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Cerys Matthews on 'Our Country's Good' and stage mishaps

Catatonia front-woman Cerys Matthews talks about curating the music for the National Theatre's production of 'Our Country's Good'

Cerys Matthews backstage at National Theatre by Dominic Brouard

Cerys Matthews was the party-girl frontwoman of Welsh band Catatonia. Since then she has been awarded an MBE and charms multitudes with her Sunday radio show on BBC Radio 6 Music. She makes her debut as stage composer with the National Theatre’s revival of the modern classic ‘Our Country’s Good’.

Do you have any backstage rituals?
‘Food is an absolute no. You can actually feel it if you have a proper meal before going on stage. Which is terrible because by the time you have come off stage nowhere is open. I’ve a lifelong hatred of sandwiches and Ginsters pies, because that’s all there ever is.’ 

Any terrible on stage mishaps?
‘I’m awful with cables. The worst stage mishap I had was probably playing Glastonbury in front of tens of thousands of people. And I think it was televised. Kept singing. Didn’t break anything, though. Only my ego.’

What drew you to this project?
‘I’m such a huge fan of Timberlake’s [Wertenbaker] play. It’s about 
the redemptive quality of art and that’s always been close to my heart. The play is about convicts who arrive on the shores of Australia in the eighteenth century. They are there to help build a colony and serve time, but one of the officers decides that it would be a good thing for the civilisation of the colony to start to teach them how to act and put on a play. And you actually see the convicts start getting back in touch with their humanity. It’s wonderful.’ 

Have you written all the music?
‘I’ve written and curated the music. I’ve brought a few people in – Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker – and I’m going to get Josienne’s voice to fill the arena. I’ve spent a lot of time in the southern US and music by the likes of Johnny Cash and Lead Belly really resonated for me with the tale.’  

It’s set in Australia – does that mean there’ll be a didgeridoo?
‘At first I said, “There’s absolutely no way I’m going to use a didgeridoo.” But then Nadia Fall [the director] brought in a really good didgeridoo player and it sounds so different when you hear it being played properly. I also was keen to use a bullroarer. It’s a bit like a boomerang but you put it on 
a string and then you whip it around, and it makes a spooky noise. 
These things are quite primeval 
and mysterious.’ 

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