So as I sit in my dressing room sipping a cup of tea…
I listen. The babble of school children have rushed out in an excited flurry, talking about magic and strange happenings. There is silence… I can faintly hear Sasha and Brynach going about setting up for our evening show. We are a very happy company with lots of banter, including teasing whoever is the last to arrive everyday and timing who can do my corset up the quickest (Sasha is well ahead on 24.36 seconds).
We each have our own area and our own routine. Al (Aled Herbert) with his American products and best chair in the dressing room, Jack (Jack Quick) a lot more minimal with every type of spray you could possibly need and Rich (Richard Nicholls) provides the music and it would seem a weeks supply of socks.
We have already performed twice to full school houses today. Crymlyn, St Roberts, and Talycoppa. Such is the company’s reputation these days, the schools can travel for over an hour to get here. The boys (Richard Nicholls, Aled Herbert, and Jack Quick) have nipped out to town for bits and bobs before we meet again for food before show. We are currently half way through our run, and have performed 46 shows to date, mornings, afternoons and evening. This will be our final evening performance.
I think back to rehearsals. I first worked with Director Geinor Styles on The White Feather two years ago and loved everything about working with her and Theatr na nÓg. She puts on some amazing productions whilst keeping a humour and fun about the whole process. Right up
my street. I didn’t think twice about accepting The Ghost of Morfa Colliery, it was a no brainer. This year we had Dan Lloyd join us as assistant director adding to the dream team.
In our first week we looked at our characters and their journeys…
My first character Elizabeth Heycock is the Mother of a young miner Bethnal Heycock. It was important to me to match his accent and vocal quality as in reality he doesn’t live too far away from the location of the play and my Welsh accent is a lot less defined. I love the Mam and Son scenes with Jack as they are slightly different every day, and I think have relaxed and grown in depth as the run has gone on.
It was also great to get a few scenes with Richard Nichols, a friend from over the years but we have never performed in a a show together.
My favourite scene however is the washing line scene with Aled Herbert. Aled and myself met on The White Feather. We got to work on an illusion for this where Aled appears from nowhere and every show gets a scream from the audience, followed by excited giggling.
We were very lucky to work with James Went who is an illusionist and a huge part of our whole enjoyment of the process. Working out how to do magic on stage is a new thing for me and I love seeing its impact on an audience. James was ace!
My second character Mrs. Francis started off as a little bird high pitched, fast talking character. However something wasn’t working. I had a chat with Emma Stephens Johnson and we talked about finding a deeper resonance and out she popped. A deep voice, lots of padding and a waddle, and I had found her. I always love playing something really far removed from myself as it is a bigger challenge to get there.
The Morfa Colliery disaster itself was something I knew little about. My Grandfather had been a miner and I remember his rough hands, his barking cough from the dust and his huge heart. It was lovely to learn more about the mining history and what he would have done there. I particularly enjoyed our “school trip” to Big Pit, which I would recommend to anyone. Particularly Al would say for the food there.
The show itself is a bit on the scary side… again not something I had ever done really in a play before. Having to deal with ghosts!!! We have objects that move in the space and lots of spooky appearances and disappearances which baffle the audiences every day. It really is lots of fun. I have always loved a good ghost story. Something that Geinor Styles and Mali Tudno Jones who wrote the play delight in. We are thinking of going to an over night vigil somewhere. Gein is a pro already and I CAN’T WAIT to do one.
The story is a true story. The characters are all people who were involved in the disaster at the time but as we say to the children who stay for the Q&A afterwards, the relationships are created for the benefit of the story. It is however true that roughly 170 miners stayed off work that day for whatever reason and their lives were saved. Superstitions, ghostly sightings, call it what you will but a very strange set of happenings indeed.
I am about to sign off as am now getting spooked out by being the only person left in the Dylan Thomas Theatre… Or am I?
Tonya Smith is currently performing to over 6000 school children in The Ghost of Morfa Colliery, by Theatr na nÓg at The Dylan Thomas Theatre, Swansea in their sold-out schools run. For more information, please contact Theatr na nÓg – www.theatr-nanog.co.uk