In this blog post, Rhys Slade-Jones reflects on growing up in the Rhondda Valley and how his mother’s diary influenced his latest show. Don’t miss The Land of My Fathers and Mothers and Some Other People on Sunday March 11 at 8:30 PM as part of Sprint 2018.
Get your tickets here.
My name is Rhys Slade-Jones, I am a writer performer. I make art that’s fun, silly and messy engaging with issues that affect me as a Welsh, working class artist. Currently I’m interested in stories from my family and where I’m from, and how these stories engage with a wider political landscape.
The Land of My Fathers and Mothers and Some Other People is a one-man cabaret that mixes ancient Welsh folklore with the with the story of how my parents fell in love in Treherbert Rugby Club. It’s a fun show full of inflatable props, sing songs and bingo. It’s part stand up comedy and part intensive crash course in Welsh culture.
I grew up in the South Wales, in the Rhondda Valley. It’s an area famous for it’s industrial heritage, male voice choirs and mountains. It’s a stunning place to grow up. But scenery doesn’t pay the bills. Growing up I was constantly told by my family, that there was nothing there for me. My Nanna told me that the Rhondda had its day in the sun, and that my generation would have to be prepared to move out to get any opportunity.
Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and moving to London gave me the space to see my hometown, not for everything it was missing, but for everything it had. It had people and a community that stuck by one another and endured together. I wanted to make a show about this. About all my aunties and uncles and the magic they posses. So i started rummaging through my parents attic trying to find something that could help me tell the story, and I found it.
My Mam’s diary. The diary starts in the indian summer of 1977 and ends the start of winter. This book contains my parents first date, first kiss and first ‘I love you’. Reading it, I started to picture this film in my mind, where my parents lock eyes across the bar – Donna Summer plays in the background – Mam is wearing a tartan maxi skirt, and my father is dressed like Tom Jones. The image of my parents being young, and disco dancing became my way to tell the story of my hometown. The diary became a new lens, a pair of retro-spectacles to view my history.
Even though the diary is written about the place where I grew up, I was reading about a place I didn’t recognise – the valley my Mam wrote about was full. Full of work, full of farms and factories. Clubs and coach trips. From Friday nights in the Labour Club, to Saturday’s down Policoffs, to dates at Treherbert Swimming Pool. These are all places that, sadly, are no longer there. Reading this diary was a glimpse into the Valley that Nanna used to talk about, a pre-Thatcher heaven where anyone could get a job, a pint was 40p. It felt like I was reading a story set in an alternative universe.
Closures in the Rhondda is not wholly the legacy of Thatcher. The trend for shutting things down in South Wales has continued. Recent council budget cuts, and ‘streamlining’ of services has seen libraries, day centres, swimming pools, theatres and meals on wheels kitchens close.
But one place has survived. Treherbert Rugby Club.
It is the one place that Mam writes about in her diary that I still visit today. It’s the place for family get-togethers, we go there Christmas morning and we go there when we are mourning – the back room is great for wakes, and Gaynor Griffiths can do you a great buffet.
Treherbert Rugby club has managed to endure because the people surrounding it have grabbed the club and shaped it into whatever raft they need to stay afloat. The rugby club offers a space for organisation, of community activism but my Mam would never call it this – it’s just what you do to help others. I have been to countless charitable events at Treherbert Rugby, from psychic mediums to treasure hunts and endless concerts.
I wanted to make a show that celebrated my community. Celebrated the space that it takes up, and the noise it makes. The Rhondda for so many people is iconified by mining closures, that was the image beamed to me as a kid, but I wanted to celebrate all the things that can never be closed – the people, the love we have for one another, our penchant for drunken choral singing and our love of anything with a red dragon on.
The Land of My Fathers and Mothers and Some Other People is not just my parents love story, but my love letter to Wales. The show is being performed as part of Sprint Festival at Camden People’s Theatre on March 11th.