Aiming to spark a shift in how we express grief and loss with immersive new show featuring real life stories - National Theatre Wales

Aiming to spark a shift in how we express grief and loss with immersive new show featuring real life stories

National Theatre Wales announces its latest production, Circle of Fifths, an immersive theatre experience directed by Butetown film and theatre-maker Gavin Porter. Devised with a collective of musicians and artists, including Cardiff musical legend Anthony ‘Drumtan’ Ward, the production will combine film, music and theatre to create a live documentary. Featuring real-life stories from people across Wales, the show hopes to explore how music and stories can connect us in times of grief and loss – allowing us a moment of collective reflection and celebration to process some of what we have all been through over the past two years. Circle of Fifths will open at the Dance House in Cardiff from 18 to 26 June

After losing his uncle during the COVID 19 pandemic, director Gavin Porter, like many others, felt adrift when social distancing, “stay-at home-orders” and limits on the size of in-person gatherings changed the way friends and family could gather and grieve. Porter felt compelled to pick up his camera and start collecting stories on the different ways in which 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. 

Music became a powerful thread, not just in the ways it makes us feel, but how it unlocks unexpressed emotions and connects us to each other. The production takes its title from a tool of music theory that organises pitch into a sequence. Jazz musicians will sometimes disrupt this sequence to create new musical pathways. It is in this disharmony and discord that Porter draws parallels with the impact loss has – as a fracture in the rhythm of our lives.

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 NTW’s first year. He later became involved with NTW TEAM and worked on De Gabay (2013), an award-winning play by Somali poets from Butetown. He was NTW’s Creative Associate from 2013 and, building on the work of others, created the participatory theatre project, The Big Democracy Project. Porter has spent many years telling untold stories through his documentaries and Circle of Fifths will mark his first major theatrical work.

On combining film and documentary with live performance and music, Porter said; “Having come up through NTW TEAM I’ve always been interested in how the skills I’ve honed through my documentary work, and interviewing hundreds of people, could be transferred into a theatrical space. This show will be a 360-degree experience, with performers, musicians, taped interviewees and film, all coming together to create a truly unique week of performances”

The musicians and artists Porter has brought together for the project also include singer and multi-instrumentalist Kiddus Murrell, performer (and funeral arranger) Maureen Blades and musician and singer Francesca Dimech.

Circle of Fifths will be the third National Theatre Wales production in the last year that explores the theme of grief. Sion Dale Jones’ digital lockdown show Possible and the Mathilde López helmed Petula, both grappled with loss and grief in their own unique way. Artistic Director of National Theatre Wales, Lorne Campbell said; “Gavin and the team are making a highly original piece of theatre that brings together documentary and live performance to connect our personal experiences of music to our collective relationship to death, grief and recovery. So many people have been bereaved over the last two years and in the shadow of this shared experience, this show draws on our many traditions and stories to find celebration of all that connects in the ways we grieve death and celebrate life.” 

Circle of Fifths will open at the Dance House, Cardiff, on Saturday 18 June and will run until Sunday 26 June. 

This production will adopt the principles of the Theatre Green Book, an initiative by the theatre industry to work more sustainably and set standards for making sustainable choices in every part of the creative process.

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