Students perform in a cemetery to ‘give the dead a voice’

University reaches out to its local community through dramatised performances in the city graveyard

October 31, 2015
Students perform in a cemetery
Source: University of South Wales
Grave thoughts: Cathays Cemetery houses ‘an incredible body of texts’

Halloween comes just one night a year, but that will not stop a group of drama students bringing back to life the stories of those buried in one of Britain’s largest cemeteries for an event next month.

The students will be performing at the Cathays Cemetery in Cardiff and at the University of South Wales’ Atrium campus, which houses the Cardiff School of Creative and Cultural Industries, on 13, 14 and 20 November as part of the Being Human festival of the humanities, which takes place across the country from 12 to 22 November.

Opened in 1859, the Cathays Cemetery is one of the country’s great Victorian cemeteries and now houses 224,000 graves. It therefore represents “an incredible body of texts”, says Richard Hand, professor of theatre and media drama at South Wales, which the project sets out to explore.

He has built up links with Cardiff Council, the Friends of Cathays Cemetery and a community music organisation called Wonderbrass to create live dramatised heritage walks and podcasts for visitors.

As a result, students have researched some of the more intriguing and unusual people buried at Cathays Cemetery.

These include, says Professor Hand, “a survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade who went on to become an accountant” and a man called Jacques Le Guélis, who was parachuted into the Dordogne to join the French Resistance and went on to have a personal briefing with Winston Churchill. (He was apparently killed in a traffic accident at the end of the Second World War, although this incident has generated many conspiracy theories.)

A Spanish MA student who assumed that the cemetery would tell a very British story was delighted to discover that the first person to be buried there was the daughter of a Spanish ambassador, so he has created a performance about her using both Spanish and English.

Other short monologues and dialogues have been developed to address more general topics, such as the cemetery’s monument to the Irish famine and the series of terrible Welsh mining disasters.

Selections from the full repertoire of about 20 stories have been performed in the cemetery by students and graduates both this summer and last. Some will be performed again on 13 and 20 November and the full set at the university on 14 November.

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Print headline: Students bring history to life in Cardiff cemetery

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