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Llanelli’s Ffwrnes Theatre one of first Welsh venues set to re-open

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Llanelli’s Ffwrnes Theatre is one of the first Welsh venues to unveil its re-opening plans, with audiences being welcomed back into the building later this month as part of a one-of-a-kind sound and light experience, Ghost Light.

Ffwrnes Theatre, part of Carmarthenshire County Council’s collective of three theatres known as Theatrau Sir Gâr | Carmarthenshire Theatres, closed in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It will be the first venue out of the trio to welcome audiences back when Ghost Light opens for a six-week run over the summer from June 23 until July 31. The event has been designed to be Covid-safe with audiences guiding themselves through the sound and light experience in bubbles of up to 6 people.      

The concept for the experience centres around the symbolic Ghost Light, a light which is left on in every theatre while it is empty. Over the past 15 months, the Ffwrnes’s Ghost Light has been shining brightly throughout the pandemic.

Audiences will be invited to explore the areas usually only seen by the performers and theatre staff, as they step backstage and see the Ffwrnes through the eyes of the Ghost Light.

‘Ghost Light’ will be the first performance when the theatre reopens (Image: Carmarthenshire Council)

Carmarthenshire County Council’s executive board member for culture, sport and tourism, Councillor Peter Hughes-Griffiths, said: “It’s with great pleasure that we announce our plans to re-open the Ffwrnes this summer. The team at Carmarthenshire Theatres, along with a hand-picked creative team, have come together to develop an event for audiences unlike anything else they will have experienced.

“We’re looking forward to sharing this remarkable sound and light experience with local audiences and being able to welcome them back safely to Carmarthenshire’s flagship theatre at the Ffwrnes.”

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The Ffwrnes Theatre (Image: Carmarthenshire Council)

The Ffwrnes will still be in operation as a Vaccination Centre while Ghost Light is taking place, although the two services will be kept entirely separate. A temporary box office has been created on the opposite side of the building to the vaccination centre where audiences will arrive for the experience, and the self-guided tour only takes in areas which are not occupied by the vaccination centre.

Provisions have been made to ensure the experience is accessible for all. Audio described sessions will take place on selected days and videos with British Sign Language descriptions have been incorporated into the tour. The route is also step-free throughout.

Each tour takes approximately 30 minutes with each group booking a specific time slot. Single groups of up to 6 people from 6 different households, including children, are permitted per booking. Tickets on sale from June 9. Book online at www.theatrausirgar.co.uk  

(Lead image: Carmarthenshire Council)


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Books & Literature

Carmarthenshire author’s Carmarthen Crime series hits the bookshelves

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Ferryside author John Nicholl is celebrating the re-release of his Carmarthenshire-based detective books as the Carmarthen Crime Series.

His new publisher, Boldwood Books – winner of Publisher of the Year in the 2022 Independent Publishing Awards – has repackaged the four books with a strong emphasis on the Carmarthenshire setting and covers depicting local locations including Carmarthen, Dryslwyn Castle and the Tywi Estuary.

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The first two books, The Carmarthen Murders and The Tywi Estuary Killings, are on sale now, with the other two – The Castle Beach Murders and The Dryslwyn Castle Killings to follow soon.

The books focus on DI Gareth Gravel, an accomplished, old-school policeman affectionately known as Grav, who feels out of step with the modern world as he approaches retirement.

“Grav is something of a legend within the West Wales Police Force, liked and respected by the rank and file but not so much by the top brass due to his sharp tongue and a willingness to bend the rules to get results,” says Nicholl, who lives in Ferryside.

“Grav is overweight, loves rugby, drinks too much, particularly since the loss of his wife, and is struggling with chronic health issues. The job matters to him, victims matter to him, and he often goes the extra mile to protect the vulnerable victims of crime, particularly women and children, who he has a strong inclination to protect.”

The books draw on Nicholl’s own experience as a police officer and then as a child protection officer in Carmarthenshire. He started writing fiction after his psychologist recommended it as a way to process traumas he had witnessed during his career, which left him with PTSD.

He self-published his first book and it became an online bestseller; he went on to get signed by a publisher and now has 11 bestsellers behind him. His focus is on crime and the darker side of human nature, with a strong empathy for victims of abuse.

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“The four-book Carmarthen Crime Series, while fictional, draws on my real-life experiences as a police officer and child protection social worker,” he says. “I hope this gives the stories a gritty realism readers will enjoy.”

He adds that he is delighted to see the books republished as the Carmarthen Crime series.

“I grew up, live and write in west Wales, and so I’m delighted my publisher has given the books a strong Welsh identity, with stunning covers featuring some of the beautiful locations I know so very well,” he says.

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Museums

Dream role for Egypt Centre’s new head

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A childhood visit to a museum not only triggered Ken Griffin’s lifelong passion for Egyptology, it has also led to him landing his perfect job.

He has just been appointed curator of the Swansea University’s award-winning Egypt Centre and is now in charge of its unique collection of antiquities.

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Belfast-born Dr Griffin says he was captivated by Egyptology after a trip to Ulster Museum when he was six.

“They have a mummy on display called Takabuti, and I used to get my dad to take me there every Sunday. I wanted to know more about the country, and I finally went there on my 16th birthday. That really cemented the idea of doing Egyptology, I was totally obsessed,” he said.

Dr Griffin started volunteering at the museum while he was a first year Egyptology student back in October 2000. After finishing his degree, he went on to become a Saturday workshop assistant while studying for his MA and PhD in Egyptology.

After a spell as a lecturer, he hit the headlines when he discovered a depiction associated with the pharaoh Hatshepsut – one of just five women to have ruled ancient Egypt – on object he had taken out of the storeroom for a handling session.

He said: “This job is fantastic and often there are discoveries every day. We have about 6,000 objects in total, but we only have room for about a third of our collection to be on display. I have seen every object but often you see something you haven’t spotted before; particularly as new technology becomes available.”

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Dr Ken Griffin in the Ulster Museum alongside the mummy Takabuti, the exhibit that triggered his interest in Egyptology. (Image: Swansea University)

Back in 2020, three of the museum’s mummified animals were examined using X-ray micro CT scanning, which generates high-resolution 3D images. The process provided unprecedented detail about the animals’ lives – and deaths – more than 2,000 years ago.

During his time at the museum Dr Griffin has been actively involved in teaching Egyptology through the University’s adult education programme and he is passionate about ensuring the museum’s collection is as accessible as possible.

Next month he will oversee the installation of a new display case which will also create a temporary exhibition space to be used by Swansea University students.

Already a favourite destination for schools, the museum hosts regular workshops and events but when the pandemic forced it to close its doors, Dr Griffin set up virtual courses via zoom.

“We weren’t open to the public at all for 18 months and the gift shop and schools are usually our main source of income. But the online teaching really took off and over the two years we were able to bring in £50,000 of essential funds through that.

“They will definitely continue. Some of the online courses have been attended by 180 people whereas if I held them here it would be a maximum of 15. It has been an unbelievable success.

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“Attendees have come from more than 50 countries in six continents – we haven’t had anyone join us from Antarctica yet!”

Dr Griffin also emphasised the continuation of the museum’s traditional activities, assisted by its band of more than 100 dedicated volunteers, and his desire to get more students, in particular, through its doors.

Another of his long-term aim is for the Centre to twin with a museum in Egypt to exchange ideas and knowledge.

He added: “I first came here as student and I have really been part of the Egypt Centre ever since, it is a very special place. I wake up and look forward to coming to work every single day. It is always exciting.

“It is very rare for a curator of Egyptology post to come up so to get this job really does show that dreams can come true.”

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Lead image: Dr Ken Griffin among exhibits in the storeroom of Swansea University’s Egypt Centre. (Image: Swansea University)

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Theatre

A night to celebrate all that is Grand about The GRAND

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A host of well-known names and familiar faces will come together on Swansea’s best-loved stage to celebrate 125 years of Swansea Grand Theatre on Saturday 23rd July.

Places change over the years, civic buildings come and go and the landscape of a city can become unrecognisable over a relatively short time.

Then there are the buildings that stand the test time and become so ingrained in the life of a place that you cannot imagine that it was ever not there. For people in Swansea there are few places of which that is truer than Swansea Grand Theatre.

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For 125 years this pastel-hued beauty of a building has brought talent from across the globe to Swansea, and to celebrate this milestone, resident company Grand Ambition has brought together a host of Welsh talent to say thank you to the theatre and to inspire a new generation of audiences.

On Saturday 23rd July, Grand Ambition is producing a night filled with music, dance, drama, song and entertainment from a star-studded line up, including Ria Jones, Mike Doyle, Kev Johns, Mose1time, Ify Iwobi, Valley Rock Voices, Karl Morgan & Who’s Molly?, Mal Pope, Crossing Borders, Hayley Gallivan, Bronwen Lewis, Steve Balsamo and Lee David
Bowen.

As well as established artists, a debut performance from The Rising Stars Theatre Co and the brilliant Fluellen Theatre Co, the Gala will also showcase young talent from the city, including resident companies Harry’s Youth Theatre, Mellin Theatre Arts and many, many more.

With a programme combining West-End show stoppers with Dylan Thomas, rap and powerful choral numbers, the Grand Gala promises to be a joyous celebration of Swansea.

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Grand Ambition is a new and exciting creative collective based at The Grand Theatre with a focus on developing audiences by telling Swansea stories and developing young and existing creative talent.

The company has been created in collaboration with Swansea City Council and Swansea based professional artists – Richard Mylan, Steve Balsamo, Michelle McTernan and Christian Patterson.

We asked them to tell us what inspired them to produce the Gala.

Michelle explained: “We all started our careers here at the Grand. It has a very special place in all our hearts. The fact that we have the opportunity to create “in house” engagements and work in this beautiful building is an absolute honour. Swansea Grand Theatre has stood the test of time and served our people and its city when she needed it the most. She has proved
to be a great institution and we must celebrate her in all her glory. The 125th birthday celebration will be a night to say thank you to her for always being there for us.”

“I feel now more than ever we should celebrate this theatre having been there for us for the last 125 years. We must honour its past and it’s incredibly bright future. The talent that we have on stage for this one-off event will reflect just that” actor and director Richard Mylan continued.

Musician Steve Balsamo is the third director of Grand Ambition and will perform on the night. He said “The Grand has always loomed large in my life and it’s always been a thrill to perform here. It’s so important to mark this 125th birthday and to pay tribute to this beautiful building, to remember the past and look forward to the future. Personally, to be able to sing my own song on this special night and to leave a thumb print on the legacy of The Grand will be an absolute honour”.

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Directing the event is writer, director and actor Christian Patterson. “It is an honour to be directing this Gala in the theatre that inspired me to be an actor. The Grand Theatre has graced Swansea for 125 years! It has entertained, delighted & enthralled people every single day of its existence and will continue to do so for many, many years to come. It will be a joy to
commemorate its glorious past and look toward its glittering future. Happy Birthday & long live Swansea Grand Theatre!” he enthused.

That future is fired by a new desire to connect with communities across Swansea. Cabinet Minister for Regeneration, Robert Francis-Davies commented, “These are exciting times for our city. Swansea Grand Theatre has always played a key role at the centre of Swansea’s cultural life, offering lots of opportunities for creativity for all of our communities.”

Recently appointed manager of the theatre, Grant MacFarlane, summed it up nicely: “I am immensely proud to be associated with the Grand Theatre and to be a part of its future. The Grand speaks directly to people’s emotions, is inextricably linked with the fondest and most vivid memories of Swansea’s citizens, and is at the heart of the city and its people”.

Tickets for the Grand Gala are available now for Swansea Grand Theatre box office, online, by phone and in person. Full details can be found at swanseagrand.co.uk/BirthdayGala. All line up announcements and updates will be available on Grand Ambition’s social media channels.

The History of The Grand Theatre: A timeline

125 years at the very heart of Swansea, thrilling countless generations of theatregoers along the way from Shakespeare to Pantomime.

1897: Mouillot and Morell, two entrepreneur actor/managers, seized an opportunity to build a Theatre in Swansea. They purchased the former Drill Hall in Singleton Street, demolished it and employed William Hope – an experienced Theatre architect to design The Grand – it is the only surviving example of his work. The estimated capacity was 2,500.

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1897: Swansea Grand Theatre was opened by the opera star Adelina Patti. She arrived at Swansea train station and boarded an open top horse and cart, the streets were lined with all her fans. It was a truly grand event.

Despite early success the Grand Theatre has had a chequered history.

1930: Swansea Grand Theatre was a full time repertory theatre.
January 1933: the Theatre closed for six months because of the flu epidemic. The audiences seem to miss the regularity of attending and after this break, there was a noticeable decline.

1933: The theatre became a “Cine Variety Theatre”

1934: The theatre closed. It lay empty for a while with just occasional use

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1947: Bought by Captain W.E.Willis

1950s: The struggles continued. The problem – apart from television, was the public investment and civic support that was happening for theatre in Cardiff. The privately owned Grand was falling behind in terms of attractions and the physical state of the building. It was
showing its age.

1957: Actor/director – John Chilvers presented a successful repertory season at the Grand. And eventually became the manager and stayed for over 25 years.

1970: Vivian Ellicott the Front of House Manager wrote:- “We have just reported on our first year’s business. The actual loss to the ratepayers has been £5.900 – chicken-feed! Thanks to John Chilvers, the figures are healthy”.

1978: At the end of a 10 year lease, the local council bought the Grand – making it Swansea’s civic theatre.

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1982-1986: £5million worth of renovation and building was carried out. The impressive new look Grand re-opened on 17th December 1986 with the pantomime Aladdin.

1999: A new arts wing was added housing a new box office, studio theatre (capacity 150), exhibition area, rehearsal rooms and café.

2020: The Grand Theatre stage became a testing centre for Covid19 during the pandemic until Aug 2021 with the public entering through the scene dock doors where sets along with their builders and technicians would normally have entered.

2020/21: The Multicultural Hub was built and became home to (RCC) Race Council Cymru, Chinese in Wales and The African Community Centre.

2022: The Theatre has a new manager Mr Grant McFarlane. Grant will undertake the leadership of the new manager for Swansea Grand Theatre and The Brangwyn Hall, in conjunction with the Council’s Cultural Services’ management team.

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2022: Grand Ambition become the theatre’s resident production company. Swansea Grand Theatre is steeped in history and the future looks bright.

Heres to the next 125 years!

(All images: Swansea Council)

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