“Retraced, Redrawn, Retold” – Floor Mijland
With his steady narration, Mike Pearson (Professor Emeritus of Performance Studies at Aberystwyth University) transports us back in time, to the streets of Cardiff in June 1919. Accompanied by images of street corners, houses, men, families, we are emerged in the mayhem that took place over the course of four days and nights. We hear accounts of the Cardiff Race Riots, as if they took place only days ago. Where it started, and by whom, remains unclear, but what we understand from the various police statements, news articles and family accounts is that “local troublemakers, ex-servicemen and Colonial soldiers clashed with Yemeni, Somali and Caribbean seamen” (Utrecht University 2020), ransacking their homes and burning their belongings, all the while being watched by vast crowds of on-lookers.
Pearson’s vivid account of the Cardiff Race Riots almost transforms us, those present at the online Transmission in Motion seminar on December 16th, 2020, into onlookers. We have just witnessed an adapted version of The Cardiff Race Riots (1919): retraced, redrawn, a confronting piece containing “images and descriptions of extreme violence, and (…) language, including racial slurs” (National Theatre Wales 2020), a piece Pearson has been working on since 2018, together with National Theatre Wales and many others.
The Cardiff Race Riots (1919): retraced, redrawn is a performance created through ‘theatre archeology’ (Pearson and Shanks 2005). Theatre and archeology are both concerned with people, places, and incidents. Separating ‘evidence’ from ‘noise’, both archeologists and theatre-makers try to piece together stories based on incomplete remains. Taking notes from archeology while developing The Cardiff Race Riots (1919): retraced, redrawn, the actual streets of Cardiff were involved. By tracing the movements of the riots on the map and in the city, a mise-en-scène emerged and additional stories were uncovered, stories not (yet) commemorated by monuments or in history books.
Pearson’s work reminds me of the concept of ‘hauntology’, as explained by Mark Fisher. Fisher explains that “in contrast to the traditional ‘ontology’, that thinks of being in terms of identical presence (…), [hauntology] is about what is no longer or not yet” (Fisher 2012, 19). Past events that are no longer, such as the Cardiff Riots of 1919, are still effective today, as a structure or fatal pattern which possibly repeats itself. Events that have not yet happened, but are imagined to be true in the future, already have an effect on the way we act today. This makes not yet happened events and no longer happening events driving forces in present-day choices.
By ‘unearthing’ stories through theatre archeology, it seems to me that we can better understand events that are no longer. Telling these stories, fragmented as they might be, seems to take away their ‘haunting’ abilities. The descriptions and photographic evidence of the extreme violence depicted in The Cardiff Race Riots (1919): retraced, redrawn is explicit and personal, making it impossible to remain impartial. The piece stops the Race Riots from ‘haunting’ the streets of Cardiff by becoming a presence, and we onlookers are given a choice: to let events like the Cardiff Race Riots haunt us, or to allow this history not to be repeated.
Are you haunted by a desire to learn more? Please check out the latest iteration of this project: a digital graphic novel by Butetown Artist Kyle Legall, titled Cardiff 1919: Riots Redrawn on https://www.cardiff1919.wales/.
- Fisher, Mark. 2012. “What Is Hauntology?” Film Quarterly 66 (1): 16-24. University of California Press. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/fq.2012.66.1.16.
- National Theatre Wales. 2020. “CARDIFF 1919: RIOTS REDRAWN”. https://www.nationaltheatrewales.org/ntw_shows/wild-scenes-at-cardiff-2/#about_the_show.
- Pearson, Mike, interview by Maaike Bleeker, Transmission in Motion, Utrecht University, December 16th, 2020.
- Pearson, Mike, and Michael Shanks. 2005. Theatre/Archeology. London: Routledge.
- Utrecht University. 2020. “Transmission in Motion Seminar (2020-2021): “The Cardiff Race Riots (1919): retraced, redrawn” – Mike Pearson (Aberystwyth University, UK).” Transmission in Motion (blog), Utrecht University. December 16th, 2020. https://transmissioninmotion.sites.uu.nl/transmission-in-motion-seminar-2020-2021-the-cardiff-1919-riots-redrawn-project-mike-pearson-aberystwyth-university-uk/.