Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Frank Vickery The People's Playwright

In Memory

Wildflame for BBC Cymru Wales , BBC i-Player , September 3, 2018

Wildflame's 30-minute film, twice broadcast in mid-August, is an impressive and worthy tribute. Producer-director Clive Flowers assembles pointed interviews, uses archive footage and caps it with a leanly scripted voice-over narrated by Sian Harries.

The biography is threaded in over the course of the film. The youngest of five, with a quiet but industrious father, the shy boy at the age of 10 pestered his mother over and over for a typewriter. “Once he started to create he took off. His life changed. Everything he had in his head he put on his typewriter.”

Leaving school at 15 he headed for factory, then drove a bus. As with novelist Magnus Mills there is no better exposure to words in use. Active in the drama of his locality he won a national award for a one-act play. The Parc and Dare, says the script, was the right time and the right place. Theatre followed. Television appreciated his facility for writing for women. His own company and his own acting completed the career.

From the extracts on stage there are familiar faces, from their younger days, Di Botcher and Brendan Charleson among them. But the underlying architecture is in the voices whom Wildflame has sought out. The conclusion the script makes is clear-cut: “Frank Vickery produced an extraordinary body of exceptional ear for dialogue”. His subject was “the complexity of intimate relationships.”

Phil Clark recalls meeting him at the Sherman in his early days. He sees the audience reaction and goes on to commission 14 plays. “There is no doubt people are snooty about his work. Absolutely. People still are.” But he looks more deeply at the work: “He was able to put on stage the things we didn't talk about in a public arena, the role of women, gay relationships, cheating on each other, domestic violence. They're what people are thinking, doing and living every day of their lives.”

Gary Owen is with Vickery in an early script editing role for radio's “Station Road”. The task is to sit at his side and write down all that he says. He “plucked little strands and wove them together.”

Mal Pope is clear on the status of being without public funding. “In a world where you have to sell tickets you have to make sure that what you do works for an audience.” But he sees the layered multiplicity: “It's bawdy, and it's very real and there's lots of undercurrents going on...there was a pathos there, there was a reality there...It's as dark as it is light. That's why it works of so well...You see the darker side of our culture.”

Ian H Watkins comments on the craft within the plays: “everything you say has a meaning, has a reason, and a repercussion on the other person you are speaking to”

The playwright's own voice in interview is used sparely. He gets to theatre's basics, and raison d'etre: “it's full of conflict but if it wasn't it would be very bland. If everybody had the same point of view, agreed with everything, there's be no conflict there. And drama is born from conflict.”

The future is inscrutable but Menna Trussler has no doubts: “people are going to rediscover Frank Vickery. It's not the end, it's the beginning.”

Credits include Kevin Jones, editor, Julian Carey, executive producer for BBC Wales, Paul Islwyn Thomas, executive producer for Wildflame.

“Frank Vickery The People's Playwright” can be viewed until September 14th at:

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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