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Theatre companies show COVID resilience

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Over four decades ago, rural west Wales was at the centre of the greatest drugs bust in history. The police investigation, Operation Julie, resulted in dozens of arrests and the discovery of LSD worth £100 million. A brand-new musical play from Theatr na nÓg and Aberystwyth Arts Centre explores the story from both sides of the drugs divide – the police, and the hippies who settled in Ceredigion hoping to spread their ideals in a changing world.

This summer, Theatr na nÓg and Aberystwyth Arts Centre were due to launch an ambitious co-production for audiences in Aberystwyth. Operation Julie was to be a stage play packed with music, drama and comedy, telling the extraordinary story of what happened in and around west Wales in the mid-1970s when hippies settled in the area seeking a new way of living fuelled by acid and an alternative attitude. When a chance clue is discovered following a car accident, the local constabulary works with detectives from across Britain to uncover what turns out to be the biggest stash of acid ever found, taking out up to 60% of the world’s LSD market at that time.

When the coronavirus pandemic struck it became clear it would be impossible to open Operation Julie to live audiences at Aberystwyth Arts Centre in August and na nÓg and the arts centre made the decision to postpone its premiere until next spring.

Although a huge disappointment for both companies, they quickly decided to make the best of a bad situation, as Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s director Dafydd Rhys explains: “Though we’d prefer to be going into production now, that is no longer an option due to Covid – but it does allow the wonderful cast and team of creatives to get together to do some invaluable research and development work on the script, the characters and the music.”

Due to the continuing lockdown restrictions, writer-director Geinor Styles explains how they went about the R&D activity whilst being unable to physically rehearse together.

“I’m not a director that sits and pours over the script,” Styles says. “I like to get people up on their feet and moving. I believe I can solve things editorially whilst directing. This is probably the most frustrating thing and a real challenge for me because that is not possible over zoom. However there are advantages, the creatives, designers, sound, AV and lighting have been able to drop into rehearsal or listen in without having to physically be in the room. A real treat for us and them. It feels truly collaborative. Having them exclusively while still developing the script is very rare but such a real bonus.”

Geinor Styles, who has been developing the production since 2014 and believes that, due to COVID that the story has become even more relevant: “I feel as we move through this pandemic, that the story behind Kemp’s acid production and 8000 word micro doctrine, becomes more and more relevant to a planet that is being destroyed by consumerism and capitalism.”

She also feels the Operation Julie story is too important to be delayed. “I was astonished how relevant this story was to us living in a time where the climate was changing at an alarming rate,” she says. “That as a species, we needed to change our ways like the hippies of the ’60s and ’70s – their philosophy of wanting to ‘get back to the garden’. This philosophy was emphasised by our protagonist Richard Kemp, a talented scientist, who moved to Tregaron in the early 70s and created the purest form of LSD. He is the source of the whole story – without Kemp, you do not have Operation Julie.”

Theatr na nÓg and Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s version of events tells the story from both sides of the law, with Geinor Styles meeting and interviewing a variety of people from the area and of that time, one of the main acid dealers – Alston ‘Smiles’ Hughes, who was a key part of the LSD chain from his modest home in Llanddewi Brefi – and Lydia Jones, the daughter of the late Detective Sergeant Richie Parry, in the Zoom meetings with cast and crew.

Operation Julie is a musical play, a format favoured by the resilient and forward thinking theatre company, Greg Palmer is Operation Julie’s composer and musical director, working with actor-musicians over video call to create the score: “I’ve never rehearsed a show in this way before. My usual method is to be in the thick of things in the rehearsal room working with the actor-musicians in an organic way. This makes the cast feel part of the creative process. That immediacy is impossible to replicate via Zoom so the whole process becomes slower and more laboured.” This alterantive approach, though, has allowed Palmer to discuss LSD dealer Smiles’ psychedelic musical tastes and the records that influenced him during the period of the play. “I grew up as a teenager in the ’70s and listened to a lot of the music that Smiles et al would have been listening to. Smiles has

referenced a number of bands from that era – Caravan, Bob Dylan, Steely Dan. I’ve been very keen from the beginning of the process to have the sound world of the play reflect those musical trends.”

Theatr na nÓg and Aberystwyth Arts Centre are confident that this extended development time, will result in a truly memorable production when Operation Julie finally reaches the stage next year.

“Operation Julie will be a popular and important theatre production,” says Dafydd Rhys. “We remain totally committed to this uniquely Welsh tale that had an impact throughout the world. It also has the added bonus that the music will be fantastic! We know the audience will be in for a treat – a really good night of quality, thought provoking and popular theatre.”

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Ceredigion Museum to reopen with a new exhibition

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CEREDIGION Museum in Aberystwyth is to reopen its doors to the public on August 12 after being closed due to the pandemic.

It will reopen with Human Threads; a stunning exhibition of historic quilts, with the addition of two new quilts – one digital and one physical – made by Ceredigion residents to record their experiences of the pandemic. 

Staff say they are excited to be reopening with a wonderful exhibition, having missed visitors and access to the museum for more than a year.

The museum will initially be open from Thursday to Saturday each week, from 11am until 4pm. 

Research by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions shows that 75% of respondents want visitor attractions to retain Covid-19 safety measures, so the museum has put in place a booking system to limit the numbers of visitors at any one time. There will also be lots of opportunities to sanitise hands and visitors will be asked to social distance and wear masks for the foreseeable future.

Initially, visitors will only have access to the shop and the first floor of the museum. As key café staff were redeployed into new jobs to support schools and care homes and they are still needed in these vital roles, the café won’t be reopening for the time being.

The museum shop, however, will be open and full of lovely new products, many designed especially for the quilt exhibition.

The website will have full details of the exhibition. People will be able to book their visit from August 5 at www.ceredigionmuseum.wales

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Llandeilo going for Fair Trade Status

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A NEW steering group has formed in Llandeilo to achieve Fair Trade status for the town.

“Many of our local shops and venues already stock or serve Fair Trade products and I believe Llandeilo deserves to be officially recognised for this,” says co-founder town councillor Christoph Fischer.

“It’s fantastic to see so many businesses and stakeholders committed to Fair Trade in Llandeilo,” says Candace Browne of Y Pantri Glas, Llandeilo’s Zero Waste and Natural Foods store. “However, for me Fair Trade extends beyond insuring workers growing imported exotic produce like bananas and chocolate are treated fairly but also to trading fairly with our local producers and sourcing good food locally. As Chair of Slow Food Cymru, Slow Food Town status with a shared vision of “Good Fair Food for All” would also be great for businesses to work towards for our community.”

The group, which has representatives of several businesses and interested individuals, are currently mapping all products that local shops, schools, groups and organisations offer and are lobbying the town council and other bodies to get behind the movement by declaring their own commitment to Fair Trade.

“As town councillor and as individual I feel this initiative fits perfectly well with the trend in town for fair trade,” says Fischer. “As Member Pioneer for the Llandeilo Coop part of my role is to initiate projects like this and bring all parts of the community together. We already had positive replies from Café 139, The Lighthouse, Heavenly, Ikigai, CK’s, Crown Stores, Umami and Llandeilo Primary.”

If you and your organisation want to commit to Fair Trade or are stocking Fair Trade products, please contact ChristophFFischer@googlemail.com

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RNLI lifeguards and lifeboat crew to be awarded for brave Ceredigion rescue

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THREE RNLI lifeguards from Ceredigion have been recognised with a bravery award for saving the lives of a man and his 10-year-old son. 

With assistance from Cardigan and New Quay RNLI lifeboats, the lifeguards rescued the two kayakers who were caught in a strong offshore wind and being swept out to sea. 

For their brave actions during the rescue, the three lifeguards are to receive the prestigious Alison Saunders award, which is awarded each year to recognise the skill and bravery of lifeguards.

The pair of kayakers were rescued at Tresaith last September, having capsized 800m offshore in strong winds and bad sea conditions. Seasonal RNLI Supervisor Sam Bailey and RNLI Lifeguard Macsen Mather demonstrated remarkable courage and selflessness in entering the water, in the full knowledge that they would not be able to return to the shore unassisted, due to the wind and sea state. They were well aware they would be spending a prolonged period of time in the water in cold conditions.

Senior Lifeguard Lowri Davies remained ashore to co-ordinate the rescue with HM Coastguard, who requested that both New Quay all-weather lifeboat and Cardigan inshore RNLI lifeboat launch to support the lifeguards. Despite it being her first season as a senior lifeguard, Lowri executed her role with confidence and assurance, managing communications between lifeguards, lifeboats, and HM Coastguard, and offering reassurance to her colleagues in the water throughout the rescue. 

Having reached the kayakers, Sam and Macsen used their rescue boards to secure the casualties out of the water in order to keep them safe until the lifeboats arrived to recover the whole group.

By the time New Quay and Cardigan lifeboats arrived at Tresaith, the group had drifted over 1.5 miles out to sea. Cardigan RNLI volunteer crew transported the group to shore where the casualties received further medical attention from HM Coastguard for the effects of the cold. Both lifeboat crews will receive a letter from the RNLI’s Chairman for their part in the rescue. 

Roger Smith, RNLI Area Lifesaving Manager says: “This rescue was a superb team effort, with RNLI lifeboat crews launching in direct support of their lifeguard colleagues. We are massively proud of our lifeguards, who showed great bravery and resolve during this rescue. They entered the water to save lives, in the full knowledge that they would be unable to return to shore unaided, trusting our lifeboats to back them up. The awards recognise their collective courage and professionalism. Working together, our team saved two people from drowning that day.”

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