Kate Griffin visits Cardiff Bay’s Dance House to review National Theatre Wales new production Circle of Fifths.
“I go on a bright journey when I play music. If I’m in a dark place, I’m not in that dark place no more.”
Many of us have been in a dark place in the past couple of years. Missing the usual rituals that mark a death makes it harder to grieve fully. Circle of Fifths is less a conventional theatre production and more a cathartic space to honour the dead and acknowledge our loss. The crowd gather, in the Butetown tradition, by a brightly decorated coffin. The celebration begins.
Director Gavin Porter is one of the many who lost a loved one during the pandemic. As a documentary maker, it was natural for him to begin collecting other people’s stories of bereavement from across Wales. The result is Circle of Fifths, a “live documentary” that incorporates music, poetry, dance and more. He told entssouthwales: “This project combines my two passions: documentary-making and theatre.”
Music is the thread that brings this all together, and there is a stellar line-up of musical talent: Rose Beecraft Music, multitalented Francesca Dimech and Cardiff reggae legend Drumtan Ward. Emerging talent Kiddus shares a self-written song about how hard it is to say the right thing in times of loss.
Maureen Blades explodes the stereotype of the solemn funeral arranger, showing us how celebration, even dance, can be part of the mourning experience.
As well as exploring universal themes, Circle of Fifths is a love letter to a specific location. It is dedicated to “the elders of Cardiff Docks, Butetown and Tiger Bay. Those who came before us and paved the way.” These elders are represented in the figure of Anthony Corria (better known as Wella) who steals the show with his jokes and emotional honesty.
There is laughter. Tears. Music. Dancing. A lot like a real funeral, then. Circle of Fifths tackles grief head-on and manages to find joy and connection in the sadness.