a collective whole that makes Bang such a satisfying watch.

The gun remains a potent symbol in series two, though its appearance is much more sporadic. It has shifted from being the singular obsession of one to being the shared object of many. Its presence is felt, but always underneath the surface in this latest six-episode run. The ramifications of its use, however, are potently displayed in the character of Sam. Still trying to come to terms with the death of his father by such a weapon in series one, we find him grappling with PTSD. Ifan does an excellent job of conveying Sam’s mental state; in fact, it is one of the most genuine onscreen portrayals I have ever seen. Most make clear what they are trying to do. Yet here, through a combination of fine acting, clever editing, choice camera angles, and pervasive music, the producers of Bang manage to capture Sam’s struggles so powerfully that I couldn’t help but be emotionally moved.

The domestic abuse by DI Morgan Riley (Dyfan Dwyfor) on wife Caryn (Hedydd Dylan) is no less affecting. Williams captures the subtle manipulation and invasive cruelty of the husband really well, causing me to turn away from the screen several times such was my discomfort in the face of his underhand brutality. In fact, this subplot became more absorbing than the central storyline, involving a serial killer enacting revenge for the rape of Marissa Clarke (Sophie Melville) ten years earlier. The bloodbath that ensues across the course of six episodes is fairly graphic. Yet it was the unseen mental and emotional scars inflicted on the show’s characters that had me reaching for the remote in distress.

Writer Roger Williams has not returned to Port Talbot in a hurry. This second series of Bang feels as much a labour of love as its first. It is another compelling story full of well-defined characters dealing with pressing issues. Returning fans will not be disappointed. And for those who haven’t yet seen it, I would recommend adding it to your isolation watch-list.

You can watch the full series on Clic here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Rooting Hip-Hop Theatre in Wales

Hip-Hop was created out of struggle in New York during the 1970s as poverty and discrimination hit the African American and Caribbean communities. It has since grown into arguably the largest arts-movement in the world.

Generally, British society knows hip-hop as a music genre which is often put to one side. However, the reality is the fingerprints of hip-hop are everywhere. From music, to fashion, to dance, to graffiti, film and theatre. Spanning the globe from New York, to LA, Tokyo, Cape Town, Seoul, Moscow and London. Hip-hop is everywhere.

In Wales, Avant Cymru are pioneering the Welsh hip-hop theatre movement following in the footsteps of the likes of Jonzi D and ZooNation. Taking stories from where the company is based in Rhondda and around Wales to platform them locally, nationally and internationally.

I’ve seen Avant Cymru’s work for myself at the Cardiff and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals and company director Jamie Berry’s solo dance in People, Power, Perception is still one of my personal favourite pieces of art I’ve seen on the stage. It proved to me that you could tell a compelling story full of emotion using only dance. Which beforehand, despite having seen a variety of different dance-based theatre, I’d never felt for myself.

It’s hard to ignore the sense of impending doom brought on by the COVID-19 epidemic. Work doesn’t stop for Avant Cymru though. Krump workshops with Duwane Taylor are available on their YouTube channel and next month they will be releasing a video where world renowned popper Shawn Ailey will be teaching the foundations for popping.

They will be running workshops through to July, either online or around Wales when safe, including sessions with beatboxing, rapping, graffiti and DJing teachers to introduce learners to all elements of hip-hop outside of dance.

As a disabled-led company, with a variety of health and mental health conditions, Avant Cymru really is open to any and everyone. With the help of the British Council they are travelling to Canada in October for the No Limit Jam to connect with fellow disabled artists and explore opportunities and encourage those with disabilities, mental or physical, to pick up hip-hop.

The passion to do this comes from personal experience:

“For us Hip-Hop has had a positive influence on our lives.” For Jamie, “suffering with depression, breakin’ was the one thing that gave me drive and ambition… The theatre aspect allows me to express these thoughts. We have noticed other Hip-Hop artists, rappers, graffiti writers and dancers do the same. We want to make sure others have hip-hop as a tool to improve their health and well-being.”

For artistic director Rachel Pedley she found a home in Hip-Hop culture. “As a working-class artist, I struggled to afford the lifestyle of ballet dancers and other theatre makers. In Hip-Hop the training and social side was more affordable and the other artists were easier to relate to. It helped build the confidence I needed to go and create and understand my value didn’t come from the cash in my pocket. Working in the Rhondda Valleys, we want to make sure that our young people have the confidence needed to walk into other aspects of life, we believe confidence comes from celebrating our differences and that hip hop even encourages this.”

As well as offering workshops and encouraging people into forms of hip-hop, Avant Cymru also produce their own work. Working with artists from all pillars of hip-hop, from beatboxers, emcees, graffiti artists, dancers and DJs. As well as with artists from outside hip-hop such as theatre writers or musicians from outside hip-hop.

Hip-Hop is often stereotyped as ‘gangster rap’, but it is so much more than that. Avant Cymru aim to change this view as they “would like to share our knowledge with different audiences to show how varied and creative Hip Hop can be and how positive it can be when you get involved.”

Hip-Hop is arguably the largest artistic movement in the world today. But maybe the most misunderstood also. So, if you’re interested, check out an upcoming show from Avant Cymru or another hip-hop company. Or even give it a go yourself.

Review: WOOF at Sherman Theatre by Gareth Ford-Elliott

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Please note this review contains references to sexual violence and detailed analysis of the productions plot.

WOOF by Elgan Rhys is a new Welsh-language (occasionally bilingual with English subtitles at every performance) play about two men, Daf and Jesse, who have different expectations of one another.

In a lustful first meeting we see the pair’s first sexual encounter and follow their romance along some ups and downs until their final “sexual” encounter and the fallout.

Woof portrays big topics such as open/polyamorous relationships and sexual assault both in the context of modern gay life. However, Elgan Rhys fails to really explore any of these topics in a way that does them justice.

One main reason why is because the characters are cliché “types” of gay men. One wanting marriage and kids, the other wanting an open relationship. But this is the extent of their individuality. Even the way they speak is basically identical and generic.

Because of this, despite the characters having clear goals, the motivations that drive them aren’t clear. For a play that relies so heavily on bubbling under the surface, we should be understanding the motivations.

Rape is used as a “turning point” and feels more like a plot point than a major life event in Jesse or Daf’s life. Things do change after this, but again, the motivations that drive these changes are invisible. Because of this, it doesn’t feel like we’re watching a play, we barely see how they’re feeling and when we do, it mostly comes through speech and feels unnatural.

Things happen, we get spoken to about them, and then the characters move on to the next stage of the plot. It feels like a draft of a script that has figured out its structure, but not found the character’s voices or even the characters themselves.

One positive is that we see real love from both characters to each other, even if they don’t always care for the other.

Elgan Rhys presents a lot in Woof and some people will really identify with it, because of the evocative nature of the topics presented. But it explores very little of these huge themes and how they affect the characters, which is where this play particularly falls down.

The tone of the direction from Gethin Evans doesn’t help solve this. It’s quite flat throughout. The odd scene or moment is well controlled by Evans. But the piece overall feels odd. The subtext isn’t portrayed well throughout the performance at all and the build-up to the rape scene, as well as the scene itself, is really poor because of this.

Whilst neither Aled Pedrick as Jesse or Berwyn Pearce as Daf do particularly badly in portraying what they’re given, neither really rise and meet the task either. There are great moments from both, however.

Jesse’s immediate reaction to being raped is horrifying. The confusion and fear are portrayed well – but this doesn’t hold and the performance of Jesse declines into mediocrity afterwards. Meanwhile, the performance of Daf peaks in more comedic moments – but struggles with the darker ones.

There are moments of good chemistry between the two, particularly in the first third of the play. A scene where the two characters exchange phone numbers is particularly nice. Some real chemistry which is lovely as well as being the first time we see real care and love in the two. But then, there’s a lot that feels unnatural. For example, whenever the characters talk about their relationship – which is the central conflict of the piece.

The set and design from Elin Steele is simple. Nothing out of this world but it works. It’s a similar story for Katy Morison’s lighting design too. Some moments that are good, the club scene in particular, but ultimately underused.

The sound by Sam Jones doesn’t have a huge impact on the overall production. An announcement of “Happy New Year!” on the sound system doesn’t fit the tone and music isn’t exploited nearly enough.

The design elements really could set the tone for the piece but instead, as happens too often, feel like an afterthought.

Now that we have critically assessed the play itself, there are some other things that desperately need to be addressed.

Firstly, the lack of trigger warnings was a huge issue. “Sexual content” does not equal “rape/sexual violence”. This desperately needs addressing by the Sherman in the remaining shows as this was incredibly irresponsible.

The tone on the night and marketing is out of place with the nature of the piece. Having feedback boards outside with various LGBTQ+ flags on it, was a strange contrast from portraying a toxic gay relationship and gay rape. Marketing it with the words “bold” and “gritty” are also out of place with what we see. This isn’t a bold play because it doesn’t challenge its audience.

In the programme notes, Rachel O’Riordan, former artistic director of the Sherman Theatre and the person who commissioned this play, said, “the play…will ask our audience to look at some uncomfortable truths.” This is true. It asks its audience to observe some uncomfortable truths but doesn’t challenge them by exploring those truths.

It seems that from start to finish, the whole theatre had the wrong attitude with this play, from top to bottom. From commissioning, to presenting, to marketing and warning its audience about the issues it deals with. It’s a presentation of something that may well be true, but not an exploration of the themes or characters.

There will be people who really enjoy Woof and it is worth seeing, in full knowledge of what it’s about.

WOOF is a dark portrayal of a toxic, yet loving relationship, between two male characters who are ultimately underdeveloped.

WOOF performed at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
31 January – 9th February 2019
Written by Elgan Rhys
Directed by Gethin Evans
Cast:
Daf – Berwyn Pearce
Jesse – Aled Pedrick
Designer: Elin Steele
Sound Designer: Sam Jones
Lighting Designer: Katy Morison