Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

Fran Medley meets Simon Harris

ann interview with the artistic diirector of Sgript Cymru

This article first appeared in the Western Mail, 12 March 2004

IT'S 6.30 in the evening in the City Bar and Canteen inCardiffBay.
Sgript Cymru's artistic director is drinking with the cast ofGhostCity, the current production in rehearsal.

The cast are a canny good looking bunch with a welcoming sense of humour and I sit down chatting with them while Simon Harris is at the bar, hoping to get the inside lowdown on what he's been like during the build up to the show's opening.

"How's he been?" I ask casually with an eyebrow ever so slightly raised encouragingly.

"Oh, you know, awful," they tell me in the wired theatrics of post rehearsal down time.

But what I really want to know is how Gary Owen'sGhostCityis going. And what makes the man bringing it to life tick.
RoyalAcademytrained, Simon is a rabid professional who oozes drama in the way he answers and evades questions.

But he talks freely about the challenge of setting up Sgript Cymru back in the late '90s, the one-way ticket back to Wales he'd been waiting patiently for while working in London as a jobbing actor whilst developing his own scripts including Badfinger premiered at the Donmar .

GhostCityis an prime example of the work ethic of Sgript Cymru, whose mission it is to develop contemporary drama inWales.
Says Simon, "There is a perception thatWalesdoesn't have a tradition of dramatic writing, and this has inhibited both the commitment to the development of dramatic writing and the celebration of what is there.

"New writing is at the heart of the dialogue a culture has with itself and this should be taking place inWales."

But he's candid about the choices – of lack thereof  – people have when starting out as a writer on their home turf.

"Don't try to start working inWales– there are just no opportunities but that's what Sgript Cymru is about creating those opportunities so in the future things will be different for new people starting out in the profession. "

Owen's script is a sophisticated one, dense and word heavy on the page.

In animating this piece, Simon's takes note of his own advice he gives any would-be director.

"What you have to do is not impose your own artistic vision on a script – work with the writer, invest time with them and you'll learn all the insight you need to get somewhere near to perfection."
Harris is saddened by the lack of opportunities for new writers inWalesbut is animated when talking about the rich seam of talent he auditioned forGhostCity.

But again, a hint of frustration emerges from an otherwise nonchalant demeanour.

"One of the worst moments so far in my career was auditioning so many talented actors and actresses and only being able to select a few.
"The cast are brilliant but there are so many other talented actors it was a really difficult process to go through.

"But you have to balance that with the good stuff, like getting the opportunity to take Ghost City to New York for a two week run in a prestigious new theatre that's about to open. "This is a real tribute to the growing reputation of Sgript Cymru."

When asked why he loves what he does he answers in no uncertain terms.

"It's a vocation, not a job. It's a fantastic combination of artistic and creative challenges coupled with taking forward the company and new writing."

Although he's excited about Owen's latest drama, he confides in me that the best production he's worked on was Badfinger at the Donmar, a production he also wrote.

That production was memorable for the less theatrical reasons of shocking his mother with the flurry of bad language on the opening night – his own familiar pride and prejudice moment perhaps!
When asked what his vision for the future is he answers with a terse, "the day the builders finish my bathroom would be good".
And although he's serious up to a point, he has much grander plans.

"In ten years' time I want to see an established dedicated centre for new writing – like the Traverse inEdinburgh– producing a sufficient body of work for Welsh playwriting to begin to takes its place in British theatre."

To say nothing of seeing th back of the salmon pink bathroom suite.

Frances Medley
Chief Executive
Market House

Telephone: 029 20343205
Fax: 029 20345436

author:Fran Medley,

original source: Western Mail arts ppages
12 March 2004


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