Best of 2021: A selection of cultural highlights of the last 12 months
Over the next week, the great and the good of Welsh culture – and some of the Nation.Cymru gang – will be sharing their cultural highlights of the last 12 months.
Cardi fest incoming! My ultimate favourite piece of artwork from 2021 is one of Cranogwen, the headstrong and fiercely independent poet, schoolteacher and editor who resisted conforming to the restrictions of life as a Victorian woman. I love Meinir Mathias’ artwork, and it was also a part of a fundraiser to raise money to erect a monument in Llangrannog for the historical trailblazer of her time. I was very jealous to learn that another proud Cardi, Elin Jones MS, has the original piece of art.
Most important read of the year for me was 10 Stories From Welsh History that Everyone Should Know. I’m a bit biased as the author, Ifan Morgan Jones, is my other half, but this book provides a highly visual and factual focus on important history highlights to ensure that Wales’ children know their own national history.
Finally, I enjoyed watching Monologau’r Maes: Lauren Connelly – snippets from Welsh plays. Such a refreshing and honest voice and portrayal. As the editor of Lysh Cymru, I commissioned Lauren last year, and her #GwybodaethMyLove blogs are very popular with teenage viewers. Diolch Lauren, for being you!
When Llinos Dafydd isn’t running around after her four children, she works her wonders as the Welsh language creative copywriter for Cowshed, spreading the love on causes they believe in. Llinos also is a creative book editor for Rily Publications, and the editor of Lysh Cymru, an online magazine for teens. She recently took the reigns as the new editor of Wcw a’i Ffrindiau magazine for the littlest readers of Wales. Also a passionate freelance translator and journalist, she has contributed various opinion pieces and articles for Nation Cymru, BBC Cymru Fyw, Golwg and Cara.
The Madness of Grief by Richard Coles – This memoir is a raw, comical and honest description of grief and addiction. Coles has a fantastic way of writing and it was a good reminder to live your life however you choose and to remember to stop and smell the roses.
Christmas Concert with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales – This superb concert was in the beautiful Brangwyn Hall and attended by all ages. The feeling of shared joy was brilliant and something we have all missed.
Anfamol – Seeing this play written by award winning Welsh playwright Rhiannon Boyle was a big highlight for me this year for so many reasons. To see a full house (socially distanced of course) in the Taliesin watching a Welsh language play produced by Theatr Genedlaethol was just fantastic.
Lee Mengo trained at the RWCMD. Since graduating he has worked extensively across theatre, radio, tv and film. This year he appeared in Under Milk Wood at the National Theatre. Other theatre includes: A Mad World My Masters for the RSC and English Touring Theatre; A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Regent’s Park; The Rivals (also Liverpool Playhouse) and The Libertine at Bristol Old Vic and Glasgow Citizens; 6:37 for the Royal Court and Dirty Protest; Spangled with Mercury Theatre Company for which he was received Wales Theatre Awards Best Actor nomination.
Selecting only three cultural highlights is a difficult task but I’m going to give a shout out to the ladies because I am so excited to finally see so many excellent female writers being produced.
We are Lady Parts Channel 4- Nida Manzoor’s anarchic and irreverent music comedy about a Muslim female punk band – called Lady Parts. Which is just as brilliant as it sounds.
Alma’s Not Normal BBC – semi-autobiographical comedy drama written by and starring Sophie Willan. I love it so much I watched it twice within a month – it makes me laugh loud and cry big, my favourite combination.
Rockets and Blue Lights – at the National Theatre was an astonishing play by Winsome Pinnock, weaving together stories from different timelines to devastating impact. She always breaks my heart.
Emily is an emerging screenwriter and playwright who won the 2021 George Devine Award for most promising playwright for her play Atlantis. In 2018 she won a place on Channel 4’s 4Screenwriting Course to develop her pilot Land of My Fathers about a Syrian refugee coming to live in a small Welsh town. She was selected to be part of the BBC Wales Writersroom group ‘Welsh Voices’ in 2019 and contributed Homework to the Sky Open Theatre series. Her acclaimed play, Pavilion, premiered at Theatr Clwyd in Sept-Oct 2019, directed by the Olivier award winning director Tamara Harvey.
Throughout 2021, I have taken part in many Literary Festivals in sub-Saharan Africa. It is the dream of most African writers to make it into the Nigerian book market.
Following my interview with Peter Florence for the Hay digital festival, I was picked up by Amara Chimeka CEO of Purple Shelves, one of Nigeria’s leading publishers. They bought the publishing rights of the first part of my memoir I, ERIC NGALLE from Parthian Books.
With them, I took part in the Pay Gaya Literature Festival in Ghana, Benue, and Lagos Book Festival in Nigeria. I loved these festivals; I was in the entourage of some wonderful African writers.
From November 2021 Purple Shelves made the memoir available across bookstores in Nigeria Abuja, to Lagos, Sokoto and Benin.
The best book I read this year is Clementine Wamariya The Girl Who Smiled Beads. Breathless.
Eric Ngalle is a Cameroonian writer, poet, playwright, and human rights activist based in Wales. He was awarded the Creative Wales Award 2017/2018 for his work on the topics of migration, trauma, and memory. In his autobiography I, Eric Ngalle: One Man’s Journey Crossing Continents from Africa to Europe (2019), he recounts his journey to Europe, where he spent several years seeking refuge. He sits on the boards of Literature Wales and Aberystwyth Arts Centre Advisory Group and began his PhD at King’s College London in October 2021
Like many others, lockdown and Covid had me much more dependent on the television than usual. I had to resort to it for my ration of drama, and I enjoyed several series like Mare of Easttown, Maid, and have to mention Pembrokeshire Murders which I really enjoyed because, for once, it was a drama set in Wales which actually featured Welsh actors in it.
I suppose, under the circumstances, there was a certain comfort in revisiting old favourites too, and I whiled away many hours revelling in one of the best TV series ever made, in my opinion, Sopranos which really is a feast of story, character and brilliant scriptwritng.
I also found comfort in reading, and lost myself rather in Stephen Fry’s Mythos which was another “revisiting” perhaps, as I already knew the more familiar myths, but discovered so much more and Fry’s retelling was witty and accessible.
I also really enjoyed Sion Jobbins’ two volumes of essays The Phenomenon of Welshness. But I missed theatre and live performance so much. Here’s hoping 2022 will finally bring work and opportunity for all the many talented artists who have struggled for so long during the pandemic.
Manon Eames is an experienced writer, actress and presenter based in South Wales. She has worked throughout Wales and beyond, initially specialising in theatre for young people and community audiences in both Welsh and English, but also appearing in, and scripting, many main stage productions as well as TV plays, series and several films, in both languages.
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