Author Archives: Laurence Allan

Beefy Jenkins – Colossus of Cwmaman

Beefy Jenkins, the colossus of Cwmaman, died 18 years ago not long after he turned 40. He had osteogenesis imperfecta – or brittle bone disease and wasn’t expected to live more than four months let alone four years. He packed more into those forty years than most of us manage in one – including more than a hundred fractures. He was an actor, showman and my friend who took the words in my head and gave voice to them on stage, radio and one television play, RAINBOW CHASER.

I first met him in the Muni in Ponty in 1991 when we were rehearsing the Valley of the Kings. Director Jamie Garven had invited along a local actor to beef up the community cast. I was told to expect man in a wheelchair. The wheelchair arrived first – empty and pushed by a young woman. It was followed by a four-foot cube of a man wielding a stick and bristling with bravado. He spotted me and barrelled & rocked and rolled his way across the floor.

I’m looking for the writer ‘ he growled.

That’ll be me’  I replied, trying but failing to match his bravado.

‘ It had better be a good part’

‘You had better be a good actor – you’re playing my grandfather’

He took the script off me and gave me the look of man who knew the Oscar was his.

For the next 10 years, I wrote plays, he played the parts and I handed him the Oscars. On The Road Again, a two hander for Hijinx Theatre with the comedy genius that is Richard Berry, took him all over Wales and England and memorably the Dublin Fringe Festival. He took no prisoners on stage or in the bar with his arsenal of abusive wit and wisdom. Even Dublin was defenceless.

His ambition and his sense of self-belief was huge and he wanted to prove himself beyond Larry Allan plays. I think he thought I was casting him out of friendship. He was wrong, I was writing for him out of belief in him and his absolute empathy with the characters I wrote. So when he landed a part with Volcano he was bursting with pride and optimism. He was also ill and carrying a fracture that he kept hidden. He had fought this crippling disease all his life and it wasn’t going to stop his dream now. He battled through rehearsals, confessing that half the time he didn’t know what was going on but loving the experience. He made it to opening night at Chapter and then during the second performance, in his own words, his leg fell off, and he collapsed on stage with a traumatic fracture.

Anyone else would have been sunk into black dog pessimism by this latest setback but even in hospital recovery for two months he was already planning his next move. He would rejoin the Volcano tour for its European tour and he would even consider another Larry Allan play if it went to New York. He was ready. I wasn’t sure New York was ready for him.

Not long after, he died. His spirit was strong but his whole body finally gave up on him. It was no contest. Defeated by a relentlessly optimistic, irrepressible force of nature.

I’d lost a friend but I thought I’d lost my voice. But it wasn’t mine to lose, it was his. And I still hear it now, every time I write. It’s in RAINBOW CHASER. It was his story. About his father. And every line is an echo of Beefy’s voice. Raw. Raucous. Hilarious. And absolutely authentic.

GIMME SOME TRUTH!

GST Mike & BalloonsI spent the summer with The Changang toiling on the second part of the trilogy WE LIVE. It was supposed to be called Reason To Believe  but wriggled onto the stage at The Factory as Gimme Some Truth. All around us things were changing but everything stayed the same. There was a General Election when power seemed  destined to shift. And it did. But spitefully and smugly David Cameron’s contraceptive head still loomed over us. And in our theatre world of make believe, fictional MP Eddie Makepeace  was born.

We took him into schools and threw him into the cold cauldron of apathetic teenagers. Except they weren’t. They were a bear pit of carnivores, hungry for the flesh of defenceless  politicians. Not quite defenceless. He was armed with an arsenal of platitudinous policies culled from the whole political spectrum. Yes, it was a very narrow spectrum. The pack smelt blood and tore him to shreds. They tormented and tortured him and put him to the vote. Eddie Makepeace or anyone but Eddie Makepeace. Anyone but won in every school. What went wrong? Who knows. Ask Ed Milliband.

Then we put him on the rehearsal floor with another group of  young people. We were turning into the Theatre of Cruelty and actor Mike Morton was weeping for mercy. They were demanding some truth and straight talking. By the end of the writing and rehearsal process they got it when Eddie erupted in an expletive spattered explosion of rage and frustration against the gags and tethers that muffled his beliefs.

In our performances  at The Factory, packed  audiences held their breath at some salty language  then let their feelings show in stunned appreciation of what they’s seen. I think we’d done something different. Shown young people connecting with politics and politicians connecting with the truth.

Next up, Fast Theatre in pubs will be launched at The Rickards, Treforest, Pontypridd. I don’t think Eddie would survive. Then again, look at Jeremy Corbyn.

The project was made possible thanks to the support of Persimmon Homes, Otley Ltd, Millennium Stadium Charity Trust, Arts & Business  Cymru, D S Smith.

 

 

 

 

A Chance to Get Involved

Premier Symffoni Z SoarFuture Plans – REASON TO BELIEVE is the second stage of a trilogy of work entitled WE LIVE, inspired by the Lewis Jones trilogy of novels of the same name, that began last year with a production of a play for young people written & directed by Larry Allan, MORE THAN JUST A GAME that was performed at The Factory, Porth.

Larry Allan will lead creative workshops featuring fictional MP, Eddie Makepeace in schools and communities, leading to an intensive Summer project in August in The Factory in Porth culminating in a showcase performance in mid August.

REASON TO BELIEVE is an intergenerational piece focusing on young people in the Valleys aged between 14 and 25, following their journey from adolescence to adulthood, as seen through a sequence of rite of passage plays, that they themselves help to create.

National Theatre Wales are supporting a seed commission for the final part of the trilogy ‘TATTOO’ a multi-genre, large scale production celebrating Valleys’ culture in 2017.

If you are interested in hosting a workshop or joining the journey contact: ChainWorks Productions@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

ChainWorks Productions – a new link in the chain

In November 2013,  I bit the bullet and did something I should have done 20 years ago. I forged my own company. ChainWorks Productions is a direct legacy of the Mzansi Cymru project building on similar surprising collaborations and rooted to its cultural history, past and present but always looking outward and to the future.

iconic-pic.560-150x150ChainWorks Productions takes its name from the iconic Brown and Lenox Chain works factory in Pontypridd. A powerhouse company of the Industrial Revolution that built chains and cables for the navy, using local resources and sent them all over the world.

Our Vision is to build  innovative links and creative collaborations between artists and organisations from within the community and beyond, to produce high calibre work, which stirs, engages and inspires audiences.

 

The Forgotten Hero – Arthur Linton – Welsh World Champion

sporting-livesI have been riding a bike seriously for twenty years and up until recently it has been seen as the pursuit of the mad, sad obsessive. But suddenly cycling is the new black and the MAMIL  (middle aged man in lycra) is the new mondeo man – seen everywhere and hated by everyone.

Cyclists top the league table in sporting heroes, Mark Cavendish, Sir Bradley Wiggins and – Lance Armstrong, collectively symbolizing dedication and achievement and respectively, speed, endurance and drugs.

But for all this celebrity focus there is a Welsh World Champion who remains stubbornly out of the spotlight. One hundred and twenty years ago, Arthur Linton, a young miner from Aberdare, symbolized the whole package of achievement including, sadly and disputably, drugs.

He was a world champion cyclist at 24 and dead at 27. He could sprint like a Welsh greyhound and grind out the miles like a gazelle on the Serengeti.  He took on all comers in the Valleys and Cardiff and whipped them soundly, humiliated everything England had to offer and then beat up the French and the Italians in their own backyard. Just for good measure he took on a horse ridden by Buffalo Bill and sent him back to Wyoming with his tail between his legs.

He did all of this, not on a featherweight string of carbon, but on The Gladiator, a bombproof steel boneshaker of a bike weighing in at just under ten kilo with one single 96 inch gear that a blacksmith would struggle to shift.

If this wasn’t enough he also had a daytime job as a haulier in the local colliery. And despite being in the local halls of fame, hardly anyone who is not a frequent visitor to the neighbourhood museum – remembers him.

Perhaps the reason he is a forgotten hero is the accusation that he was a closet villain. Before EPO, doping and Lance Armstrong, in 1896, Arthur and his trainer Choppy Warburton were at the centre of the first drugs scandal. Two months after winning the epic Bordeaux to Paris bike race, Arthur died.  Typhoid fever was the official cause. Except some people didn’t believe it. Why not? Perhaps some people don’t want believe things that appear just too good to be true.

Gladiator my latest play, a co production with RCT Theatres, about dreams and ambitions inspired by the Linton’s story, is touring Wales from Thurs 23rd April – Sat 16th May. Check out the Gladiator Trailer by Like an Egg Productions -

THE BELL RINGS FOR LADY WINDSOR

1186071_569858173073090_2013323936_n 1237182_569858759739698_955434018_n‘Come to Ynysybwl’ said Tony Burnell, ‘it’s twenty five years since they closed Lady Windsor Colliery and we’re having a festival. You can do something with the kids.’ Over forty years ago Tony had organised a bus to take a gang of teenage hippies to see the Pink Floyd at the Afan Lido in Aberavon. It never turned up. I never forgave him. Now he was tempting me with a commission and a temporary work permit in ‘The Bwl’. Time for peace and reconciliation.

Ynysybwl is another valley village without a vowel and one where the tarmac doesn’t quite run out but fractures, ruptures, then winds to a pub and a church with a breathtaking view. It was the end of term and time was running out to do anything with the kids at Trerobart Primary School and they were already mentally running down the road to the big school in Ponty.  But they were a bright and lively bunch in a vibrant school in a real community clinging on to a sense of itself. The pit had been grassed over and reduced to single dram as a memorial and there was hardly a single job left in the village. But still embedded in the fabric were the remains of a thousand strong work force waiting to tell their story. Round them up, bring them together with the school kids and make a film. Simple.

Like An Egg, a young film company based in Pontypridd, are so rooted in the community that in the recent Manic Street Preachers music video that they shot, they used a workingmens’ club in Porth and persuaded two hundred friends and family to squeeze into a hot, sweaty room for twelve hours just for the fun of it. They joined me in Ynysybwl. An act of blind faith. I pointed Rob and his camera at schoolkids, mountains, ex miners and deserted streets and told him I knew what I was doing. He smiled, sweated, and shot. We very quickly learnt two things. Never film kids in a heatwave and never point a camera at an overworked teacher.

After three weeks cutting, without scissors or tape, (film-making has changed) we emerge with a film fit for purpose and, we hope, entertainment. We are to show it at the Con Club as part of the festivities, shoehorned into an evening of music and storytelling. I have never been so nervous. I have never made a film but even more frightening I’m an outsider telling a story about The Bwl to the people of the Bwl. In the film making I have been surrounded by experts but as regards the story, I’m walking the plank alone.

In a packed hall they watch the film in silence. Everyone. Even the bar staff have left their positions for a better view of a Ponty boy falling into a sea of sharks. The film ends and the silence is broken by what sounds like a stifled  sob. Then applause. The lights come up to reveal several women and a  lot more men wiping away tears. We’ve managed to pull it off.

Ynysybwl is a special place. There’s lots of them in Wales. They’ve been messed about for decades. Well, you don’t mess with people from the Bwl. We hope we didn’t.

Watch the final film here: The Bells Ring Alone

BIKE BLOG 1st June 2013

Why don’t writers look out of the window in the morning? Because they’d have nothing to do in the afternoon. This is the only writers’ joke I know and it’s not really that funny and neither is it true, because I always look out of the window in the morning to check whether I can go out on my bike in the afternoon.

This is the topography of the writer’s day; a landscape where we constantly search for things to do other than putting a pen to paper. Doing the washing up, filling the washing machine, hanging out clothes, checking the weather forecast then bringing them back in again; there is a whole litany of airtime to fill before we can reward ourselves and switch on Pointless. Personally, I ride my bike. Which is not pointless at all.

Blog pic.In spite of what cynics may say, riding a bike is not displacement activity but an essential element in the writing process. In fact the point of riding a bike is to write plays. I ride therefore I write. As a mental aid, I am actually riding my bike now and writing this introductory blog. And as a visual aid, here is a photograph of the biking blogger high above Gilfach Goch testing my nascent camera phone prowess. This is a moment of disturbing epiphany, as I realise at moments of acute concentration, I poke my tongue out. The epiphany being that I must concentrate less and relax more.

As I look at this unsettling image another realisation dawns over my shoulder. There, in the legendary village of Gilfach, otherwise known as the town where the tarmac ends – there’s a lot of them in the Valleys – is the site of my first working experience in Wales. In an old, leaky, near derelict junior school in the early eighties, I rehearsed the part of Giovanni in Can’t Pay Won’t Pay for Spectacle Theatre.

I remember from photographs, that this was where my moustache made its first appearance as a gay Greek waiter, even though I was supposed to be playing a Welsh Italian. But it made people wet themselves with laughter, gave me a lifelong love of olives and a near psychotic aversion to moustaches.

Spectacle Theatre, still with us and fighting back from swingeing Arts funding cuts, then contained such luminaries as Jamie Garven, now acting guru at the Royal Welsh College Of Music and Drama, Clare Hudson, Queen of all she surveys  at BBC Wales and Lynn Hunter who has become Wales’s answer to Bette Davis – or possibly Joan Crawford.

If they could see me now.  And of course they will as they’ll be unable to resist the lure of a sighting of a monstrous  Peloponnesian moustache as I traverse the Valleys like some camp, cycling Zorba.  In fact, as an introductory passage into this website and biking blog, I propose to revisit every venue on that rock ’n’ roll Spectacle tour of 1983. Some places so far flung and remote I will have time to grow a pretty credible replica of the original moustache. Watch this Bloggy Bit, because I’m coming to a mountain probably nowhere near you.

 

Review of Cape Town Production: Torchbearers

Torchbearers -full cast  + choir + musicians in Cape Town

Torchbearers -full cast + choir + musicians in Cape Town

“The words are theirs, the dream is ours” the Zulu narrator of Torchbearers calls out. His words reverberate through different generations and across diverse cultures as we piece together the
story of two star-crossed lovers from very different walks of life.

Last night’s show of Torchbearers at the Artscape Theatre blew me away. Not only was the acting incredible from the diverse cast of South African and Welsh performers; but the story, the costumes, the choreography – everything was awe-inspiring.

The musical tells the story of two young lovers: Thembesile, a young Zulu girl, and Gerwyn, a Welsh actor, who meet on the set of the 1964 classic film, Zulu, in Johannesburg. The two fall in love but are torn asunder by apartheid and destined never to see one another again. Although they spend years apart and lead completely separate lives, their longing for one another never diminishes and we share their hope of a future together. We experience not only their past but also how it shapes their present and future. We watch as their children and grandchildren grow up in the same world they did but experience it differently due to the immense changes that have occurred since their own youth.

Without exception all the actors did a brilliant job, but the two leads, Zoliswa Euphonia Kawe and Nathan Sussex, did a particularly remarkable job reliving the memories and showcasing the hurt and loss their characters both experienced in their lives.

This beautiful story was written and directed by Laurence Allan who was inspired by his own experiences watching Zulu as a child. With the help of Valleys Kids, a community development charity, his intention was to unite the youth of the South Wales Valleys (one of the most deprived areas in Europe) with South Africa’s townships through a blend of acting, circus performance, dance, music and song. And he has succeeded superbly. This hodge podge of creativity blends together to create a truly beautiful work of art that celebrates and brings together two very diverse cultures.

And it’s this amazing combination of all forms of creativity that calls upon the skills of many local South African companies. The dancers are from the local upliftment project Dance For All and, choreographed by Christoper Kindo, they effortlessly dominate the stage encapsulating the raw emotion of the actors, providing a beautiful backdrop to all the scenes. Combined with the stylised sounds of the Cape Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, the alluring vocals of the Fezeka Voice choir and the amazing feats of the Zip Zap Circus School, this show has it all. Rich in cultural history and a beautiful fusion of two cultures, this heartfelt story shouldn’t be missed.

REVIEW by Claire Pokorchak
- What’s On in Cape Town

Torchbearers was at the Artscape Theatre 8 – 11 November 2012.

Chronology

Laurence Allan – Writer

Excerpt from: The New Companion to the Literature of Wales – editor Meic Stephens

 ‘Born 1954 in Pontypridd, Mid Glamorgan. His passionate, humane and sometimes angry concern for the plight of ordinary people is evident in much of his writing. Above all he articulates feelings of disempowerment experienced by those who find themselves caught up in economic and political changes beyond their control. Although the world he presents is often bleak, his plays are also characterized by mordant black humour and an affectionate, sharp ear for the idiomatic English of South Wales.’ 

1985    ‘Over the Wall and Back Again’, Writer & Director Made in Wales,

1986    Duel at Twilight, Spectacle Theatre

1988    A Blow to Bute Street’, Sherman Theatre

1990    ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’, Made in Wales/Theatr Clwyd/Sherman

1991    The Valley of the Kings is a Community Play about Pontypridd

1994     ‘On the Road Again’, Hijinx Theatre, Wales & England Tour

1995    BBC 2 Wales TV He made his television debut with ‘Rainbow Chaser

1996     ‘Stairway to Heaven’, Hijinx Theatre, Wales & England Tour

 1997    ‘Dangerous Acquaintances’  Hijinx Theatre, Wales & England Tour

1997    ‘Cradle to the Grave’   Welsh College of Music and Drama.

1990    ‘There’s Only One Siswe Bansi’ 55’ BBC Radio 4. 

1995    ‘I Was a Teenage Playboy’  30’

1996    ‘Cries Across the Tracks’ 55’

1998                King of the Mountains’ 90’ screenplay BBC Wales commissioned/unproduced

1998 – 2001    Station Road’BBC Radio Wales Daily Soap scriptwriting (over 50 episodes) & storylining

2000                Publication of anthology of Three Plays by Seren

                   On the Road Again

                   The Best Years of Our Lives

                        Cradle to the Grave

2000                The Mountain – BBC 2 Xcel – Documentary subject – L’Etape du Tour 

2001                Down the Docks and Up the Bay’BBC Radio Wales  30’

2002                Angels Don’t Need Wings’ Hijinx Theatre 21st Anniversary production

2002                ‘More than just a Game’ -  Plymouth Theatre Royal, 

2003                ‘Wouldn’t it be Better if he Died in the End?’ BBC Radio 4 60’

2004                ‘It was Twenty Years Ago Today’. BBC Radio Wales 60’

2004                ‘For Ever’ – Adaptation of Short Story – Plymouth Theatre Royal

2004                ‘Flowers from Tunisia’Theatr y Byd

2005                ‘If you can’t sing, stand at the back of the hall.’ - Plymouth Theatre Royal/York Theatre Royal & Unicorn Theatre, London

2005/6             ‘I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Shout’ winner of Writer’s Room Broken & Blue Award BBC Radio 3                                                                                                  

2006                ‘Truth or Dare’ celebrating Aberdare – BBC Radio Wales

 2007                ‘Reason to Believe’ – Sherman Cymru commission, in development

2007                ‘Dream it, Build it ‘– Valleys Kids and Arts & Business Cymru promo video

script   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUYqDXM7swA

2008                Operation Zulu/ Mzansi Cymru Project commission – Valleys Kids, Cultural Olympiad

2009                Stairway To Heaven On The Edge – tour.

2009               Gladiator – Spectacle Theatre /RCT Commssion – ongoing

2009                The Magic Box  Valleys Kids and Arts & Business Cymru promo video

script   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CcNqvHTu6Q

 2009                Operation ZuluMzansi Cymru showcase. Pop Factory, Porth

2010                The Day Stanley Baker Died The Zulus Rapped on Llanwonno Mountain(Writer & Director) Mzansi Cymru showcase, Soar Centre, Penygraig      

 2011                Life on Robben Island (Writer & Director) – Unusual Stage School, Disability Arts Cymru + Valleys Kids collaboration: Mzansi Cymru, Glanfa Stage, WMC

2011                Flowers from Tunisia, Torch Theatre + Wales Tour

2011                ‘Torchbearers’ Showcase, (Writer & Director)  Zip Zap Circus, Cape Town

2011/12           Schools & Community Writing Workshops – Mzansi Cymru Development

 2012                The Castle - Awen Project – Caerphilly CBC + Heolddu Comprehensive, Cauldrons & Furnaces, Cultural Olympiad

2012                ‘Torchbearers’ (Writer & Director)  Donald Gordon Theatre, WMC & Artscape Theatre, Cape Town, South Africa

A Blow To Bute Street

EVENING OF IRONY IN DOCKLAND

 Review by Penny Simpson

A Blow to Bute Street, currently showing at the Sherman Theatre, is very funny, very ironic and rooted in the public  arena with its backdrop the redevelopment of Cardiff’s dockland.

The play will probably become a talking point locally  for months to come – the least it deserves. The characterisations are superb, the plot carefully structured and the central arguments more than sound.

The central character in Laurence Allan’s outstanding new play for the Made In Wales Stage Company is Vic La Costa ( Tommy Eytle), an eighty year old saxophonist who for ten years has been confined to a Radyr nursing home.

He makes up his mind to return home to Bute Street, unaware of the fact that the place has been altered beyond recognition by town planners, among them his son-in-law Philip (Bill Bellamy).

Kim Kenny’s set uses a striking visual shorthand to show the docks area in its state of transition. A huge backdrop covered in graffiti is fronted by builders’ skips, bricks, rubble and pieces of scaffolding, a chaotic scene that reflects the confusion Vic feels on his return.

The contrast between Cardiff past and present is cleverly evoked by Allan in his dialogue – some times in word pictures that evoke a sense of loss, at other times in sharp one liners that have the audience laughing and applauding in recognition.

Tommy Eytle was a winner from his first entrance – doing press ups dressed in a pair of long johns. Vic was not a senile or pathetic old man in Eytle’s hands but a strong, vigorous character who radiates optimism in spite of the devastation he finds around him.

In the final scene he patiently sets out to rebuild his house from loose bricks lying on the stage – a powerful statement that is lost on Philip who wants him to return to the sanitised nursing home.

It was a spirit caught by the other docks residents who also make a dignified stand against what is being imposed in them.

Mal Henson, Terry Jackson, Myfanwy Talog and Clive Roberts gave marvellously energetic performances in these many roles.