Daniel Llewelyn-Williams: A Regular Little Houdini: From Newport to New York.

January 11, 2018 by

A play about a dockworker’s son from South Wales in the Industrial period, who transcends poverty through his obsession with magic. Obsessed with Harry Houdini, he mirrors the life of that icon of the Jewish immigrant success story. In lieu of a paternal figure, the boy conjures up an apparition of Harry as an omnipresent mentor, a driving force in his life; but even with the sociopathic, narrow-mindedness of that flawed genius as his muse, can he escape the encroaching mud that is poverty; that is his destiny? Or will it consume him as it did his forefathers? An uplifting modern fairytale of triumph of the human spirit.

I wrote A Regular Little Houdini in 2013 as a love song to my home town of Newport. At the time I felt very strongly that the city needed positive propaganda and I really wanted to also honour my family history in play form.

I discovered Houdini had a soft spot for the city too. Choosing it as his springboard for his UK tour in 1905. The city (or town as it was) then was an industrial hub, housing the busiest docks in the world at that time, a far cry from the depressed post industrial town of my teenage years.

I contrived to write a fictional vein of a family, inspired by my family stories of the docks, my father having come from a long line of Newport dockers, through and between some very real local history, the building of the mighty Transporter Bridge, the horrific industrial accident that was Newport Docks Disaster and the 2 visits of Harry Houdini to the town.

I used a young boy as my protagonist. I knew that an innocent would slip in under the radar, charm an audience and then be able to drip feed the more political and prescient messages I wanted to tell into a willing, open, empathetic audience. Three generations of men; the boy, his father and his granddad whom he affectionately refers to as Gami are constructs comprising my own father’s character at various stages of his life. From wide-eyed boy with an un-supressable spirit and a head full of candyfloss, to the toil-yolked father, weighed down with reality, to the emancipated Grandfather with a tall story to syphon into the ears of his grandchildren. This show is personal to me, my family who hail from the docks in Pillgwenlly, the filthy beautiful mud of the Usk and the people of Newport.

Since 2013 I have toured the UK extensively with this show. Taken it to California, Adelaide, and most recently New York. My dad was always so proud of me for having the balls to write a play and touched, but unsurprised that I would write something with which I would want to educate, unite and change perceptions. He was also tickled pink that I wrote a play about him. Sadly he passed away unexpectedly prior to taking the show to NYC this December. He never got to read the wonderful things people wrote about his surrogate story. But I am so thankful I got the chance to take his spirit with me to New York. Together we showed them a bit of Newport magic in the Big Apple.

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