Theatre in Wales

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In Recognition of Godfrey Evans

Public Theatre Event

Speech of the Year Pays Tribute , Wales Theatre Awards , December-10-18
Public Theatre Event by Speech of the Year Pays Tribute The Wales Theatre Awards are no more. It is a pity, because they were good for three things. One of the three was the Special Award. The theatre, dance and opera community selected its own choice of individual, whose contribution had been so out of the ordinary to warrant special recognition. The selection was done without lobbying, hype or PR. The last Special Award of 2018 was indeed special, manifestly touching something deep and emotional for the hundreds who had gathered in the Riverfront last winter.

Angela V John introduces Godfrey Evans in her indispensable book “the Actors’ Crucible” as “a pivotal figure in the development of many an actor.” Later she writes “the name of Godfrey Evans has a marked effect on those who have come into his orbit. Their faces light up and they are at pains to say how much they owe him.”

Actors, and all the other makers of Wales’ theatre, were present in throngs to pack out the Riverfront on the night of 27th January. Late in the course of the theatre awards an actor took to the stage to speak in tribute to Godfrey Evans. Simon Harris is an actor, who is also a writer and a director. His address- the speech of the year, indeed of many a year- embraced the craft of all three. As ever with a live event, to be felt in full required to be there.

There is a written version but it is a pale simulacrum of the emotion, the rising cadence, the art in the phrasing. Simon Harris went on over the weekend to attract an exceptional amount of comment on social media. Mary Pugh: “I was so privileged to be there on Saturday night to celebrate Godfrey’s well-deserved award and applaud your wonderful tribute to him which speaks for all of us lucky enough to know him.”

The phrase that occurred most regularly was “it was a beautiful speech.” Matthew Bulgo: “beautiful words about a wonderful man.” The same adjective was chosen by Nick Evans, Lucy Jenkins, Caryl Perry, Kirsten McTernan, Christian Patterson, Susan Randall, Marc Rees, Jain Boon, Bizzy Day, Michelle McTernan. Beauty denotes artistry and so it was. Peter Morgan Barnes: “You spoke for everyone, Simon.”

All are correct; it was a wonder.

In transcript:

“Talent is everywhere. Opportunity is not.” Thanks to Angharad Lee for tweeting that last week. It made me think about my opportunities.

“None of us turn up fully-formed. Even though some of us try to present ourselves that way. It’s a tough business, so the temptation to try and look like a genius and have all the answers is hard to resist. We want to look good. We want to impress. We hide our insecurities because work may depend on it.

“But as Peter Brook has said, “This is the secret. There are no secrets.” Perhaps then we are only as good as the teachers we had and the opportunities we are given.

“I was born in Swansea and, aged 16, I was like - lots of people at that age - a bit lonely, a bit awkward, a bit of an unhappy teen with insecurities, little real understanding of who I was and not doing so brilliantly at school.

“Then I went to see a school friend in a play. It was a production of Under Milk Wood. It was quite unlike any production of Under Milk Wood I had ever seen. In fact, I’d go as far as to say - to this day - it’s the best Under Milk Wood I’ve ever seen.

“Instead of folksy sentimentality and overblown romanticism, it was harsh, bizarre, funny, disturbing. The aesthetic was spare and focussed. The staging was sublime. It took the idea of Llaregub as an asylum seriously and wore the influences of Brecht and Artaud – not that I would have heard of them at that time – but it was still something very much true to itself. It was nothing short of visionary and it was performed by teenagers, many ordinary working-class kids – some of whom you will have heard of, know, or may even be friends with now – Rhian Morgan, Caroline Berry, Phyl Harries, Martyn Ellis, Rhys Parry Jones, Russell T Davies.

“The following year I was lucky enough to be part of that group – through productions of Peer Gynt, The Cherry Orchard, Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Oresteia, Twelfth Night, The Crucible and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (featuring my Bottom with Marc Rees as Snug.) We were introduced to devising, movement, playwrighting – Russell and I had our first plays performed together. We worked in Welsh and in English.

“None of us who took part have ever forgotten how important that time was. We learned the value of concentration, craft, collaborating, storytelling, the ability to be vulnerable and make an emotional connection onstage. But we also learned to laugh, enjoy and appreciate differences. We drew so much from the beautiful diversity of our group.

“Above all, there was an enormous commitment to artistic quality because – you see – it didn’t matter whether we came from Sandfields, Waun Wen, Sketty or Seven Sisters – we all deserved the best.

“The first time I saw Shakespeare, I was taken by my Dad to the RSC in Stratford. I saw a landmark production of Richard II – directed by John Barton who died last week - with Ian Richardson in the lead. There was a particularly memorable moment when Bolingbroke sees Richard on the castle walls revealed like the sun. Richardson wore a gold cape that opened out to reveal a design like blazing rays of sunlight. Eight years later, I wore that cape in The Oresteia for youth theatre.

"West Glamorgan Youth Theatre – for that’s the group I’m talking about – changed my life. I’d go as far as to say it might even have saved my life. I went from under-achieving at O Level to a high-flyer at A Level. But much more important than that, it was part of a process of transformative change that has brought me a long way from being that uncertain and somewhat unhappy teenager.
Wales has benefitted hugely from the youth theatre movement. Many youth theatres – Clwyd Youth Theatre, Mid-Powys Youth Theatre, Gwent Youth Theatre and others - have shone brightly and allowed an engagement with the performing arts that would otherwise not be available to young people from a wide-variety of backgrounds.

“Aside from the individual impact, it seems inarguable to me that youth theatres are a force for social cohesion and community at a time when they are deeply under threat. But where are they now?

“It’s encouraging to see that this inclusive and enabling passion still exists in the work of Narberth Youth Theatre, the Sherman, National Youth Theatre and elsewhere. Perhaps most definitively in the last year, it resides in Nick Evans’ project with the young people of Batley and Spen where Les Miserables was presented in memory of the MP Jo Cox. It was her favourite musical. And Nick is a West Glam alumni.

“Under fresh leadership, West Glamorgan Youth Theatre continues to offer the chance for young people to get involved with plays, to learn and grow, to save lives. But, unfortunately, the political leadership and vision that could match it is deficient – as it is in so many other areas of our life.

"While the structures and funding of youth theatre has been decimated, its legacy and values are still very much alive and tonight I am honoured to introduce someone who helped make them so meaningful to so many young people. To me, he has always been a guiding light. The number of people who he has influenced and supported is a veritable Who’s Who of Welsh arts – Steffan Rhodri, Sean Crowley Sophie Melville, Dan Jones, Christian Patterson, Maxine Evans, Michelle McTernan, Edward Thomas, Kevin Allen, Jae Alexander, Cathy Boyce, Matthew Bulgo. I could go on. And on. And on.

“But beyond the world of the theatre, the impact on ordinary young people’s self-esteem and well-being is simply beyond compare. He has been an important figure across arts and education at all levels in South Wales and now in retirement is a much cherished – indeed loved – mentor and friend.

“Another well-known alumni is Michael Sheen. He and I became friends through youth theatre and he requested that this message be delivered tonight: “I owe not just my career to Godfrey Evans but also, and most importantly, my belief in what can be achieved when a community works together with common purpose. He has changed the lives of generations of young people and brought possibility and greater opportunity to literally thousands of us. I will never be able to thank him enough or express fully how much I, and countless others, owe to him.”

“I am delighted to say that tonight’s Special Achievement Award goes to Godfrey Evans.”

Original source: https://www.facebook.com/simon.harris.5876

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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