Wales Arts Review writers and associates take a personal look at what there is to look forward to in the arts in Wales for 2020. What are you looking forward to in the arts in Wales in 2020? Join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
I’m excited about the new artistic directors on the horizon – at NTW, Sherman and Disability Arts Cymru – and curious about what impact this will have on the cultural life of the nation. In my own work, excited to be remounting The Llanarth Group’s Told by the Wind with Phillip Zarrilli and Jo Shapland at the International Theatre Festival of Kerala in Thrissur later this month, then immediately into co-directing my new play The Beauty Parade at Wales Millennium Centre 5-14 March, collaborating with composer Rebecca Applin, performer/visual language specialist Sophie Stone and Phillip Zarrilli. As it celebrates the forgotten female agents parachuted behind enemy lines to help the resistance leading to the D Day landings, it’s perfect International Women’s Day fodder.
A couple of years back I heard a whisper that theatre wanted to revisit the only occasion in the last century that upland Ceredigion hit the UK national headlines. My inner reaction was “OMG! Hallucinogenics? It’ll never happen – it’s a dead cert the puritans will spike it.” But it’s for real – at Tregaron, the summer of 2020 “a raucous prog-rock-infused re-telling of Operation Julie” from Theatr na nÓg and Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
Interviewing Newport’s Julian Pitt (a.k.a. Armstrong) for Wales Arts Review in April of 2018, I was encouraged to hear the singer/songwriter declare that his current work in progress, Happy Graffiti, was almost due for release. Well, 2018 and 2019 have come and gone and there is still no sign of the new album (although a re-release of 2007’s Under Blue Skies has helped sustain Armstrong’s fan base). Having heard a demo of the album a full eighteen months ago, I can personally vouch for standout tracks “Disinformation”, “Rock Star, Rock Star” and “Long Road”, so I hope Julian’s New Years resolution is to finish the project in 2020 and maybe even tour in support of it.
Is there an Olympics of the harp? No, but there is that nearest thing: the World Harp Congress – a coming together of musicians from all over the planet, bringing with them that instrument of the angels. Previously this event has been held in all sorts of far flung places such as Hong Kong, Sydney, Jerusalem, Dublin, Amsterdam. But this year our very own Cardiff won the bid. Quite right too; is Wales not the land of the harp?
For harpists there is an opportunity to participate in concerts and workshops while for the corporate sponsor there is an opportunity to… well, sponsor… numerous planned events taking place at venues all across the city. I could have wished that there had been a way to reduce the cost of this event for ordinary folk like me, schlepping their celtic harps across the country and peering myopically at Grade 3 standard sheet music. But then I’m not sure the World Harp Congress is aimed at ordinary folk like me – a 6 day adult delegate pass will set you back an eye watering £525. That of course is without the cost of travel or accommodation.
There is no doubt that this is an important opportunity to raise the profile of both Cardiff and harp music. The full programme is not yet available but I hope that it will include not just a chance to hear the great and the good of the harp world, but educational opportunities and concessions for young people.
The Literary World of Paul Peter Piech, National Library of Wales, starts on 1 February and goes on for a full year. Piech was a fascinating figure. Born and educated in New York, the son of Ukrainian immigrants, he came to Wales in US forces during war and stayed. His completely distinctive, hugely inventive graphic work as a printmaker expressed his political activism and deep social conscience. He died in Porthcawl in 1996.
Also, Newport Museum and Art Gallery hosts an exhibition exploring a moment in time and what happened next. From 31 March to 4 July it shows Forty Year On, which brings together nearly 40 artists who were students or teachers at Newport College of Art in 1980 and looks at their subsequent careers. They include the animator Graham Bebbington, film-maker Bari Goddard, painter Gerda Roper, photographer David Hurn and sculptor David Petersen, curated by painter Neil Carroll.
Beethoven’s 250th anniversary will be celebrated worldwide throughout 2020 with various musical tributes. One of the most important in the UK takes place on January 19 at St David’s Hall, Cardiff, when the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales re-construct the historic Vienna concert of 1808, at which no fewer than four Beethoven works were premiered: Symphonies 5 and 6, the Piano Concerto No 4, and the Choral Fantasy. The original concert was performed in freezing weather, with the composer in charge.
clare e. potter
Can’t wait for the movie Dream Horse, release date April 2020. Directed by Euros Lyn and written by Neil McKay, this is the dramatization of the inspiring story from our village Cefn Fforest where Janet Vokes bartender and cleaner dreamed of breeding a racehorse. On her husband Brian’s allotment on the old slag heap, she and Brian (along with a syndicate of villagers) succeeded: their horse Dream Alliance won the Welsh Grand National. I was lucky to be on set one day watching the phenomenal Toni Collette and Owen Teale in action. It was truly masterful work from all involved (and could only be so because the original story itself is so beautiful). This is going to be a heart-sweller of a film.
Also looking forward to a year of Blackwood Bicentenary celebrations. Many people are involved organizing exciting events including the Town Council, local history societies, the Chartist Society, sporting clubs, the Blackwood Little Theatre, the Big Pit Museum (the Rhymney brewery are even brewing up a special beer for the occasion). There’ll be a play especially written for the event, historical presentations and history walks, a themed summer fair, poems, parades and more. Hopefully Trefin’s 1930 Bardic Chair (which we uncovered while making a documentary at the Cefn Fforest Miners Institute) might have a part to play. Watch this space. Events kick off on April 4th at Blackwood Miners.
2020 in Welsh theatre looks to be a year in which intimate, rural stories with timely international resonances will take centre stage. I’m especially excited about Frân Wen’s blockbuster adaptation of Llyfr Glas Nebo (touring the country January through March); National Theatre Wales’ bumper year-long programme of compelling new work, including FRANK (touring Wales’ forests this spring) and Go Tell the Bees (devised by TEAM Pembrokeshire and taking place in September); and Lloergan, the 2020 National Eisteddfod’s headline production, exploring astronomy and the Ceredigion countryside. In my role in NTW’s Creative Development department, I’m also looking forward to seeing the work that comes out of this year’s Located Residencies. We have eight brilliant artists developing original, socially-engaged performance projects, on location, all over Wales – all of which could become something very special.
I am in eager anticipation of a second album from David Wrench’s AUDIOBOOKS, even more prolific outbursts of genius from Gruff Rhys and to the launch of WCCOE, a world -class wildlife conservation centre on the site of a former colliery in South Wales.
Focus Wales multi-venue festival in Wrexham will be celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2020 (7/8/9th May) and I will be there to cheer them on, with bells on. Their first year was tough, with a massive venue change (from Llangollen to Wrexham) at the very last minute, and not so many people understanding just what it was the FW team were trying to create.
This didn’t deter them. In true Cymraeg fashion, it only made them work harder, think bigger, dream smarter. Ten years on, they’re making connections and taking Welsh music all over the globe to Canada, Korea, Taiwan, America, and across Europe, creating unique experiences for our artists in the process.
Each year this festival transforms the north Walean market town of Wrexham into a creative utopia, utilising numerous glorious venues including the award winning Tŷ Pawb, and the venue with the most beautiful acoustics, St Giles’ Church.
In 2019 they won Best Festival for Emerging Talent at the U.K. Festival Awards, and this year will see the godfather of Welsh music, Gruff Rhys, playing on a lineup that also includes the sublime Stealing Sheep, the utterly wonderful Georgia Ruth, and the genius that is Wrexham’s post/math/art rock band, Gallops.
They also have beautifully orchestrated multi-platform design work courtesy of Andy Garside. Mine’s a G&T. I’ll see you there.
One thing that excites me for 2020 is to see Jonathan Edwards’ editorship of Poetry Wales and the new issues he has planned. It has been such a great experience as an associate of the magazine to see Edwards’ thoughtful, perceptive skill at work. The new issue looks tremendous!