Archives for October 2011

The Passion scoops theatre award

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Polly March Polly March | 16:39 UK time, Monday, 31 October 2011

Michael Sheen and Bill Mitchell have been basking in glory after winning the best director award at the Theatre Awards UK ceremony in London.

The pair shared the gong, which is one of the top accolades in British theatre, for their epic 72-hour performance of The Passion, staged over the Easter weekend in Port Talbot.

On Twitter, National Theatre Wales tweeted that Sheen had thanked "my beautiful town of PortTalbot for giving me the most meaningful, powerful experience of my life".

And on accepting the award from actress Gina McKee, Mitchell thanked the generosity and bravery of Port Talbot in accepting the production.

National Theatre of Wales director John McGrath tweeted his congratulations on hearing the news: "So very happy for @michaelsheen and Bill Mitchell @WILD_WORKS for their best Director award today. Well done both and well done Port Talbot!"

Michael Sheen. Photo: National Theatre Wales

Michael Sheen. Photo: Dan Green/National Theatre Wales

Bill Mitchell during a Passion rehearsal. Photo: Dan Green/National Theatre Wales

Bill Mitchell during a Passion rehearsal. Photo: Dan Green/National Theatre Wales

Interestingly, Sheen himself seems to have left Twitter over the weekend, having posted the following message on the site on Sunday:

Goodbye to Twitter. Thanks to everyone who has been generous and kind. I wish you the best with all you do. To the rest, you have to live with yourselves. What you put out there is what you make for yourself to live in, for better or worse. Share, inspire, connect. Good luck. x

The awards were handed out by the Theatrical Management Association to honour the best regional theatre from around the UK.

Other winners included Sir Peter Hall and his son Edward and Sir Derek Jacobi, who won best performance in a play for the Donmar Warehouse production of King Lear.

Sir Peter, who founded the Royal Shakespeare Company, was given an outstanding contribution accolade.

Edward won best touring production for Richard III and The Comedy of Errors.

The open-air production of The Passion by National Theatre Wales saw Sheen portraying Jesus and involved a cast of more than 1,000, including many volunteers from local theatre groups.

Sheen, known for playing public figures like Tony Blair, David Frost and Brian Clough, said he was inspired by the community spirit of the passion plays he watched at Margam Park as a youngster.

The gruelling performance culminated in him being crucified at a roundabout, but many of the scenes were played out on the streets and beaches of the town.

It is estimated the play attracted thousands of spectators and it met with widespread critical acclaim.

The Royal Shakespeare Company's Matilda The Musical also won two awards - for best musical production and best performance in a musical for Bertie Carvel.

Art meets science in new exhibition

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 12:51 UK time, Monday, 31 October 2011

A new visual arts exhibition that opened in Cardiff Bay today explores genetic studies related to mental health and the ways in which such research is relayed into the wider society.

Works by two artists, Julia Thomas and Rhys Bevan Jones, went on show this morning in the exhibition entitled Translation: From Bench to Brain at the BayArt Gallery in Cardiff Bay.

Both artists have interests in issues such as genetic studies related to mental health, classification, metaphor and representation, variability, identity, and ‘big science’. The main theme of the exhibition focuses on how scientific research is translated from the laboratory environment into social consciousness, and what ethical side-effects this may create.

Palas y Meddwl - Memory Palace by Dr Rhys Bevan Jones. Image courtesy of the artist

Palas y Meddwl - Memory Palace by Rhys Bevan Jones. Image courtesy of the artist

Detail from Big Science I by Julia Thomas. Image courtesy of the artist

Detail from Big Science I by Julia Thomas. Image courtesy of the artist

The exhibition is part of the broader Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Festival of Social Science Week, which runs from 29 October to 5 November. It is a collaboration between the ESRC Centre for the Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (Cesagen) and the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics & Genomics.

There are two events running this week in conjunction with the exhibition, both of which are free and open to the general public.

On Wednesday 2 November guest speakers including Dr Ian Jones of the MRC Centre and Dr Andrew Bartlett of Cesagen will talk about academic work that has fed into many of the pieces of artwork on display.

While on Friday 4 November the two artists themselves will be discussing their own inspirations in creating the exhibits at the gallery.

Translation: From Bench to Brain runs at the BayArt Gallery until Friday 4 November. The gallery is open daily from 10am to 5pm. (On the two event evenings on Wednesday and Friday the gallery will remain open until 8.30pm.)

For more information visit the BayArt Gallery website: or keep up to date with @benchtobrain on Twitter.

Pop-Up Play Shop

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Polly March Polly March | 15:33 UK time, Friday, 28 October 2011

Trailing round the shops with the kids is not everybody's idea of a relaxing Saturday, particularly if any amount of hunger, crowds and bad weather are involved. But a new venture which sees empty shop fronts turned into craft spaces for all to enjoy could be about to change all that.

The Pop-Up Play Shop

The Pop-Up Play Shop. Photo: Suzanna Law

A pop-up play shop has opened in Cardiff city centre with the aim of offering a public space for youngsters (and oldsters) to be creative together.

Free of charge, it boasts a wide choice of arts materials, most of which are recycled, and a place where the imagination is king.

The brains behind the outfit is playworker Morgan Leichter-Saxby who, before moving to Cardiff, worked in Tower Hamlets in London, creating outdoor play spaces for youngsters.

She says: "Kids need more opportunities for unstructured play which they can also involve their parents in if they want.

"We see ourselves as supporting long-term change in family relationships; giving parents and their children time and space to play together and create something, either together or independently. We want to offer support without leading and attention without intrusion.

"This is crucial in playwork where there are no fixed ideas from the adults as to the outcome, the kids are in charge and this project gives families the space to do this. This gives children the opportunity to get good at something and have it recognised."

A den in the shop

A den in the shop. Photo: Morgan Leichter-Saxby/

The theory behind the venture is that play is at the very heart of communities and children have a right to it. It is an arm of the global social enterprise Pop Up Adventure Play.

The play shop is located on the lower level of Queens Arcade, between New Look and Supercuts, and offers an inviting space where children can pick from a range of materials sourced by Re-Create, Cardiff’s play resource centre.

Re-Create collects re-usable waste and surplus material from factories, craft shops and firms all over south Wales, so items that may be one man’s waste become the framework of a child’s imagined castle, ocean, spaceship or galaxy. This saves them from reaching landfill.The project has been created in partnership with Re-Create with start-up funding from the Cymorth Small Play Grants Programme.

The Cardiff shop opened on 1 October and is currently open from Thursday to Saturday every week, from 11am to 6pm and will be open during half terms and school holidays.

Marianne Mannello, Assistant Director at Play Wales which recently hosted the 50th Anniversary International Play Association Conference said, "The Pop-Up Play Shop will support children and parents to make the most of what is often readily available and it will go some way in demonstrating that given time, space and permission, children will play anywhere."

For more information on the Pop-up Play Shop visit and for more information on the enterprise as a whole visit

Shakespeare and Wales

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Martha Owen Martha Owen | 15:13 UK time, Friday, 28 October 2011

"I am Welsh, you know" - Henry IV

So little is known about the life of William Shakespeare that scholarly debates continue to rage nearly 400 years after his death. Our scant biographical knowledge has been augmented by theory, supposition and guesswork, but we will probably never know more than a fragment of the truth.

Even the authorship of the 37 plays attributed to Shakespeare has been cast into doubt. This, one of the world's longest-running conspiracy theories, continues to attract new supporters, with the 2011 film Anonymous adding fuel to the fire.

Rafe Spall as William Shakespeare in the 2011 film Anonymous (image: Sony Pictures Releasing UK)

Rafe Spall as William Shakespeare in the 2011 film Anonymous (image: Sony Pictures Releasing UK)

Despite being born in England to a mostly English family, Wales and the Welsh figured prominently in Shakespeare's life and works. Here are 10 things we know - or at least think we know - about Shakespeare's links with Wales.

1. Shakespeare's Welsh play.

Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare's romances, is set largely in Wales. The play's heroine, Imogen, becomes lost after attempting to flea to Milford Haven, referred to as "blessed Milford", and so spends most of the action embroiled in chaos deep in the Welsh mountains. Both John Keats and William Hazlitt listed it as one of their favourite plays by Shakespeare, though George Bernard Shaw was less enamoured, describing its last act as "tedious".

2. Shakespeare had Welsh blood.

Shakespeare's maternal grandmother, Alys Griffin, was Welsh. Some scholars in the early 20th century believed these Celtic roots and their link to an oral poetic tradition explained Shakespeare's artistic gifts. Contemporary criticism has been somewhat more sceptical.

3. Shakespeare's First Folio was dedicated to Welsh aristocracy.

The first folio was published in 1623 and was dedicated to brothers William and Philip Herbert, the Earls of Pembroke. The dedication described them as the "most noble and incomparable paire of brethren". Although this suggests Shakespeare had ties with the Welsh aristocracy, he had died seven years earlier, making it unclear if the dedication was in accordance with his wishes.

4. Shakespeare was Owain Glyndwr's PR man.

And what a fine job he did, as the enduring image of Owain Glyndwr as an exotic and magical Celtic warrior is largely thanks to Shakespeare's Henry IV.

5. There are more Welsh characters in Shakespeare's plays than from any of England's other neighbouring nations.

The playwright's best known Welsh creations are Sir Hugh Evans in Merry Wives and Captain Fluellen, the die-hard Celt in Henry V. Shakespeare gives his Welsh characters familiar verbal tics, with dialect such as "look you" peppering Fluellen's comical English-Welsh speech.

Still image from the 2011 film Anonymous (image: Sony Pictures Releasing UK)

Still image from the 2011 film Anonymous (image: Sony Pictures Releasing UK)

6. Shakespeare's Welsh characters are predictably proud to be so.

An all-too familiar national trait, Shakespeare's Welsh are as keen to express their patriotism as many a modern day gentleman this side of the Severn. When Fluellen's English colleague, Pistol, insults the Welsh vegetable of choice on St David's day, he forces him to eat the national emblem as punishment: "If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek".

7. A Welshman helped make Shakespeare a writer.

Shakespeare's Welsh teacher, Thomas Jenkins, had a profound influence on the playwright in his formative years, according to eminent Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate. Jenkins taught Latin to the young Shakespeare at the King Edward VI grammar school in Stratford-upon-Avon, an education many think instilled the playwright's linguistic flair.

8. Many of Shakespeare's actors were Welsh.

The Bard appears to have harboured something of a penchant for the Renaissance's answers to Michael Sheen and Richard Burton: at any one time there were multiple Welsh actors in The Chamberlain's Men, including Robert Gough, Jack Jones and Henry Evans recorded as company players.

9. Shakespeare chickened out of writing in Welsh.

He wasn't first and he won't be the last but nevertheless, while Shakespeare transcribes whole scenes in French in Henry V, and likewise into gibberish in All Well That Ends Well, for a scene in 1 Henry IV when the Welsh Lady Mortimer features, he reverts to the stage direction "The lady speaks in Welsh". It's assumed Shakespeare would have relied on the ad-libbing talents of his Welsh players for this scene. However his contemporary, Thomas Dekker, included Welsh phrases and words in at least half a dozen of his plays.

10. Shakespeare probably never set foot in Wales.

Somewhat incredibly given Stratford-Upon-Avon's close proximity to Wales, his Welsh granny and the abundance of references to Wales in his work, there is no evidence that Shakespeare ever found it necessary to visit the country to which is he was so closely tied and from which he drew considerable inspiration.

Clearly he was of the opinion "that way madness lies."

Abertoir 2011: blood, guts, gore and more

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 12:05 UK time, Thursday, 27 October 2011

The horror film genre seems to be in the ascendency in Wales of late. Zombie gore fest Colin from Welsh director Marc Price made headlines for its £45 microbudget, David Howard's Flick starring Faye Dunaway was mostly shot in south Wales and most recently Cardiff director Chris Crow's 2011 film Panic Button has been winning plaudits aplenty.

Abertoir 2011 poster

Abertoir 2011 poster

Even Welsh Hollywood actor Michael Sheen has been involved in some vampiric action, in the film adaptations of the hugely successful Twilight series by author Stephanie Meyer.

The Abertoir Horror Festival in Aberystwyth is perhaps testament to the popularity of horror films within Wales and the wider UK.

Abertoir is Wales' only horror film festival and since it was established in 2006 it has been gathering a loyal crowd of followers. So much so that in order to cram everything in to this year's festival, the organisers have had to extend the 2011 event by an extra day to accommodate all the screenings and events.

These include 25 films, some of which will be UK and world premières, plus there's a host of special guests, talks, masterclasses, live music, theatre and exhibitions.

I recently caught up with two members of the organising team behind the festival, Gaz Bailey and Rhys Fowler, and they filled me in on the festival. (I think they could tell I wasn't a die-hard horror fan, but they humoured me nonetheless.)

I put a few questions to festival director Gaz:

How did Abertoir begin?

Abertoir came about out of my love for horror films and being based in mid Wales, which was the furthest point from any horror festivals in the UK! My fortunate position of being in charge of programming at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre cinema, and the fact that Wales deserved to have a horror event, all played a part in creating Abertoir.

Back in 2006, Robin Hardy was doing a book tour with Cowboys For Christ, his novel follow-up to his cult film The Wicker Man. We managed to get him to come to Aberystwyth on Halloween, so I decided to tie in a screening of The Wicker Man. With such an exciting event occurring in Aber, I got carried away and added more and more films, a cheesy title and before long our festival was born.

Robin Hardy speaking at the 2010 Abertoir festival. Image courtesy of Abertoir

Robin Hardy speaking at the 2010 Abertoir festival. Image courtesy of Abertoir

How has the festival developed over the years?

The festival has developed mostly thanks to the wonderful venue we have been in. Horror isn't just about the latest new films, there are a lot of literary and theatrical origins to explore and the multi-purpose Aberystwyth Arts Centre provided us with the perfect chance to expand the scope of things on offer from the usual strand of films and Q&As that most festivals tend to follow.

We've now had three years of live music concerts, with Daemonia, The Damned and Zombina and the Skeletones all providing music for us. This year we have three bands on the same night - The Laze, Ghostfire and Devilish Presley.

Zombina and the Skeletones performing at Abertoir 2010. Image courtesy of Abertoir

Zombina and the Skeletones performing at Abertoir 2010. Image courtesy of Abertoir

We've had theatre ranging from Doug Bradley's excellent one-man show An Evening With Death, through to good old fashioned story-telling and even some Grand Guignol theatre. We've always had a sense of fun, and in the past have even recreated the old gimmicks of William Castle's films, such as installing a skeleton on a string to emerge from behind the screen during The House On Haunted Hill, and - my favourite - buying vibrating alarms for deaf people and hiding them in the seats during a screening of The Tingler, which sent the entire auditorium shaking!

We've also had support from the Film Agency for Wales who have allowed us to develop the program into something unique. This year for example, we have an art installation, an exhibition of Vincent Price movie posters, a pub quiz and even a tongue-in-cheek debate on censorship.

Yet for all of this, it's nonetheless a festival run by fans for fans, and we do our best to put every penny of our funding to keep it an affordable, accessible and exciting festival for people in Wales. And the fact that so many of our audience travel in from all over the UK to attend is something I'm still delighted and humbled by.

For those who've never been to Abertoir, what can people expect from the festival?

We pride ourselves on our friendly atmosphere, so for first timers, expect fun, expect to make friends, and expect the unexpected. Even if you don't know anyone here, you will by the end. We even have return visitors from Guernsey and Scotland making the trip again, a testimony that by the end of the six days, the atmosphere feels like a group of friends watching movies together having a good time.

You've recently announced the line-up for this year's festival in November. Tell us about some of the highlights.

Adding an extra day this year is exciting; we couldn't resist finding an excuse to spend more time doing something we love! As well as all the UK premières that we're having, I'm particularly pleased to be having the world première of Devil's Bridge, an independent Welsh-made horror film by Chris Crow (Panic Button), about a group of English guys who get on the wrong side of a crazed nationalist farmer.

Devil's Bridge film poster © Dogs Of Annwn

Devil's Bridge film poster © Dogs Of Annwn

We've got a whole host of exciting highlights, I think our theatre show about the life of Aleister Crowley should be fascinating but more elaborate is our music night, themed around the Vincent Price film The Masque Of The Red Death.

Vincent Price would have been 100 years old this year, and I was overjoyed when Victoria Price, his daughter, agreed to come over to our festival to do a special presentation on her father's life. We've always featured a Vincent Price movie since the festival started, so this is quite an honour for us.

Victoria Price. Image courtesy of Abertoir

Victoria Price. Image courtesy of Abertoir

How did you persuade Victoria Price to travel to Aberystwyth? And is it true that she and her late father Vincent have Welsh ancestry?

Victoria has written a detailed book about her father's life, and has spent many years being his biographer. Obviously, this year has been the busiest for her, and I expected that New Mexico to Wales in mid-November might not be the most tempting prospect. But I wrote anyway and was astounded when she replied to me full of excitement at the thought of being invited to Wales!

Price is a Welsh name, and Vincent Price's ancestors apparently came from here. Victoria's mother Mary, Vincent's second wife, was born in south Wales too so Victoria is excited to be coming over and digging into her family's Welsh roots.

Can you explain about your short films competition, and what the awarding of a Short Film Méliès d'Argent means?

We're incredibly proud to have been accepted into the European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation, a network of European festivals whose aim is to promote the "fantastic film genre". Along with Leeds and Frightfest, we are the only other UK festival representing the UK. Our short films competition, of which we had almost 130 submissions this year, will award a Short Film Méliès d'Argent.

This is only awarded to member festivals throughout Europe and after our winning film has been awarded the prize, it also goes through to the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival in Spain, whereby it will automatically be in the final nominations for a Méliès d'Or, the highly respected European prize for best short film. Seeing the winner from our festival in mid Wales going through to the giant Sitges festival itself is a true honour, no matter who wins!

What are your plans for the future of Abertoir?

We love what we do, and we'd love to do more of it! We want to do even bigger and better things, and are currently thinking about the next step forward. We've grown a lot in six years and are quite happy with growing further.

Abertoir 2011 runs from Tuesday 8 to Sunday 13 November. Browse the full programme of events at

Michael Sheen's date with Hamlet approaches

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 10:59 UK time, Thursday, 27 October 2011

Tomorrow, Friday 28 October, sees Welsh actor Michael Sheen take on the role of one of Shakespeare's most famous protagonists, Hamlet.

Sheen will step into the shoes of the Prince of Denmark at the Young Vic Theatre in London in one of the most highly anticipated shows of the year.

It sees a return to the stage for Sheen for the first time in five years; his last role was that of David Frost in Frost/Nixon before it was adapted for the silver screen.

Since then his star has been very much in the ascendency, with movie roles in the film adaptation of Frost/Nixon, The Damned United, The Special Relationship, Beautiful Boy, TRON: Legacy and Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris.

He was also integral to National Theatre Wales' production Passion, a three day production that brought the traditional passion play to a modern audience. Staged in Port Talbot over the Easter bank holiday weekend, the spectacle drew thousands of spectators to the town. Sheen was the creative director of the project and also played the lead role in the successful drama.

Sheen can also be seen in the forthcoming film Resistance, based on the novel by Welsh author Owen Sheers, which is released on 25 November.

Michael Sheen plays Hamlet at the Young Vic from 28 October to 21 January 2012. A limited number of day seats will be available to buy in person for each performance from 11 November onwards.

Below are some behind-the-scenes photos taken during rehearsals, and visit for more info on the production.

Michael Sheen in rehearsal at the Copperfield Rehearsal Rooms SE1. Photo: Simon Annand

Michael Sheen in rehearsals at the Copperfield Rehearsal Rooms SE1. Photo: Simon Annand

Michael Sheen (Hamlet), Eileen Walsh (Rosencrantz) and Adeel Akhtar (Guildenstern) in rehearsal at the Copperfield Rehearsal Rooms SE1. Photo: Simon Annand

Michael Sheen (Hamlet), Eileen Walsh (Rosencrantz) and Adeel Akhtar (Guildenstern) in rehearsals at the Copperfield Rehearsal Rooms SE1. Photo: Simon Annand

Michael Sheen in rehearsal at the Copperfield Rehearsal Rooms SE1. Photo: Simon Annand

Michael Sheen in rehearsals at the Copperfield Rehearsal Rooms SE1. Photo: Simon Annand

Roald Dahl's Someone Like You in 2012 World Book Night

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 16:32 UK time, Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Roald Dahl's collection of short stories Someone Like You has been selected as one of the 25 for the 2012 World Book Night.

Roald Dahl's book Someone Like You

Roald Dahl's book Someone Like You

Last year's inaugural event saw 1,000,000 free books distributed to readers across the UK. For the second year in 2012, the World Book Night date has moved from 5 March, which it shared with World Book Day, to 23 April 2012. This marks both the birth date of Shakespeare and coincides with UNESCO's International Day of the Book.

Cardiff-born author Dahl's book sits alongside other modern classics such as Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Dodie Smith's I Capture The Castle, while classics from Jane Austen (Pride And Prejudice) and Charles Dickens (A Tale Of Two Cities) have also been selected.

At the other end of the scale more recent titles include Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, Emma Donoghue's Booker shortlisted title Room and The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell.

Members of the public are now being invited to apply to be one of the 20,000 givers of 24 copies of their favourite book, chosen from the list of 25.

Books will be distributed by givers on the night of 23 April 2012, while further copies will be distributed centrally by World Book Night through prisons, libraries, hospitals and other places where books may not be readily available.

To see if your favourite book is on the list of titles, and to find out more about next year's mass book giveaway and how to get involved, visit

Up 'n' Under - Welsh Tour

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Polly March Polly March | 12:45 UK time, Wednesday, 26 October 2011

For those of you still weeping into your pints of Brains that the Rugby World Cup is over, a refreshing blast of sporty theatre is on its way to stages across Wales.

John Godber's Up 'n' Under was famously transferred to the big screen in 1998, for a film starring Samantha Janus, Neil Morrissey, Gary Olsen and Richard Ridings, filmed in Cardiff.

Now as the dust settles on Wales' emotional journey through the New Zealand tournament, Black Rat Productions is taking a new adaptation of the play on tour.

Shows kicked off at the Blackwood Miners' Institute in early October, before moving to the Swansea Grand and the Carmarthen theatres. Now, after a brief visit to London, the play is heading north to Colwyn Bay and Pwllhelli, before returning to delight crowds in south Wales.

Some of the cast of Up 'n' Under. Photo: Emyr Young

Some of the cast of Up 'n' Under. Photo: Emyr Young

This production of the popular observational comedy is directed by Richard Tunley and has been specially adapted for the company by Godber.

The prolific Yorkshireman originally penned Up 'n' Under about a rugby league team in the north east, but for the 2011 tour, it has been rewritten to focus on the dynamics of an amateur rugby union side in the south Wales valleys.

Photograph of John Godber

John Godber

He said: "I thoroughly enjoyed Black Rat's production of Bouncers last year, and as a former Rugby Union trialist years ago, I have always had a real interest in rugby union.

"Up 'n' Under the film, starring Neil Morrissey and Samantha Janus, was shot in Cardiff, and I had always thought there was not much of a difference between rugby league sevens and rugby union sevens.

"The chance to bespoke the play for a country which is rugby mad is a great opportunity and a real chance to bring the play to thousands of theatre goers, giving them the chance to see the vitality of (the play) up close and very personal."

The play was first performed at Hull Truck's Spring Street Theatre in 1984 and scooped the Laurence Olivier Comedy of the Year Award later that same year.

Black Rat Productions, which operates out of Penarth, enjoyed a very successful tour in 2010 of another Godber classic, Bouncers, set in a northern nightclub called Mr Cinders and focusing on the exploits of four doormen and their customers.

This time, audiences will be treated to a non-stop ribald sporting comedy, peppered with rugby songs, hilarity and a touching tale of teamwork.

Actor Gareth Bale. Photo: Emyr Young

Actor Gareth Bale. Photo: Emyr Young

The play follows retired rugby player Arthur who is jostled into an absurd bet, which sees him obligated to train the local sevens side.

Unfortunately the team can only muster four players in a challenge which sees them take on what is famously the best team in the Rhondda Valleys.

Brimful of confidence, Arthur encourages Hazel, who runs a local bodybuilding gym, to help him whip the boys into shape. However, he faces an uphill struggle to convince them that a win is possible.

The Up 'n' Under cast in the changing room. Photo: Emyr Young

The Up 'n' Under cast in the changing room. Photo: Emyr Young

Up 'n' Under stars Gareth Bale, Dion Davies, Rhys Matthews, Richard Shackley, Giles Thomas and Sara Lloyd-Gregory.

The tour is a co-production between Black Rat Productions, Blackwood Miners' Institute and RCT Theatres, with funding support from the Arts Council of Wales and Welsh Government. It comes to Theatr Colwyn, Colwyn Bay, on Tuesday 1 November at 7.30pm, before moving to Neaudd Dwfor in Pwllhelli.

The characters in celebratory mood. Photo: Emyr Young

The characters in celebratory mood. Photo: Emyr Young

The team then head back south to the home of Welsh rugby in the Valleys and are at the Congress Theatre in Cwmbran on 7 November, Barry Memorial Hall on 8 November, Beaufort Theatre in Ebbw Vale on 9 November, The Muni in Pontypridd on 10 November.

The play then enjoys two nights at the Richard Burton Theatre at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, before concluding its run at the Torch Theatre in Milford Haven on 15 November.

For tickets and information visit

Death in Hollywood: the Peg Entwistle story

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Martha Owen Martha Owen | 09:19 UK time, Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Hollywood sign hasn't always been a symbol for the pursuit of fame and fortune.

Erected in 1923 and reading 'Hollywoodland', it was originally an advert for a nearby housing development. In fact, it was the death of a Welsh actress in 1932 which helped spawn the potent symbolism now associated with the iconic white lettering lining the Los Angeles hills.

Millicent Lilian Entwistle, commonly known as Peg Entwistle, was born in Port Talbot on 5 February 1908. Her parents returned to West Kensington, London, where Entwistle spent her early childhood. She was a striking platinum blonde with sharp delicate features and an arresting presence, seemingly poised for stardom.

Detail from Peg Entwistle's birth certificate

Detail from Peg Entwistle's birth certificate

Entwistle was an accomplished actress. So good, in fact, that Bette Davies cited one of her leading Broadway performances as the reason she wanted to act: "I had to be an actress... exactly like Peg Entwistle."

Unfortunately, Entwistle's ill-fortune far outweighed the good. She lost both her parents at a young age, her mother to illness and her father in a hit-and-run accident following the family's emigration to America in 1922. It was after this tragedy that Entwistle determined to carve out a career as an actress, remaining in New York City while her brothers stayed with an uncle in Ohio.

A stint as a Broadway performer followed, initially minor roles in productions, including a non-speaking part alongside Ethel Barrymore in Hamlet in 1925, before she landed her first credited role in The Man From Toronto a year later.

She worked consistently from 1926 onwards, appearing in nine productions, including Tommy, Sherlock Holmes and Little Women. Though she enjoyed some success, work was hard to come by and often brief: her last Broadway role in A Night Of Barrie closed after barely a month in early 1932.

Photograph of Peg Entwistle (courtesy of the Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection/Hollywood Sign Trust ©

Photograph of Peg Entwistle (courtesy of the Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection/Hollywood Sign Trust ©

Entwistle had moved to Los Angeles by May 1932, appearing alongside Billie Burke in The Mad Hopes. She quickly won her first film role as Hazel Cousins in Thirteen Women, since cited as one of the first female ensemble films.

Unfortunately, the film was both a commercial and critical failure, suffering huge cuts following its previews which meant Entwistle barely featured in the final edit. Thirteen Women wouldn't premiere until a month after her death but, clearly unhappy with her performance, RKO studios failed to renew her contract and offers for further work dried up.

With her professional life stalling, Entwistle had also suffered the breakdown of her marriage to fellow actor Robert Keith in 1929. She developed depression, her uncle later confiding in police officers that he was aware of her "intense mental anguish."

On 18 September 1932, the body of young woman was found in the ravine below Mount Lee in the Hollywood hills. Dominating the hillside above was the 50-foot bold lettering reading "Hollywoodland'.

A female hiker made the tragic discovery. She telephoned the central Los Angeles police station and, according to the subsequent police report, said: "I was hiking near the Hollywoodland sign today and near the bottom I found a woman's shoe and jacket. A little further on I noticed a purse. In it was a suicide note.

"I looked down the mountain and saw a body. I don't want any publicity in this matter, so I wrapped up the jacket, shoes and purse in a bundle and laid them on the steps of the Hollywood police station." Then she hung up. The identity of the hiker was never established.

The note in the purse read: "I am afraid I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E"

The identity of the body was initially a mystery, leading to the suicide note's publication in several newspapers. Charles Entwistle, Peg's uncle, eventually made the connection between the actress's disappearance and the note's signed initials and, two days after the hiker's discovery, identified the young woman as his niece.

Entwistle, it seems, had leapt to her death from the Hollywoodland sign after telling her uncle she was visiting some friends and a drugstore. It is thought she carried the suicide note on her person as she set off for the hills, hiking up Mount Lee before scaling a maintenance ladder on the back of the sign's letter 'H'.

It was around two days before Peg Entwistle's body was found in a ravine 140 feet beneath the sign. Reaching a verdict of suicide, the coroner's report established that Entwistle had died from multiple fractures of the pelvis.

The funeral was held on 20 September 1932 in Hollywood before her ashes were sent to Ohio to be interred with her father's. The grave remained unmarked until 2010 when, on 16 September following a campaign on Facebook, the Entwistles' burial site was given an engraved granite marker.

The tragedy of Peg Entwistle has been absorbed into Hollywood folklore; for many hers is another tale of adoration and acclaim promised and devastation delivered, one that so many aspiring performers have suffered at the mercy of Tinseltown.

Yet despite the unfortunate events leading up to her death, the depth of Entwistle's despair clearly lay in suffering beyond her recent professional setbacks. Her quietly accomplished Broadway career is evidence of her talent as an actress, and the treatment she received from the notoriously fickle Hollywood studios was not particularly unusual, rather a part and parcel of many painful journeys to the top.

What is certain is that in her final act, Peg Entwistle transformed herself into the symbol of thwarted ambition that Hollywood came to represent for many failed performers, ensuring the legendary status of both the Hollywood sign and the girl who jumped from its dizzying heights.

Closing week events at the Literature Lounge

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 17:15 UK time, Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Literature Lounge set up by Literature Wales for the month of October is now in its final week, and it's concluding with an array of events for children and adults alike.

Literature Wales established the pop-up open space for one month only in an empty unit in Cardiff's St David's shopping complex. Although the venture is now drawing to an end, there are some exciting half term events and author talks still to squeeze in this week.

Tomorrow morning (Wednesday) will see Gwyneth Glyn present stories and songs for babies and children in the medium of Welsh, while on Wednesday evening from 7pm the national poet of Wales Gillian Clarke will be performing some of her work alongside the this year's National Eisteddfod Chaired poet Rhys Iorwerth in a bilingual event.

On Friday there will be a family day with games, workshops and literary fun. The day will also include a bilingual rapping/performance workshop with Rufus Mufasa from 3-5pm. Plus on Saturday afternoon from 2pm, children's author Jenny Sullivan reads from her work and launches her new book Full Moon.

Literature Wales are planning to close the Literature Lounge with a party on Sunday afternoon from 2pm. Plans are still being finalised - so visit the Literature Wales website for the latest information - but they will be joining forces with National Theatre Wales and their Word4Word spoken word and poetry project. There will be a two hour open mic slot on the theme of journeys, and Welsh poet Mab Jones will be headlining the event.

Brecon Arts Festival

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Polly March Polly March | 10:50 UK time, Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Half term can often be a time of mass head-scratching as harassed parents rack their brains for something fresh and interesting to entertain their little ones.

This year the cultural group Artbeat Brecon appears to have the ultimate answer for distraction, with a week-long programme of arts and crafts events which will captivate children and parents alike.

The second annual Brecon Art Festival is taking place at various venues across the town and runs until October 30.

The festival sees Brecon's wealth of arts studios and galleries opening their doors to visitors to demonstrate and exhibit a range of artistic endeavours. Most days see jewellery-making and craft demonstrations from local artists and many of the town's traders have joined in to display artwork in their windows as part of the festival.

Brecon Arts Festival image

Meanwhile hands-on workshops include stained glass making, paper mosaic pictures, percussion, mask making, life drawing, poetry and cartoons, with events running most days.

The stained glass making class is being led by Caroley Bergman at the cathedral's Tithe Barn and will teach copper foiling and leaded work. Caroley also works in mosaics and has been commissioned to create many beautiful windows throughout her 30-year career, including the two light window at Llangunnor Church, near Carmarthen.

Throughout the week, visitors to the festival are asked to contribute to public arts boards outside St Mary's Church, using any form of media they wish to share their memories and impressions of Brecon. The finished boards will then go on show at the library throughout November.

Most evenings see live classical music events as part of the Brecon Baroque Festival, but there is also a jazz night at Theatr Brycheiniog on Tuesday, with trumpeter Chris Hodgkins and his quartet. On Wednesday Ian Milton shares a "miscellany" of Welsh stories, poems and songs with harp accompaniment at The Hours on Ship Street.

There will also be open mic events and an evening of poetry with Huw Parsons as well as an acoustic live event with Mike Peters from The Alarm.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday see a host of 'batty' activities for youngsters keen to learn more about the winged beasts living at Brecknock Museum and capture their thoughts in art form.

But it's not just about arts - the various techniques of flower arranging and bellringing will also be on display for those wishing to take part, with a demonstration at florist Becca Jane and bellringing at the belfry of St Mary's Church on Wednesday and Friday.

And a puppet show will bring the magic of pirates to life on Thursday as the Vagabondi Puppet Theatre stage A Pirate's Life For Me and a puppet making workshop with a treasure hunt.

The art of green woodwork will be demonstrated at St Mary's Church garden on Friday and Saturday by Gareth Irwin as he uses newly felled trees and branches and works them using hand tools and age-old techniques.

The week-long schedule of events is supported by Brecon Beacons National Park Authority's Collabor8 project.

Julia Blazer from Oh! is this year's festival co-ordinator and believes the enthusiasm is there to make the festival an annual event.

Nick Stewart of the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority said: "We are pleased to be working with and supporting Artbeat to put on the second Brecon Arts Festival.

"This is what Collabor8 is all about; people working together to deliver great visitor experiences that contribute to thriving destinations.

"Brecon Arts Festival 2011 helps those involved in the arts in whatever form tap into the growing market of visitors wanting to take part in enjoyable, creative experiences while on holiday."

For all the event and exhibition listings, pick up a free guide from around town (or from Oh!, 7 The Struet) or visit for a downloadable copy.

Welsh horror film Devil's Bridge to première at Abertoir

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 10:15 UK time, Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Home-grown horror film Devil's Bridge will have its world première at Abertoir 2011, the Welsh horror film festival held in Aberystwyth in November.

Devil's Bridge is the directorial début from director Chris Crow, who hails from Cardiff and has recently been enjoying praise for his second feature film Panic Button.

A self-financed joint venture between two fledgling Welsh production companies, Devil's Bridge was shot in 2009 on various locations in Cardiff and west Wales.

The majority was filmed on Allt Y Coed farm in Poppit Sands, Cardigan while other major filming locations include Woodhouse Wood near Carmarthen, Pencraig Farm and Cottages in Llangoedmor, the Coal Exchange in Cardiff and the Rose and Crown pub in Goodwick.

Devil's Bridge film poster © Dogs Of Annwn Ltd.

Devil's Bridge film poster © Dogs Of Annwn Ltd.

One of the producers of Devil's Bridge, David Lloyd, has been in touch to tell me a bit more about it. He describes the film as "a raw and visceral survival horror/psychological thriller in the mould of Wolf Creek, Straw Dogs and Deliverance, given a Welsh twist and perspective."

The story follows three friends on a road trip to the rural wilds of Wales, led by Sean (played by Joseph Millson, who recently appeared in Channel 4 comedy Campus) who is on the path of a shady business deal.

They have a chance encounter with a local farmer Bill Parry (played by Welsh actor Joshua Richards) who is described as a 'farmer dangerously hateful and paranoid of all around him'. I obviously haven't seen the film, but I don't much like the sound of Bill.

Take a look at a few stills from the film, some of which capture the beauty of the stunning Pembrokeshire scenery:

Sean (Joesph Millson), Danny (Gary Mavers) and Adam (Michael Jibson) take in the scenery at local landmark Devil's Bridge. Photo © Dogs Of Annwn Ltd.

Sean (Joseph Millson), Danny (Gary Mavers) and Adam (Michael Jibson) take in the scenery at local landmark Devil's Bridge. Photo © Dogs Of Annwn Ltd.

The actors view the spectacular Pembrokeshire scenery, with added rock formation, the Devil's Bridge of the film's title. Photo © Dogs Of Annwn Ltd.

The actors view the spectacular Pembrokeshire scenery, with added rock formation, the Devil's Bridge of the film's title. Photo © Dogs Of Annwn Ltd.

A police officer played by David Schofield interviews Sean (Joseph Millson) about events at Devil's Bridge. Photo © Dogs Of Annwn Ltd.

A police officer played by David Schofield interviews Sean (Millson) about events at Devil's Bridge. Photo © Dogs Of Annwn Ltd.

Bill Parry (Josh Richards) hunts his prey. Photo © Dogs Of Annwn Ltd.

Bill Parry (Joshua Richards) hunts his prey. Photo © Dogs Of Annwn Ltd.

As Sean (Joseph Millson) flees the vengeful Bill Parry (Josh Richards) he chances across three scarecrows, mistaking them in the dim light for help. Photo © Dogs Of Annwn Ltd.

As Sean (Millson) flees the vengeful Bill Parry (Richards) he chances across three scarecrows, mistaking them in the dim light for help. Photo © Dogs Of Annwn Ltd.

Devil's Bridge will enjoy its world première at Abertoir on Saturday 12 November at 5pm. Abertoir takes place at Aberystwyth Arts Centre from 8-13 November 2011.

The film has also recently been picked by major international distributor eOne Entertainment, which is a bit of a coup for a low budget, home-grown movie, and a DVD/Blu-ray release date in early 2012 now looks likely.

Related links:

Woyzeck on the Highveld

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Polly March Polly March | 16:22 UK time, Monday, 24 October 2011

Touring puppeteers Handspring bring their much-lauded latest production to Wales this week.

The internationally acclaimed South African company were the creative genius behind the huge horse puppets in the award winning and long-running West End adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, where the astonishing life-sized steeds are beloved characters in their own right.

Their latest effort, Woyzeck on the Highveld, reworks the German writer Georg Büchner’s tragic tale of an ordinary German soldier struggling in an unsympathetic world in the 1800s, transposing it to 1950s Johannesburg.

In this version Woyzeck is a migrant worker struggling to make sense of the uncaring world around him and his relationships with others, especially his wife and her betrayal. It deals with the themes of social displacement, jealousy and eventually murder. The Johannesburg of that era makes a poignant setting for a story where there exists such a chasm between the fortunate and the not so fortunate.

The story is told via a mix of puppetry, live performance and film and was originally created in 1992, then directed and designed by the famous artist and film-maker William Kentridge.

Puppets in Woyzeck on the Highveld

Puppets in Woyzeck on the Highveld

The 2011 production, which began at the Barbican in London in September, is directed by Luc de Wit and marks the first collaboration between the Cape Town based company and Kentridge.

Most of the puppets are two thirds life-size and have been developed using Kentridge’s original charcoal animations, which also star. They are operated via rods by the actors to help tell the story and although the cast for this production does not boast a faithful horse, it does include a miniature rhino!

The puppets’ presence helps to accentuate the darker moments of the play and also to transport the audience to the era in question.

The tour is produced by UK Arts International and is supported by Arts Council Wales and the Welsh government.

Handspring was founded in 1981 and has since earned international renown for using puppets to explore theatre in a South African context. The company won the Olivier Award, Evening Standard award and Critics’ Circle Theatre award for best design for War Horse; they have since won five Tony Awards in the US.

Woyzeck on the Highveld is at the Wales Millennium Centre on October 25 and 26, with a matinee on Wednesday at 1.30pm. For tickets visit

It then moves to the Aberystwyth Arts Centre from Friday 28 and Saturday 29 October, with performances at 7.30pm and a matinee on Saturday at 2pm. For tickets visit

Cardiff University's Creative Minds festival offers events for all

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 11:05 UK time, Friday, 21 October 2011

A new festival organised by Cardiff University offers the chance to hear some of Wales' leading authors, poets and scholars speak about their latest works, with many of the events absolutely free of charge.

The launch weekend of the Creative Minds festival takes place on Friday 28 and Saturday 29 October, but this just marks the start of a series of events that continues into the remainder of the year.

The festival kicks off on the Friday evening with a free screening and post-film discussion of Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Rear Window.

Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock

Then on the Saturday there are more events than you can shake a stick at, but these are some of the ones that I've picked out:

Gwyneth Lewis. Photo: Tim Brett

Gwyneth Lewis. Photo: Tim Brett

  • The inaugural national poet of Wales Gwyneth Lewis will talk about her book The Meat Tree, one of Seren's series New Stories from the Mabinogion.
  • Lewis will also take part, alongside fellow author Chris Meredith, in a Desert Island Literature event in which both will share their favourite poems, plays and passages of literature.
  • Journey Back in Time with Jim Cowan involves a walk around Cathays Park in which you can learn about the interesting history of the park and surrounding area.
  • There are three different in conversation events with author Ned Thomas, the winner of the Welsh language 2011 Wales Book of the Year prize, one of which is in the medium of Welsh.
  • John Harrison, winner of this year's English language Welsh Book of the Year prize for Cloud Atlas, will be speaking about his award-winning travel novel.
  • Plus there's a screening of Ang Lee's 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility, followed by a panel discussion, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen's first novel.

All of the events above are free of charge, and there are many more to choose from, but booking is essential for many of the events. To browse the full schedule and to book a place, visit the website

The Creative Minds festival has been organised by the university as part of the @CreativeCardiff showcase, which seeks to celebrate the city's wealth of creative talent.

Beyond the launch weekend, the programme will continue with 38 different talks, concerts, comedy nights, author readings and more, scheduled across November and December 2011.

National Theatre Wales tours with musical The Village Social

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 13:40 UK time, Thursday, 20 October 2011

National Theatre Wales take their first ever musical theatre production on a tour of Wales this week.

This production couldn't be more different from the hugely successful, large-scale Passion that took over Port Talbot during the Easter bank holiday weekend. The modern take on the traditional passion play, starring Michael Sheen, drew thousands of spectators to the town and Aberavon beach to witness the spectacle.

The Village Social, which has been created by Dafydd James and Ben Lewis, will instead play to much smaller audiences when it tours village halls across Wales.

The Village Social cast members: Gwydion Rhys, Darren Lawrence, Rebecca Harries, Oliver Wood, Carys Eleri and Sue Roderick. Image: Warren Orchard/National Theatre Wales

The Village Social cast members: Gwydion Rhys, Darren Lawrence, Rebecca Harries, Oliver Wood, Carys Eleri and Sue Roderick. Image: Warren Orchard/National Theatre Wales

BBC Radio Wales reporter Huw Thomas has been behind the scenes at rehearsals for the production, which enjoys its first show in Rudry, Caerphilly tonight. In his piece, which was broadcast on Good Morning Wales earlier today, Huw speaks to Dafydd James, the co-creator and musical director, who explains a little about the production and actor Darren Lawrence, who says that touring small venues is crucial in attracting new theatre audiences.

Creators of The Village Social, Ben Lewis and Dafydd James. Image: Warren Orchard/National Theatre Wales

Creators of The Village Social, Ben Lewis and Dafydd James. Image: Warren Orchard/National Theatre Wales

Huw also speaks to Catherine Paskell who speaks about working with youngsters from Valley Kids, just one of the groups of young people who will be working with the theatre as part of the production in each of the tour locations.

Take a listen to the piece:

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

The Village Social tours Wales throughout October and November 2011. Find out more about the production, and see where it's being performed near you, on the National Theatre Wales website.

You can also hear more about it on the Radio Wales Arts Show next Wednesday at 7 o'clock.

Crunch festival returns to Hay

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 10:00 UK time, Thursday, 20 October 2011

Crunch, the annual festival that combines art, philosophy and music, returns to Hay-on-Wye next month with more speakers, discussions and live music than ever before.

Crunch 2011 will bring together over 500 art industry professionals, from curators, critics and writers to musicians, gallery directors and artists to debate the issues facing art in contemporary society.

Welsh poet Owen Sheers will be taking part in a discussion at the festival alongside the artistic director of National Theatre Wales John McGrath, and Arts Council of Wales chair Dai Smith.

Owen Sheers. Photo © Charlotte Medlicott

Owen Sheers. Photo © Charlotte Medlicott

The trio will be discussing the history of community involvement in the arts in Wales at the event, entitled The Dragon’s Heart, on Saturday 19 November. All three have had recent experience of engaging with arts projects in local communities: McGrath in relation to the hugely successful Passion in Port Talbot, Sheers with various poetry projects and Smith with his work with the ACW.

Musical highlights at this year's festival are set to include Cardiff rising star Siôn Russell Jones, British Sea Power, Patti Plinko, Emily Barker, The Red Clay Halo and Mara Carlyle, whose beautiful track Pianni was featured in a cat-infested TV advert for Ikea not so long ago. (Other Swedish furniture chains are available.)

There's also a range of comedy, cabaret and documentary films on offer, together with art exhibitions from galleries including Paradise Row, Poppy Sebire, The Hua Gallery, Sumarria Lunn and Eb&Flow.

Crunch 2011 runs from Friday 18 November to Sunday 20 November, and you can browse the full programme of events on the festival website:

Tickets on sale for Soundtrack International Film and Music Festival

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Polly March Polly March | 14:45 UK time, Tuesday, 18 October 2011

This November sees the third Soundtrack festival kicking off in Cardiff, with organisers confident they have lined up the best combination of screenings, talks and music events yet.

Those disappointed to see the event take a brief hiatus in 2010 will be relieved to know tickets went on sale yesterday, Monday 17 October, as the final programme line-up was announced.

The festival is all about celebrating the relationship between music and the moving image through live gigs, film viewings and conversations with industry experts.

Highlights include a performance by the Guillemots, nominated for the 2006 Mercury Music prize. The band will be at the Coal Exchange on 18 November to improvise a live score to a film, the title of which the festival is currently keeping tight-lipped about.

Guillemots, who will be taking part in Soundtrack 2011


Suzanne Alizart, interim chief executive at the Film Agency for Wales, which fund the festival, said: "This is a flagship event for the Film Agency, which has demonstrated from its first outing its commitment to internationally renowned film and music talent, spotlighting Wales to the world.

"This year's programme once again reflects our ability to attract major names in the film and music world, with more film previews than ever before and an expansion into Newport for the first time."

Things kick off on 16 November with a screening of Steve McQueen's Shame starring Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender. Set in New York, the film explores Brandon's (Fassbender) sex addiction as his control over his life slips through his fingers when his sister Sissy (Mulligan) turns up to stay with him out of the blue. Its score is described as "powerful" by Soundtrack organisers and features big New York names like Blondie, Tom Tom Club, John Coltrane and Chic.

The stunning music of José González (the man who brought the world the rousing Heartbeats and Crosses on his début Veneer album) marks the subject of the second film, this time being screened free of charge in Newport at the film

José González

José González

The documentary is an observational portrait of an eccentric genius. Places are limited so viewers will need to email to secure a seat. There is also another screening on 18 November at Chapter Arts Centre with a Q&A with director Fredrik Egerstrand.

The darker undercurrents of the Black Metal genre and accompanying culture will be explored with a screening of Until The Light Takes Us - a documentary looking at the origins of the music and how its anti-Christian leanings have been sensationalised in the mainstream

The free event, also at Newport Film School, will see a simultaneous performance from Norwegian Black Metal heroes Dimmu Borgir in Cardiff University on 17 November.

Billed as the pick of the festival is a screening of the independent film Bellflower, directed by Evan Glodell, which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival & SXSW Film Festival 2011. It's about two friends obsessed with Mad Max who build flame-throwers and cars preparing for an imagined world apocalypse. Due to its limited budget the film couldn't stretch to the necessary insurance or permits, so is in many places, just as dangerous as it looks.

Stanley Kubrick's chilling A Clockwork Orange celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and the festival is marking this with a screening, an exclusive exhibition of documents from the Stanley Kubrick Archive and a discussion panel with guests from the BBFC and the Archive.

The demise of the independent record shop and the strength of feeling that keeps the dwindling few from dying out all together, form the subject matter of documentary Sound It Out, which is being presented in association with Cardiff's Spillers Records.

The film focuses on the very last surviving vinyl record shop in Teesside and how its customers ensure it continues to thrive. This screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Jeanie Finlay and Spillers Records' Ashli Todd. Those wearing a Spillers Record T shirt to the event will get a discount on entry.

Don Letts' 2005 film Punk Attitude, about the evolution of punk with interviews from key figures, also features in the line-up and will be coupled with an In Conversation event with the Grammy award winning Letts about his career.

Letts is famous for chronicling the Punk scene and has produced more than 300 music videos for artists such as Bob Marley, Elvis Costello and The Clash, along with films of artists such as The Jam and Gil Scott-Heron. He will also talk about the influences of punk and that iconic photograph of him standing up to police during the Notting Hill riots, chosen by The Clash as the cover of Black Market Clash.

Soundtrack also welcomes comedian Adam Buxton (of Adam and Joe fame), who will bring his extremely popular show Bug: The Evolution of Music Video to Cardiff for the first time. The event enjoyed five sold out nights at the Edinburgh Festival and has attracted something of a cult following. It showcases new music videos by everyone from those working with zero budgets to household names and explores how the digital era has provided a new democracy for the genre.

The festival closes with Coriolanus, Ralph Fiennes' directorial début of the Shakespearean tragedy.

Ralph Fiennes in Coriolanus

Ralph Fiennes in Coriolanus

Fiennes is unashamed in drawing parallels between the ancient themes of power and politics and the modern era and also stars as the protagonist, a legendary battle leader more at home on the fields of war than in the realm of the consul of Rome. It is accompanied by a score from Ivor Novello and BAFTA nominated composer Ilan Eshkeri.

The full programme and details on how to obtain tickets may be found on You can also follow Soundtrack on Twitter: @Soundtrack_Fest.

Is there a future for The Cowbridge Slasher?

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Phil Rickman Phil Rickman | 10:55 UK time, Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The dark nights are here, which can mean only one thing: it must be time for another series of the BBC Radio Wales book programme, Phil The Shelf.

It starts on 13 November, to be exact, in the run-up to Christmas - on the basis that one of the great festive traditions is sitting down with a good book, preferably in front of a log fire with no carbon emissions.

We're not quite sure who we're having on the programme yet, but definitely a few Christmas crackers... and possibly a few turkeys. And, as usual, we'll be hoping for a little Christmas magic for at least one contestant in the literary lottery that is our Shelfstarters spot.

As regular listeners know, The Shelf is probably the only book programme in the world that actually gives listeners a chance to get published. You send us the first 25 pages of your unpublished novel, plus a one or two page synopsis of the plot, and if we think it has a chance we'll send it to a publisher or literary agent for an opinion... or even a future contract. Yes, at least three of our Shelfstarters have actually gone on to get published.

OK, why is this better than sending it yourself?

Well, if you submit a manuscript or a sample direct to a publisher or agent you'll normally receive what's known as a rejection slip. This is a very brief response which normally says something like, "Thank you for offering us The Cowbridge Slasher, which unfortunately, we do not consider suitable for our lists at the present time."

What it will not say is: your story is ludicrous, your characterisation flimsy at best and we might have felt slightly more charitable if you hadn't printed it single-spaced on both sides of the paper.

However, if Phil The Shelf sends your work to a publisher or agent, it's part of the deal that the publisher or agent comes on the programme to explain exactly why he or she is turning it down and what you could do to make it a better publishing proposition. If their reasoning doesn't make sense, we tell them. If we think another publisher might be more likely to accept your book, we'll tell you afterwards. You have nothing to lose except your illusions, and, in most cases, it's proved to be a worthwhile exercise.

So... what are we looking for?

Essentially, new novels, as there's not much of a market for short stories and non-fiction can depend more on the subject matter than the writer's abilities.

What kind of novels, then?

Anything from pulp fiction to serious literature, from macho-thrillers to chick-lit. Children's books are also a possibility. And the ground rules are the same: you send us the first 25 pages and a synopsis of the plot and agree to spend a few minutes on the radio discussing them.

Why the first 25 pages?

Because that's as far as most publishers bother to read before rejecting a book. We've had writers who've said, "Oh, if only he'd read the next hundred pages he'd have seen exactly where the story was going." Maybe he would, but he knows that a reader who isn't hooked by page 25 is very unlikely to want to find out.

What do we mean by a synopsis?

What we don't mean is a chapter-by-chapter outline of the entire story. A good piece of advice is to pretend you're writing the blurb - that's the bit inside the front flap designed to seduce the reader. You know the kind of thing: In the prosperous country town of Cowbridge, 12 people have been hacked to death by a killer with a bizarre trademark...

Give it a big build-up, but make it clear that you're in control and know exactly how the plot develops.

If the publisher likes it, what happens next?

Well, it would be nice to say you'd have a contract in the post by the end of the week, together with £50,000 cheque. But these are uncertain times for publishers; they rarely make snap decisions and they hardly ever offer anywhere near that much for a first novel.

First of all, they'll want to see the entire manuscript, which they'll then run past the Sales and Marketing department. Publishing is an industry, and it doesn't matter how beautifully-written it is - if S&M don't think it's going to shift enough copies, it's no deal. But at least you'll know at that stage that you've got what it takes and all you need is the right formula.

What are you waiting for? Twenty five pages and a synopsis, please, to:

BBC Wales Wrexham
Creative Industries Building
Glyndwr University
LL11 2AW

The sooner you send it, the more likely it is to get into the autumn series. And this time next year you could be a millionaire.


Noye's Fludde begins tour of Wales

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Polly March Polly March | 10:31 UK time, Tuesday, 18 October 2011

One of the best-loved biblical stories of all time is to be staged in five venues across Wales from this week.

Benjamin Britten's opera Noye's Fludde takes the popular Noah's Ark tale and turns it on its head using words from the medieval Chester mystery play, this time with an important new environmental twist.

More than 1,000 schoolchildren and young people have been involved in the productions, which are being led by Mid Wales Opera with the first outing being staged at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre.

The company has undertaken the daunting task of staging the opera in just eight days with performances for the public on Thursday.

Dozens of actors, singers, dancers and musicians from the local area will take to the stage, accompanied by professionals from the company's own orchestra and opera team and choreography from Ballet Cymru.

The show finds biblical hero Mr Noah in something of a pickle, abandoned by a wayward Mrs Noah who has got mixed up with 'the wrong sort' and ditched him and her children. At the same time Mr Noah finds himself unable to turn his attention away from how quickly deforestation is ravaging his beloved planet. The plot sees him determined to win back his wife, while saving the world. No mean feat!

The project is being supported by the Arts Council of Wales, the Colwinston Trust and Size of Wales - a unique scheme launched last year by the Prince of Wales. Size of Wales aims to protect an area of tropical rain forest the size of Wales from the forces of deforestation and illegal logging and is driven by Cardiff-based charity The Waterloo Foundation.

Fitting it is then that the Voice of God in the production will be provided by the environmentalist and television celebrity Iolo Williams.

He said: "I am delighted to be involved in such an exciting and important project. "The issues of climate change that the production highlights are of great importance to our children and I welcome Size of Wales' involvement."

Mr Noye will be played by baritone Charles Johnston with mezzo-soprano Ann Atkinson as his wife Mrs Noye, who is partial to a bit of sunbathing.

All the others role are taken by youngsters from schools, youth theatre groups, dance groups and orchestras across Wales, conducted by Mid Wales Opera's Artistic Director, Nicholas Cleobury.

The idea behind this interpretation was dreamt up by Clare Williams after 25 years of producing huge and engaging theatrical events for young people.

She said: "It's a great challenge to mount an opera in eight days, but Wales is so rich in musical and theatrical talent that we are confident that the young people will do the piece justice."

Mid Wales Opera Company will be resident in Aberystwyth Arts Centre from 16-20 October working with the following schools: Ysgol Gymraeg, Plas Crug Primary School, Craig yr Wylfa Primary School, Llancynfelin Primary School, Talybont, Comins Coch Primary School and Tregaron Secondary School.

The performances will be on Thursday 20 October at 1pm and 7pm. Tickets are available from Aberystwyth Arts Centre ticket office 01970 62 32 32 or go online:

The company will also tour the production through the winter and into Spring 2012 at four other venues. These are Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon, Gwyn Hall, Neath, Park and Dare Theatre, Treorchy and Theatr Hafren, Newtown.

For further information and full tour details visit To find out more about the Size of Wales project and how to get involved visit

My Llyn Peninsula

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Polly March Polly March | 15:34 UK time, Monday, 17 October 2011

Stunning photographs of the Llŷn Peninsula form the basis of a new exhibition at the Oriel Plas Glyn-y-Weddw in Llanbedrog, Pwllheli.

Adults and children alike were invited to share their thoughts on what the historic and picturesque coastline means to them by capturing those expressions on film and then submitting them to the gallery.

Curator Mari Lewis-Jones said: "We were not looking for the best technical photograph. Originality is what we were after.

"We asked people what came to mind when they think of 'Pen Llyn'?

"It could be anything from the view from your garden to a special building, or even individuals who make the area special to you."

What resulted was a collection of images capturing the immense peace of one of Wales' most tranquil spots in an intensely vibrant and varied way.

The winning picture Gwenllian and Rhun by Greta Hughes, catches two children playing in the sea-drenched sand at low tide with a stunning expanse of beach and smoky coastline behind them. It and a selection of other images have been framed and will be displayed alongside the current exhibition by local photographer, Gareth Jenkins, who was one of the competition judges.

Gwenllian and Rhun by Greta Hughes

Gwenllian and Rhun by Greta Hughes

Second prize went to Jonty Storey for an intriguing portrait of St Tudwals, affectionately known as 'St Tuds' while Peter Baumann scooped third for a shot of wonderfully patterned sand with a mirror shard reflecting the brightly coloured facades of beach huts.

St Tuds by Jonty Storey

St Tuds by Jonty Storey

Highly commended were pieces by Charles Henshaw, Gillian Walker and Guto Lloyd Davies.

The exhibition will run until 6 November alongside work by Gareth Thomas, who explores the effects of light and colour on the landscape, mainly in watercolour, but with works in all media including pastel applied over watercolour.

Abersoch Beach by Peter Baumann

Abersoch Beach by Peter Baumann

Works by Wrexham artist Keith Bowen are also on show, with a series of small oil paintings of the Ancient Churches of Llyn as well as his usual subjects of countryside figures and mountain streams.

London-born Daniel Roberson has lived in Machynlleth, Mid Wales for the last seven years where he has been developing his work. On show at the gallery are his realist painters inspired by the places he has been and the people he has met. His current exhibition at Oriel Plas Glyn y Weddw is entitled Memory, Observation and Imagination.

Made in Roath arts festival gets underway

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 16:12 UK time, Friday, 14 October 2011

Community arts festival Made in Roath returns this weekend, with some events having already kicked off today in the Cardiff district.

The small hub of Roath in Cardiff is home to a wealth of artistic talent, and to celebrate this the arts festival Made in Roath sprung to life in 2009.

This weekend's festival, which is organised in collaboration with the Milkwood Gallery, promises a range of activities to get involved with. The work of both established and emerging artists will be on show not just in galleries but also in shops, houses - acting as open studios - and even the parks in the area.

There'll also be a large choice of spoken word and musical events taking place while Penylan library will host readings and workshops by local authors and poets plus Room to Read, an outdoor group reading aloud event.

A selection of images from last year's Made in Roath festival, courtesy of Fra Beecher

A selection of images from last year's Made in Roath festival, courtesy of Fra Beecher

Made in Roath runs from today, Friday 14, to Sunday 16 October. To see exactly what's going and how you can get involved, visit the website.

Daniel Owen Festival begins this weekend in Mold

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Polly March Polly March | 14:00 UK time, Friday, 14 October 2011

A festival to celebrate the lifetime achievements of the man they call the Welsh Dickens gets underway in Mold, Flintshire this weekend.

Author Daniel Owen was born in 1836 into a mining family and is seen by many as representative of the typical struggles and issues of local life in that era.

His father and two of his brothers were drowned in a mining accident when he was very young, an event that was to shape his life for years to come and left surviving members of the family on the brink of destitution.

After early exposure to the teachings of the Calvinistic Methodist Church, Owen was apprenticed to a church deacon at a tailor's and developed a deep love of literature.

In his 20s, he attended Bala Theological College with the intention of entering the ministry as a preacher, but didn't complete the course.

Instead he worked as a tailor in Mold, preaching on Sundays, and wrote novels including Rhys Lewis and Gwen Tomos, which cemented his reputation as an important literary figure, able to capture life in the area at a key stage in the development of the Welsh language novel.

After the success of last year's festival, organisers have expanded their offer this year, with historic walking tours, a bilingual singing festival and family arts events. The festival aims to engage with the community as well as visitors to the area who are not Welsh-speaking.

Mold Mayor Cllr Ray Dodd; David Rowe of Mold Civic Society; Katy Duplock, proprietor of the Party Shop in Mold, and Sian Williams of the Daniel Owen Festival Committee

Katy Duplock, proprietor of the Party Shop in Mold, accepts the prize and certificate for winning the Daniel Owen Festival window dressing competition (from left-right, Mold Mayor Cllr Ray Dodd, David Rowe of Mold Civic Society, Katy Duplock and Sian Williams of the Daniel Owen Festival Committee

The guided heritage walks take in places of local significance around Mold with some focusing on the surrounding rural area and its associations with Owen's work, and others shedding light on the area's industrial history.

The festival will also see the launch of the first complete English translation of Straeon y Pentan, from the original 1895 Welsh version, by Brown Cow Publishing.

In English it is being published as Fireside Tales, a collection of 19 short stories and character portraits often based on local urban legends of the era, by Daniel Owen.

The book is billed as being "intended to be read by the fireside on long Victorian evenings".

John Mainwaring, who is arranging the event, said: "With limited time and resource, we chose Fireside Tales, one of the shortest of Daniel Owen's five main works, as this year's translation.

"Both Adam Pearce and Derec Llwyd Morgan have worked incredibly hard to make this come together, and I am indebted to them both for their good-natured willingness in giving so much of their personal time.

"I can only assume they get as much pleasure from Owen's work as I do. It has been an honour to work with them, and Y Lolfa, to present this copy of the text to a wider audience."

There will also be a lecture by the well known Judge Niclas Parry on Owen's classic novel, Enoc Huws, and how its value transcends other periods and has significance in the English language as well as the original Welsh.

And the role and formative influence of Owen's mentor Roger Edwards will be discussed in a talk by his great-great-grandson Christopher Edwards.

The Clwb Cymdeithasu Cymraeg Yr Wyddgrug is hosting a social evening, while writer Fiona Hughes will share stories from her book Denbighshire Folk Tales.

Music lovers can also enjoy a gig with Pete Morton and Tegeingl Twmpath Band and a performance by Ensemble Cymru featuring music by Mendelssohn and Gareth Glyn.

Chair of the organising committee, Kevin Matthias, said all those involved hope to build on the success of last year.

He said: "We have widened the scope and although it is designed for people already interested in the history, heritage and culture of the area, it's open to newcomers.

"Obviously there is a strong Welsh language element, but many of the events are bilingual and something that non Welsh speakers can enjoy."

Mr Matthias said he felt Owen still held such thrall over the area because his struggles reflected those of the people of his time.

"He was born into a mining family, endured poverty throughout his upbringing, then took on a trade, was involved in early Methodist teachings and then became one of the greatest novelists in our history."

Mr Matthias himself is hosting an event at Flintshire Record Office in Hawarden to show people how often Owen crops up in the local archives and will lead two of the historical tours.

He added: "We extend a warm welcome to everybody and hope they can make it along to some of the events."

The programme for the festival, which runs from Sunday 16 October to Saturday 22 October is available to view at For tickets call 01352 754791.

It's behind you! Pantomimes in Wales preview

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Polly March Polly March | 11:55 UK time, Friday, 14 October 2011

As the nights draw in, the temperatures plummet and we await the clocks turning back, thoughts are increasingly turning to Christmas.

And for those keen to get into the spirit in the run-up to the big event, there is a huge offering of Christmas shows and pantomimes in Wales to choose from this festive season. From smaller venues to traditional theatres, big productions to intimate occasions, it seems Wales' vast array of venues have it all.

At The Riverfront, Newport, Melanie Walters, who played Gwen in Gavin & Stacey, Keiron Self from My Family, and Richard Elis from Eastenders, star in Cinderella throughout December. Tickets are available via 01633 656757.

American singer and actor Jimmy Osmond will take centre stage in the Swansea Grand's Aladdin with the production making a foray into 3D. Audience members will be encouraged to wear specialised 3D glasses so they can rub the magic lamp as it appears in front of them and summon the Genie to appear. Tickets and dates: 01792 475715.

Jimmy Osmond in the Swansea Grand's Aladdin

Jimmy Osmond in the Swansea Grand's Aladdin

The newly-refurbished Theatr Colwyn in Colwyn Bay is putting on Jack and The Beanstalk, which was first staged there in 1909. It will be the first Christmas show since the theatre revamped its front of house and they are hoping for big throngs full of festive cheer. Tickets: 01492 577 888.

At the Grand Pavilion in Porthcawl, several faces familiar to local audiences will be returning to the stage for Cinderella. Iain Lauchlan, who created the Tweenies for the BBC, has written the script for the show. For tickets call 01656 815995 or visit

Porthcawl Grand Pavilion's cast for Cinderella. Photo: Philip Tull

Porthcawl Grand Pavilion's cast for Cinderella. Photo: Philip Tull

In Cardiff, the Wales Millennium Centre will host the Llandaff Musical Society's production of the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, in its Weston studio from 27-29 November, for those wanting to get their festive theatre fix early on.

For Welsh speakers a brand new Welsh language version of Jac a'r Goeden Ffa will feature children's entertainer Martyn Geraint. It's on at various venues throughout Wales but shows at the Weston studio from 4-5 December.

On a longer run over the festive season at the Donald Gordon Theatre is another Dickens favourite, Oliver! The new production by Cameron Mackintosh has had to add new dates to its run due to popular demand.

From 13- 31 December, Sherman Cymru will stage their final production at the Weston studio before they re-open in early 2012, following an 18-month redevelopment.

The Elves and the Shoemaker is a magical classic fairytale which has both English and Welsh performances and is sure to captivate young and old alike.

Tickets for all the above are available via Wales Millennium Centre's Box Office: 029 2063 6464.

At the New Theatre in Cardiff this Christmas, crowds can enjoy Christopher Biggins and ventriloquist Paul Zerdin in a rip-roaring performance of Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates, with matinees on most days. Tickets: 029 2087 8889.

Jack and the Beanstalk is also top of the agenda for the Torch Theatre in Milford Haven with a fun-packed week of performances and beanstalk-related drama from 22-31 December. Tickets: or call 01646 695267.

Clwyd Theatr Cymru in Mold will bring rock and roll to the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty from 25 November until 28 January. Audiences will be able to tap their feet along to classics like Every Step You Take, Wake Me Up Before You Go Go and Don't Leave Me This Way as they watch the performance. Box Office: 0845 330 3565.

A nostalgic trip down memory lane is in store at The Princess Royal, Port Talbot, on 22 December with Remember When at Christmas, a singalong musical with songs made famous by Doris Day, Bing Crosby, Julie Andrews, Max Bygraves, Vera Lynn and Frank Sinatra.

Owen Money joins a cast of pantomime favourites for Peter Pan on a longer run at the same theatre from 20 January to 5 February 2012. For tickets to both the above ring 01639 763214.

At the Rhyl Pavilion, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves opens on 9 December, starring Coronation Street actress Tupele Dorgu as the Wicked Queen and Channel 5's Milkshake presenter Amy Thompson as Snow White. Booking: 01745 33 00 00.

Venue Cymru, Llandudno, is staging Aladdin, with Dancing on Ice's Jason Gardiner as Abanazar and John Evans returning for the fifth year in a row as Wishee Washee. Booking: 01492 872000.

Theatr Hafren in Newtown is putting on Dickens' A Christmas Carol for one night only on 16 December, with Martyn Geraint taking his production of Jac a'r Goeden Ffa there on 9-10 January and a fullscale production of The Snow Queen on 13-14 January. For tickets call 01686 614555 or email:

In Carmarthenshire, the Theatr Elli in Llanelli also plays host to Martyn Geraint in Jac a'r Goeden Ffa on 20 December and in January welcomes The Friend Theatre Company for Jack and the Beanstalk. For a full list of dates visit to book tickets to the above visit

At The Lyric in Carmarthen, again Martyn Geraint stars in Jac a'r Goeden Ffa on 6 December, followed by A Christmas Carol, as told by Jacob Marley (Deceased) on 8 December. The one man show is the latest offering from celebrated production company Brother Wolf, and five-time award-winning actor/writer James Hyland.

At The Miners in Ammanford, Aladdin is on from 9 -11 December, with Sleeping Beauty rousing the post-Christmas crowds on 30 December.

Aberystwyth Arts Centre will be showing the Roald Dahl favourite Fantastic Mr Fox, adapted for the stage by David Wood throughout December, performed by the same company that last year brought audiences The Wizard of Oz. Children will be able to enjoy watching the wily fox outwit the farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Box Office: 01970 632 232.

Dylan Thomas Festival line-up takes shape

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Polly March Polly March | 10:44 UK time, Friday, 14 October 2011

Swansea is gearing up for this year's Dylan Thomas Festival, which runs from 27 October to 9 November, with various literary figures descending on the city to share their thoughts on the icon while showcasing their own talents.

The festival, now in its 13th year, focuses not only on Dylan Thomas' work, but that of his friends, contemporaries and those inspired by him. Contributors will include Antony Penrose, son of photographer Lee Miller and artist Roland Penrose, who were friends of Thomas in the 1940s.

Via an illustrated lecture, Antony will explore his mother's friendship with Picasso, also a close contemporary of Thomas, using Lee Miller's photographs. She and Roland frequently visited the artist, her capturing him on film more than 1,000 times as her husband researched his biography.

At a separate family-orientated event Antony will recall his own meetings with Picasso and how, during an excited game of pretend bullfighting, he once bit the artist!

The festival also includes appearances from Pembrokeshire-born author Sarah Waters, who will discuss her body of work with Sarah Gamble from Swansea University's English Department and the writer, broadcaster and playwright Simon Armitage, who has won many awards for his poetry. Armitage will share the stage with Matthew Hollis. Hollis is also hosting a separate event to discuss his book on the World War One poet Edward Thomas and Thomas' friendship with Robert Frost.

There will also be readings from popular Swansea writers Joe Dunthorne and Sarah Coles.

Author Joe Dunthorne. Photo © Angus Muir

Joe Dunthorne. Photo © Angus Muir

Dunthorne's first novel Submarine, about a 15-year-old boy determined to save his parents' marriage as he embarks on his first intimacy with a girl, was made into a film directed by Richard Ayoade from The IT Crowd earlier this year and his latest novel Wild Abandon has been recently released.

Coles is known for her poetry, fiction and reviews and is looking forward to her first collection being published in 2012.

Other highlights include poetry workshops, performances by the Lighthouse Theatre, discussions on various aspects of Dylan's work and readings by Patrick McGuinness and Richard Gwyn.

Tickets are available via or on 01792 463 980.

Extra poetry reading for Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke

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Polly March Polly March | 10:25 UK time, Friday, 14 October 2011

The poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, and the National Poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke, are returning to the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea this December to share and discuss their work.

The event was a sell-out last year and this time looks like being no different, with tickets going so fast that organisers have had to arrange an extra reading.

Gillian Clarke. Photo: Poetry Live

Gillian Clarke. Photo: Poetry Live

Earlier this year Duffy published her first collection of poems for six years, The Bees. It was dedicated to Clarke, with whom she manages the website Sheer Poetry, a resource of information about poets by poets for scholars, teachers and poetry lovers everywhere.

The pair will now appear at 4.30pm and 7.30pm on Friday 9 December at the centre. Tickets for the extra performance are on sale at the Dylan Thomas Centre for £12 or £8 concessions. To book, contact the box office on 01792 463980.

How to help save your local bookshop by looking like an idiot

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Phil Rickman Phil Rickman | 15:51 UK time, Wednesday, 12 October 2011

"See you again next year," the bookseller said, "if Amazon hasn't done for us by then."

It was the last event on my publicity tour of the Wales/England border for the new novel which, like most of them, is set in that general area. I did signings at bookshops from Abergavenny to Oswestry, some very encouraging, one a bit disappointing but, as usual, they all added up to an enlightening experience.

Since last year, one of the regular shops had shut down and a new one had opened - but for how long? Nobody feels secure any more in the book business, which is currently changing faster than any comparable industry.

The usual story is that small independent bookshops are being badly hit by the chains and their special offers - three for two, buy-one-get-one-half-price, etc. But things are not so good for the chains either. I spent two hours in a branch of Waterstones and watched people come in, scrutinize a couple of books and leave without buying anything - possibly to go home and compare prices with Amazon, the internet giant.

All the vowels in Amazon make it a difficult word actually to spit out, which probably annoys high street booksellers no end, and you can only sympathise. My hardback novel, like lots of others, is currently selling at almost half-price on Amazon, which no high street bookseller has been able to match.

And if you want to buy it electronically for your Kindle e-reader, it will cost you just over a third of the full retail price of £18.99... and you can have it sent to your Kindle inside a minute.

Of course a Kindle edition is, essentially, worthless. It has no second-hand value and it's difficult to give as a present. You don't even really own it and Amazon, in theory, could wipe it from your device in seconds. But it's still catching on big time, with thousands sold every week, and could, in theory, eliminate the book - particularly the novel - and therefore destroy every bookshop in the country.

There are, at present, however, still a large majority of readers who find the actual book more sexy than this fairly prosaic-looking bit of kit. And if you want to buy the actual book and get it today, the high street is still the answer.

That's not much of an advantage, though, is it? Which is why booksellers are considering their options - one of which includes more contact with actual authors than they've ever had before. There was a time when, unless you were a serious Name, bookshop owners would peer at you contemptuously over their half-glasses and put on rubber gloves before handling your work. Now they regard you as a potential saviour.

Not that Names aren't still important. The Local Celeb is the first person to be drafted into the war against the net. Only Fools And Horses and Green Green Grass star John Challis lives close to the Powys border, and his local shop currently has a window devoted to his book, Being Boycie, which includes Marlene-style leopardskin and a bottle of Peckham Spring water. On a good day, you might even spot the man himself as he slips in, with that familiar furtive smirk, to sign a few more copies for stock.

But you don't actually have to be famous these days to get recruited. You don't even have to be local. One independent bookseller told me how his shop had adopted a guy who'd self-published his first children's book. Even though he wasn't local, they thought the book was really inventive, put on a big display and spread the word to every customer. Eventually they had kids queuing round the block to meet the author... who soon acquired a real publisher.

The high street's other weapon is the The Signed Copy. A couple of years ago, the Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood launched what was known as The Long Pen - a device for signing books online, which has never really caught on like The Old Felt Tip. So authors are hitting the road as never before to provide what Amazon can't offer - a squiggle which can make a book into a collector's item.

One day a few weeks ago, I crossed the Welsh border six times, eventually arriving at a bookstore with a coffee shop (something else you can't experience online) to find rows of chairs set out, mainly for customers who'd never heard of me. I had one hour to sell the book to people already softened up by the promise of tea and cakes and a book that might actually escalate in value.

The downside of an exercise like this is that your new fans all have cameras, and you'll wind up on the net looking like an idiot.

Phil Rickman with fans at a book-signing

Looking like an idiot (again)... Phil Rickman with fans at a recent book-signing

But it can seriously swell your ego, if not your wallet, when, as I did last week, you walk into a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye to find one of your signed first editions on sale for (swear to God) £650!

I pointed out to the manager that I had a couple more at home which I'd be happy to sign and sell to the shop owner for only £300 each.

She smiled.

'He'll offer me a tenner won't he?' I said.

She nodded grimly.

Fflur Dafydd and Horatio Clare recreate Mabinogion tales

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 14:49 UK time, Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Fflur Dafydd and Horatio Clare are the latest Welsh authors to have put a contemporary twist on the medieval Welsh myths of the Mabinogion.

The New Stories from the Mabinogion series was launched by independent Welsh publishers Seren Books in 2009. The novellas in the series bring the essence of these often complex but magical tales, some of which are thought to date back to as early as the second half of the 11th century, to a modern audience.

Horatio Clare's The Prince's Pen and Fflur Dafydd's The White Trail. Images courtesy of Seren Books

Cover images of Horatio Clare's The Prince's Pen and Fflur Dafydd's The White Trail. Images courtesy of Seren Books

Initial titles from Owen Sheers (White Ravens) and Russell Celyn Jones (The Ninth Wave) were followed in 2010 with two further books in the series by Niall Griffiths and former national poet of Wales Gwyneth Lewis.

Griffiths' The Dreams of Max and Ronnie recreated the tale The Dream of Rhonabwy while The Meat Tree by Lewis took Math son of Mathonwy, the fourth and most complex branch of the Mabinogion, as its base.

The four titles in Seren's New Stories From The Mabinogion series. Images courtesy Seren Books.

The four titles in Seren's New Stories From The Mabinogion series. Images courtesy of Seren Books.

Next Tuesday, 18 October, sees the official launch of the latest books, The White Trail and The Prince's Pen, at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff.

Dafydd's The White Trail is inspired by the Arthurian romance Culhwch and Olwen, which is believed to be one of Wales' earliest existing prose texts. You can read about the tale on our BBC Wales History website.

In Dafydd's story, which weaves together themes of love and revenge, Cilydd's heavily pregnant wife Goleuddydd seemingly disappears into thin air while at a supermarket. He ropes in his cousin Arthur, a budding private eye, to help him find her.

Bad news almost inevitably follows together with a mysterious warning to Cilydd not to re-marry. His adventure begins and involves, as the book's blurb explains, "a hunt for the son he never knew, a meeting with a beautiful and mysterious girl, and a glimpse inside the House of the Missing".

Photograph of Fflur Dafydd © Chris Reynolds

Photograph of Fflur Dafydd © Chris Reynolds

Meanwhile, Clare's novel gives a contemporary angle on the tale of Lludd and Llefelys. The Prince's Pen examines politics, faith and conflict in the contemporary world. The novella focuses on the characters Ludo and Levello, self styled kings of  Wales who think of themselves as freedom fighters, and challenges ideas of insiders and outsiders in society, and also the enemy within.

Contact Seren or Chapter for more information about the book launch on Tuesday.

You can read more about Welsh myths, legends and the Mabinogion on the BBC Wales History website.

Sue Williams exhibition at Oriel Ffin y Parc Gallery

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 12:02 UK time, Tuesday, 11 October 2011

An exhibition of new work by Wales-based artist Sue Williams has gone on show at the Oriel Ffin y Parc Gallery in Llanrwst.

Williams is a lecturer at the School of Fine Art at Swansea Metropolitan University. She won the Fine Art Gold Medal at the National Eisteddfod in 2000 in Llanelli, and in 2006 was shortlisted for the second Artes Mundi prize, the only British artist nominated for the prestigious visual arts prize.

This new exhibition, entitled Poke Me!, runs at the north Wales gallery until 31 October. It contains 60 new pieces of Williams' striking and unique portraits of women. As the gallery's website puts it:

The women in her paintings may be debased or miserable, but they have a self-awareness that alters the power dynamics and changes the relationship between viewer and viewee; perpetrator and victim. At some level they know that they are being watched, and are keen for us to respond.

This is especially true of this show, which has been inspired by the profiles that are found on Facebook, and other social networking sites, where the lines between private and public, isolation and intimacy are erased.

AngelDeeLite Mixed Media on Canvas 2011 © Sue Williams

AngelDeeLite Mixed Media on Canvas 2011 © Sue Williams

PenthousePet Mixed Media on Canvas 2011 © Sue Williams

PenthousePet Mixed Media on Canvas 2011 © Sue Williams

You can view more of Sue Williams'  work on the Oriel Ffin y Parc Gallery website. The gallery is open to the public Tuesday to Saturday from 10am-5pm and from 11am-5pm on Sundays.

Antonia Dewhurst exhibition at The Last Gallery, Llangadog

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Polly March Polly March | 16:57 UK time, Friday, 7 October 2011

The Last Gallery at Llangadog at the foot of the Brecon Beacons is currently playing host to a multimedia exhibition exploring the meaning of home.

Emerging artist Antonia Dewhurst brings her thought-provoking installation, including photographs, etchings, models and a video piece to the former cobbler's shop.

Entitled Preswylio, Dwell, it explores Antonia's own ambivalence towards the concept of being rhwng or 'between'.

Antonia was brought up as a non-Welsh speaker in Bangor, north Wales, and has often felt that she is caught between two cultures. Time spent in the air force and travelling from place to place has only helped to reinforce that sense.

But she says she is overcome by a strong emotion whenever she travels through the Conwy tunnel on the A55 and emerges on the western side, and is struck by the breathtaking view of Anglesey and the Conwy mountain.

Currently living in Llanfairfechan, Antonia spends a lot of her time running and reflecting, and it was during one of these runs that she was reminded of the tradition of the Ty Unnos or one-night house - a key theme in her exhibition.

Towards the close of the 18th century in Wales, poverty and homelessness was widespread and a new phenomenon of housebuilding emerged.

Antonia said: "If a dwelling could be raised between sunset and sunrise and have smoke emerging from its chimney at dawn, the builders could keep the house and the land as far as a hammer could be thrown from the four quarters.

"The tradition continued even into the 20th century and lingers in structures built by migrant workers in south Wales in the 21st."

Artwork by Antonia Dewhurst

Artwork by Antonia Dewhurst

Artwork by Antonia Dewhurst

Artwork by Antonia Dewhurst

Artworks by Antonia Dewhurst

She herself has applied for permission to erect a Ty Unnos from scavenged materials on land near her home and will use the experience as the basis for another art project in the spring. But she admits having permission for the build runs counter to the initial point of it being a squat.

Part of her exhibition at The Last Gallery centres on a series of small huts she has built using photographs of doors, windows and scraps of corrugated iron she has seen around north Wales over the years, which she has mounted on card.

But another strand is a display of estate agents' details, where she has substituted the house on the description for a picture of one of her built huts.

She said: "If I was really brave, I would have built a Ty Unnos at Penrhyn Castle, phoned them to tell them what I'd done, and waited for the police to arrive.

"Instead I've gone into four estate agents where you can still help yourself to property descriptions and swapped the details for ones with my huts as pictures. I haven't had any feedback on this yet!"

She says the models are metaphors for possible existences and the universal need for shelter and will be accompanied by etchings of nests, shells and huts as well as memories of growing up in Colwyn Bay.

A video installation will also look at psychological interiors and the effect of switching floors and ceilings so the room is re-defined upside-down.

Antonia Dewhurst's exhibition will be at the Last Gallery on 8, 9, 15 and 16 October 2011 from 10am-5.30pm.

Some of her work is also going on show in Tblisi in Georgia as part of the artisterium4 project, funded by Wales Arts International.

For more information on Antonia visit The Last Gallery can be found online at

The Healing of Brân the Blessed at The Big Splash festival

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Polly March Polly March | 10:50 UK time, Friday, 7 October 2011

Characters and themes from medieval Welsh folklore come under the spotlight this weekend as an ancient tale is brought to life by the Small World Theatre.

The company has created a 7.6m tall giant puppet, powered by humans, to illustrate the famous story of 'The Healing of Brân the Blessed'.

The story, which has its origins in the pre-Christian Celtic mythology of the Welsh tales of The Mabinogion, follows giant king Bendigeidfran or Bran the Blessed.

Image of the Bran puppet in a boat. Photo courtesy of the Small World Theatre


Image of the head of the Bran puppet in a boat. Image courtesy of Small World Theatre

Images of the head of the Bran puppet in a boat. Photos courtesy of the Small World Theatre

His journey is described by the company as one of "personal sacrifice, a story of a King's love for his family, people and lands, which after much treachery, battling and sorrow ends with conciliation."

Bendigeidfran must battle to maintain peace with Ireland, despite the destructive efforts of his evil half-brother Efnisien, a complicated marriage between his sister Branwen and the King of Ireland, and the vengeful fury of their enemies.

The bilingual performance will take place on Saturday outside the Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre in Newport and is part of a weekend of events for the city's Big Splash festival. Highlights for spectators will be actors on giant tricycles, satellite performances around Newport, and a key part of the tale played out on a small boat on the River Usk.

Image courtesy of the Small World Theatre

Image courtesy of the Small World Theatre

Small World Theatre, a community arts company based in Cardigan, uses the Brân the Blessed storyline to explore the meaning of the famous quote 'a fo ben bid bont...' which it has interpreted as 'there is no leader who is not a bridge.'

The production investigates what being a true leader means, what sacrifices must be made for others, and what commands respect.

The puppet was created by Small World Theatre with funding from The Arts Council of Wales last year.

The aim of the project was to draw on the ancient tradition of folklore and its sense of a wealth of shared common experience and to make it current for today's audiences.

The company says: "At home people and families tend to stay behind individual screens for their entertainment and leisure, but we are seeing a huge appetite for big outdoor festivals.

"Free celebratory art contributes to people's sense of identity, community and common reference points."

The Big Splash festival, which kicks off on Friday, offers a string of free events on both banks of the River Usk in the centre of the city.

Audiences can enjoy a fireworks display, circus skills and craft workshops and a whole host of street performers and musicians.

Thrillseekers will be able to watch Motocross events and enjoy fairground rides. Other activities include 'waterwalker' balls, a climbing wall, a Roller Derby, and live music from The Elasticated Waste Band, The Cherry Beats, Wonderbrass and Tattsyrup.

Full details are available on Newport Council's website

Small World's performance of Brân begins at 4.30pm on Saturday on the West Bank, outside the Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre. For further details about the company visit

Glynn Vivian gets set for redevelopment

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 10:40 UK time, Friday, 7 October 2011

The Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea will close its doors to the public at the end of the month as preparations begin for a multi million pound redevelopment.

Though the structural work isn't set to begin until the new year, its necessary for the gallery to close on Sunday 30 October as preparations for the major work will start on site in November.

Artist's impression of the revamped Glynn Vivian Art Gallery. Image © Powell Dobson Architects

An artist's impression of the revamped Glynn Vivian Art Gallery. Image © Powell Dobson Architects

The £6 million project, which is being funded by the Welsh Government, the Arts Council of Wales and Swansea Council, is expected to take two years to complete.

The extensive redevelopment will include a complete refurbishment of the 1911 building, new entrance at street level and re-cladding of the 1974 gallery extension.

There will be a new storage and conservation area, a new lecture space and community room, a dedicated reading and resource centre devoted to visitor research plus new workshops and administration offices. A new passenger lift will also ensure that physical access to all exhibitions, collection galleries and all education and study facilities is available to all visitors.

Though the gallery will have to close fully to the public, the staff at the Glynn Vivian are planning a programme of activities and events - including educational workshops - that will take place off-site for the closure period in different venues across the city.

For more on the development plans and for upcoming events check the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery website.

National Poetry Day in Wales

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 12:41 UK time, Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Thursday 6 October marks National Poetry Day in the UK, and there are a number of events taking place in Wales that you can get involved with.

The Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea are staging a free event, Song For A Raggy Boy - a celebration of the life and work of Patrick Galvin. One of Ireland's most influential poets, Galvin was instrumental in setting up the Swansea-Cork Writers' Exchange in the 1990s.

This celebration of both poetry and of Galvin's life will include performances from Cork poets Gerry Murphy and Liz O'Donoghue and Swansea poets Nigel Jenkins, David Hughes and John Goodby, plus singer Margot Morgan and musician Andy Jones will also attend.

Literature Wales are staging a poetry giveaway in their recently opened Literature Lounge in St David's shopping centre in Cardiff. Just pop in from 11am to receive your free poem written by one of Wales’ best-loved poets.

Your poem could be penned by Joe Dunthorne, Hywel Griffiths, Damian Walford Davies, Mererid Hopwood, Paul Henry, Ifor Thomas, Gillian Clarke, Kathryn Gray, Samantha Wyn Rhydderch or perhaps another contemporary Welsh poet. (Visit the Literature Wales website for more info about their Literature Lounge events, as it's only there for a limited time until the end of October.)

Award-winning poet Emily Hinshelwood will give a reading at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Carmarthen while there'll also be an afternoon of poetry and song at the Waterloo Gardens Tearoom in Penylan, Cardiff with poet and singer-songwriter Maria Lindström and poet Susan Richardson.

There's also an extended celebration of poetry in The Dylan Thomas Birthplace Festival of Words, taking place at Dylan's birthplace in Swansea, 5 Cwmdokin Drive. On National Poetry Day itself Fran Lock will launch her first book of poetry Flat Rock while folk singer Lorraine King and 17-year-old Welsh tenor Reuben Nicholas will also join in the proceedings.

For more events browse the official National Poetry Day website. If you're planning to mark the day in another way or at a different event in Wales, let us know about it in the comments section below.

Iris Prize Festival gets underway in Cardiff

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 11:59 UK time, Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The fifth annual Iris Prize Festival gets underway today in Cardiff, with many international film makers and film lovers set to make the Welsh capital city their base for the next four days.

Ahead of the opening night of the festival, which showcases the cream of gay and lesbian film making talent from the international stage, it has been announced that Iris will have a new patron in Lord Glendonbrook (Michael Bishop), the former chairman of Channel 4.

Lord Glendonbrook joins the existing patrons of Iris who include Cardiff-born Hollywood actor Matthew Rhys, and film director Sara Sugarman, Carol Coombs, Christopher Racster and Andrew Pierce.

The 30 short films vying for the prestigious prize plus eight feature films will be screened between Cineworld and Chapter Arts Centre across the festival's four action-packed days (5-8 October).

Actor Murray Bartlett in Eldar Rapaport's feature film August

Actor Murray Bartlett (Troy) in Eldar Rapaport's feature film August. Bartlett will be in attendance to introduce the film this evening

The two venues will also be hosting a number of talks and presentations, while various cast members and directors of the films on show will be present in Cardiff to introduce their productions.

Browse one of my earlier blog posts to get a flavour of some of the films on show, plus visit the Iris Prize Festival website to see exactly what the festival has in store.

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