For the forty years that constitutes my adult life I have been writing plays, riding bikes and trying to cook the perfect Sunday dinner. I am not sure which has provided the more joy and heartache but somehow writing plays has become my career though I sometimes wonder whether one of the other pursuits may have been more remunerative.
I practice all of these dark arts in Pontypridd, the town in the heart of the South Wales Valleys where I was born and where I have chosen to live. I trained as a teacher in Manchester, before running away to join the theatre as an actor. This was with precious little experience, as the first play I saw, I was also in; but then the first play I went on to write, I also directed, operated the lights and drove the van that transported the set and the actors. This was OVER THE WALL AND BACK AGAIN, a story set in the 1985 miners’ strike about a miner’s wife in the Rhondda running the London marathon. Strangely, this instigated the reverse journey from London, where I was living, back home to South Wales.
For the next twenty five years I followed the well signposted route of received wisdom where you write plays and hand them over to a director.
A route that brought me regular commissions, a few accolades and even some awards. These have included the 2007 Theatre Wales Award for best new play FLOWERS FROM TUNISIA which dealt with dementia and managed in the words of critics, to be both funny and moving, and for radio the Broken and Blue award for my BBC Radio 3 play, I THOUGHT I HEARD BUDDY BOLDEN SHOUT with a soundtrack by Rob Smith and featuring South African trumpeter, Claude Deppa.
Both music and comedy have been prevailing backdrops to all my plays from an octogenarian, black saxophonist in A BLOW TO BUTE STREET for the Sherman Theatre, to three Marianne Faithfulls (who I had the privilege of meeting in Cardiff) in DANGEROUS AQUAINTANCES for Hijinx Theatre.
This fusion of drama and music reached a dizzying height with TORCHBEARERS, a project initiated by local charity, Valleys Kids that linked the Valleys of south Wales with the Townships of Capetown, as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. This involved up to two hundred performers and musicians, with music by Paula Gardiner, in a production that played in the Donald Gordon Theatre in the Wales Millennium Centre and Artscape Theatre in Cape Town in a Co-production with Artscape thanks to the support of Michael Maas and Marlene le Roux. I also did my best to make it funny.
More importantly this was a play where I reclaimed my right to directorship and plotted a different route to the future where I would like to go against the grain and direct my own plays. Of course this will struggle to gain precedence over riding my bike over Welsh mountains while seeking the answer to life’s eternal dilemma. Do Yorkshire puddings have any place alongside roast chicken?