Music by: Daf James
Book and lyrics: Michael Williams
Director: Melly Still
Reviewer: Beth Steer
Set in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay in the early 1900s, Tiger Bay The Musical is perhaps the most significant production by Wales Millennium Centre to date. Produced in association with Cape Town Opera, this raucous, roaring musical is one of revolution, conflict, and courage, at a time of the city’s deepest unrest.
Centering around Butetown, with its workers heaving coal in the docklands for Bute Dock Company, Tiger Bay The Musical delves into local history, and the neighbourhood’s notorious reputation as an underworld bubbling with crime, poverty, and prostitution. Through an absorbing narrative and superb cast, the production reveals the extent of this extreme class divide; poverty against supreme wealth. It is a place where coal is king, and gangs of street children roam the docks. But a revolution is brewing beneath the shiny surface of the Marquess’ land; it’s dark, and it’s restless.
The narrative follows Rowena Pryddy (Vikki Bebb), who, as a result of her active challenge of society’s injustices, she ends up in places she wouldn’t expect. In a tale fraught with twists and turns, Rowena explores the community around her, from her betrothed Seamus O’Rourke (Noel Sullivan) to the recently arrived coal hauler. We are introduced to a grieving Themba (Dom Hartley-Harris), and the street urchins that call the docks home.
The relationships are fascinating, and the cast is spectacular. As Rowena, Bebb is lively, feisty, and spirited; she has an incredible voice backed up by a superb live orchestra. Hartley-Harris’ performance is extraordinary, and his voice is the perfect match for Bebb’s, purring one minute and roaring the next. It’s spine-tingling. As the central villain, Sullivan’s performance of O’Rourke is excellent. He’s grisly, mean, and dangerous, with a belter of a voice.
John Owen-Jones is the Third Marquess of Bute, and his performance lives up to expectations. He’s brilliant and mesmerising. As Ianto, the chief ‘waterboy’ to Themba’s ‘donkeyman’, Ruby Llewelyn and Louise Harvey are absolutely fantastic. With bags of energy, powerful voices and a brilliant command of the stage, Ianto (and his gang of street children) bring beaming smiles to the audience’s faces one minute, and tears to their eyes the next.
The inhabitants of the notorious public houses and alleyways are spectacular, too. As Marisha, the landlady of the local pub, Cardiff-born Suzanne Packer is authentic and brash, in the best way. And, as a love-torn lady of the night Klondike, Busisiwe Ngejane is sassy, powerful and haunting. But it’s not just the principal cast who deserve a mention, the entire ensemble is outstanding; from the striking Welsh coal men to the vibrant multi-ethnic community, and the Suffragettes on their march.
With book and lyrics by Michael Williams and a blazing original score from Welsh composer Daf James, Tiger Bay The Musical is an absolutely outstanding production. Its striking portrayal of a fraught and turbulent time reveals the dark and testy, but also soft and warm underside of one of Cardiff’s most notorious areas. It is a universal story of the class divide, loss, conflict, and ultimately love.
Somewhere between a Welsh Les Misérables and a fiery Miss Saigon, Tiger Bay The Musical stands to be the newest, big hit musical on the block. The score is stomping, the dancing is unbelievable, the cast are roaring, and the staging is truly unforgettable. An absolute must-see.
Runs until 25th November 2017 | Image: Polly Thomas