National Theatre Wales is to present Jon Tregenna’s brand new musical Hail Cremation! – a psychedelic fusion of live music, dance and video celebrating the extraordinary life of Welsh radical Dr William Price, regarded as the pioneer of modern cremation and a passionate Welshman.
Hail Cremation! is directed by Adele Thomas (The Knight of the Burning Pestle (Shakespeare’s Globe), Berenice (Royal Opera House/International) and will star Matthew Bulgo, Gruffudd Glyn, Lee Mengo and Seren Vickers, with dancers Iestyn Arwel, Ella Biddlecombe, Elan Elidyr and Kyle Flaherty. The musicians are Stephen Black (of Sweet Baboo), Tom Cottle, Aidan Thorne and Paul Jones. Hail Cremation! runs at Newbridge Memo in South Wales from 23 March to 4 April 2020 and opens the NTW 10th anniversary year, led by new Artistic Director Lorne Campbell.
Passionate Welshman, brutish anarchist, legendary surgeon, father of modern cremation, Welsh radical Victorian, sartorial genius, visionary, charlatan but almost totally forgotten. Hail Cremation! is a musical odyssey through the wild and bizarre life of Dr William Price. This psychedelic fusion of live music, dance and video will take audiences on a riotous, strange and wonderful journey into the life of a complex and extraordinary Welshman.
Price lived from 1800-1893 in South Wales and is regarded as the ‘Father of Modern Cremation’. He was one of the youngest ever surgeons to qualify from the Royal College of Surgeons. As well as his professional achievements, he was well known for his eccentricities from his unusual attire to his mode of travel of a cart pulled by goats. As one of the earliest feminists, he is widely known for his expression of Welsh identity and his advocacy of a vegetarian diet. Most famously, he fathered a child when he was 82 with his 22-year-old partner, Gwen. Price’s most famous act occurred when his five-month old son died of natural causes. Price burnt the baby’s body on a hill outside Llantrisant on a Sunday when the chapels were emptying which caused an outrage. He was arrested and a famous trial followed. He successfully argued that the law did not prohibit the burning of corpses and paved the way for the 1902 Cremation Act. Price was ostracised from society in later years due to his increasingly erratic behaviour and it is now believed that he struggled with mental health towards the end of his life. His statue stands in Llantrisant, where he lived from 1866 until his death, aged 93.
Dr William Price recently made the news thanks to Hollywood actor Robert Downey Jr. appearing on The Graham Norton Show. Robert Downey Jr revealed how he chose to attempt a Welsh accent in his new movie Dolittle. He said “I read about this guy named William Price who was this nutty, neodruid doctor in the 19th century. I based my character on him.”
Downey Jr also featured on a popular US podcast with host Joe Rogan, the 54-year-old American actor confessed he “didn’t just want to do another English accent”. He said “…so I Googled a picture of this wild looking guy wearing a suit with stars on it and a staff in his hand and I send it to the film’s director – and he said, ‘That looks right to me’. I was like, ‘Great, let’s do this movie’.”
Writer Jon Tregenna said:
“If Dr Price was around today, he’d be a media star. His outfits would feature in fashion magazines, he’d appear at music festivals, he’d campaign for Extinction Rebellion and the NHS. He was a contrary figure, a passionate believer in workers’ rights yet he drank champagne with industrialists. This musical, a cross between urban folk and pub disco, celebrates this great and largely forgotten Welshman.”
Director Adele Thomas said:
“William Price was a man who is still, in so many ways, light years ahead of us. The production is being made through a retro futurist, Victorian psychedelic lens that we think he’d have appreciated. We want to capture his restless, curious spirit through a mix of video art, fabulous costuming and dance, part carnival, part concert and part catwalk show.”
Hail Cremation! features Set and Costume Design by Rhiannon Matthews, Lighting Design by Joe Fletcher, Musical Direction by Richard Melkonian, Choreography by Emma Woods and Video Design by Nic Finch.
Hail Cremation! runs at Newbridge Memo from 23 March – 4 April 2020. For tickets, visit http://www.nationaltheatrewales.org or call 029 2037 1689. Age guidance 14+. Closed captioning available.
Main Picture: Dr William Price played by Lee Mengo. Photo by Glenn Edwards
UPDATED MARCH 22: THESE DATES HAVE NOW BEEN POSTPONED DUE TO THE UK GOVERNMENT ADVICE REGARDING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC