Latest production

Douglas Gray as Joe
in Johnny Got His Gun
Grand Theatre Swansea
(Arts Wing)

Video by Noel Dacey

Michael Kelligan directed The Body of an American by Dan O’Brien for Tent of Xerxes , a new Swansea based company at The Arts Wing at the Grand Theatre Swansea. Also at the Arts Wing he has directed the multi award winning play Johnny Got His Gun, Bradley Rand Smith’s  adaptation of Dalton Trumbo’s Novel set in the first World War.





With Douglas Grey who made such a big impression in The Body of an American.


The Body of an American

from Tent of Xerxes

by Joanna Hopkins

New Swansea based production company Tent of Xerxes certainly delivered with Dan O’Brien’s equivocally subtle, yet compellingly powerful The Body of an American. A four-time award winner, including the 2014 Horton Foote Prize for Outstanding New American Play, The Body of an American explores the ethical and personal consequences of reporting war – in this case the US intervention in Somalia in 1992 – and asks profound questions about the interplay between the images produced by conflict and the political ramifications of their dissemination

americanThe body of the play’s title is that of Staff Sgt William David Cleveland, whose mutilated corpse was photographed being dragged by an angry Somali mob through the streets of Mogadishu in October 1993. This defining image of the Battle of Mogadishu brought home the calamitous consequences of a mission to neutralise the Somali warlord Mohamed Aidid. The bloody disaster led to hundreds of civilians’ deaths and those of 18 American servicemen. If it were not for that picture, the playwright contends, President Clinton would not have ordered the withdrawal of American troops from Somalia, Al-Qaeda would not have scented the vulnerability of US foreign policy to brutal propaganda coups and the course of recent history, from 9/11 onwards, might have run a very different course.

The story of the mission, although vital to the context of its effects on the play’s protagonists, is secondary to the personal experience of the aftermath of the battle, as witnessed by the photographer Paul Watson, whose picture of the dead soldier won him the Pulitzer Prize. Central to this experience was the guilt he subsequently felt for the photo’s effects on the fallen man’s family, and for the tension it exposed between his professional obligations and his sense of moral responsibility. Into this fraught debate comes the writer Dan, a man with no such comparable life experience, but one, nevertheless, fascinated by the psychological make-up of the darkly introspective Paul.

We jump about in time and location, winding up at the pair’s face to face meeting in the Canadian Arctic. Some of the material draws on recorded conversation, some of it is sourced from Watson’s memoir Where War Lives.

Moment by moment the language scintillates, its rhythms and cadences nurtured by the deft direction of Michael Kelligan, whose feel for the text is unerring, whilst Rob Stradling as Paul, and Douglas Gray as Dan, give commanding, utterly mesmerising performances as the two men brought together by what haunts them.

Given that more than 40 other characters interweave through the play’s unfolding only underlines the achievement of these fine actors in pulling off such challenging roles. Believe me when I say that one hour and three-quarters, without a break, flew by. Stage design was minimalist allowing the words themselves to fill the space and touch the audience unhindered by props and extraneous material.

Stage structures consisted of two bistro tables and four chairs. The two actors divided their time between being seated at the tables and standing at the stage edge. The sitting postures were helpful in assisting the audience place the characters geographically as the story stretches through time and distance. A great deal of the early interaction between the characters took place by email which in the performance was ably mimed by the dexterous fingers of Douglas Grey as Dan conveying his correspondence with Paul in whichever far-flung destination he was temporarily settled.

Both actors, through movement, gesticulation and physical mannerisms brought the story to life. Indeed the absence of props was never a problem and did not detract from the telling of the story. The sound effects were similarly minimalist although the voice of the dead soldier coming from offstage with his message for Paul was appropriately haunting. The scenes in the Arctic saw the stage bathed in bright white light bringing to life the raw Arctic tundra and as the actors donned snow coats it became perceptibly colder by several degrees in the arts wing.

The slide show of Watson’s original photographs was a deft touch which made much sense after the show when the images spoke with added depth and poignancy. Well done Tent of Xerxes for bringing us a fluent, compelling piece of theatre, perfectly married to the wonderful text by an accomplished creative team.

Downtown Paradise Reviews

C5D_2129-cropped-1THE REVIEWS ARE IN

Wow! The reviews for Downtown Paradise are in and we are delighted with the response. Last chance to catch this amazing production is tomorrow – Thursday October 2nd at Neuadd Dwyfor, Pwllheli.

It all starts at  7.30pm and tickets  are just £8.50 or £7.00 concessions – telephone (01758 704088) to reserve yours.


Review by Jackie Davis on the Theatre in Wales Website

“The studio at the Riverfront lent itself well to this powerful drama penned by Mark Jenkins and tightly directed by Michael Kelligan.

Based on true events, Catriona James and Habib Nasib Nader took on two complex and demanding roles of controversial Jewish lawyer, Rachel Bloom and jailed Black Panther leader, James Wilson.

Intimate and almost suffocating at times, a sparse set credibly intimated the 1970s prison cell in which Wilson had initially been incarcerated for a year, but was subsequently on trial for life. With professionalism firmly on the back boiler, Bloom called on her unhappy Jewish childhood to align her beliefs to those of the dangerously militant black rights leader, and in obsessively committing herself to securing his freedom, she also became personally involved with him.

In two mesmerising performances, hopefulness gradually turned to darkness and eventually despair as we witnessed the unravelling of two different sets of ideals.

With palpable chemistry, the two characters breathtakingly demonstrated the themes of privilege versus inequality, and gradually the hopelessness of the situation became as clear as it was tragic.

Timeless, thought provoking and relevant.”

Review by Martin Shipton on the Theatre in Wales Website

“Downtown Paradise is a tautly-written, compelling piece of theatre based on the true story of a white American human rights lawyer who fell in love with her jailed Black Panther client at the end of the 1960s. But this is no sentimental romance. It is a tragedy born of intense emotion and political naivety that is destined to have no happy ending.

Director Michael Kelligan production does full justice to a script that contains no spare words. From the moment wheelchair-bound Rachel Bloom (Catriona James) starts to speak, we are involved in a captivating experience that is sustained for the duration of the play.

The action is stripped down with no superfluous scenes, and the fact that just two actors deliver the performance without an interval forces us to concentrate on their doomed relationship and nothing else. It is only afterwards – when we have had time to think – that we reflect on the wider significance of what we have witnessed.

James provides a powerful portrayal of the principled lawyer whose emotional involvement with her client leads her to make a fatal mistake.
Habib Nasib Nader as James Wilson makes a credible Black Panther leader whose charisma proves his undoing.

Staged by the Welsh Fargo Stage Company, Mark Jenkins’ script delivers a genuinely highly charged play that in less skilful hands could have descended into melodrama.

Not to be missed.”

Review by Jenny Walford on the Theatre in Wales Website

Timely in its depiction of deeply held beliefs which almost imperceptibly tumble over into extremism, Downtown Paradise takes two characters seemingly fighting for the same cause, ultimately discovering their worlds are irreconcilable.

Set in the 1960s, Catriona James is visionary lawyer Rachel Bloom, blinded to reality by her mission to assist and free her potentially bankable new client, but failing to see how her wider, self-serving agenda will impact on him. Habib Nasib Nader is the imprisoned Black Panther freedom fighter James Wilson who manipulated into sharing his manifesto when it suits Rachel’s cause. But he is furious at finding its more radical messages have been diluted for public consumption, when he finally believed he could express his real feelings.

Both performers are excellent, from their initial verbal sparring as she seeks to win his trust, to more tender confidences as they start an ill-starred affair, before the full force of their stated convictions finally shows up the tremendous gulf that neither has previously acknowledged.

A sparse set of designer prison bars frames their conflict, focusing attention on the pair as their applauded fight for justice descends into destruction.

Directed by Michael Kelligan, this is a Welsh Fargo Stage company production well worth seeing.

Review by Bob Rodgers in The Western Mail

“Wherever there is injustice there will be those who rise up to meet it, among them will be some whose rage is so towering that reason and rationale are blown away in the storm.

Hearts rule heads in Downtown Paradise when radical lawyer, Rachel Bloom finds her professional barriers swept aside as she becomes emotionally entwined with her client, jailed Black Panther leader, James Wilson.

Bloom feels her Jewish heritage gives her some insight into Wilson’s cause and her enthusiasm for the challenge of liberating him causes her to turn a blind eye to the more extreme shades of his ideology. She finds herself becoming more and more involved with her client on a personal level, finally abandoning all pretence of aloofness and giving in to her passions.

Wilson, for his part, never abandons his aims and approaches this strange and artificial relationship with his eyes wide open; initially swept up in Bloom’s enthusiasm but inevitably increasingly frustrated by her stage-managing of his persona and ambitions.

For just two people to maintain this tension and pace in a full-length play is a challenge, but one made easier by some superb writing from Mark Jenkins and outstanding performances from Habib Nasib Nader as James Wilson and Catriona James as Rachel Bloom.

Jenkins’ gift for dialogue and his obvious enthusiasm for his subject has produced a tremendously powerful play in which he has successfully interpreted the fury of the Black Panther movement and the inevitable consequences of attempting to attack the might of United States power head on.

Bloom’s character by contrast displays the unintentional arrogance of privilege in claiming to share even a square foot of common ground with the man she has chosen to represent.

A sparse set where most of the action takes place in Wilson’s prison cell helps to create some insight into his claustrophobic existence, where he can do little but sit and wait as his lawyer flits in and out keeping him posted on what the world beyond the walls is thinking.”




Downtown Paradise by Mark Jenkins




Habib Nasib Nader and Catriona James

Directed by Michael Kelligan

A bold drama, based on a true story, the play recalls how Rachel Bloom, a radical Jewish lawyer, falls for her imprisoned Black Panther client.

Habib played the lead role of Vimak the Goliath in the film Dungeons and Dragons 3: The Book of Vile Darkness, appeared in Law and Order UK and three series of Little Britain

“All the power and mystery is there in the voice and beauty of Catriona James” The Telegraph

Mark Jenkins is best known for his play Playing Burton that has been translated into several languages and continues to be produced in many countries. It was recently made into a feature film and shown on Sky Arts 2


Chapter, Cardiff Sept. 10 11 12 13 8pm

Tickets £12/10/8      (02920 304400)


Taliesin Art Centre, Swansea Thurs. Sept 18 7.30pm

Tickets £10/7                        (01792 60 20 60)


The Riverfront, Newport Thurs Sept 25 7.45pm

Tickets £10.50/£8.50                        (01633 656757)


Neuadd Dwyfor, Pwllheli Thurs. Oct. 2 7.30pm

Tickets £8.50/7            (01758 704088)


Rachel Bloom                             Catriona James

James Wilson –                           Habib Nasib Nader

Creative Team

Director                                      Michael Kelligan

Designed by                              Jessica Scott

Lighting by                               Daniel Young

Sound by                                   Eugene Capper

Cello                                           Callum Duggan

Set Carpenter                           Gareth Baird

Stage Manager                         Bethan Dawson

Assistant Stage Manager       Aimee Young