Things are a bit different this year. I’m learning to live without the funding from the Arts Council of Wales that I have been receiving for the past ten years. There’s a lot less to do and now with the help of a good friend I’ve got all the accounts sorted. So The Welsh Fargo Stage Company is stable but just for the time being. As the man said “ I’ll be back”. Now that I’m not sitting at my desk most days, my wife has made holidays a priority. So far we’ve done Costa del Sol, Amsterdam and the north face of the Eiger. With the Isle of Wight and Madeira still to come. Not to mention a trip to Cleethorpes! And I have been able to fit in a bit more reviewing.
I am sure the Theatre World of Wales could carry on without me but having been around here for the past 45 years (yes, I did put the first play on to the newly opened Sherman Theatre stage) I’m not sure I am able to carry on without it, well of course I can carry on. I have a wonderful happy and fulfilled life but without the occasional artistic challenge it does seem to lack that bit of jam on the top. All the wonderful people are still around. Wales is blessed with enormous artistic talent and fantastic people practising it. There are a few plans rattling around in my mind to go back ACW with. But a phone call came out of the blue. A long-term friend of a friend of mine rang to say he was starting up a new theatre company in Swansea: The Tent of Xerxes.
He’d booked three wonderful plays into the Arts Wing at the Grand Theatre and he was looking for a director. Thirty years ago I was there, as an actor in a season of repertory with Desmond Barrit and Graham Cole, who are now patrons of Welsh Fargo Stage Company. Caroline Berry was my daughter in A Midsummer Nights Dream. The plays were The Body of an American by Dan O’Brien, Grounded by George Brant and Johnny Got His Gun, an adaptation by Bradley Rand Smith of a novel by Dalton Trumbo. All three were multi award-winning American war themed plays, very challenging for the directors and wonderful parts for actors to play. The two previous touring productions that I had directed for Welsh Fargo, Dandelion by Patrick Jones and Downtown Paradise by Mark Jenkins had both received five star reviews so I was feeling pretty confident and took on the role as director of this new company. Both Mark Jenkins and Patrick Jones and the casts of those two plays are great friends of mine as are all the artists who have taken part in my On The Edge project over the past eleven years. Now I was to find new friends.
I was to direct the first play, The Body of an American. Most of the first half of the play consisted of two guys emailing each other. How do you bring vitality and compulsion to that? It seems we did, the two actors were wonderful. I couldn’t have done it without them! Check out the review on this site.
For the first time in Wales I had to audition. I’d always known well the work of all the On The Edgers. We, the producers and I saw some very good Swansea based actors but I knew it, the moment Rob Stradling and Doug Grey walked in that these were people I could work with. Rehearsals were a joy and a remarkable understanding was set up between the two characters.
This came about partly because the play itself concerned two people getting to find out about each other and themselves. At the centre of the play was a photograph taken in 1993 of the body of an American soldier, David Cleveland being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by a vengeful mob of rebels. The picture went viral. It fascinated poet Dan O’Brien: he thought there might be a play in it, so he contacted the photographer Paul Watson. The play is the dialogue between them concerning the writing of the subsequent play.
Rob Stradling was well suited to the part of Watson and gave a masterly performance.
Doug Grey, a much younger and less experienced actor, but with creative imagination by the bucket load was equally as compelling, not only in his main role as the poet but also in the many cameo roles he performed as they kept creeping into the play. More about Doug to come…
I invited another good friend and director of Mercury Theatre, Lynn Hunter to direct the second play, George Brant’s Grounded. Lynn was nominated in 2013 for best female actor for her part in my production of Patrick Jones’ Dandelion in the Wales Theatre Awards. In February this year Lynn was part of the all female cast in the remarkable Omidaze production of Richard III. There she worked with Alice White who she now cast in the solo, grounded role. She gave an exceptionally moving and chilling performance as the former fighter pilot now grounded, as she had become a mother and was operating drones in the Las Vegas desert killing people many thousands of miles away. She sinks into a terrible dilemma when she sees her own daughter’s face on the child of Osama’s number two…See www.thepublicreviews.com
The new company has got off to an excellent start; word seemed to have got around and there was a good increase in audience numbers for the second play. Now with two high quality productions under their belts I’m hoping to see even more people at the next one.
Dalton Trumbo’s 1930s anti war novel, Johnny Got His Gun, set during the First World War, is brought to the stage by Bradley Rand Smith. Joe Bonham is an American casualty of the Great War – he wakes from a coma to slowly become aware of his situation. He’s lying in a hospital bed with no arms and no legs. Plus: no teeth, no eyes, no nose, no ears. He is just a torso and a train of thought. It is quite one of the most emotionally charged play I have ever read. I have never looked forward to rehearsals with such excitement I know that Joe Bonham and Douglas Grey will be a totally magic combination. If ever an actor was born to play a role, this is the one. Don’t miss it!
Tent of Xerxes. Johnny Got His Gun: Swansea Grand Theatre’s Arts Wing July 17 & 18 – 7.45pm