After losing his uncle to COVID-19, Circle of Fifths director Gavin Porter picked up his camera and started collecting people’s stories of how lives are celebrated in death and the importance of traditions and rituals.
Taking to Twitter, he asked people to share what songs they would like played at their funeral. The overwhelming response included everything from Abba to The Abyssinians, Gil Scott Heron to Nat King Cole.
Circle of Fifths was subsequently devised and performed by musicians and artists from the Butetown community including Ska and Reggae musician Drumtan Ward, multi-instrumentalist Kiddus Murrell, and performer (and funeral arranger) Maureen Blades. Co-creation is central to Circle of Fifths, as with all of NTWs’ projects.
If I was a carpenter, I might have made him a bench. If I was a stonemason, maybe I’d have carved him a headstone. I’m a big music fan, so music has also been a way to process things.
Featuring real-life stories from Butetown, Wales’ oldest multicultural community, and beyond, Circle of Fifths explores how music and stories can connect us in times of grief and loss – creating a space for collective reflection and celebration.
Here, Gavin shares more about his work on the show:
It takes a lot of courage to talk about death and loss. I couldn’t have made this show without those who shared their stories.
As an artist, I use film and theatre - the two worlds I live in - as a tool to make sense of things. In making this show, I’m just trying to make sense of my own experience of losing my Uncle, as well as other loved ones.
Death comes to all of us. Bereavement connects all cultures. I don’t expect everyone to experience this show in the same way. I don’t know what life experience you may bring with you. All I can hope is that you find some point of connection, whatever that might be.
I’m passionate about telling stories from my community. My community has changed. All communities change. The only constant is change. So it’s important to me to keep these stories and traditions alive. I’m a product of my environment and as an artist, that’s reflected in what I do.
Most of the artists you see on stage aren’t from a theatre background. They’re just being themselves. Everything is a creative decision but at the same time, a lot of it is their truth.
I want to thank NTW for taking a punt on an unconventional idea. They put their faith in me, but also in the people I want to work with. People who I think are super talented but who might not have worked in theatre before.
Without NTW, myself and many others wouldn't have ever stepped into a theatre, let alone work in theatre.
Hopefully, you’ll see and hear stories that reflect your own experience. If not, I hope you’ll learn something about the experiences, traditions and cultures of others, particularly from the people of Butetown.
Gavin Porter has worked with National Theatre Wales on numerous projects including The Agency, which put young people at the heart of developing projects and businesses that have a social purpose and The Soul Exchange as a filmmaker during NTWs’ first year. He later became involved with NTW TEAM and worked on De Gabay (2013), an award-winning play by Somali poets from Butetown. As NTWs’ Creative Associate from 2013, building on the work of others, he created the participatory theatre project The Big Democracy Project. Gavin has spent many years telling untold stories through his documentaries and Circle of Fifths was his first major theatrical work.