The Welsh hip-hop opera aiming to break down barriers and asking people to pay what they can

The House of Jollof Opera took to the floor at Wrexham's Tŷ Pawb venue this weekend to prove opera is not all “lah-di-dah" and "plush red curtains". Credit: ITV Wales

A hip-hop opera aimed at making theatre more accessible has been touring Wales and asking audiences to "pay what they can" instead of charging for tickets.Based on an award-winning short film, the House of Jollof Opera took to the floor at Wrexham's Tŷ Pawb venue this weekend to prove opera is not all “lah-di-dah" and "plush red curtains".

The 20 minute mashup of rap, hip hop and opera was written and performed by Welsh-Nigerian artist Tumi Williams and directed by Welsh-Indian creative Dr Sita Thomas. 

Dr Thomas, the Artistic Director and CEO of Fio Theatre Company in Cardiff, said it is a great show to be involved with.

“It’s definitely not traditional opera. We’re trying to do something really new and I think this kind of piece is a lot more accessible and enjoyable for audiences of today," she said.

“We’re sharing a story about a Welsh-Nigerian Chef and he’s a new Dad and he’s got his own Vegan Jollof culinary business. We meet him on the day of his inspection so it’s high stakes, the pressure is on, he needs to prove he can get his 5 star hygiene rating today. “

Dr Thomas believes it is important to share stories like the House of Jollof Opera to represent a modern and multicultural Cymru.

“When I was growing up in Pembrokeshire, I never really saw people like me represented on stage or TV or film, so now as a theatre director it’s so important to me that we are sharing stories that are purely representative of Wales today.”

There have already been performances in Haverfordwest and the show will soon come to Cardiff.

Tumi Williams, one of the lead performers, as well as a writer, musician and part-time chef, said he took the decision to make the show “pay what you can”. 

Tumi Williams says his first artistic love is music, but he is also a part-time chef Credit: ITV Wales

“From my experience and from what I know it’s hard at the moment, it’s hard for a lot of people and it’s been hard for a while now… Paying for something like this is out of your ordinary so to invite more people, to get people like myself to come to see something like this, it’s a no brainer."“For me, coming to community spaces like Tŷ Pawb is what it’s about really – and not going to the lights, camera, action of a big theatre."

The project was first mooted by Music Theatre Wales. Its director, Michael McCarthy, said it has been a special piece of work.

“This is a really important moment for Music Theatre Wales to bring a new way of thinking about opera to a new public,” he said.

“We always believed opera was storytelling and music but we’ve got to ask - Who’s making it and who’s it for?”

“I think there’s a huge barrier to opera. It’s the impression we have of opera, we’re fed opera in children's cartoons with all the cliches – the fat lady sings, the plush red curtains, the rich people sitting in the seats being completely exclusive."He continued: "Opera is a really beautiful art form and it can affect people emotionally, intellectually, musically. It’s wonderful but it can be difficult to get into that space - it isn’t all about lah-di-dah, it’s about singing what you feel."

Dozens watched the show in Wrexham - young and old tapping their feet and swaying to the music. Perhaps, people who wouldn’t normally book opera tickets – proving the experiment has worked.

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