A week of retraced journeys. First as I set off for Manchester to catch the last couple of days of Contacting the World
– a wonderful initiative which brings together 12 companies of young performers from across the world in a year-long exchange of ideas, inspiration and ways of making theatre. It all culminates in a week long festival at Contact
, Manchester, where I was Artistic Director before coming to Wales. It was fantastic to be back in the intense, slightly crazy, always beautiful explosion of Contacting the World. We sent a Welsh rep for the whole week – Gemma from Valleys Kids – and she certainly looked like she was enjoying herself. With companies there from India, Jamaica, Indonesia, the United States, Iran, South Africa, Denmark, Holland and Switzerland, as well as Manchester, London and Liverpool, she has hopefully made some good contacts for the future. Have a look at what went on at www.contacingtheworld.org
Going back in time for me, I took the train from Manchester to Prestatyn, tracing a similar journey to one that I often made as a kid growing up in Liverpool. I spent the first five years of my life in Wales, and after my family moved back to Liverpool, we would usually return to North Wales on holidays. Since moving to Cardiff, I’ve always visited North Wales from the South, but retracing the journey from North West England, the landscapes loomed from a far more familiar, yet far more deeply buried place. I remember how much I resented Liverpool when we first moved there (for all I’m a Scouse patriot now) and how the hills of North Wales, and the view of the sea from a high cliff would tug at me.
And so for Prestatyn – where most of NTW’s team have spent much of the past few weeks. The Beach isn’t our biggest project of the year, but it’s a truly ambitious one, in that we are exploring a form – pervasive theatre gaming – that has only really been around for a short time, and which isn’t usually produced as a full piece of work running over several nights. And we’ve commissioned our youngest team of artists to create the show. Arriving for a first dress on Sunday, the nerves were clearly on display – with so many unknowns in the mix, not least the weather (the show takes place largely on the beach itself, so there’s no place to hide from the rain – though don’t worry if you’ve booked tickets, we have a covered option nearby!) The show also only really works when there’s an audience to interact and play the games. The team have been doing a great job over the past few months getting local people to test out versions of the games, and six local people are also in the show running games in character as ‘the curtain twitchers’, but on the dress rehearsal night, for one reason and another, the audience who should have been testing the games didn’t show up, and so me and a few of the NTW staff were running around the beach like crazy trying to be a group of 6 people each! At the end of the dress there were a lot of things to do – equipment for games that needed remaking, parts of the script that needed a rethink. The team worked like crazy all day Monday, and for the next dress on Tuesday suddenly everything felt like it was falling into place. The first public show on Tuesday evening had a sold-out audience, glorious weather (including the most beautiful sunset in the final moments of the show) and was a wonderful combination of good fun and a genuinely touching underlying story.
It looks like this will be another fully sold-out show for NTW, so if you are thinking of coming and don’t have a ticket book now!
As for me – well the underlying theme of the show is about how you imagine and re-imagine your hometown. At the start of the show you write your hometown on a badge, at another point you shout it into the air, and at the end… well I won’t give it away; but between Liverpool, North Wales, Manchester, and maybe in years to come Cardiff, I may have to play The Beach all week in order to do justice to the many meanings of home.