City Road, Cardiff stories reach Sherman Theatre stage

By Huw Thomas
BBC Wales arts and media correspondent

Image caption,
Martin Gower and Janet Symmons are two of the local cast

Residents of a Cardiff street are taking to the stage to share stories of life in their neighbourhood.

City Road in Roath houses dozens of exotic restaurants and independent shops.

A cast of local people worked on Love, Cardiff: City Road Stories, which will run at the Sherman Theatre from 13-15 April.

It was written and directed by Andrew Sterry, who turned their personal recollections into a performance.

Mr Sterry said a long-running "collaborative process" with members of the community had brought interesting stories to light.

"It gives us an opportunity to find the extraordinary in what other people might sometimes perceive as the extraordinary."

Image caption,
A busy main road, a residential area and also well known for its diversity of restaurants and shops

"It's an interesting, enriching process, and it's one that's very much about listening to the people of Cardiff and the stories that they feel are relevant to them, and exploring how we tell those stories."

Mr Sterry conducted a series of interviews with people who live and work on City Road, and has edited them into a stage show that weaves together the characters and history of the street.

Media caption,
Three members of the cast of Love, Cardiff: City Road Stories speak about what is special about the street.

Most of the cast have never acted or performed on stage before. They have had to combine rehearsals with day jobs and family commitments.

The stories will be presented with minimal scenery and sets, relying instead on the captivating tales and the choreography of moving from one story-teller to another.


"I call it Diversity Street"

Janet Symmons has run the Xquisite Africa shop on City Road since 2004. It sells food, hair accessories and other products familiar to the African community that are difficult to source elsewhere. The shop is also a community meeting place, and is often among the first destinations for Africans arriving in Cardiff.

She said City Road was an important symbol of Cardiff's cultural diversity.

"To me, I call it Diversity Street because it's full of everything. You come here, you find anybody. Any language you want to speak, you will find somebody that you can speak with.

"And that is the beauty of City Road, it's a really, really wonderful street. If you have never been here, you are missing something!"

"It was my playground"

Thaer Al-Shayei is the only professional actor in the production. He grew up on nearby Donald Street, and will tell the audience about the luxury car showrooms and exotic sweet shops that he used to explore as a child.

"City Road means a lot to me because, growing up, it was my playground. It's amazing because I've seen the transition over the years, every time I drive past I re-enact everything I used to do when I was younger. Because when I was young, this was our street.

"We used to play here, and mess around on City Road."

Thaer was pleased to be asked to take part in the production.

"It was amazing to have the chance to have a platform, a stage, to tell everyone the story from the beginning."

"Enjoying every little bit"

Martin Gower is part of Roath Residents' Action Group which has turned a small piece of derelict land into a community garden, growing plants, herbs and vegetables. It is a peaceful sanctuary just a short walk from the bustle of City Road.

He has lived near City Road for more than 40 years, and will recall the changing nature of the street during his performance. Despite having no previous experience on stage, Mr Gower said the Sherman's creative team had put him at ease.

"They are so clever how they can chop it all together, and get your story written down. It's so wonderful. I've never, ever done anything like this in my life, and I'm enjoying every little bit of it."


Image source, Cardiff Council Library Service
Image caption,
City Road in the early part of the 20th Century
Image caption,
City Road has changed a lot over the years and redevelopment is continuing
Image source, Cardiff Council Library Service
Image caption,
City Road - sometime after 1912 - with the Gaiety Cinema on the left
Image caption,
The same stretch of City Road as it is now
Image caption,
The former Gaiety cinema and later bingo hall as it looks now - surrounded by scaffolding

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