Cardiff prepares to celebrate Roald Dahl's centenary

Morris minors, spitfire pilots and ‘endless surprises’ to descend on Welsh capital in remembrance of city’s beloved storyteller

Firemen, spitfire pilots, a parade of bald men and one hundred morris minor drivers are among those who will descend on Cardiff this weekend, as the entire city is given over to a theatrical spectacle to mark Roald Dahl’s centenary.

Over two days, the Welsh capital is to be transformed into a City of the Unexpected to mark the birth of their most beloved storyteller, who was born in Cardiff in 1916.

A cast of six thousand has been recruited for the performances, pop ups, visual spectacles and live readings that will happen in the streets and institutions of Cardiff, all inspired by Dahl’s vivid stories.

There will be no set schedule, and instead people are encouraged to arrive in the city centre and walk the streets as unexpected moments arise. Among the events visitors could encounter are weddings, funerals and a procession of members of the oppressive ministry, who will try to shut down the eruptions of delight by lining the streets with 67,000 metres of hazard tape.

The event has been brought to life by theatre director Nigel Jamieson who directed the opening ceremony for the Sydney Olympics. Jamieson said the idea that drove his vision for the weekend was: “If Roald Dahl was handed the puppet strings of the city, and the strings of logic and gravity and indeed municipal regulations, how might he play with the city? What kind of mayhem he might to to create?”

Roald Dahl with Pat and Valerie Eaton Griffith
Roald Dahl with Pat and Valerie Eaton Griffith. Photograph: RDNL/Courtesy of RDMSC

Rather than re-enacting specific moments from Dahl’s books, Jamieson said they had drawn on the spirit and imagination that was at the core of Dahl’s writing to create the different performances. People would recognise elements – be that chocolate or even a giant peach – but they would be fused together in a unique way he hoped would be “endlessly surprising”.

“There is something amazingly egalitarian about the reach of Roald Dahl, he is embraced by all ages and all members of society. I hope if he’s looking down over this weekend he will see that we’ve created something democratic that looks at the world freshly and does, in a magical, metaphorical and strange way, try to tackle issues of the heart.”

There will also be a pillow fight between 1,200 volunteers, a procession of older people on their mobility scooters, and the event will close with a picnic, where everyone is invited to come in their pyjamas, in a nod to many people’s first encounter with Dahl as a child tucked up in bed.

Jamieson also convinced the head of the Welsh fire brigade to take part in a wedding ceremony and the Welsh first minister, Carwyn Jones, will also play a part in the theatrics. He said it was a testament to the enduring appeal of Dahl that 6,000 volunteers had signed up to take part. Even callouts for those with very specific skills or attributes – anglers, rock climbers, bald men and morris minor owners – all proved successful.

He said it was important that the event had drawn those on the fringes of society, or those who are often forgotten, to take part, as they often ended up the heroes in Dahl’s stories.

“Often these books are about people who get cut away from all the things that they know in the world, whether its because their parents get eaten by a rhinoceros or because they sail across the world in a peach,” said Jamieson. “In a strange way, this is actually a very current issue – what do you do when something strange, odd and curious and doesn’t have a home turns up in your city? How do you greet it and how do you welcome it?

“The weekend is about embracing the unexpected, just as Dahl always did, with the open arms of six thousand people.”


Hannah Ellis-Petersen

The GuardianTramp

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