Roald Dahl’s City Of The Unexpected
By Wales Millennium Centre & National Theatre Wales
The fact that Roald Dahl was born and spent his early years here in Cardiff is remarkably little known beyond diehard fans. On the week of his centenary, , produced by Wales Millennium Centre and National Theatre Wales with director Nigel Jamieson, not only put the city firmly on the international map; it also reclaimed our beloved son in spectacular style. It was an experience the whole city would remember for a generation.
The vision was to stage an event that took the city by surprise; a series of spectacles and unexpected performances, from the very intimate to the astonishingly big. The programme of events wouldn’t be made public in advance, and there would be no conventional sharing of his stories. Rather, Cardiff itself and its communities would become the stage, and its streets and iconic buildings transformed into the City of the Unexpected. This was the vision for what became Wales’ biggest ever arts event.
Participation was key to the event’s success. In April 2016, a call-out was made for an extraordinary community cast, including choristers, dancers, Morris Minor drivers, bald men, magicians, brass bands, excavator drivers, firemen, circus artists, aerialists, rock-climbers, grandparents, children and a performing mouse. The response was overwhelming, and the producers set about organising a series of rehearsals of a scale never seen in Wales before. New skills were learnt, selfconfidence boosted and friendships forged. Thousands of children the length and breadth of Wales created their own dream jars to be displayed at the event. More than 5,000 people took part; as members of the Ministry of the Predictable, Save the Peach campaigners, hula hoopers, a mass choir and countless other colourful characters that appeared as if from nowhere.
Here’s what some of those participants
said of the experience:
“Thank you for giving my inner child
permission to perform”
“Magical, colourful and unruly… I felt
“Restored my faith in human nature”
“The sense of community was
”Such a lovely experience… it was
beautiful to be able to play like that.”
And it wasn’t just the public – professionals took on roles, from Police Officers, members of the Fire Service, even the First Minister, Carwyn Jones. Genuine, meaningful and playful participation from a diverse, enthusiastic and committed cast. If you weren’t one of the 300,000 people in Cardiff on the 17-18 September 2016, or who watched the highlights on BBC Wales’ documentary the following week, here’s a flavour of what you missed; a 7-meter peach arriving, unannounced, on Wood Street, and huge crowds following its journey to Cardiff Castle for a grand civic welcome; a mischievous fox chased by farmers across the city centre, dodging their pitchforks with parkour, acrobatics and even a nail-biting tightrope walk; a boy called James being pulled from the peach, along with a ladybird who later married the Head of the Fire Service in a lavish ceremony at City Hall; intimate readings of Dahl’s
work by some of his best-loved fans, in surprising locations across the city; a great pyjama picnic in Bute Park, in which the fox performed a miraculous escape from certain death, before the huge peach took off into the distance, and so, so much more.
Roald Dahl’s City of the Unexpected
surprised and delighted huge crowds
throughout the weekend; here are just a
few examples of their reactions:
“Absolutely stunned by the performance
from everyone! I’ve only lived in Cardiff
for 2 years and I was so proud of seeing
the whole experience and proud to live
in Cardiff. As for the picnic; wow!! Blown
“I may be 67 but [this] was far and above
the very best Cardiff has done.”
“I laughed, cried, danced and sang and
came away feeling uplifted and so happy”
“Amazing, enthralling and magical
entertainment for free.”
“Words cannot express how amazingly
magical this whole weekend has been. My
children and I have all cried tears of joy
and sadness – we really didn’t want it to
end… it would have made Roald proud.”
It trended on Twitter and was talked about on BBC Breakfast, in the New York Times and on BBC Radio 6 Music. Jaw-dropping pictures of the peach and the crowds were published in newspapers across the world; in the Sunday Times, the Sunday Mirror and the Sydney Morning Herald. Above all, this extraordinary celebration has proven conclusively that there is a very real appetite for large-scale arts events here in Wales – a desire to take part, to watch and engage. It marks a significant watershed moment in Cardiff’s growing confidence on an international stage, and better still, has shown what a wondrous, ambitious and unforgettable event the city itself can produce, on a par with any public performance you’d see the world over. After 2016, more than ever, it feels as though anything is possible.