IN the early 1900’s, coal was king in Cardiff and the first million-pound cheque was signed in the city.
Tiger Bay the Musical – which premieres at the Millennium Centre in November – tells the epic tale of shop workers, coal miners, donkey men, sailors, suffragettes and immigrants at a significant point in history when immense poverty and wealth collide.
The Cardiffian spoke to Maris Lyons, the producer of Tiger Bay the Musical to find out how the musical is working with local people from Butetown and showcasing the rich history of Cardiff Docks.
The new musical, produced in collaboration with Cape Town Opera, is directed by Tony and Oscar-nominated Melly Still and will have a diverse cast – with actors from Butetown and Cape Town.
“The director, Melly Still is wonderful and is great with interacting with the community. We wanted to engage with the local community so in January we started working with children from Butetown.
“We work with them every Sunday and we hope that they will be a part of the show, cast as the chorus of Waterboys. We hope that giving the children this opportunity will develop their life skills through singing and dancing,” she said.
The Waterboys are a gang of orphaned children who live in an abandoned coal tunnel in the Docks and spend their time helping the dockers, known as the Donkeymen.
“Children at that time were often orphaned, and they were pushed by the Donkeymen to work on the tracks, greasing them with pig’s fat so that it was easier to push the coal down, said Maris.
“The themes that we explore happened. The story is fiction, but there is a lot of truth in it and these things happened,’ she said.
The book and lyrics are written by Michael Williams, and many members of the creative team and cast are from Cardiff. The rehearsal process will take them to Artscape in Cape Town for two months before coming back and preparing for the world premiere.
The lead role of Lanto, of the Waterboys, will be shared by 11-year-old Ruby Llewelyn from Llantrisant and nine-year-old Louise Harvey from Rhiwbina.
Vicki Bebb, who graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Theatre has also been cast as the leading lady, Rowena Pryddy – a young Valley Girl who is fighting for her place in society. Rowena has a turbulent relationship with the Irish dock master but eventually falls in love with a South African immigrant.
Maris said: “We’re really excited that she’s been cast. She actually comes from Abercynon which is three miles away from where the character is from.”
The musical will also be composed by Welsh composer Daf James – “he’s a wonderful composer and the musical is full of personality”.
As well as exploring the history of the old Tiger Bay, the musical will explore the theme of racism and immigration – which Maris hopes will send an important message to the audience.
“For many in today’s political climate racism is sadly on the increase. But a hundred years ago, everyone got on and there were people of over a hundred nationalities living together in the small area of Tiger Bay,” said Maris.
“Society was very integrated. I hope that when the audience watches the play, they will see that we are all human beings and that we all have the same basic needs and that it’s irrespective of where you come from,” she said.
Tiger Bay the Musical will have its world premiere at the Millennium Centre on November 14. But Maris hopes that it will go on from there.
“We had the Millennium Centre in our plans from very early on. At the moment it’s just showing in Cardiff and for us, the story is critical to a Cardiff audience but we hope that the show will be a success.
“Ultimately our ambition is it get it to the West End or even Broadway.”
The production will be showing from November 14 – November 25 and tickets are available now online or from the box office.