To begin at the beginning…
I was born in… Wait, not that beginning.
My earliest Theatre memory is of walking into Neath Little Theatre with my Mam to see Theatr Gorllewin Morgannwg’s production of Man a Man. I remember that Tim Baker directed, and I’m pretty sure the cast were Manon Eames, Sara Harris-Davis, Gwyn Vaughan Jones and Rhys Parry Jones. If my memory continues to serve me correctly (and as a Dad of two by now, it often doesn’t), the poster showed an older farmer-type man with a piece of straw in his mouth with his arm outstretched, and had a blue-ish hue… I remember the wooden floor and the raised stage and I’m pretty sure we sat quite near the back.
Theatr Gorllewin Morgannwg (who later became Theatr na n’Og) played a huuuge part in my theatrical upbringing, and I find it strange and amazing in equal measure that I’ve since managed to meet and/or work with each of those five people and the company. Caru Cymru!
A child’s first experience of Theatre is such a momentous thing – it can be incredibly exciting or terrifying; moving and unexpectedly emotional… We’re (often) sat in a darkened room, watching strangers tell us a story live and up close (and hopefully) in an engaging way.
I’d been performing in shows for younger audiences with Theatr na n’Og and Theatr Clwyd since graduating from Drama School, and felt as though I ‘got’ them. You know when you just ‘get’ something? I cant kick a ball, and I can’t change a tyre, but I ‘get’ younger theatre audiences, and – equally importanty – I think I get their parents, guardians and teachers… The ticket buyers! Most people who know me would argue that younger audiences’ humour is just my level… But it’s more than that. I think.
‘Theatre for Young People’ is sadly sometimes interpreted as ‘childish theatre’ – it happens – and, to me, that’s a grave error. Kids are perceptive, inquisitive, engaging… They notice things and they want to know stuff – what’s happening, how it works. I’ve performed in shows where younger audience members have pointed out elements of the set on which NONE of the cast had picked up. You should never underestimate your ‘younger’ theatre audience – not when you’re creating it, not when you’re producing it, not when you’re performing it.
When you chat to people – especially those who are Cardiff-born or Cardiff-bred – so many have the fondest early memories of visiting the Sherman Theatre around Christmas time, and it’s a real privilege to play a continuing part in this ongoing tradition. Having performed in the Sherman’s 2012 & 2013 studio shows (and in their main stage production of Arabian Nights in 2014), I adapted The Emperor’s New Clothes/Dillad Newydd yr Ymerawdwr for the company in 2016 and this year was asked to adapt the story of The Magic Porridge Pot/Hud y Crochan Uwd. I’ve loved it.
Turning a story which can – essentially – be told in three lines into a 45-50-minute piece of engaging theatre is a good old challenge. If any creative dared to claim that they could just ‘throw something together’ for a younger audience, I’d give them the death stare. It’s important. It’s vital. It’s no less challenging than creating groundbreaking theatre for adult audiences.
I believe in creating theatre for family audiences which engages with every member of any family who’s decided to step out of busy day-to-day life in the run up to Christmas and has come to enjoy our story. You may be a six-year-old on a school trip; a busy parent bringing your toddler on their first ever Theatre trip; a grandparent who just wants to see something fun… It shouldn’t matter.
If the grown-ups find it engaging too, the Actors are less likely to look up and see the glow of a tablet device or the sound of someone speaking on a mobile phone.
Yes… This happens. I have seen it with mine own eyes.
Engaged audiences don’t walk out of the building and forget – they remember, they discuss, they consider what they’ve seen and heard. That’s what I aim for – if I don’t achieve it then I hope I’ll learn enough to do better the next time.
I absolutely cannot wait to take my little ones to see the production – we’ll be going to see it in Cymraeg and English at least once each – because I’m chuffed with the world of the play. It’s timeless with hints of modern life, it’s fun with an important lesson for the hero – a little girl named Aggie – and an intriguing world to visit. I can bear to watch it… I hope others can too!
When you’re involved in creating that experience for an audience – big or small – you want to do your very best to make it momentous, memorable and marvellous. I won’t be the judge of that, the audience will, but I hope that it creates some happy memories for the theatremakers of tomorrow.
The Magic Porridge Pot / Hud y Crochan Uwd on tour
Hud y Crochan Uwd @ Sherman Theatre
The Magic Porridge Pot @ Sherman Theatre