End of Year Review 2012

From the Olympics to the Leveson Inquiry, 2012 has been a year of highs and lows. Here is Wales Arts Review’s End of Year Review.

In the long term, 2012 will be remembered as the year of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, accompanied by a Cultural Olympiad that included not only Danny Boyle’s magnificent opening ceremony but a tour around Wales of Marc Rees’ Adain Avion installation, Kaite O’Reilly’s play In Water I’m Weightless, as well as other theatre highlights of a year that included Coriolan/us, a reprise of the collaboration between the directorial duo Mike Brookes and Mike Pearson with National Theatre Wales, Cape Town Opera’s collaboration with the WNO Orchestra for Porgy and Bess, and Owen Thomas’ Hollywood sojourn with his play Richard Parker.

There was also a run of Simon Stephens’ play Pornography by the company Waking Exploits, a timely revisiting of the 7/7 London bombings that overshadowed the city’s winning of the Olympic bid in 2005. The play hinted at the more explicitly political direction Welsh theatre was to take in 2012, notably through the contribution of Tim Price, first with The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning and later with Dirty Protest’s Real Valleys event.

Manning’s whistleblowing was echoed at Leveson, where Charlotte Church became a prominent voice for those were ‘hacked off’ with the collusions of the establishment, and in the long overdue revelation of the truth about what happened at Hillsborough, as outlined for Wales Arts Review by Craig Austin. The struggling economy continued to dominate the headlines across Europe, and as the Silk Commission recommended tax-raising powers for the Welsh Assembly, Adam Somerset reviewed a book about Tax Havens and the Men Who Sold the World.

The idea of the artist in political mode was no more in evidence in 2012 than at the various Hay Festivals. In Budapest, Dylan Moore interviewed festival director Peter Florence and reported on Florence’s own interview with Bob Geldof; back in Hay-on-Wye, Gary Raymond enjoyed both the foul-mouthed satire of Martin Rowson and the musings of Nobel laureate and one-time Peruvian presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa.

If there was a theme in the world of Welsh literature in 2012, it was the reclamation of the past. Jon Gower recounted The Story of Wales for the BBC series of the same name, as well as beginning his epic trawl through the Library of Wales; in a year when Gower seemed an omnipresent, unstoppable force – winning the Wales Book of the Year for Y Storiwr – he also found time to reflect on the history of the Welsh short story as well as pen a collection of his own, Too Cold for Snow. In our end-of-year extravaganza, he claims Dafydd James’ play Llwyth as highlight of the year, the greatest Welsh-language play of Gower’s lifetime.

Also in this special edition, John Lavin looks at a year in the short story while our Poetry Editor Carl Griffin revisits the Wales Book of the Year poetry winners: Philip Gross’ Deep Field, Gwyneth Lewis’ Sparrow Tree and Catulla et al by Tiffany Atkinson. Other prizewinners in 2012 included Rhian Edwards, Maggie Shipstead, who won the Dylan Thomas Prize, here reviewed by our critic Adrian Masters, and Hilary Mantel, whose Booker-winning Bring Up the Bodies is also listed for the Costa, alongside Wales Arts Review critic Hayley Long.

In music, there was also a retrospective aspect to the year as two of the country’s finest bands celebrated anniversaries, Datblygu Trideg and the Manic Street Preachers’ twenty years. And if Cerys Matthews maturation into a multi-dimensional musical tour de force reinforced the idea that the Cool Cymru generation have never gone away, Huw Stephens’ Swn Festival (Cardiff) in November represented a chance for a new generation of bands to stake their own claim to greatness. Here David Anthony revisits Welsh Music Prize winning album The Plot Against Common Sense by Future of the Left while Steph Power celebrates the centenaries of three key composers: Cage, Nancarrow and Daniel Jones. Owen Thomas recalls September’s Festival No.6 in Portmeirion.

In the world of film, greatness was bestowed upon the final part of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, starring Pembrokeshire-born Christian Bale as Batman, while Hirwaun-born Gareth Evans scored a hit with his Jakarta-set ultra-violent martial arts thriller The Raid: Redemption. Meanwhile, back in Cardiff, Welsh television drama took another huge leap forward with the Dr Who exhibition centre at the heart of the brand new, rebranded (again!) Porth Teigr media village in Cardiff Bay.

In the visual arts, Artes Mundi 5 had a deserving winner in the Mexican artist Teresa Margolles, while earlier in the year Joao Morais ran the rule over the bright future for Welsh artists at the Graduate 2012 exhibition. Here he looks back at some of the year’s other highlights. In photography, the legendary David Hurn visited the Aberystwyth while David Wilson undertook a journey of his own.

And perhaps allowing for some seasonal goodwill (Sherman Cymru offered up both Peter Pan and Last Christmas) you will allow us the indulgence of humbly offering one other significant development on the cultural scene in Wales: the birth of Wales Arts Review, which this time last year was not even a twinkling star in the eyes of its creators. Let us all hope that 2013 will be a year that culture, criticism and creativity go hand in hand, making Wales a richer place for all of us to live, work and do what we do. Until then, happy reading, and from all of us at Wales Arts Review, a very merry Christmas!


Banner illustration by Dean Lewis