During the current period three YouTube Channels are broadcasting entire theatrical shows for free. They generally start at 7PM BST on certain weeknights but the videos will remain on the channels for 7 days afterwards before being taken down as something else is uploaded.
So far: Twelfth Night, Jane Eyre, Treasure Island, Frankenstein (both versions with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature), Anthony and Cleopatra.
The lists I’ve provided, of what have been shown so far, are by no means conclusive. They are only the ones I know have been shown recently. There are many clips on the channels if you wan to check out other productions by the organisations and, at least for the National Theatre, interesting ‘behind the scenes’ videos about the production process.
The organisations offer these broadcasts, for free, in hope of donations to support the theatre community.
Amy Speace is a folk/Americana American singer-songwriter from Baltimore, Maryland. National Public Radio described her voice as “velvety and achy” and compared her to Lucinda Williams. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee. A former Shakespearean actress, her music has received critical acclaim from The New York Times, NPR, The Sunday London Times, Mojo Magazine, etc. Speace’s song, Weight Of The World, was recorded by singer Judy Collins on her 2010 album Paradise.
As soon as you walked in there was a guy in a t-shirt acting as the doorman with a clipboard checking if you had bought tickets. There seems a lot more space in this bar area now. If every person who had a seat in the performance room came in here there would still be plenty of room to move about. You can see the kitchen area behind the bar where there’s a stone oven to cook the pizzas which they seem to specialise in.
Every time some pizza came past it looked nice enough with some fresh salad. To me though there was a particularly acute rancid smell to them. It was probably a certain sauce or something I just found an unappealing smell. I’m not sure how to describe it but as we were sat near the door it assaulted me a few times unintentionally.
There were about 20 people initially and by the time it started 50 or so had assembled in the audience. It really wasn’t that many and no one was sat upstairs (well Amy’s mother along with the guy controlling the lights and sound on his iPad but not any paying customers). Amy isn’t that well known here ‘but is on the rise’ as far as people are concerned like some other American folk singers who didn’t get larger crowds until they had come here a few times to build up word of mouth. It’s an intimate venue but indeed it wasn’t filled to capacity sadly. Presumably it is the pizzas helping to keep things ticking over.
Since the last time I was here they’ve removed more of the hard wood church pews and replaced them with stackable chairs and small tables. I suppose it’s to create a sort of ‘cafe bistro’ performance venue atmosphere. The table I was sat at was wobbly so you dare not lean on it but I’m sure the other tables were more sturdy. There are rows of chairs on the side (under the stairs), a few rows of chairs at the back and tables to the front. So if you’re unlucky and arrive later when there is unallocated seating you not only are sat with far less space for yourself but will also be watching the performers from behind people eating too. Oh and there are pillars too but that only restricts a few very specific seats and they’ve clearly tried to counter that by giving more space for the performers more floor space, to stand further forward, than previously.
No one was eating during the performance, unlike the last time I was here, but I don’t know if that was enforced by the venue or just a coincidence. When Amy came out she commented on the pizza to the effect of something like ‘surprising to find nice pizza in Cardiff’. I think most performers find it odd but all really like the acoustics of the former chapel so it’s a bit of a trade off.
We were sat downstairs by a pillar but with a good ¾ view (i.e. not at the front nor side of the performance area). There isn’t a raised platform stage area and the floor looks very scratched up now as the varnish has gradually been worn away by equipment being moved about. Someone walked by before the start smelling of toilet fragrance aerosols… or maybe it was a very cheap perfume? And it lingered… nasty. Not the venues fault but it was such a strange smell I couldn’t help but note it. The venue is perfectly fine smell wise but this perfume and the pizza were very pungent.
8.05pm the performance began.
Amy was wearing a long navy dress with small diamond patterning and white pixie boots. It reminded me of the sort of dress country singers wore in the 1970s.
She told stories between the songs about her parents’ religiousness (the father is a lapsed baptist who gave her a big, leather bound, white bible while her mother is a Catholic and there was an unspoken agreement the children would be raised Catholic) and political e.g. How she is a folk singer so her being a liberal should be a given to some degree yet some complain saying they thought she was going to do songs like a Country singer (i.e. the stereotypical Texan republican who loves their country blindly). She had her son in her fifties and named him Huckleberry as her husband teaches Southern literature and she thought it would be unique… only to discover someone else had also used that name.
Amongst the songs she performed were the following:
She performed most songs with an acoustic guitar connected to an amp but one or two she did sat at the grand piano too.
At 9.03pm there was an interval. A staff member rushed in zealously seeking empty glasses to take off tables. It got to the point he seemed to be eyeing up half filled glasses as if ready to claim them as having been abandoned if people were not sat next to them to ward him off. Out by the bar Amy’s mother was selling CDs of three of her albums, t-shirts and apparently one album on vinyl. Amy would sign them too. About 10 or so minutes later the second half began suddenly signaled by the lights suddenly being turned off again.
While performing she forgot the lyrics to a few of her songs so a friend had to look them up for her. It was fortunately made more charming rather than awkward. Earlier she had joked at other performances she had had to do that too.
After she remembered and performed the first forgotten song a guy shouted “got there in the end” which the classic sardonic Welsh sense of humour. It’s not meant in a bad spirit but I imagine it so easily could be misread as such if people are not familiar with it… and let’s face it when you have visiting foreign artists I do often wonder if it gives a bad impression and if it’s affected the chance of people coming back again. However Amy mentioned how polite British audiences are as American ones have to be made to shut up and often will throw things at the performers. British audiences chuckle while American audience guffaw it seems. Probably it makes it easier to read the tone of the room compared to more reserved audiences.
She had gone up Snowden and it was the first time her parents were touring the UK. She seemed hung up, like all visiting American artists, on the whole ‘divided nation’ aspect of America at the moment regarding Trump and said Britain probably is too now due to Brexit. She joked politicians need to get better hair and some exercise in reference to Trump and Boris Johnson.
At 22:25 the concert ended after she said she would do a false ‘walk off and encore’ by turning away a few seconds rather than walk out the room. She did one of the last songs acoustically without her guitar plugged in. Oddly it might have been better to do that more in this venue but I guess everyone is used to instruments being amplified these days that just having the instrument sounds less ‘authentic’ somehow…
It was very enjoyable. The stories actually felt personal rather than just a script she rattles off to every audience. It’s a bit concerning she forgot the lyrics to her own songs though. But overall it was very enjoyable. I recommend seeing her if you’ve the chance though it is one of the few occasions where I’ve seen a performer forget their own lyrics which in a less seasoned act would be criticised as being unprofessional.
Parking is still the biggest issue the venue faces really even with it’s relatively small capacity. Park on the road side and if you can’t then you’ll have to park further down or in a residential space. There are no real alternatives to be honest but that’s the cost of it being in a community’s former chapel.
P.S. Here are some names of other acts coming here soon if you want to look them up… The Magpies / Daisy Chapman / Maz o’connor / Emily Mae Winters / Mr Tea and the Minions / Morganway.
“One minute we had customers, the next minute
there was no-one.”
In a lost village, blurred by redrawn borders,
hidden under a crumb on the map, Bear Ridge Stores still stands.
After a hundred years, the family butchers and grocers – a place for
odds and ends, contraband goods, and the last petrol pump for 30
miles – is now silent. But owners John Daniel and Noni are going
nowhere. They are defiantly drinking the remaining whiskey and
remembering good times, when everyone was on the same side and the
old language shone. Outside in the dark, a figure is making their way
One of Wales’ most celebrated writers, Ed Thomas (co-creator of Hinterland) makes a momentous return to the stage with this semi-autobiographical story about the places we leave behind, the indelible marks they make on us, and the unreliable memories we hold onto.
Writer Ed Thomas
Co-directors Vicky Featherstone & Ed
Designer Cai Dyfan
Composer John Hardy
Sound Designer Mike Beer
Noni: Rakie Ayola
The Captain: Jason Hughes
John Daniel: Rhys Ifans
Ifan William: Sion Daniel Young
World Premiere in Sherman Theatre‘s Main House
National Theatre Wales and Royal Court Theatre
Performed in English (though there are a few Welsh words present e.g. bara brith).
Contains strong language, scenes of an adult
nature, loud noises & gun shots
Running time: Approx. 95 minutes (no interval)
I saw it on 25 September 2019 at 7.30pm.
I usually give quite
detailed, near exhaustive, accounts of a narrative but I feel due to
how new this play is it would be a disservice to do so. I will just
give a general outline for those who want it. A lot of the impact is
in the dialogue and performance of this play, so much so it could
easily be adapted for radio, so it may seem relatively uneventful.
It’s an allegorical narrative regarding the playwright’s memories of
his community and concerns about the challenges the Welsh language
and culture face both from the past and going forward when there are
so many foreign influences, most notably that of England. I probably
have forgotten certain elements or omit them intentionally in the
following paragraphs so there are some things for you to experience
A man, John Daniel, awakens in the remnants of his burnt out butcher’s shop after an aerial carpet bombing raid. He laments he is all alone now in the dark as snow falls about him. He begins to recount the birth of his son with his wife Noni and how proud he was. (I’ve forgotten the son’s name ironically but he does have one).
We then see him and his wife waving their butcher’s cleavers as planes fly overhead. They condemn that they don’t know if they’re on their side or against them during an ongoing war. A war that apparently ended decades ago yet still seems to affect them currently. They then spend a while discussing how their community at Bear Ridge has dwindled as they relive the memories of their past both in terms of recalling their customers, food and events. Their young slaughterman Ifan William comes from out of the trapdoor and goes into the fridge and returns to the underground slaughterhouse after some brief chatter. The couple continue their discussion once he has left reciting their mantra of foodstuffs happily to each other relishing the memories.
As the couple are
dancing to a repeating song on the radio a captain, who was involved
in the ongoing war, walks into their shop and holds them at gunpoint
not sure if they are friend or foe. Once reassured he chats with them
and says the song reminded him of his mother and youth. He recounts a
number of things, including how his commanding officer gave him the
order to clear the mountain before then shooting herself to his
shock. Eventually he gains the couple’s confidence. They discuss
memories and ‘the old language’ which only John Daniel now knows how
to speak but laments he is forgetting. He only remembers it because
he remembers speaking it to others but they’re all in the past so all
he has are his memories with which to keep the language alive. His
son spoke it fluently, Noni learned some but he is ultimately alone
now in knowing it which throws him into despair.
Suddenly the captain is on edge when Ifan William comes from out of the trap door again. He demands to know why they didn’t tell him of this third person. ‘You never asked’ John Daniel replies drily. Ifan William recounts his childhood growing up and going to university with the now dead son of the couple. The son went to university and was very progressive, philosophical and wanted to keep the ‘old language’ alive. However the son and Ifan William (who the son taught Welsh) were beaten by others one day in the street accusing them of being Germans and other nationalities though they were not as these aggressors didn’t recognise the old language of their own country and assumed the worst (the identity of the characters in the play as native Welsh people is never explicitly stated but some words and phrases dotted throughout the dialogue suggest this along with the distinctly Welsh naming styles of the characters). The son died in the war and had so much potential the characters who knew him lament. Ifan William admits he truly loved their son and their son loved him (to the degree it’s implied to have been romantic in nature but this too is never made explicit). John Daniel silently embraces Ifan William for their mutual loss.
The captain, after offering Ifan William a swig from his canteen, again recounts his memories. How he was ordered to clear the mountain by a commanding officer who then killed herself immediately afterwards in front of him having fulfilled her duty. The couple refuse to leave, despite being the only people left, as this is where they belong as does Ifan William. The captain tells them he is on the same side as them. Noni, agitated by such a broad declaration, asks if he really is or not and compares it to a river where there are two sides – the side they are on and the other side. People who want to swim over can try but the current is strong and deep many drown in the effort (as if referring to the Severn river which acts as both the physical and metaphysical division between the Welsh and English identities). She asks the captain again if he really is on their side or not. He insists he is. Now they’re all assured Noni offers to make tea and the captain excuses himself asking to go to the bathroom. John Daniel says it’s around the corner, behind the rocks, outside the building (actually it may have been in the building but the actor exits the stage via the rear). The captain leaves silently.
Ifan William enters
carrying a tray piled high with a china tea service. The couple and
Ifan William sit down to drink. A single gun shot rings out
(presumably the captain coming to the same conclusion his commander
did and committing suicide). Nothing is said. No one reacts. They sit
in silence drinking their tea and then, once everyone is content, a
plane flies overhead and it suddenly cuts to black and it seems a
bomb was finally dropped on Bear Ridge to clear it.
Arguably this loops back to the start of the play though you could also read the beginning as John Daniel lamenting his isolation as the only person who knows the old language… which he truly is if the play loops back to that opening scene as his wife (who was a learner), his son (who was fluent) and Ifan William (who was, I think, semi-fluent) are all now gone leaving him truly alone both in his memories, knowledge and physically.
I won’t go into great
detail. They’re all dressed in the manner one would expect of people
left with little to sustain themselves during an ongoing conflict
with few if any supplies available over a long time.
John Daniel is dressed
in a worn jumper and the white, but now grubby and worn, coat of a
butcher with an orange gilet over it. Around his ankles are scraps of
cloth over his worn boots. A shaggy beard and overall dishevelled
state indicate he has little time to pretend like he is at all at
peace with life to attend to such things. Not just due to the
situation they find themselves in but it seems like he’s always been
a bit like this and the gilet is, as explained during a piece of
dialogue, a birthday resent from his wife and the only clean thing on
him. Life weighs heavy on his shoulders.
Noni wears an apron and
cardigan with a tattered skirt and hobnail boots. Even in these bad
times it’s evident she tries her best to maintain normality by taking
care of herself appearance wise unlike her husband.
Ifan William is young and his clothes are relatively clean with little sign of wear. They are also of a much more modern, casual sportswear, design compared to those of John Daniel and Noni who, in comparison, could be from a hundred years ago or yesterday in their style of dress (except for the gilet which seems to act like a life vest keeping John Daniel afloat in modern times). The only dirt on the young man’s clothing is the dried, caked, blood from the job he does on his butcher’s apron. His beard and hair are relatively well trimmed in comparison to his wild, mountain man, looking employer John Daniel.
The captain has outerwear of a military design. I would say it reflects the clothing of a First World War office in the trenches but I believe it is meant to evoke a timeless militaristic style really. He wears heavy boots, a serviceman’s belt of pouches and a holster with his service revolver. A large, thick, scarf is wrapped around his neck obscuring any signs of a uniform and he wears a full length woollen, olive drab coloured, trench coat so little else is visible on his person beneath it.
Throughout the play the floor is covered in a light layer of fake snow as though the interior and exterior of the butcher’s shop is gutted.
There are three walls
to represent the interior of the shop. On the left wall is a cupboard
where Noni keeps the trinkets she has collected and which spill out
at the start of the play. On the right is a fridge door which when
opened lets the actor walk through as if entering a room sized
fridge. Again this too is featured at the start of the play but
neither plays any purpose besides establishing the characters of Noni
and Ifan William.
The rear wall is in
fact technically two pieces which sit either side of a green door
frame and door. These are the shop front, gutted by a previous bomb
explosion it can be assumed, and a broken window. The door itself is
intact with a ‘sorry we are closed’ sign on it and a set of lace
curtain netting across it. These are all removed about half way
through the run time once everyone is, presumably, stood outside.
A pile of broken school
desks and furniture sits left of centre representing all the
furniture they’ve had to break up for firewood during the ongoing
harsh weather conditions on the mountain without any outside aid
arriving. Hidden within this pile are two milk crates used for seats
at certain points of the play. Ifan William later uses a tin box as a
stool too which I think he brings up from the trapdoor.
Beyond the ‘shop’ are
black, dead, trees and high piles of rock to represent the mountain
range. A path leads behind the rocks which is where the captain goes,
off stage, at the end of the play.
The backdrop is a
curved white sheet lit in a manner to give the illusion of a heavy
misty skyline beyond which nothing can be seen. It becomes brightly
lit when planes fly over to silhouette the characters against it.
Overall I feel it’s very effective though I question if you could actually reduce the staging to be even more minimalist to be honest as so much of the play is in fact grounded in it’s dialogue rather than actions. Throughout the only ‘actions’ that occur are the couple wave their tools at the planes flying overhead once or twice cursing at them, an overfilled cupboard spilling, the couple dance, the captain firing his gun in frustration, Ifan William going in and out of the trapdoor, in and out of the fridge and later kicking up some dust, John Daniel when lamenting the loss of the old language scrabbling about creating a dust storm in frustration and the tea service being brought on at the end of the play. In fact you could even embellish it if you wanted to be honest without detracting from the core dynamics of the play.
The allegorical play begins with an incredibly strong echo of Dylan Thomas’ lyrical dialogue style most notably heard in Under Milk Wood when John Daniel and Noni begin reciting a list of customers and the foodstuffs they sold and enjoyed in the past as if relishing and being nourished by the language and memories they share.
Throughout John Daniels
has a phrase he often uses ‘no, you’re alright’ when he wants to
assure others or dismiss something troubling. You could reflect he
says this because he himself is not alright though I’ve often heard
fellow Welshmen, admittedly of an older generation, use the phrase in
the same tone Rhys Ifans uses where it is more akin to ‘I don’t
approve but I accept the situation at hand’. There is a lot of the
dour Welsh humour present in the play and I wonder if non-Welsh
people will ‘get it’. Only when it’s performed in England will we
know. I’m sure they will but sometimes it does seem people unfamiliar
with that Welsh style of humour feel it can be harsh hence the
stereotype some hang onto of us being isolationist when in reality we
are very warm towards visitors.
Noni is a difficult
character to categorise. She collects trinkets, she laments her sons
death and she loves her husband who it seems is notably older than
her. The only real information we get about her past, her memories,
tends to be through John Daniels recounting the birth of his son and
his first encounter with Noni where they both knew they were meant to
be together. She fits the Welsh archetype of a valleys girl, that is
to say bubbly, chatty, but not afraid of confronting people she
doesn’t agree with, however it feels she has the least substance
presented to the audience. She seems secondary to the male characters
and even her dead son whose ghost echoes throughout the memories of
the others. While it can be said that there’s an element of this
enforcing traditional stereotypes of women place being in the shadow
of the men in their lives it’s not as simple as that in Wales. We
have been a soft matriarchy throughout history so a woman being quiet
and ‘knowing her place’ is quite alien to us and only crept into our
culture through the influences of the English. So there’s an
underlying question regarding her character where arguably she is the
most conformist of the ‘native’ characters but we don’t have a chance
to explore that aspect of her characterisation during the plays run
time and it has to be portrayed via the actress’ mannerisms more so
than the dialogue.
Ifan William has two
scenes, one at the start is somewhat light hearted and merely acts as
a set up for the sudden shift in tone towards the end. The actor has
some great material to work with as he confesses his feeling to John
Daniel and Noni about their son. It could feel a bit laboured by a
less skilled actor so to see the shift of the character from somewhat
lackadaisical to heart-rendingly broken by his memories really
delivers a contrast to John Daniel and Noni. The older characters
recount happy times in the past and bemoan their current
circumstances while here the younger man finds trauma in the past
but, having survived an assault by bigots, seems to thrive in the
current circumstances having found his place in the world. So through
him we have elements of discussion regarding the ‘truth’ of cultural
heritage and the effects of rose tinted memories on passing it to the
next generation. While John Daniel speaks of a united community under
one language Ifan William presents the harsh reality of conflicting
cultures and of prejudice which isn’t acknowledged by the older
The captain, in
contrast to the other characters, is notably different sounding not
just in accent but diction and phrasing. He is an outsider but I feel
the role is being played far too safely so as not to feel jarring
when contrasted with the other characters tonally. If anything I
would actually like the play to be a bit more bold in this to truly
challenge the audience in the later part when he is asked if he is
‘on our side’ or not so they question if he is sincere or playing
along for survival. The actor performs the role well but I feel maybe
there needs to be some work on the role. Whether it’s to make him
more of an outsider conflicting with the other characters or truly
get across his desire to be on their side by gradually emulating
As it is I assume the
intention is for the audience to decide for themselves his motives
and values by the end of the play’s events. Does he shoot himself
just to repeat history as his commanding officer did; did he do it
because, despite his words, he truly couldn’t be on their side
despite his intentions as he lacked the language and other cultural
aspects to do so; was it because he didn’t seek to become like them.
Could it even be the case we should interpret his behaviour as PTSD
where he keeps reliving the moment he saw his commanding officer
shoot herself, after giving him his orders, thus leaving him to
wander in a liminal state somewhere between constantly reliving that
memory as a soldier and incapable of reacclimatising to civil society
(as is the case for many servicemen who suffer trauma during their
I think my overall
question about him is, PTSD possibility aside, whether he was a
soldier carrying out his duty, but faltered when the opposition was
given a face, or a refugee like figure trying to escape the war and
‘join’ the others in their world view of not being defined by the
conflict. He feels vaguely defined and I’m not completely certain
that was intentional to the degree it appears. Although, in fairness,
we never learn his name and it is certain he was meant to be
culturally ‘othered’ to the shared culture and history of the other
three characters as an outsider.
The staging is good but
perhaps needs some refining as I noted when discussing it earlier. At
times when a sense of claustrophobia is required it feels there is a
bit too much space inside the shop’s interior and yet when they’re
meant to be stood outside it feels far too claustrophobic ironically.
I’m not sure if that’s because the Sherman’s stage wasn’t quite right
for their planned layout but maybe on smaller stages the rubble on
the sides (which I omitted from the stage plan though it remains
throughout the performance) could be removed to give them more space
in the later parts of the play. I only say this as there is a moment
later in the play when John Daniels is meant to walk away from the
others to ‘speak the old language to the moon’ but unfortunately he
is barely 3 metres away on the stage. In fact Rhys gave a cheeky look
to the audience at this point as if acknowledging it. Perhaps for
that moment he can go onto the ‘mountain path’ the captain later uses
leading backstage instead as that would be more effective? It’s an
minor issue to be honest.
The performances are excellent but certainly I feel there might be a need to work on the pacing of dialogue or where to emphasis certain lines as sometimes there were moments of speaking over each other with little narrative purpose for it. Also while the characters are distinct I feel there needs to be more confidence in the delivery by the captain as he doesn’t seem as affected nor distinct from the others as he needs to be. As much as none of us wants to see overacting I do feel for John Daniel and Noni to fit the Welsh archetypes they are referencing they may need to be slightly more embellished with John Daniel having a slightly more intense manner with some pregnant pauses possibly.
I understand why the
performance choices were made however part of me feels, when the play
moves onto the Royal Court Theatre, it’s been done early to ‘tone
down’ the Welshness to be more accessible and that feels
counter-intuitive considering what the message of this play seems to
be. I’ve seen that done in translation of various works to localise
things but it never feels like a good idea in the long run. In effect
it seems to have caused a Welsh playwright, writing about Welsh
cultural matters obliquely, to ‘other’ his message in his own work as
if self censoring which speaks volumes about how entrenched the
cultural persecution of the Welsh culture and language is in our
mindset as a nation.
Part of me feels the
refusal to actually name Wales or Welsh in any form is possibly part
of the narrative in the sense it is self censorship as the ‘Welsh
Not’ was in the classroom for a time in the early twentieth century.
However it also in effect makes the play more universal while still
retaining the irrefutable inclusion of Welsh things such as the
characters’ naming (except the captain who is only known by his
military rank title and never his personal name), a reference to bara
brith and other elements which seem all too obvious in context to a
Welsh audience but might not to a different culture if there was a
foreign production of the play. (e.g. how Welsh seems part of the
‘Elder Speech language’ in the Polish fantasy literature series The
Witcher and it’s adaptions going as far as the card card in it being
Wales has a number of Welsh playwrights who, when doing work for television, are lauded and award winning yet to set a play in Wales seems to ghettoise it unlike if you set it in England. Perhaps that’s just me recalling my issues with Niall Griffith’s novel ‘Sheepshagger’ which felt like it could have been set in England’s west country or elsewhere rurally without losing anything as it’s so devoid of inherent ‘Welshness’ unlike this play.
I fear, in later productions, this play might have the Welsh elements edited out of it to localise it and thus lose its inherent message. As I said with my review of Gary Owen’s adaption of The Cherry Orchard, which localised Chekov’s play to 1980s Wales, there is a risk of losing part of a message or altering it in adaption which I dearly hope doesn’t occur here as discussion of the trials Wales has faced in maintaining its culture seem to be muted whenever presented to a wider audience. Certainly in my experience few people from other countries know much about us without it being tinged by English imperialism to the point they assume we are part of England and not a separate entity.
There is great
potential here but as I’ve seen it so early in it’s run I feel
everyone is still finding their stride in their performances and no
doubt, should you go see it, they’ll have worked out those nuances so
what is already a thoroughly enjoyable, evocative, play about
identity will become a modern classic. Already it is getting high
praise and, despite the critical tone of this review at times, I
thoroughly recommend seeing it!
A virtuoso brass ensemble that uses 19th century instruments to get as close as possible to the sounds of another era? That’s the Prince Regent’s Band – and today, as Wales commemorates the centenary of the Russian Revolution this extraordinary period-instrument group explores the brass music of Imperial Russia: a lost world of romance, melancholy, and glittering splendour.
Tuesday 7 November 1.15pm Pre-performance talk by RWCMD musician in the Foyle Room has been cancelled.
Venue: Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Tickets: £6 in advance, £8 on the day. Get your concert ticket, cake and a cuppa for only £9 in advance. Get 25% off any main meal or buy a soup and a sandwich for just £4.99 with a valid lunchtime concert ticket. Valid on the day of the concert only.
I got the ticket from the reception desk in the foyer, which also serves as a cafe and entrance area to wait around in, and saw there was a small stall with a giant Fabergé egg behind it. They were selling the CDs of the band there before and after the show.
I went into the hall and sat in the second row while many of the other attendees sat more centrally. The front row is right next to the foot of the stage but that is to be expected as this is a music performance venue more so than one for staging plays where the front row would definitely be far too close to the front leading you to be looking directly up at the performers. There was a wide mix of ages present in the audience; some students, some office workers coming to a lunchtime concert, OAPs and some other people.
It’s all pine wood in the Dora Stoutzker hall and made to have the best acoustics possible I imagine. They record music in here. If you’ve ever seen the BBC hall in the Wales Millennium Centre then you know what to expect. Pine is very ‘now’ in modern Welsh architecture…
When they came on they did the first piece then discussed how brass wind instruments were popular with the royal (Romanov) family during that era and they themselves played such instruments. This of course being part of the R17 events running throughout October/November in celebration of the centenary of the Russian Revolution they performed pieces from the era. Between each piece they emptied their spit valves a lot onto the floor of the stage. It was quite gross. I have to assume in orchestras they have a cloth to do that into but you could see it spilling out in quite some volume from where I was sat. Most people were sat in the centre of the seating here and now I realise why.
The band have a YouTube channel discussing instruments of the era as well as the Dustin family whose music they made a recording of and discuss in a number of videos. I found it quite interesting and the videos are short. The only issue, ironically for musicians, is the acoustics of the rooms they filmed in: ( https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCopIHhNUDG0Kk460EIKq6uw ).
Ewald – Brass Quintet No.1, Op.5
Bohme – Prelude and Fugues, No.1, Op.28
Glazunov – Brass Quintet, Op.38 ”In Modo Religioso”
Ewald – Brass Quintet No.2, Op.6
Apparently they had made a request to the St Petersburg Philharmonic’s Library to look in their archives for the long-lost quintet pieces by Ewald. Surprisingly the staff suddenly just found the works, out of the blue, as if they hadn’t been long-lost musical pieces! I imagine they were lost during the upheaval during the Soviet era or hidden away like many works by persecuted artists and since then no one had actually made a request until now when they could finally be revealed to exist again. That’s why it tends to be better to go look yourself and not rely on the filing system in libraries and such as they’re prone to inaccuracies if someone makes a mistake or gets lazy. Anneke jokingly asked the audience if anyone knew where No.3 and No.4 were to tell them too.
It was an hour-long concert i.e. a lunchtime concert.
I got the two CDs the band had made and have really enjoyed them both so recommend them if you want to hear music performed as period accurate as possible.
They dressed all in black though Anneke wore a dress with boots and red tights. Not that it matters but just in case you were wondering. The standard ‘smart but casual’ look of musicians when not performing at an evening event.
Review: It was very good and they gave informative little lectures between each piece. Of course that allowed the other members time to empty their spit valves but it was a nice addition to hearing the musical pieces – some of which were being performed in their original composition with the original mix of instrumentation rather than the more popular versions. I would go see them perform again though personally I find this sort of thing is better done as part of a more varied evening with other instruments involved.
The small, informative, talks between each piece were the highlight, as it put the pieces in historical context in an easily followed manner, while seeing the massive amounts of spit being spilled on the stage was definitely the low… just use a cloth or something… so if you come see them don’t sit close to the stage obviously. I didn’t get hit with anything but it was unnecessary.
Do support them as it’s important we don’t lose the variant compositions they used and it helps you appreciate the evolution of music and instrumentation over the passage of time. I think a concert with them accompanied by performers using other instruments throughout history would be a spectacular event but this alone might be a bit too narrow a niche for a more general audience to enjoy. Definitely if you are at all curious about them I highly recommend seeing themselves for yourself as it will be an enriching experience and you’ll leave with a greater appreciation of the evolutionary development of brass instruments and their compositions over the past century and beyond.