The Welsh Fargo Stage Company is going on tour with this brilliant new full-length production penned by renowned poet and playwright Patrick Jones . . .
The play was first presented as a Script-held performance On The Edge in September 2009. The cast was Rachel – Sharon Morgan, Ernest – Michael Kelligan, Mary – Christine Pritchard, Mrs. Hartson – Olwen Rees, Directed by Allan Cook
Much of the work of Blackwood based poet, playwright and lyric writer, has been strong and challenging. In this new play he is in a much gentler mood. The play is a sensitive tribute to the human spirit. This beautifully written story revolves around the lives of four people, three women and one man living in a hospice. Not much of a place for laughter you might think, but the irascible and determined way Ernest continually strives for his rights and fights against authority brings us many hilarious moments in contrast to the gently beauty that permeates much of the action.
Chapter, Cardiff, Wed 11th Sept, – Sat, 14th[mappress mapid=”83″] Sept, 8pm, Tickets £12/10/8, 029 2030 4400, www.chapter.org
Taliesin Theatre, Swansea, Fri 20th Sept, 7.30pm, Tickets £10/7, 01792 60 20 60, www.taliesinartscentre.co.uk
The Galeri, Caernarfon, Tues 24th Sept, 7.30pm, Tickets £10/8, 01286 685 222, www.galericaernarfon.com
The Torch Theatre, Milford Haven, Thurs 26th Sept, 7.45pm. Tickets £10/8, 01646 6952671, www.torchtheatre.co.uk
Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan, Wed 2nd Oct, 7.30pm, Tickets £12/10, 01239 621200,www.mwldan.co.uk
Neuadd Dwyfor, Pwllheli, Thurs 3rd Oct, 7.30pm, Tickets £8.50/7.50, 01758 704088, www.gwynedd.gov.uk/neuadd-dwyfor
Y Ffwrnes, Llanelli, Sat 5th Oct, 7.30pm, Tickets £10/8, 0845 2263510, www.theatrausirgar.co.uk
Rachel Sharon Morgan
Ernest Anthony Leader
Mary Olwen Rees
Mrs Hartson Lynn Hunter
Designer Jessica Scott
Music Samuel Barnes
Lighting Dan Young
Stage Manager Bethan Dawson
Assistant Stage Manager Sam Greenfield
A major Wales tour of moving and humorous new play by powerful Welsh writer Patrick Jones :- Mike Smith Interview
Dandelion, a new play by Welsh writer Patrick Jones, is to visit seven venues across Wales this autumn, opening in Cardiff on September 11 before visiting Swansea, Caernarvon, Milford Haven, Cardigan, Pwllheli and Llanelli (see dates below).
The play, set in a hospice, will also mark the first national tour by Artistic Director Michael Kelligan’s Welsh Fargo Stage Company which is celebrating 10 years of innovative script-held play readings by new and established Welsh and Wales-based writers.
Blackwood-based Patrick Jones drew on his experiences with patients in hospices to create Dandelion, a rich and poetic work that combines great emotion with humour in a place you might least expect it. Jones worked with the St David’s Foundation Hospice Care as a writer in residence, spending time each week with patients in Ystrad Mynach and Pontypool, listening to their stories, and writing and sharing poems. “The play Dandelion came into being as I thought about how the fantastic people I had met faced death, dealt with mortality and how I wanted to celebrate life,” he explained.
The title came from a talk Jones had with his mother who one August lost her own mother to cancer aged just 58, just as dandelions were releasing their spores to the summer breeze. Though each year this reminds her of the sadness it is also as if her mother is still there. “I thought it was a beautiful, healing concept and revealed how we cope with the passing of loved ones. I just wanted to write a moving, funny, heroic portrait of brave people,” he said.
Jones adds that the play’s characters are an amalgam of many people he has met and though many of the people have now passed away, “like the dandelion spores, maybe they’re still around us, only having morphed into something else…..perhaps in a garden they planted, perhaps in the way a grandchild holds their pen or how a daughter bakes a cake”. As Jones puts it, “Just like dandelions floating in the breeze maybe they plant a seed in another place.”
Kelligan said, “Patrick is a modern, and passionate writer whose work reflects the economic, political and social changes that have affected every one of us here in Wales over the past 25 years. His rebellious streak fights against the traditional social structure of Welsh Valleys life and it is this complicated relationship he has with the place where he was born and bred that feeds his creative appetite.”
Jones made a major impact with his play The War Is Dead, Long Live The War depicting a fictional meeting of a World War I soldier and a Gulf War veteran, performed in 2003 at the Blackwood Miners Institute, and directed by Karl Francis. “Much of his writing has proved to be strong and challenging,” Kelligan added. “Dandelion is a sensitive tribute to the human spirit and while Patrick did his research in Wales and the characters are from Wales it reflects a world-wide celebration of the human spirit.”
Kelligan added, “It is a wonderful piece of character drawing, with each character telling their own story through poignant and beautiful writing, such as the irascible and determined way the character Ernest continually strives for his right to things as simple as to go for a walk unaided or have his favourite books of poetry and literary writing beside him in the lounge.”
The characters are Rachel, a highly intelligent professional woman who Ernest has his eye on, Mary, who is still dancing through life and finally Mrs. Hartson, crusty and much addicted to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
Dandelion had a fantastic reception when it was originally featured as a script-in-hand performance as part of Kelligan’s acclaimed On The Edge drama seasons, and was felt the ideal choice to launch Welsh Fargo’s first major tour.
Kelligan’s cast includes three times BAFTA Cymru best actress winner Sharon Morgan, TV’s Stella actress Lynn Hunter, Olwen Rees, who has made many appearances at the Sherman Theatre, and Anthony Leader who has performed in On The Edge seasons many times.
Both Sharon Morgan and Olwen Rees were in the original production in 2009 when Kelligan himself played the very determined, irascible Ernest.
Sharon Morgan, originally from Carmarthen, said, “It is a very magical and emotional piece and I am so glad to have been given the opportunity to explore the play in greater depth. Death is the last taboo in society today and Patrick’s writing encompasses the joy and humour as well as the fear, sadness and regret that arises when faced with the inevitable. The loss of my mother has certainly influenced my response to the play and, I hope, given me a greater understanding of the situation faced by the characters.”
Sharon played the lead role of Martha in the 2008 S4C drama Martha, Jac a Sianco which won her a second BAFTA Cymru award for best actress.
Originally from Caernarfon, Olwen Rees, who was also in the original script-in-hand reading, added that taking the work to the stage has added a new dimension to the play, “It is challenging to realise Patrick’s vision on the stage. It is no longer a poetic play in sound only,” she said
Interview with Sion Lidster (Buzz magazine ) talking about human rights, hospices and his new play Dandelion
Controversial poet and playwright Patrick Jones talks to Sion Lidster about human rights, hospices and his new play, Dandelion
Patrick JonesPatrick Jones has long been one of the most outspoken individuals in Welsh popular culture. The Tredegar-born poet and playwright, whose previous works include Everything Must Go, a tale of South Wales alienation and addiction, and Revelation, an examination of male domestic abuse, has no qualms about diving into the world’s darker subject matter.
His poetry has been no stranger to controversy either. In 2008, his scheduled book signing for Darkness Is Where The Stars Are at Waterstones was canceled due to a planned protest by a Christian pressure group.
The contention grew from such poems as Cut Up/Morning Prayer and 10 Million Christs, both of which juxtapose Christian motifs with violent war imagery.
Despite the cancellation, Patrick continued to sign copies of the book outside of the shop. He was later asked by Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Peter Black to read from the volume in the Welsh Assembly, in an effort to champion freedom of speech.
This kind of controversy can often overshadow the more positive aspects of Patrick’s work. In addition to founding the Blackwood Young Writers Group, he also teaches adult literacy and has recently worked as a writer within a day care unit for the elderly.
It was during this time that he devised the story for his latest play, Dandelion. “I was working in a hospice day unit talking about poetry and giving the patients room and space to express themselves with words. I’ve lost a few family members to cancer recently and it leaves a scar. The dignity and silent humility that they dealt with pain and suffering truly humbles, and I thought I needed to bear witness to this. It’s about death and how we live our lives really.”
The play centers around four elderly characters living together in a hospice. “[They are] all true stories I had heard and touched me,” continues Patrick, “It’s also about how we choose our death, or choose how to die, and not fucking God’s will!”
The play is directed by Michael Kelligan, founder of the Welsh Fargo Stage Company. It had originally been presented as part of the company’s On The Edge Project − a series of continually developing rehearsed readings by mainly Welsh writers.
The subject matter seems a far cry from Jones’ more cutting political works. The youthful venom and nihilism of Everything Must Go has been replaced by a four member cast all over the age of 60. Could this be a sign that the poet renowned for his restless and raucous energy is starting to calm down?
“No… I’ve just written new play about David Kato, the human rights activist killed in Uganda just for being gay, and I utterly rip into religion and it is one of my most brutal plays.”
He’s also keen to point out that there is no shortage of anger present throughout Dandelion: “There is some debate in the play about religion, and one character feels she is being punished by God, and another patient talks of her exit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and how everyone turned against her. In a way it’s a reaction against all the absolute bullshit, greed, selfishness, hatred, war-mongering, religious, faith-filled oppression. And these people, these moments in the hospice unit just seemed so beautiful, so human, so silent… I wanted to bear witness to it and hold it to the light really.”
What can the audience expect from this play? What message will they take away?
“Life and death, God and nature, man and woman, words. They will laugh, they will cry, they will look at people with life threatening illnesses differently − and maybe appreciate each day as it is. Oh, and never vote Tory again!”
Review by Sam Pryce – Theatre Young Critics
This was the first play to make me cry. Not because it was so awful, of course; but because its story, characters and premise would bring tears to even the most cynical of eyes. In fact, the work of Patrick Jones has always been intensely emotional. His poetry is especially controversial and visceral, tackling subjects as taboo as male sufferers of domestic violence. Even the most fearless of playwrights, Harold Pinter, called his work “very strong stuff.” In November 2008, bookselling giant Waterstones cancelled an appearance from Jones at one of their stores after a pious religious group protested outside due to alleged blasphemy.
However, in Dandelion, Jones considers a gentler yet equally anguished subject – old age. Four characters – three women and one man – recount their lives through a crescendo of remember-whens slumped in armchairs awaiting imminent death. Written from actual encounters when Jones served as writer-in-residence at a hospice, this makes the stories in Dandelion all the more distressing. Death has now become a comfort to these dwindling flames; something to look forward to as the days drag on. They are the dandelions withering away in a garden already blossoming new life. It’s a truly heartbreaking premise, made even more so by the intermittent poetic monologues, showcasing Patrick Jones’ scintillating talent for poignant lyricism. Alongside the grief are some outright hilarious scenes played with as much adroitness and dexterity as the more sombre moments.
The acting is simply exceptional. Anthony Leader plays Ernest with the vitality and energy of a young boy, determined to show that his age isn’t getting him down. Sharon Morgan’s deeply moving portrayal of Rachel puts on a brave face despite the inner turmoil brought on by her tragic past. Olwen Rees wrenches the heart strings as Mary, playing her with wide-eyed innocence, and Lynn Hunter gets the audience cackling with her sour, acerbic comments.
The writing, the lighting, the acting, the set – it’s, quite frankly, flawless. It is rare that a play produces as many tears from laughter as it does from grief. As hackneyed a phrase as this may be: this play will make you live a better life. It’s a drama of universal empathy that beats any amount of dreary soap operas. Get off your settee and bag yourself a ticket before you end up like them.
Review by Sion Lidster
A packed house sits in silence and watches the four empty chairs sat before them. The stage is slowly filled by four actors over the age of 60, one of whom rests herself straight in front of a television set. Three elderly women and one elderly man, living and dying together in a cancer hospice, set the scene for Patrick Jones‘ latest play, Dandelion.
This subdued subject matter might not be what you have come to expect from the man who wrote Revelation or The War is Dead Long Live the War. You may think that it lacks the crucial urgency, or the vitriolic commentary, that is burrowed deep in much of his work. This perception will all change of the next 90 minutes, as we are taken on a journey of hopes, dreams, regrets, and redemption, as these four character prepare to transcend this mortal coil.
The obvious weight of the theme is gladly lightened by a melancholic comic air that weaves itself throughout the play. Much of this laughter is provided by the youthful hearted Ernest, played by Anthony Leader, as he continues his mission to present the others with some excitement in the lives. Mrs. Hartson, played by Lynn Hunter, is equally hilarious in her sardonic retorts spoken from her television hub. Olwen Rees‘ portrayal of the innocent yet fragile Mary is a harrowing reminder of the plight of age, whilst Sharon Morgan’s monologues as Rachel brought me to the verge of tears on more than one occasion.
The soul of the play is the attention to each individual’s truth. All too often in our society, the elderly are cast to the sidelines, they are the dandelions; the weeds ready to be plucked from the garden. Here, Patrick Jones uses the time he spent in a hospice to provide a voice to the voiceless, and to highlight the fact that there is a wealth of emotion deep in every human being, whether you are willing to see it or not.
The acting is superb, the writing is magnetic (particularly the poetic streams of consciousness), and Michael Kelligan’s direction artfully segues between collective conversations and inner monologues with rhythmic ease.
The play is filled with hope and despair. On one hand there is the everlasting optimism of Ernest, and his call to arms through the words of Jack London. On the other, there is the dementia of Mary, a blatant reminder of the finality of life. Overall, there is a sense of the present – that we are here now to live our lives to the utmost, to build bridges and to enjoy every second we have left.
There will have been many people leaving the theatre making that phone call to the one they love whilst they still can. Such is the power of a humanist work of art, such is the power of Dandelion.
Review by Bob Rogers of Western Mail
Everyone finds their own way of dealing with the inevitable decline into old age.
In Dandelion, playwright Patrick Jones gives us an insight into four ordinary but achingly precious lives based on an amalgam of people he encountered while working as a writer in residence in a hospice. The residents of this particular home have become institutionalised and set in their ways to the point where everyone else’s foibles annoy them in their closed and cloistered world.
Ernest (Anthony Leader) is determined not to “go gently”. He wants one last crack at his allotment and maybe a bit of passion with Rachel (Sharon Morgan) who in turn mourns the absence of a beloved grandchild she is not allowed to see.
Mary (Olwen Rees) is waiting for William who is never going to show, but even so manages to take her on imaginary picnics and picks her dandelions. And Mrs Hartson (Lynn Hunter) is obsessed with television quiz shows. This is a gentler offering from Jones, a visit to a world that anyone with elderly parents will instantly recognise. He has written their lives with compassion and genuine insight and there was many a damp eye from those watching who may have been all too familiar with the challenges of caring for a loved one whose eccentricities can change day by day.
Faced with the approaching possibility of dying, each of the protagonists struggles to find their own comfort, some in acceptance and some in resistance but all with courage. The characters are likeable and easy to empathise with thanks to great writing and sensitive directing.The staging is simple but effective, a few easy chairs, a television and a bookcase that becomes a bone of contention for the warring residents.
The cast of four are outstanding, bringing out all the angst, frustration, resignation and dark humour that the script offers in abundance.
This is a thoroughly entertaining drama that deserves a television audience. Dandelion is a production by the Welsh Fargo Stage Company and is directed by Michael Kelligan.
Review by Charlie Hammond
Patrick Jones’ work is surrounded by buzzwords. Controversial, challenging, raw, outspoken, dark. But when Welsh Fargo Stage Company first took on Dandelion as part of its script-held performance in 2009, On The Edge, the production was noted for being somewhat different to Jones’ other work: gentler, sensitive, beautiful. But perhaps compassionate is a fitting way to describe Dandelion.
Rooted in Jones’ experience as the writer in residence at the St. David’s Hospice, having spent time at the Ystrad Mynach and Pontypool facilities, you can certainly sense Jones’ desire to evoke empathy for each of the characters. His time and research pays off, and the play unfolds a realisation little acknowledge by most. These four residents have been thrown together in old age, with people they haven’t chosen to be with, stripped of their freedoms, isolated from their families, each facing their own personal battles: fighting with God, fighting with the right to die, fighting to watch Strictly. How we deal with the elderly is becoming an increasing concern in these uncertain global economic times, and the play has real heart for the issue.
The play has been applauded for its humanity and its humour, but the production really shines with Sharon Morgan as Rachel, the more mothering figure of the household, and Lynn Hunter as the reclusive Mrs. Hartson. Hunter’s dedication to her television schedule produces a flaring humour throughout the show, whilst maintaining an urgency that is aptly placed when she talks of the television as the only thing that will not judge her or leave her. Morgan communicates a real fondness that Rachel has for the other residents, which creates a lovely tension with her wish to take her death into her own hands. By not heavily politicising the issue of suicide and assisted suicide, by it not being the focus of the play but a passing event, the production holds on to it as a touching moment, which, if anything, emphasises the importance for discussion around the issue.
As the happy-go-lucky Ernest and the dementia patient Mary, Tony Leaders and Olwen Rees also put in great performances. But in comparison to the complexity that is unearthed in the other two, Ernest and Mary were a lot less rounded. What was missing was the same bite and darkness found in Rachel and Mrs. Hudson, and it is here where Jones’ softer approach extends a bit too much towards the sentimental. It doesn’t get there, but it does face that direction.
The set was simple and effective – the beige rug and the four beige chairs immediately throwing me back to my grandparent’s house, helped along by the few functional props. The soundtrack that interrupted between a few scene changes was a bit misplaced, and was an unnecessary addition to a contained and realistic piece. By the same standard, some of the monologues were a bit at odds with the realism of the production, and either the staging of the transitions or the script needed to compensate for this.
Reviewer: Adam Somerset
A piece of theatre rarely comes without expectations. Actors and directors bring their track records with them. Publicists and promoters strive to build awareness. Favourable reviews are highlighted. The unfavourable are ignored. Word of mouth spreads and social media fizz.
These all apply to Welsh Fargo Stage Company’s ambitious tour from Cardiff to Pwllheli and Caernarfon. One of Wales’ most experienced publicists is on board. The cast is distinguished. An early viewer, and reviewer, has been so affected as to shed tears. “Dandelion” has for this member of its audience indeed been the frozen axe that cracks the sea within us. No greater response is possible.
But this particular build-up of anticipation has a difference. One member of the company has launched more than one riposte to reviewers of the production. These forums, with New Welsh Review in the lead, are public documents. The employment of a meagre and thinly expressive language is one aspect, of surprise, but the greater aspect is the particular interpretation of what it is to be a writer, a maker of theatre, and a member of a company. Trollope gave good advice in the very first paragraph of his autobiography “I will set down naught in malice; nor will I give to myself, or others, honour which I do not believe to have been fairly won.”
A production on tour is the common creation of a range of artists, not an item of private property. Public statements should at this time be mediated through the company. Besides any work, if has any weight at all, will invite comment. Those who choose to comment are those who make theatre, the audience. But they are not just members of the audience but fellow citizens. Civic space is bounded by civility.
Welsh Fargo Stage has had a generous rehearsal time, and it shows. The acting has that ease which is the result of deep experience and intense application. The direction is unobtrusive, which means that the director is getting it right. The music from young composer Samuel Barnes fits beautifully. Of all the collaborative elements that combine to make theatre, however, one is jarringly out of place and failing to match in artistry.