Tiger Bay musical ready for Cape Town premiere

By Huw Thomas
BBC Wales arts and media correspondent

image captionThe final rehearsals for the musical are now taking place in Cape Town

The cast and crew of a musical about Cardiff's history as a port are preparing to premiere the work in South Africa.

Tiger Bay is a musical set in the city's eponymous docklands - "a place of real change" - at the turn of the 20th Century.

Rehearsals are underway in Cape Town ahead of opening night on 20 May.

Co-produced by Wales Millennium Centre and Cape Town Opera, it will be shown in Cardiff in November.

Cape Town Opera's managing director Michael Williams has written the script and songs. The cast includes young Welsh performers as well as established stars John Owen-Jones and Noel Sullivan.

Mr Williams said the story focused on Tiger Bay's role as a fast-growing, ever-changing destination for workers from around the world.

"The story begins in the 1900s. It's a crucible in European and world history, and very similar to the period we are living in now, which is one of change.

"It's a story about people moving from one place to another, adapting to that and finding out what it means to move from the Mediterranean and Africa to Europe, and what happens to them when they arrive here."

Mr Williams's mother was from Cardiff, and he has spent some time in the city during Cape Town Opera's long association with Wales Millennium Centre.

"It's interesting to think that 12-years-ago I was standing in this building, which was then a construction site, talking about collaborating with Cape Town Opera. So for the last 12 or 13 years I've been associated with this building.

"But I suppose it began with my mother, who was born in Cardiff. Her father was a preacher in the Salvation Army, and they left Cardiff when she was six-years-old to go to the mission field of Africa and she stayed there for the rest of her life."

Two girls from south Wales will play the role of Ianto in the show in Cape Town and Cardiff.

media captionLouise, nine, and Ruby, 11, will be off to South Africa with the show.

Louise Harvey from Cardiff and Ruby Llywelyn from Llantrisant were chosen after open auditions were held to find young stars for the new show.

"It will be amazing - I've never been anywhere so far away," Ruby, 11, said.

Louise, nine, added: "It's like a Christmas present you wouldn't expect in a million years. My mum's packed half my wardrobe. I had to say 'please stop!'"

The score draws heavily on Welsh choral and chapel traditions, and is the first major theatrical commission for composer Dafydd James.

"It was important to me we had a representation of the Welsh musical tradition - there's a lot of harmony singing, influences from the church hymnal tradition, but also combined with a driving contemporary musical theatre score" he said.

"There are various other moments where there are international influences because Tiger Bay was the most cosmopolitan place on earth at that time, probably."

A new musical is a difficult proposition for audiences, so the production team have attempted to design a show that will have a broader appeal.

Michael Williams said while it was a story set in Wales, it had to tap into universal themes.

"It's so critical that a story, particularly on this scale, has universalities that people in China and San Francisco can identify with and believe in.

image captionThere is a strong heritage surrounding Butetown due to its long docklands history
image source, Topical Press Agency
image captionCranes at Cardiff Docks in 1907

Mr Williams added: "Essentially it is about 'sailor town'. Because in those days, the sailor town was the Heathrow of today, where people were moving through. And Cardiff was like that in those days."

Tiger Bay opens in Cape Town on 20 May and comes to Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff in November.

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