As thousands of people made their way into Cardiff city centre on a gloriously sunny September weekend, there was a frisson of anticipation in the air.
Excitement for The City of the Unexpected, a collaboration between National Theatre Wales and Wales Millennium Centre, billed as a ‘magical celebration of the spirit of Roald Dahl created on the streets of the city that made him’ had built to fever pitch.
Snatches of conversation overheard as we passed through the throng of mini Willy Wonkas and very bushytailed Fantastic Mr Foxes centred around what this huge #RoaldDahl100 festivity might involve. Where should we stand? Let’s wander down this way. Who will all be there, mummy? You’ll have to wait and see! It is quite a thrill not knowing what is going to happen, isn’t it?
Had he been here I’m sure even Roald Dahl himself, who was born in Llandaff on September 13 1916, would have scarcely believed his eyes at the superb spectacle which unfolded.
James’ giant peach - created by Cardiff Theatrical Services - caused a real commotion when it fell from the sky. The peach was quickly flanked by retro police cars as well as Ministry of the Predicatable officials and soon, the battle to ‘give peach a chance’ began.
By the time the peach had made its way to Cardiff Castle, followed by high energy crowds and accompanied by dancing umbrellas, the city welcomed it with open arms. #UnexpectedCity began to trend on Twitter too as the eyes of the UK swivelled to Cardiff’s celebrations.
We then witnessed the majesty of James, Grasshopper, Miss Spider and Ladybird being airlifted from the peach onto the top of Cardiff Castle to speak, dance and sing along with Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure Ken Skates and Cardiff’s Lord Mayor Monica Walsh.
From there I roamed the city, catching the Marvellous Medicine Machine, Fantastic Mr Fox walking a tightrope from Cardiff Castle over an astonished crowd, wigless Witches protesting ‘down with children’, a beautiful book tree, two men fishing from a shop window and the lively creatures positioned on the Animal Wall which was such an ingenious installation.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more imaginative, we were invited to attend the wedding of Ms Ladybird and Mr Fireman, who had rescued her from the peach hours earlier. City Hall was dressed for the occasion – complete with magnificent opera singers on the roof - and the ceremony was an outpouring of love, with lots of singing along and dancing.
James returned with his peach to massive cheers and we were treated to another spotting of Mr Fox, as well as a sparkling fireworks display. But the real highlight for me was when city hall turned into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory – candy canes, liquorice allsorts, flowing chocolate - I could not take my eyes from the mesmerising light show and felt transported back to childhood, experienced pure joy and wonder.
And that was just Saturday!
On Sunday, pyjama clad families picnicked on Dahl-inspired food at Bute Park enjoying a massive pillow fight and stories told from giant chairs.
There were also a series of secret readings which happened throughout the city and featured the likes of Baroness Floella Benjamin, Gemma Whelan from Game of Thrones and Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens.
The creativity showcased across the city centre, in a variety of locations by a total of 6000 performers was astounding and to be commended as a real triumph.
A truly Dahlicious weekend of magic and wonderment.