Tag Archives: dirty protest theatre

Dirty Protest, The Real Valleys: “Treorchy is a small town at the upper edge of the Rhondda Valley” – Rachel Trezise

If you’ve been on a train in or out of Cardiff recently, you may have noticed an enormous billboard just outside Cardiff Central promoting a television show of dubious – well, dubious everything – called MTV – The Valleys. As yet another example of lazy, poorly executed ‘reality’ brain mush that misappropriates everything about the place we live (the valleys are part of south Wales, after all, just like Cardiff is), you can imagine how annoyed we were to see it was being produced.

If any of you have watched the programme, you have our sympathies. For those who have managed to avoid it and are as angry about it as we are, then take hope from local underground theatre group Dirty Protest, who are reclaiming the valleys through an event being held on 25 October 2012 called ‘The Real Valleys’. The event is being held at the Bunkhouse in Cardiff, 7.30pm, tickets £5. For more anti-MTV valleys discussion, read this Radical Wales article and please support The Valleys Are Here campaign.

To show our support for the real valleys and these events, we’re publishing our first ever non-Cardiff story – Rachel Trezise, about her home town of Treorchy.

Treorchy is a small town, (pop. 8,105) at the upper edge of the Rhondda Valley, 14 miles north of Cardiff, cushioned on all four sides by great looming mountains that turn ablaze every spring and summer. It’s famous for three things; the commanding grey stone of the Edwardian Park & Dare theatre; its 1913 construction funded entirely by mine workers, a male voice choir founded in 1883 and described by Anthony Hopkins as ‘the master choir of them all’, and a seminal album by Max Boyce called Live at Treorchy, recorded in the town’s rugby club in 1974, (in the presence, I might add, of my stout-drunken grandmother).

Aside from brief stints studying in Ireland and teaching in America, I’ve lived in and around Treorchy all my life, growing and learning amid the hotchpotch of the old and the new, the melting pot of Welsh, Anglicized and immigrant culture: swimming in the sheep dip at the foot of the Bwlch, bunking off school in the sunken bomb shelter under the rugby pitch, drinking frothy coffee in the Italian ‘bracci’ long before Britain came to terms with the word cappuccino, staging-diving through band sets at the Pig and Whistle, hanging out in the library reading Flannery O’Connor, or tattoo magazines in my brother’s tattoo parlour. My first short story collection Fresh Apples was inspired, in part, by the yips of Treorchy Comprehensive School pupils drifting through my study window.

Early on a Sunday morning I roller skate in the park where, as a child, I learned to tread water in the open air paddling pool, where I first tasted salmon in a friend’s unwanted sandwich. I use the food trays and lager cans left by teenagers for floor markers to practice my weaving. I like eating Victoria Sponge at Wondersuff on the High Street. There is nothing more homely or satisfying than finding oneself cwtched-up in bed at 11.04 at night, hearing the whistle of the last train from Cardiff pulling into the railway station; the day ended, permission to fall fast asleep granted.

Rachel Trezise’s debut novel In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl won the Orange Futures Award in 2001. Her debut collection of short stories Fresh Apples won the inaugural Dylan Thomas Prize in 2006. Her debut non-fiction work Dial M for Merthyr won the Max Boyce Prize in 2010. Her current novel is Sixteen Shades of Crazy. Her second collection of stories Cosmic Latte will be published by Parthian in 2013. She hails from Treorchy.

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“Over the last 25 years, the Sherman has been a part of my life” – Katherine

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I’ve lived in Cardiff for 42 years. So in thinking of a place that felt special to me, I had lots of choices. I love Donkey beach in Penarth, a secret little place under Penarth cliffs that my Nan and Gramps took me and my sister when we were little. I love the sea around Cardiff Bay and the docks. Bute Park, Roath Park, Victoria Park. Cardiff has good parks. I like sitting on Platform 7 on Central Station looking over to the Brains Brewery sign and the smell of the hops. I could have talked about lots of places that make Cardiff my home but I really wanted to talk about a place that has been part of my life for the last 25 years and I hope will continue to be so for the next 25 – Cardiff’s Sherman Cymru.

My first visit to the then Sherman Theatre was in 1985. I was 15 and had come on a school trip arranged by the English department to see Macbeth. I remember having to sit within hands reach of my teacher because my concentration wasn’t great and it was long. I was bored and fidgeting and desperately wanting to get back on the bus. When it ended I was relieved.

The next time I came to the Sherman was in 1987. I was being interviewed for a administration placement on a government Y.T.S. Scheme. I had left school with no qualifications to speak of so my choices were limited. I remember there was a matinee on. As I was lead backstage and down to the administration offices, various characters passed me by covered in copious amounts of blood, running from one side of stage to the other, backstage calls sounded out and dressing room doors opened briefly exposing a mixture of discarded costumes and everyday clothes. A blood curdling scream echoed through the maze of backstage corridors as I met the General Manager, ‘Sweeny Todd’ she smiled, ushering me in.

I began my placement the following week and my relationship with The Sherman Theatre began.

My placement was only for a year or so and as the end of the scheme approached I was dreading having to leave I felt like I’d found somewhere that I fitted. A permanent job came up in the finance department and I was offered the chance to stay. Although I worked in administration I spent all the time I could with the production team. I often volunteered to work on productions for the experience and did a lot of work for the Youth Theatre productions. It started to dawn on me that my heart was in the more creative roles in theatre and so after seven years I left the Sherman Theatre and went to Welsh College to train to be a Stage Manager.

Over the last 25 years or so the Sherman has been a part of my life. I’ve worked there and experienced making and watching some great theatre. This year Sherman Cymru are producing a play I’ve written called ‘Before It Rains’ and so my relationship with the building continues.

I couldn’t be prouder.

Katherine Chandler’s first play was a musical comedy called The Bankrupt Bride that was produced by Theatr na n’Óg in 2009 and toured nationally. She has had a long-standing relationship with the company and her play We Need Bees, a children’s play for the under-sevens, is currently on tour. As a writer, she has also had short plays produced by Dirty Protest and Spectacle Theatre. In 2011 one of her plays was selected by Pentabus Theatre as their We Are Here 2011 winning script and was developed in association with Sherman Cymru. Katherine is the recipient of an Arts Council Wales grant to write a new female-led comedy and is under commission from National Theatre Wales to develop a new piece of work with them. In early 2013 Katherine will be on a studio attachment at the National Theatre (England). Before It Rains runs at Sherman Cymru between 25 September – 6 October 2012. Katherine currently lives in Penarth.

Katherine was photographed at Sherman Cymru by Jon Pountney

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“It has been a city of firsts for me” – Claire

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When my granddad left Wales at 16 to rejoin the rest of his family up north avoiding the pits and the trade his fatherʼs, and grandfatherʼs, I donʼt think he imagined he would have family members settling in his home country again. Till his final days he remembered the lighthouse at Roath Park Lake, Christmas shopping at the market and cakes and tea in David Morgan and still when he would stumble over my name and what I did for a living, he would remember I was the one who was now living back in Wales.

Cardiff held a place in his heart, and memory, long after other aspects faded, and I know how he feels.

It was a Sunday night with the rain pelting down when I first set foot in Cardiff after the endlessly train journey from Newcastle to Walesʼ capital. After trudging round the city for ages looking for somewhere decent for food (Cardiff was different in 2002 with no restaurant or piazza cafe sections just a Walkabout and closed shops) we stumbled into Toucan Club. Squashed between dubious clubs and chain bars on St Mary Street, it wasnʼt the venueʼs first incarnation, neither was it its last, and the bar had a lot of work to do. My first impressions werenʼt great and if all went well with the job trial the next day this city could be my new home. It was the Toucan that made helped make my mind up, and I wonder if I had fallen into one of the other bars on the street if my decision might have changed.

From Newcastle to university at Manchester, I was looking to start my career at the Western Mail, with a small monthly pay packet and the initial premise of six months on permanent night shift. Well offers like that donʼt come round every day! So I packed my bags, bunked in one half of a friendʼs double bed for a month before finally settling into my new life in Cardiff.

In many ways it has been a city of firsts for me. From the first time I lived in a house that had a banana tree and a boat in the front garden – the best house on Elm Street – to the first time I learnt to run for fun, not something I had considered until Bute Park came calling.

As the months turned into years, the city evolved and changed around me and I have also not stood still. Iʼve been the arts reporter living in Barfly and Clwb till the early hours hanging onto to every note bands played, partying hard, staying at house parties till well past their sell by date squeezing every last drop out of them. Iʼve changed careers and started ventures with friends I never imagined, putting on new plays with Dirty Protest and feeling huge pride as people squeeze into Yurts, bars and warehouses practically sitting on strangerʼs laps to see theatre. And Iʼve settled down, happily drinking earl grey tea and getting in an early night to make the most of the weekend.

Best friends have come and gone from the city, and each time I wonder how I will start again. But I am always surprised. The city has a way of putting new people in your path, some who will stick for a lifetime, others for the moment. Now Cardiff is where I have actual roots, with a partner, a shack of a house that is being slowly remodeled and a garden which is starting to bloom.

But wherever I go or whatever I do, Cardiff will always mean these things to me – pots of tea and the Archers in Elm Street with Eluned, Moloko on late weeknights and early morning Splott Market with Nicki, coffee and boy watching with Fi in Shot, Western Mail nights out, wrap parties with the best of Core, wrestling the X-Box from D, wild nights with Jess, endless gigs and giggles with Gemma, cinema trips, ripping houses to bits, and hot chocolate over Roath Lake with Steve, running training with Lou in Bute Park, getting Dirty with Tim, El, Mared and Catrin and a whole host of others in the Yurt, circus fun and party nights with Ellie, putting the world to rights with Siriol and the beginnings of fun times with Dolly and Lals and cakes, Catan and Gilmore Girls.

I hope thatʼs the start of a very long list and that just like my Grandad the happy times in this city will stick for a lifetime.

Claire Hill currently works as a director in television, and divides spare time being film reviewer for BBC Radio Wales Evening Show, one quarter of Dirty Protest, jewellery maker, official silencer of talkers in Cineworld, excellent cake baker and enthusiastic cyclist. She currently lives in Splott.

Claire was photographed in the Milgi garden by Adam Chard

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