Welcome, 77 artists, 40 different points of Attica welcomes you by singing Erotokritos an epic romance written at 1713 by Vitsentzos Kornaros

Sunday, March 10, 2013

De Gabay – review

Butetown, Cardiff

"People think we're pirates but we're actually poets." Welsh Somalians living in Cardiff's Butetown – the docks area once known as Tiger Bay – wanted to show the truth of their lives in a piece of theatre. So they approached the adventurous, nomadic National Theatre of Wales and asked if they would collaborate in putting it on.

If only they had been better served. De Gabay (which means "poem") features fluent lyricists and some tremendous singing voices. It's rooted in a significant geography: Butetown, in which Somalians, Yemenis and Greeks became Welsh side by side in the 20th century, has been scythed apart by demolition, the decanting of residents, the building of an opulent new quarter. "The Berlin Wall," said one man, pointing across the chasm to the affluent flats and offices in Cardiff Bay.

Jonathan Holmes's slackly directed string of events hinted at some of this, but was woefully short of detail and of individual stories. Walkers following the day-long, site-specific promenade moved from the encouraging warmth of various Butetown homes – my hosts gave me bisbas (chilli paste) on pitta and an account of growing up with a Yemeni father who spoke Arabic and a Welsh mother who did not – to a haphazard parade in a whip-cold wind. Two straggling processions represented the past and the present of Butetown Somalis – with impressive breakdancing and an engaging camel puppet made of nylon and sacking – while people unconvincingly pretending to be officials slowed down the already sluggish pace by amiably demanding to look at pretend passports. Outside the Coal Exchange (was the place significant?), dancers enacted a romance between past and present and a child was hauled up to yell to the crowd: "Make some noise everyone." Inside the Senedd, the seat of the Welsh assembly, politicians were accused in a mock debate: "We faltered, we followed, we have been betrayed." Which was pretty much how I felt.

At the end, things came together for a few moments. Overlooking the bay, a fine community choir rang out. A towering, transparent puppet covered in fluorescent words strode through the small crowd towards the sea; out in the ocean, on landing stages, replicas of this inflatable stalker rose up. One of the most bewitching voices of the day, that of Sarah Amankwah, sang out across the huddle of listeners in a powerful improvised lament. She made you realise how stirring the day could have been. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds