Theatre in Wales

Plays and dance productions in Wales since 1982...

Mark Jenkins

 

We have information on 7 plays by Mark Jenkins . Click on the play name to access any reviews in out archive. Click on the company's name to read their details on this web site

 

Mother Tongue First presented in 2005
by Non- professional or Amateur production

synopsis:

Wed 13 – Sat 23 July   8pm   Mer 13 – Sad 23 Gorff (excluding Sun 17 July)

"Every two weeks one of the world’s languages dies."

Four international experts converge at a luxurious Cardiff hotel to each bid to save a language on the verge of extinction. As personalities clash and opposites attract, the decision on which language should be saved becomes impossible to make. A comic drama unfolds that captures both heart and mind.

Mother Tongue is the first full-length play by Roger Williams since previous hits including Killing Kangaroos, Gulp, Saturday Night Forever, and the BAFTA nominated TV drama Tales from Pleasure Beach.

Mother Tongue is directed by Chapter’s Theatre Programmer, James Tyson with a strong international cast including Sharon Morgan, Stephen Marzella, Victor Rodger from Polynesia and Sandra Kelly from Western Australia.

Norah's Bloke First presented in 2003
by Professional Company outside Wales

synopsis:
Nora’s Bloke, set in London in 1944-45, examines the heart-rending choices that have to be made by Cathy James and her women friends as the second world war draws to an end – the pain of ‘victory’ contending with the promise of an era of peace and prosperity.

Mr. Owen's Millennium First presented in 1996
by Out of Wales Theatre Company

synopsis:
Mr. Owen’s Millennium, set in Wales in 1858, unfolds the messianic career of cotton magnate and visionary, Robert Owen, and the havoc wrought on his family by his ambitious, if benevolent, schemes.

Downtown Paradise First presented in 1996
by Out of Wales Theatre Company

synopsis:
Downtown Paradise, set in San Francisco 1970-82, tells the story of Rachel Bloom, a radical Jewish layer, who allows emotional involvement with her Black Panther client to over-ride professional judgement with tragic consequences.

Strindberg Knew My Father First presented in 1992
by Out of Wales Theatre Company

synopsis:
(The full text of the play is to be found in ‘Best of the Fest’, Editor, Phil Setren, published by Aurora-Metro, 1998, ISBN 0-9515877-8-1)

The play is a two-act comedy for a cast of five - three women and two men – with strong visual elements in scenes depicting levitation, alchemy and mesmerism. It is, in effect, a deconstruction of Strindberg’s ‘Miss Julie’.

After the publication of ‘A Madman’s Defence’, Swedish dramatist August Strindberg spent the period from April to September, 1888, with his family on an extended holiday in a run down castle in Skvolyst-at-Lyngby in Denmark. This is the setting for the drama – six short months in a Gothic castle, where Strindberg’s marriage to the long-suffering Baroness Siri Von Essen (an accomplished professional actress), finally breaks up as he writes one of the great defining masterpieces of modern theatre – ‘Miss Julie’. All the events and persons depicted in this (at times) farcical nightmare are historically verified and accurate, however outlandish they may appear.

The decaying castle, over-run by dogs, cats, peacocks, ducks and rabbits, is owned by the eccentric culture-vulture, Countess ‘Anna’ Frankenau but managed by her gypsy half-brother, the envious, scheming bailiff, Ludwig Hansen, determined to inherit the estate denied him because of his illegitimacy. Ludwig is skilled in the art of Mesmerism and levitation. He has a fifteen-year- old gypsy half-sister, Martha, whose prospects he seeks to advance by hypnotising her into having an affair with the increasingly deranged Strindberg, who is exhibiting the early symptoms of his later paranoid schizophrenia.

Strindberg does not know of the blood relationships between Anna, Ludwig and Martha but he begins writing Miss Julie, using the trio as his writing models in between increasingly fraught confrontations with his wife, Siri, whom he falsely accuses of making lesbian advances to Anna and Martha. Meanwhile the sex-starved Strindberg himself embarks on an affair with the young serving girl, egged on by Ludwig, who promptly charges him with rape of a minor. Ludwig also manages to break into the permanently locked writing desk in which the manuscript of Miss Julie is hidden and sets about instituting proceedings for libel for insinuating that he, Ludwig, and the Countess (Anna) are having an affair.

Anna manages to retain aristocratic aloofness from all this nonsense and finds it both amusing and bewildering. She ‘hasn’t had so much fun in years!’. She befriends Siri and tries to counsel her in how to save the marriage. She also maintains good relations with Strindberg throughout, endlessly fascinated by his experiments in alchemy and his obsession with Nietszche.

But Strindberg, even in his delicate mental state, manages to turn the tables on his tormentors. He gets Ludwig arraigned on a burglary rap, charges him with importuning and escapes from the castle (and his marriage) with his now completed manuscript, pursued by eight Great Danes, with Ludwig firing buckshot from the French windows! This is a gothic piece, in which all the characters are depicted as they might have been seen through the eyes of a writer slowly losing touch with reality, whilst capturing some of the comic madness of the human condition.

Playing Burton First presented in 1992
by Out of Wales Theatre Company

synopsis:
The play runs for one hour twenty minutes, beginning with the BBC’s news announcement of the actor’s death in 1984. It is fundamentally a play about identity, based on the idea that, for all his adult life, Richard Jenkins (his real name) was playing the part of actor, Richard Burton, superstar, an invented persona conjured out of sheer talent, myth, notoriety and charisma. The aim of the play is to tear down the media artefacts to reveal Burton, the man, if, indeed that can ever be fully achieved. Burton gives up a number of defining characteristics in order to achieve stardom – his name, his father (he got himself adopted by his teacher Philip Burton), his first language (Welsh) and his homeland (he settled in Switzerland as a tax exile). He develops a rich standard English delivery through punishing elocution sessions in order to play English kings on the Shakespearean stage. Homosexual mentors and impresarios smoothed the meteoric rise to fame of this five-times married, irredeemable womaniser. And yet he claimed to hate acting – ‘traipsing around in tights and make-up – no job for a man’.

Three themes pervade the play, which is replete with quotations, allusions to and excerpts from classical drama and his big film roles. Those themes are Prince Hal, Doctor Faustus and King Lear, the role models of his youth, maturity and late age. They shape and define the performance of the progress of his career. We see (a) Burton the raconteur, talking about his life in commentary and retrospection, (b) Burton acting scenes from his life in the here-and-now, and (c) Burton acting short excerpts from the roles that he himself defined and which have particular resonance for each drama of his life as it unfolds on stage. It is art imitating life, imitating art. It is a multi-faceted, many-layered play and definitely not a chronology, nor a hagiography. Above all. it is a performance about a lifelong performance, delivered with anecdotal humour throughout, with Burton’s own dry wit.

Half way through the play, Burton confronts his critics posthumously – a rare privelege. He seizes the opportunity to redeem his reputation and tear apart their unkind rebuttal of his supreme talents – without ever sacrificing modesty. He never got an Oscar or a Knighthood and yet he did more than enough to justify both. He was the working-class gate-crasher at the court of Olivier, Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. He drank himself to death. His marriages to Elizabeth Taylor, were at one and the same time, major contributory causes of his Hollywood successes and his urge to self-destruction. And these dark moments, along with the exhilaration of fabulous wealth, are not shirked in this drama. For undreamed-of celebrity he was prepared to pay the full and devastating price – relishing it all, into the bargain.


__________________________________________________

Critic David Adams of The Guardian, writing in the preface of the 2001-published stage-play version of Playing Burton, ( ISBN 1-902638-09-3) describes it as ‘a huge hit’, with over four hundred and fifty performances and ‘uniformly enthusiastic reviews’ to its credit. Today (May 2003) that figure is now in excess of seven hundred performances. What follows is an up-to-date survey of the play’s progress.

Current success
In April 2001, the play entered an exhilarating new phase of its stage life when NZ-Welsh actor Ray Henwood opened it to superb reviews at Wellington’s waterfront Circa theatre for a contracted two-year tour of New-Zealand/Australia and SE Asia. It then went on for extended runs in Christchurch, Auckland, the Bay of Islands and the Tauranga Festival. In December 2001, Swansea-born Henwood was awarded New Zealand’s highest accolade, the Chapman Tripp Award, ‘Actor of the Year’ for his role as Burton. In 2002, the Australian tour of the play launched with fourteen performances at the Sydney Opera House playhouse, to superb reviews in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian National Business Review, which delighted the show’s sponsors, the Welsh Development Agency. In 2003, the tour now moves on to contracted venues in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and other Australian cities before moving to Hong Kong and Singapore.

The USA production has also triumphed and promises even greater things.   Irish-American actor Brian Mallon, directed by the author, kicked the show off in March 2002 at the celebrated New York Actors’ Studio to a packed house of American acting celebrities. It received public accolades from Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn. and screen legends, Lee Grant and Eli Wallach. It was immediately contracted to run for two weeks in August 2002 at the Whalers Wharf theatre in Provincetown, Cape Cod, summer home of the American acting fraternity, by Norman Mailer’s novelist wife, Norris Church Mailer. Norman Mailer hailed the show as ‘a virtuoso piece of writing, one of the finest pieces of theatre I have seen in many years’. The Mailers threw a party for both actor and writer-director. Of Brian Mallon’s performance, he said -  ‘ I found it very hard to believe that I was not in the presence of Richard Burton himself. This was acting of the very highest quality!’ As things stand in May 2003, contracts are about to be finalised for an off-Broadway launch in September, by a consortium of New York producers after a showcase production at the New York Guild Hall that same month. The New York Daily Post syndicated columnist Liz Smith said it was not to be missed and tickets sold out within hours. The aim of the backers is – a Broadway transfer.

Back- story
The play was published in April 2001 by Welsh publishing house, Parthian Press in a volume ‘One man; One Voice’, with works by leading Welsh playwrights Ed Thomas, Frank Vickery, Ian Rowlands and Roger Williams.


Playing Burton has succeeded on its merits against all the odds. Written in 1986, it did not find a producer until 1992 when David Bidmead ran it for three weeks at the first London Festival of Solo Shows at the Etcetera Theatre Camden, starring Josh Richards and directed by leading Welsh stage and TV director, Hugh Thomas. One of the first to express his admiration of the piece was the late film director, Lindsay Anderson. For the next two years it toured venues throughout England, Scotland and Wales in a series of one to three-night stands and at numerous drama festivals. At a gala performance in Port Talbot, a big contingent of members of Richard Burton’s family attended to give the play their fulsome praise and backing.

The big breakthrough came at a three week run at the Edinburgh Festival, 1994, when the second production by producer-director Guy Masterson (Burton’s nephew) was spotted by Victor Spinetti, Daily Mail critic Jack Tinker described it as ‘mesmerising, haunting, a triumph’ and festival impresario Bill Burdett-Coutts, hailed it as ‘the discovery of the festival’. After superb reviews, it became a sell-out and transferred for a six-week run at the re-launch of the Riverside Studios in London.

A British Council sponsored tour then took the play to Budapest, Hong Kong and the Israeli Festival in Jerusalem. It was showcased before financiers in New York and a Broadway deal with Broadway producer, Julian Schlossberg was signed, only to fall foul of American Equity’s green card clause. Now, with an American actor on board, that obstacle has been finally overcome. From 1995-97 it continued with a three week-run at the New End, Hampstead theatre and hundreds more performances at such venues as the Sybil Thorndike theatre, another Riverside run, the Brighton Festival and numerous pub-theatres all over the north of England, the Midlands and the south-east.

Returning to Edinburgh in 1997, it sold out before opening for the entire three-week run with tickets touts doing brisk business on the pavements outside the Assembly Rooms. The reviews continued to be lavish in their praise of the play, the production and the acting. Standing ovations for Josh Richards’ performances became the nightly norm. Steven Berkoff paid his respects when he called in to the dressing rooms after the show. Josh was subsequently signed up by the Royal Shakespeare Company, with whom he has been an established company member for the past two years. The RSC has staged two actors-charity performances of Playing Burton at their Stratford-on-Avon Swan Theatre. The author secured the services of West End agents, Andrew Mann Ltd.

In 2002 the play was produced by Adrian Lloyd-James, with George Telfer in the role. It played at venues in the north of England, at the Shaw theatre, London and again at the Edinburgh Festival. Contracts have just been signed for another English tour in autumn 2003.

Playing Burton has now (May 2003) had over 700 performances in three continents with four different actors and three directors. It promises many, many more. It has established itself as one of the canon of the most successful Welsh plays, even though it has never had more than one-night stands in small theatres and church halls in the land where it was born. The projected off-Broadway run seems destined to change all that. The West End market has yet to be tested. Of the four actors who have performed the part, Josh Richards(RSC) is truly excellent, but the Irish-American, Brian Mallon, who has just been acclaimed for his role, playing opposite Robert Duval in the recently-USA-released film ‘Gods and Generals’, seems set to match him – and he has a green card.

Birthmarks First presented in 1990
by Everyman Theatre Cardiff

synopsis:
Birthmarks, set in London in 1850, is about the conspiracy to conceal the paternity of Karl Marx’s illegitimate son by his housekeeper – a ‘noble lie’ to protect himself and his movement from the prevailing moral approbation.

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