Review: Tiger Bay

Tiger Bay

Rhiannon M. Williams, lecturer in Theatr and Drama at the University of South Wales

The trouble with reviews is that readers tend to see them as gospel, and we forget that their stars aren’t, well, actual stars.  We forget that the reception of theatre is subjective and dependent on the critic’s experiences of other productions and their experiences of life in general.

Last night I went to Wales Millenium Centre to enjoy a piece of musical theatre. I didn’t want to watch as a pencil-licking judge, I wanted to absorb the performance and get lost in the moment; something which live performance – be it sport, gigs, theatre – allows you to do in a way which no other media does.

However, I have since read some reviews which have left me a little perplexed.  I understand that people’s views vary.  So as other people have felt fit (or have been paid) to express their opinion, then here I do the same.

**

Tiger Bay is an epic, ambitious and emotional production which frequently had me – and the audience around me – in tears.

Michael Williams’ narrative follows the trials and tribulations of a bustling, hard-working community as its people struggle to stay alive and discover who they are.  From ensemble, to leading roles, all performers were totally committed and immersed in the performance.

Their energy was contagious.  A particularly memorable performance for me was that of Dom Hartley-Harris as the newcomer Themba, his passionate yet smooth voice able to convey his inner struggles.

The children were also brilliant; confident yet heart-wrenchingly vulnerable.

Tiger Bay’s community of a hundred years ago is portrayed as busy and alive.  It is fast paced; an ever-changing landscape of hardship and vibrancy.

This is reflected in the busy choreography, and in the ever-changing scenery. Anna Fleischle’s set is dominated by a castle/ship/fortress type structure which I felt was too foreboding at the beginning.

But then I realised that this could be the point; however busy the characters are, they are always dominated by something which is beyond their reach – belittling their lives, if you like (sound familiar?).

**

When listening to an album for the first time I can find it a little strange to digest.  I want to like it and I feel that I will, but I can’t quite yet, as the songs aren’t etched in my brain and senses.

This happened to an extent with Tiger Bay, with the songs and themes being new to me.

However, Daf James’ score, sometimes echoing Welsh hyms sometimes African rhythms,  has succeeded in haunting me since last night, and I find myself singing ‘Shadowland, Shadowland’, wishing I could hear the songs again.

For me, Tiger Bay could be a tad shorter, allowing the storyline to be condensed slightly (but as my father-in-law mused whilst discussing the show: people thought that Marx’ Das Capital was too long at first!).

Also, there were some quiet, tender moments, which were spine-tingling.  I wonder whether a few more moments like these could have been possible, to allow the audience to reflect, and to be juxtaposed with the high tempo of the show.

**

Such was my enjoyment of the production that some of the comments in the (English) press were rather jarring, if not perplexing.  The reviews aren’t awful, raspberry type things, by any stretch.

But they seem to include enough measured condescension to suggest to the WMC that they shouldn’t make new musicals about Wales.

One suggests that the production is “overambitious”.  Welsh theatre makers; know your place!  Have no ambition!  Generic musicals only please!

Another, in sharp – and confusing – contrast complains about cliché.  Which seems to beg the question: is being a child living in poverty a cliché?  Is being underpaid a cliché?

Is not accepting other minorities to your country a cliché?  They weren’t and they aren’t.  All these issues are prevalent on our doorstep.

It may just be that some don’t like to see these ‘cliches’ time after time, because the more they see it, the more they must accept that this is how it is.

Other reviews have drawn similarities with Les Miserables, as if this should be viewed as an issue.

Given that it is arguably the most popular musical of all time, I’m confused as to why this should be a problem.  Stories of hardship and injustice have to be told in order for us not to forget them.

They’re the stories of our past – and the lived reality of people that is happening in our present – and theatre has the responsibility to represent this.

**

I salute Tiger Bay for being a brilliant three-hour performance, and for sharing this story on an international stage.  Wales has the right to create ambitious productions such as this; it validates our nation and helps us understand our heritage.

In the musical we see the characters trying to discover how Tiger Bay might change them, or how they might help change Tiger Bay, and unite as a community.  The musical’s currency is that it asks us: how do we respond to an ever changing Wales?

Do we question our own identity, or our collective identity, whilst our nation is constanly changing?

If we endeavour, as the characters of Tiger Bay, to live harmoniously with each other and to learn from each other, instead of problematising the ethnic or geographical boundaries that separate us, then we might hope for a stronger national community.

The story of this community, ignored and under-valued for so long, deserves to be celebrated onstage: Tiger Bay does it real justice.

I loved it, others didn’t – go see for yourselves.  Don’t depend on reviews!

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11 Comments

  1. Thank you Rhiannon for a throrough and sensitive review of the production. I would love to see (and hear) it for myself but only if it comes to Aberystwyth! It sounds like a production which would be appreciated ithoughout Wales and not only in Cardiff.

  2. Same here, Rhiannon and Thomas. A great review that makes me want to see it for myself. Maybe it will come to Llandudno Venue at some point.

    • Agree with Caermeirch & Thomas. It would be a shame if it was only performed in Cardiff. I would love to see it in Venue Cymru & I’m sure that it would resonate with audiences in other port cities worldwide.

  3. Tame Frontiersman

    Wales needs to remember Tiger Bay.

    This was a community on Welsh soil which was developing a unique indigenous culture. It should have been nurtured and cherished. Its destruction to make way for Severnside yuppies is one of the sadder and more shameful episodes of Welsh history.

  4. Probably the.most honest review I’ve read so far. I agree wholeheartedly with the feelings felt especially towards the end and I’m an Englishman who had tears .I attended opening night and the trip from Manchester was worth it. After seeing DHH in Bat Out Of Hell we were well aware of his vocal talents and again he didn’t disappoint..We were suitably impressed with the other cast members too Vikki Bebb John Owen Jones and Noel Sullivan( especially after my only recollection of him was having seen.him in Hearsay!) and as you say the Children especially Ruby Llewellyn were outstanding. My only wish and a request I’ve made of the Production Company…is please tour this production I’d love to see it here at Salford Quays (The Lowry) a docks area with similar history. 5* from me

  5. Saw it tonite and thoroughly enjoyed. Ran parallel to events today- divide and conquer(brexit) and blame others Would recommend,acting superb and the singing 👌Brought a tear to my eye at the end😀😀😀

  6. “The story of this community, ignored and under-valued for so long, deserves to be celebrated onstage: Tiger Bay does it real justice.” Dispite the noise coming from WMC the community was largely ignored and under-valued in the conciet, development and production of ‘Tiger Bay’. To use a popular phrase this is Cultural Apporiate incarnate and serves as a reminder that our community is only valued when our story can serve the needs of those in power.

  7. A very fair and honest review. It’s an extraordinary production (which, in fairness, is a little too long in part 1) but feels so prescient to today with a very divided UK as we hurtle towards Brexit. As I read some of the London reviews, I felt that some of those critics are a bit tired – they don’t have the fresh eyes. Yes, you have to work a little bit harder in the first part as you get all the storylines, but for me, that’s just like Shakespeare. And the pay-off in the second half is tremendous, emotional and thought-provoking. I was surrounded my cheers, tears and standing ovations at the end which I think speaks volumes. Bravo to the Wales Millennium Centre for being brilliantly brave, bravo to the amazing cast, Dom Hartley-Harris, Vicki Bebb, Zolani Shangase and John Owen Jones in particular, and a big bravo to the director, Melly Still, who managed to pull the vast cast and stories together in to a wonderful finale.

  8. Valentina Knight

    Thanks Sian Harvey for sending this honest and to the point review of ‘Tiger Bay’ currently being performed in Cardiff, at the Wales Millenium Centre. People were also either totally taken or perplexed and even rejecting of this emotionally haunting musical here in South Africa. But many who were open to this new musical felt exactly as this author, Rhiannon Williams felt – captivated. Those who felt this way continue to have songs from Tiger Bay going round in their heads. Thank goodness I have a husband who plays the piano by ear and saturated our cravings for the music and our Waterboy, Gabriella to sing the lyrics. Last night whilst waiting at Artscape theatre, Cape Town he found the rehearsal room in which Tiger Bay first took shape and played some of the songs to a surprised passing-by audience. This is exactly how we felt about ‘Tiger Bay’ – It lives on in us and we hope the music comes out soon. LOVED THIS MUSICAL because it is about human hardships. We can all identify with various parts of this emotive musical. Thank-you for this brilliant review. Tiger Bay is a collaboration between WMC and Cape Town Opera, a story we share!

  9. This is a far more accurate review than the sneering London Centric tosh I’ve read. I’m English but it resonates with passionate struggles everywhere. In the past and still today.

  10. Just watched the first half. It’s dreadful, overvlown, cliché riodden, derivative tosh. Yes, the actors work hard, of course they do, they’re pros, but the reviews in the London papers are spot on in my view. Speak as you find of course, but this made me angry. It’s just awful.

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