Final preparations are under way for a major theatre production set to take over Butetown and Cardiff Bay this weekend, with performances ranging from intimate poetry readings, to parades through Butetown, and a grand finale on the waterfront.
National Theatre Wales’ De Gabay production will take place in a range of locations throughout the day on Sunday, with the aim of shining a spotlight on Cardiff’s Somali community.
It has been put together using the poetry and writing of five Welsh-Somali writers – Daud Farah, Ali Goolyad, Ahmed Ibrahim, Hassan Panero and Ahmed Yusuf – and explores the themes of identity and belonging.
The day-long event will begin with audiences being taken along to an “intimate house visit” in one of 50 homes in Butetown, Grangetown and Riverside, where they will see scenarios and poetry acted out at close quarters.
Audiences members will then be taken to join parades on one of two routes through Butetown, with one parade representing the Somali community’s past, and the other representing its present. People in the audience will be encouraged to interact with performers as they sing, dance and act out scenes along the parade route.
Once the parades have reached the Bay, performers and spectators will gather at the Senedd for a “parliament of poetry”, before a “beautiful finale” across the waterfront – details of which are being kept tightly under wraps.
Up to 60 performers, including actors, puppeteers, mine artists, dancers, and singers, have spent the last few weeks rehearsing at a warehouse on Dumballs Road in Cardiff, as well as making trips to various points of the parade route. Artists have also been hard at work to create the spectacular costumes and scenery needed for the parades and grand finale.
The production’s director Jonathan Holmes said those coming along on Sunday could expect to be taken on a journey from the “intimate to the spectacular”.
He said: “You will see all the stages of the personal meeting the political. It’s about identity, understanding, who you are in relation to where you have come from and where you are going.
“People can expect to feel at home at all stages, and they should not feel scared to participate.”
Writer Hassan Panero, 25, said his writing for the production had helped him to explore his identity as an “inbetweener” – having been born in Denmark, with a family from Somalia, and a move to Cardiff in 2001.
He said: “I’ve lived in three different places across the planet. Copenhagen, my home in Cardiff, and my old, old home for my parents which is Somalia.
“I got into poetry by recording stages of my life. I do not take pictures, because I do not think they give a real assessment of how you feel – people are portraying the best possible version of themselves in pictures, not capturing the reality of the moment. But poetry does do that.
“De Gabay – which means poem – is about how we got from the past to the present. It’s going to be poetry in motion. We really want people to come and learn about the different cultures in Butetown, and how we live side by side. It’s a multi-cultural crash course.”
Fellow writer and performer Ali Goolyad said he had enjoyed involving other young people from Butetown in the project, through acting, writing and costume making.
He said: “[With this production] we’re talking to different mind frames, trying to think from different perspectives, speak to different generations.
“There’s a big gap between the first generation of Somalis that came over here and the latest generation who have been born here. It’s hard for people to find a connection. We’re trying to show the older generation as well as other people that the younger generation are not different people, but we have just got a different way of life. We still want to connect, and poetry is something that has helped people do that for a long time.”
De Gabay will take place this Sunday, March 3, beginning at 11am and ending around 7pm.
Ticket prices start at £1 but people can pay more if they like, and all the money raised will help fund future National Theatre Wales projects in Butetown. Tickets can be bought online or by calling 02920 636464.
To keep up with the performance on the day, follow the Twitter hashtag #DeGabay