The top picks of ‘22: Our writers select their cultural highlights of the year
2022 saw the return of live arts to our stages and creative spaces. After a couple of disrupted years due to the pandemic the theatres, concert halls and bars of Wales were once again filled with performers and punters sharing wondrous cultural experiences.
As a father of a young child, however, I barely saw any of it. I did read a lot of books and listened to a lot of music, though. So, with that caveat out of the way, these were my Welsh-and-Welsh-adjacent cultural highlights of 2022.
I really enjoyed The Two Dylans by Jeff Towns and KG Miles, a book exploring the coincidences, connections and shared cultural influence of Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan. As a long time fan of both Dylans, I found out lots about both men that I didn’t know before.
Meticulously researched and very easy to read. I also loved Nigel Jarrett’s recent collection Five Go to Switzerland, which I reviewed for Nation.Cymru in November.
My favourite book of this year, however, was the Dylan Thomas Prize-winning No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood.
Laugh-out-loud funny and gut punch devastating, I thought it was an incredible book worthy of all the praise and awards that have followed.
Ultimately though, I think there can only be one stand-out cultural moment in Wales this year; a 40 year old Welsh language folk protest song that captured a nation.
Dafydd Iwan’s Yma o Hyd, originally from 1983, has had a colossal revival due to its association with the Welsh football team, a defiant anthem that reminds the world that Wales is Still Here. And the world did hear it, too.
As the official song of Wales’ campaign at the Qatar 2022 World Cup (the less said about the actual football the better), a song about our country’s history, its challenges and steadfast resistance to those who have sought to undermine us over the centuries was sung on the global stage.
An unexpected but perfect anthem for the new (and old) wave of Welsh cultural and national identity. It points too, to a rise in Welsh language music across the genres with Adwaith, Melin Melyn and Sage Todz a few of the many who had a great 2022.
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The Pandemic has altered my behaviour and social interaction and I’m sad to say that my engagement with the real world has been minimal this last year. But that’s okay. My three granddaughters tell me not to worry and that ‘staying in is the new going out’.
The staying in however has not rendered me culturally bereft and I have not only continued in my safe space of reading, but opened myself to new cultural experiences.
The highlight of the year for me has been Heartstopper which aired for the first time on Netflix in April 2022. Based on, and scripted by Alice Oseman, of web comic fame, the eight-episode series directed by BAFTA award-winning TV and Film Director, BAFTA Cymru recipient of the Siân Philips Award, (and proud Welshman) Euros Lyn, was a huge hit with my granddaughters (14, 12 and 8) and me, as well as a global audience and fan-base of millions.
Telling of stories
Writing this highlight prompted me to look up the dictionary meaning of ‘culture’: the ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular people or society. And that’s why I think Oseman’s story and Lyn’s sensitive treatment and incorporation of Oseman’s style marked a shift in the telling of stories about the LGBTQ+ society, and was a huge and positive step towards a better world.
It was Jon Gower who once said to me that ‘when you fail to see yourself represented in any media, in a way you cease to exist’. That’s why this series allowed me, as a member of what might be termed the ‘wider’ audience (for wider here, see older and straight) to learn about the huge breadth of identities that come under the ‘queer’ umbrella and to revel in teenagers (cast magnificently) discovering themselves and being empowered by acknowledging their identities.
Above all this was about love that is not dependent on sexuality. And what was more wonderful was that my granddaughters and I could talk openly and in a matter-of-fact way, with no hint of the embarrassment that might have been felt when I was growing up and talking to my grandparents.
I am so glad that my granddaughters are growing up in this world rather than the one I grew up in.
We are anticipating Series 2 and Series 3 which are currently in production with the lovely Euros Lyn behind the camera, directing both.
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Opera often embodies one of the paradoxes of art: it’s a form considered by many to be elitist yet it sometimes disturbs the assumptions on which elitism is based.
Wales is fortunate to have an international opera company and a few smaller ones.
This year, two were in action. Olivia Fuchs’s new production of Janáček’s The Makropulos Affair for Welsh National Opera drove home the Weltschmerz associated with longevity and the eternal life; and Mid Wales Opera’s touring production of the short, sharp El Gato con Botas (Puss in Boots) by the Spanish composer Montsalvatge dwelt entertainingly on how the destitute resort to lies and deceit in pursuit of a better life, albeit with the help of a talking animal.
Opera productions can also treat their audiences as dumb, larding themes to give them contemporary relevance when the ‘message’ is obvious. Neither of these productions did that.
MWO’s reason for being is that it takes pared-down productions to places in Wales where opera of the grand sort never reaches because it could not be accommodated; WNO tours English venues after unveiling in Cardiff.
The vicissitudes of public arts funding has affected both: WNO’s subvention from the Arts Council of England – for which touring over the border is the quid pro quo – has been cut, while MWO’s from the Arts Council of Wales has secured a further ambitious programme.
The immediate consequence for WNO is that its long-established visits to Liverpool will end for the foreseeable future.
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