When Rachel Pedley from Avant Cymru first asked me, over 18 months ago, to produce a project based on the effect of World War I on the Rhondda and its residents, I don’t think I really appreciated the size and scope of the idea. I certainly didn’t expect to be bringing it back to Pontypridd Museum for the second time in November this year.
As we’re all aware, this year marks the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I, and there’s been a range of cultural events over the last 4 years to commemorate those who lost their lives – our plan was to tell a local story about a global event, and wanted to go about it the right way.
Those who know Rachel will know she is a whirling dervish of enthusiasm and ideas, and it was her planning and passion that secured funding from Heritage Lottery Fund to make this project happen in the first place. Her plan was to work with local volunteers, ranging in age from 30-70, and research the effect the Great War had had on their own family members, and then branch that out to the effect on the Rhondda Valley. Avant Cymru’s work is entrenched in its communities, so it was no surprise that the volunteers were delighted to be a part of it, helping to shape the research and the work that was to be created from scratch.
The group visited the Glamorgan Archives, Rhondda Heritage Park and Pontypridd Museum, all of whom happily offered their support to help our volunteers find out more information and background of the people who were affected 100 years ago. This work fed directly into the original script that was put together, and then workshopped in the rehearsal room with a group of very generous, willing and skilled performers. And so Forget Me Not was born, an ambitious theatrical promenade experience that would see the audience go on a figurative and literal journey around Pontypridd Museum, featuring choral singing, the playing of an original pipe-organ, a lifesize replication of a trench and an emotional and historically accurate tale.
When we first performed the piece in January 2018, there were all sorts of questions and issues that arose – how well would Pontypridd Museum work as the setting for a theatre show? Could we authentically tell the story of the men who lost their lives at the Front, and effectively represent those who were left behind? Would the audience embrace the ideas we were offering, and perhaps most importantly, would there be an audience? As a Pontypridd boy, I know as well as anyone that the town has been starved of theatre for years, and I had concerns that there wouldn’t be an uptake from a local populous who are no longer offered quality theatre on their doorstep.
Ultimately our concerns were unnecessary – of course there will always be changes or tweaks artists will want to make, but the response from our audience – yes, we had near full houses – was overwhelmingly positive. They fully embraced the performance, feeling part of the story we were telling, and personally, the sight of so many people from not just Ponty, but the surrounding areas, squeezed into Pontypridd Museum was a joy. The coverage we received from BBC Wales, BBC Radio Wales and ITV Wales didn’t hurt either – there was a real sense of an event taking place in the town, with potential audience members having to be turned away.
And so it’s because of this – the popular demand, the creativity and imagination of the performers and creatives involved, the authenticity of the local research – that HLF have been able to fund the return of the production for the Armistice Day week this November. We’ve been blown away by the support from not just HLF, but Pontypridd Museum and Rhondda Cynon Taff Council, who want to include the production as an integral part of the commemorations. Most of all we’ve had incredible input and backing from Angela Gould and RCT Theatres, without whom the production definitely wouldn’t be happening!
We’re so excited to bring it back for new audiences and school performances, and hope to pay our respects to those have gone before us – without them, this performance wouldn’t be happening. It’s our final run of a show that I’ve had great pleasure in being part of and forget in a hurry.
Forget Me Notwill be performed at Pontypridd Museum 8-10thNovember, and tickets can be bought from Avant Cymru’s website – www.avant.cymru.