Treasure Island – Pantoland

It is not often that I take the decision to put a Tivyside review of panto on my blog, but I have been persuaded by the enthusiasm of certain cast members to share it on their face-book pages and I do hope that as many people as possible will see it and maybe on another occasion make the effort to go and enjoy a production by this immensely talented bunch of village people.

Treasure Island – Cilgerran Players.

From the moment the excellent Sarah Moore put a foot on the stage as Dame Sally Forth at the annual Cilgerran panto, the audience knew they were in for a good time and began answering back without a second thought.  Treasure Island was a courageous move, breaking with more traditional titles and going for an original choice for a change, but under Amanda Wells’s direction this brand new entertainment, had a joyfully traditional daft panto plot, and some welcome new characters for the audience to laugh at and argue with. The Cilgerran Players have a wealth of talent evidenced by quality acting throughout, right down to the very youngest with the chorus of lost pirates and Spot the dog, played with an insouciant comedy by Bradley Martin.

Also worthy of mention among the teenage members of the cast were Jake Caswell as Ben Gunn and Theo Blackburn as Jack Forth both of whom shone in their own parts, showing real acting ability and additional musical skills. Thomas George made a first-class Jolly Roger, especially in his moment of miming Freddie Mercury with credible relish, and Jim Hawkins and Mary Forth the young lovers, ably played by Charlotte Wallond and Leah Kitson James, sang sweetly, looked lovely, and contributed the essential romantic element.

Amongst the adult parts Andy Wallond did a great job as the devious Long John Silver, holding his own against the overtures of the insistent Dame and the two of them were aided in keeping the audience laughing by several others who have a natural talent to cause mirth on sight, Mark Chandler as Israel Hands, Jan Garner as Blind Pugh and Silas Blackburn as Squire Trelawney whose double act with Doctor Livesey and his ear trumpet played by Reuben Wells, was hilarious. It must however also be said that the Cilgerran players do have advantages that  stretch beyond their acting capabilities and that is why they make such good ensemble productions. Congratulations should go to Sue Bains for the marvellous costumes, especially those of Dame Sally Forth, and, to  all the backstage team from sound and lighting, to the team who painted and created the super set with the pirate ship sailing in, and other clever devices. Such fun for the audience, and it looked like just as much fun for the cast.

For Lovers of Dusty

At Theatr Mwldan recently  ‘Call Me Dusty’ a new play about the seventies diva, was performed. The theatre was crowded, evidence of how many people found her interesting enough to discover more about her life. Unfortunately, as the play showed, it was not her life that many fell in love with.It was her voice. Her life was not a happy tale of success and creative joy. It was a sad journey through manic-depression, and a lack of confidence in herself which meant she never trusted in her success and popularity. The review that went in the Tivyside follows, and includes the couple of sentences which were edited out because of the length. 

Call Me Dusty

Call me Dusty, a drama based on Dusty Springfield’s career years, performed at Theatr Mwldan and written by local playwright Derek Webb, was well received by the capacity audience.  Jessica Sandry who took the role of Dusty, gave life to the immense likeability of Dusty from an early age. Her eagerness to please, her charming smile, and her masked shyness, were all apparent from the beginning; as indeed was her ambition. She knew from an early age that she had a ‘voice’, and was very much swayed in the long term by  her love of American music, Tamla Motown, soul and the blues. Alongside Jessica Sandry, two other extremely talented and proficient actors, Jayne Stillman and James Scannell, created between them a host of characters, including parents, management team, the press, and others who were important at different points in her career. Their capacity to bring in a new voice, and a new face were a real testament to their abilities.With the development of the play, the sweet young girl began to display her other less attractive qualities. These were again captured extremely well and with the kind of conviction necessary to carry the audience along with her and bring some understanding to the fact that she was almost certainly seriously bipolar, a condition referred to as ‘manic-depressive’ in those days, and something which we know today afflicts many creative people, performers among them.

There was a lot to love about Dusty, and about the play itself. The stage was cleverly used to present a variety of locations, and the use of archive footage of Dusty herself on the high rear screen, provided some of the most electrifying moments in the play. Hearing again those songs from the sixties and seventies; from Island of Dreams, whilst she was in the Springfields, and later right up to the work with the Pet Shop Boys, her voice still has a quality which is right up to date.

From the charming young girl to the over the top, gorgeous blonde diva with the great bank of blond beehive, and her eyes thickly blackened with liner, shaders and mascaras, it was Dusty Springfield’s voice that everyone loved, and no doubt it was that which brought out such a large and enthusiastic audience at Mwldan, and wherever the play has been produced. The saddest part of Dusty’s life made up the content of the second half of the play and somehow there it lost the momentum built up in the earlier part. Essentially there was more of a ‘telling’ of her life, rather than the action of the earlier scenes. The description of her illness, and her sensitivities was told by others, and somehow rather drawn out. A pity that the wonder of her voice was not the image the audience came away with, but the sad image of a woman in distress struggling to come to terms with losing her fame. Otherwise this was a really successful drama about one of the great singers of our times.

Dylan Thomas and The Pubs

The following review is written for publication in the Tivyside newspaper which serves the area around Cardigan in West Wales. The paper has a long reputation of always allowing a space for book reviews. Tradition says that many of the Tivyside’s readers are the kind of people who enjoy a good book, and especially one which talks of their land, their sport or their history. Even better if it written by someone they know or have encountered locally.  This is why when book reviews became relatively rare in  weekly papers, The Tivyside  continued to offer space for local writers and publishers to tell the public about their material. But systems change, and there is now a prospect that the full review cannot always be fitted in to the available space in the Tivyside. By placing it here, I hope that many people who would normally look for a review in the Tivyside, will take the time to come and read it here

Dylan Thomas – The Pubs by Jeff Towns, ( chairman of the Dylan Thomas Society).

Making a gentle assault on the long-time assumptions surrounding one of the most celebrated of poets from Wales and his relationship with pubs, is at the core of the latest book from Y Lolfa by Jeff Towns, the long acknowledged leading authority on Dylan Thomas. Towns has studied all aspects of the poet’s life and in The Pubs, he reviews the places where DT spent his days, and no doubt sometimes, his nights and what their attraction was; what drew him to them, beyond the obvious, the booze.

This is a beautiful book, to handle as well as to read;  a neat, hard-back with an attractive dust jacket. It feels more generous and yet less intimidating than a full-scale biography, bursting with the kind of slip-stream detail, that is eclectic, touching, funny and surprising by turns, so that one feels that one can actually imagine being in the pubs with the great man himself.

These pubs, in Swansea and Gower, Laugharne and London,  New Quay and New York, are each like a small country in themselves. They are distinctly individual, and each brings with it its own cast of characters, with whom Dylan Thomas delighted in friendship. The impression when following him from somewhere like the Fitzroy Tavern in London, to the Black Lion in New Quay, and back  is that he created for himself a larger, more extensive world in which to share exchanges, and in which to enjoy and relish those he might meet. He simply loved language, and was a storyteller because he was a good listener. Towns says ‘It was in these very pubs that Dylan would meet the people who would inspire so much of his work.’

There are plentiful small anecdotes, which are a joy and tales that one may have heard before, but never like this, in context. Conversation thrived in the pubs during the first half of the 20th century, moments of family history, insane barflies, queens of the sofas, and all surrounded by poets, musicians and artists. Something about that, about hearing the story in connection with where it occurred is what makes this new. Towns’ idea in short is to make us look anew at what the attractions of the pub really were to Dylan Thomas, and to measure his need for social company, an inbuilt audience, and the warmth of food and drink, against the image of him falling over  permanently drunk, a womanising, bohemian pained-poet stereotype.

Illustrated throughout by Wyn Thomas whose tantalising water-colours, capture the many pubs through which Dylan travelled adds an enormous quality to the book. They bring each building in its setting to life and in shades which surprise and add character.

The book is a special limited edition of 500 signed copies. It cries out to be enjoyed by anyone and everyone, not only by those  with a steadfast and uncompromising love of Dylan Thomas and his work.

 The Pubs, is possibly one of the most interesting, and certainly one of the most informative, of the books ever written about the locations of the social life of Wales’s most celebrated poet, Dylan Thomas, accompanying him and his friends as it does, through the many pubs with which he had made a personal connection, at some point during his lifetime.

The Pubs published by Y Lolfa is on sale price £19.99 (signed limited editions only)


Favourite Books – Prichard’s Nose

Recently a friend asked me if I had to make a kind of desert island discs list, but with the ten best books I had ever read, what would they be. Several books came to mind amongst them was Prichard’s Nose by Sam Adams. This is the review I did for it which appeared in the Tivyside in 2009 and now I am  rereading the book, and loving it more than the first time.

A Man with No Nose


The latest fictional offering from publishers Y Lolfa does not read like a debut novel, though that is what it is. Prichard’s Nose by Sam Adams has all the assured construction and style of a long experienced writer. It is a beautifully crafted piece of work with a depth of humanity and considered observation which mark it out as the work of a genuinely exceptional talent.

Offering not one story, but two, cleverly interwoven so that each is as arresting as the other, we are carried first into the mind of Martin, the researcher seeking the Prichard of history. This Prichard is the man who wrote Twm Shon Catti, and died in Swansea impoverished and without a nose and through an extraordinary piece of luck Martin falls across Prichard’s attempt at an autobiography. Here the second story begins and in this the author has excelled, constructing a totally believable historic document issuing from the 1800’s which carries the reader back in time and offers detailed and eloquent descriptions of Prichard’s early years amongst the rural poor in Wales, and his later adventures in London, where he became part of the theatrical world of the day. Such a boldly stylish reconstruction of the period requires not only a powerful imagination but a genuine awareness of history, all of which is evident in abundance throughout the book.

Despite the title the mystery of the nose is merely hinted at, and remains unanswered until the last. No-one, it seems has any idea where Prichard lost it. All that is known is that when he died he was wearing a false, wax nose held on by a pair of spectacles. But echoing into the modern day world Martin’s wife has a ‘nose job’ and suddenly becomes attractive to other men, an unexpected twist to the tale that lends a connection that is not lingered over but nonetheless increases the reader’s feeling that Martin should be the man to finally be vouchsafed the truth, reward for all his hard work and persistence. That life does not always mirror the fictional certitudes is laid bare at the book’s conclusion. This is a wonderful book and one which deserves the very highest praise.

Prichard’s Nose by Sam Adams is published by Y Lolfa £9.95 at all good bookshops. 

Reviewing Roadrage

I must say that I do not often read a thriller – and I had no idea whether I would enjoy this one when my editor passed the info about it to me. When the book arrived and I began to read it was a surprise to find myself immersed in it very quickly. This is the review I wrote for the Tivyside – it’s a great read for a lazy week-end, one of those where you want to do nothing else, but sit around reading. Maybe it’s only me that does that….is it? Can’t be surely.

Book Review

A Gripping Tale

Anyone who reads ‘Roadrage’ the thrilling first novel by M J Johnson, will never see the cosy rurality of a  holiday cottage in Llangranog, in quite the same light again. Just released from Odd Dog Press, this is a truly gripping tale which, even from the earliest pages creates a shiver of fear, so strange and unsettling are the opening shots with their promise of the incomprehensible terrors to come.

The first stirrings of  what lies ahead occur in a late night journey on the motorway, when everyman Gil Harper, is driving home from spending Christmas with the family of his dead wife.  It’s a dark night with driving rain, he is dwelling on his solitary state and memories of his lost love, and becomes aware that his is the only car on the road. His feelings of loneliness are exaggerated by this, and it is almost a relief to see another pair of headlights coming up behind him. The fact that his dog Spike suddenly offers a growling warning of something unpleasant  to come is initially ignored by Gil. But then things start to happen which are very far from normal or comfortable. The behaviour of the second car as it tries a number of tactics which threaten to drive him off the road, or give him heart failure,  at first induces panic, the thought of a drunk out of hand, but soon escalates to something infinitely more threatening and ultimately terrifying.

Though Gil somehow manages to get away, believing he has escaped the threat, it is actually far from over as the reader recognises when offered an insight into the mind of the perpetrator. The interesting combination of observing the thoughts of both tormentor and tormented is a clever device and continues throughout the story as things get worse and worse.

Though the reader is privy to the voice of the criminal mind, they cannot identify him any more than Gil himself can. Despite that they are taken into the planning of the mysterious and unpleasant happenings, and even murder,  the motivation which drives it all remains in deep shadow, and this is the most terrifying aspect of the story. Who is he and why is he doing these things? While Gil struggles to explain what is happening to the police, things simply deteriorate around him with no clue as to what he has done to be targeted with such venom. In his private life he is making efforts to begin a new life, with a new relationship, but consistent terrifying attacks on those closest to him, and on his property continue, as does his bewilderment about why.

This is a really well-written thriller, with a tight scary plot, that carries some genuinely original ideas, and cleverly builds terror and tension, finally bringing a real ‘edge of the seat’ denouement and dramatic conclusion on the cliff top at Llangranog.

Roadrage by MJ Johnson is due out on 3 June, and is available from good bookshops; on Amazon as hardback or ebook, and is available online from price £12.99