Tag Archives: Brendan Charleston

The Road To Port of Barry by Robert Gould and Christopher J Orton

Performances

Chapter, Cardiff, Tues 11 Sept 2012, 8pm, £4 on the door

The Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea, Wed 12 Sept  2012, 7.30pm, £4

The Riverfront, Newport, Thurs 13 Sept 2012, 7.45pm, £4

Preview

After wowing audiences in Spamalot, actor Christopher Orton is now preparing for a very different role – that as a writer. As he prepares for his new drama to be launched, he tells Emily Lambert about the collaboration

Robert Gould and Christopher Orton
Robert Gould and Christopher Orton

THE immortal John Cleese line – “And now for something completely different” – will certainly ring true for actor and writer Christopher Orton this month. For he will swap performing in Monty Python’s Spamalot to watching his own play being staged. The Road To Port Of Barry was co-written by Orton and Robert Gould and is the opening work in the eighth year of director Michael Kelligan’s widely acclaimed On The Edge project of script-held performances of plays by mainly Welsh and Wales based authors. It is the latest collaboration between the two men who have penned a number of plays in the past.

Under his stage name of Kit Orton, Chepstow-born Orton made his West End debut in July in the role of Lancelot in Spamalot but he has been touring with the production for two years. For the successful spin-off from the movie Monty Python And The Holy Grail has toured extensively. Orton returns to his native Wales to watch the performances of his latest play straight after the end of the latest West End run. “I have been performing in Spamalot for the last two years and I didn’t think it was possible to top the buzz of going out and performing comedy to different audiences every night and soaking in the laughs and the enjoyment of the crowd,” he says. “That was until I heard something I had written being performed by someone else. There is nothing more flattering than somebody picking up your work and putting their own interpretation on it or getting excited by the content and trying things out with it – and then hearing the audience reaction becomes something else entirely because you helped create that mood in them.”

Together Orton and Gould have written a number of musicals, including Elephant Juice, Grace Notes, Based On A True Story and My Land’s Shore. In addition to The Road to the Port Of Barry, Gould and Orton have also collaborated on the plays Independence Dai and The Shed. Orton believes they complement each other with their working methods. “I am first and foremost a musician so writing music comes very naturally to me, not so much with script,” he says. “So when I’m writing musicals with Bob he will write the script and lyrics and I will write the music. “Writing plays together is a different pot of coffee… I’m more of an ideas man so I will ring Bob with a story suggestion or setting or tiny idea and then by the next day Bob will have written an outline and then we will send emails back and forth until we get it how we want it. “Being an actor it is sometimes difficult for me to take a backseat. I want to be up there doing it! So watching The Road To Port Of Barry will be a mixed bag of emotions. “It’s a real labour of love for the both of us. We have wanted to see this piece on the stage for a long time. I always thought I would have to be in it for that to happen but I am happy to be in the audience this time. Watching these extremely talented guys taking on the material.”

Since training at the Royal Northern College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, Orton has built up a long list of theatre credits and has appeared at various concert and cabaret venues in London, performing his own songs and other pieces of new musical theatre writing. Winner of the Welsh Musical Theatre Younger Singer of the World 2008, he has recorded vocals on three musical cast albums – Dracula, Spamalot and My Land’s Shore. Swansea University graduate Gould – a former teacher and author of school history books – wrote the book and lyrics for three musicals with composer Ty Kroll – Lovers, Alone And Vocalize! He also worked on The Dying Game, a musical which speaks for the victims of HIV/AIDS in Africa, and he wrote lyrics for the acclaimed Tim Prottey-Jones albums More With Every Line and Surrounded By The Sounds and is in the process of writing and developing the musical Roundabout with songwriter Joe Sterling. Gould says: “Chris and I were introduced in January 2006 by a mutual friend when I was looking at the time for a composer to collaborate on a show I had an idea for. “As it happens we’ve still not gotten around to writing that show together. In February 2006 Chris asked me to write some scenes around some songs he had written for a musical called Elephant Juice which we then work shopped at the Royal Academy. “Soon after that he asked me if I’d like to work with him on My Land’s Shore, a musical he had already been working on for around four years. Since then we’ve continued to develop My Land’s Shore together as well as writing Based On A True Story, a few other musicals and three short plays.”

The Road To Barry Of Port will be staged at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea and The Riverfront in Newport as the On The Edge season opener. A black comedy, it’s set in South Wales with a cast of characters who are intrinsically Welsh but the themes and humour are universal.

Western Mail

Cast

Brendan Charleston 

Scott Barker

Sam Harding 

Director

Julie Barclay

 

Taffy by Caradoc Evans

Performance

Chapter, Cardiff, Wed 20 Sept 2006, 8pm, £3 on the door

 

Cast

Twmi – Huw Garmon

Josi – William Thomas

Rhys – Jams Thomas

Ben Watkins- Owen Garmon

Spurgeon Evans – Huw Davies

Captain Shacob + Essec – Brendan Charleston

Ester- Jessica Sandry

Marged – Ri Richards

Stage Directions – Nicholas Tong

Director

Steve Fisher

Review

While Caradoc Evans’ Taffy was not quite the Jerry Springer: The Opera of its day, performances of this darkly comic look at religion in Welsh village life roused similar levels of outrage in 1920s London.

The London Welsh community was apparently so incensed by the onslaught on the hypocrisies of religious elders in their West Wales capel that rioting broke out when the show was revived in 1925. Police had to be called and the opening night abandoned.

There is no record of the play being performed in Wales and such was the ferocity of the response to its content – ministers are said to have burned Evans’ works – even printed copies are hard to find.

And so this rehearsed reading as part of the On the Edge: State of the Nation season was indeed not only a rare treat but something of a historic event in the annals of Welsh literature.

While no rowdy Bible-waving crowds greeted this satirical take on Welsh Nonconformity, a healthily large audience did squeeze into Chapter to hear a cast of impressive pedigree, directed by Steve Fisher, juggle with the demands of the piece. Such is Evans’ writing style including a celebration of the idiosyncratic syntax of the Anglo-Welsh language; this was no mean feat. The language and dialogue is deliciously rich and distinctive, melodious and archaic, which is, of course, in keeping with a community obsessed with the preaching skills of its ministers.

The story itself rattles along at a cracking pace which beggars the question of how effective a staged performance would actually be, with the inherent risk of much of the comedy potentially sinking into farce.

The village elders, the Big Heads, have to choose a new minister. Three of the four, a storekeeper Rhys, undertaker Essec and stonemason Josi are clearly more interested in the possibility of building a new capel and benefiting financially.

Each of these wittily drawn characters are realised skillfully by Jams Thomas, Brendan Charleston and William Thomas.

These three “Big Heads” vote for a young new minister, Spurgeon Evans. The fourth, a local farmer, Twmi, played by Huw Garmon, breaks away from the other Big Heads. Twmi employs the elderly minister, Ben Watkins, to preach in his own breakaway capel, the more basic Capel Zinc. Played by Owen Garmon, three-time widowed Ben Watkins, carries a tape measure, always on the look out for wife four who will fit into his dead wives’ clothes.

Set against this, we have two of the elders’ daughters, Ester and Marged, who both at first have an eye for the young new minister.

A true daughter of the village, however, played by Ri Richards, Ester is more interested in the trappings of being the minister’s wife, particularly with a new capel for the village. In contrast, Marged, played by Jessica Sandry, is determined to reveal the man beneath.

Add to the shenanigans the appearance of Captain Shacob hot on the trail of Ben Watkins for leaving his own Capel Morfa before preaching enough of his famous “soul tickler” sermons to bring in enough collection cash to pay for work on that new building. Captain Shacob is also vividly brought to life by Brendan Charleston.

The ridiculous situations our comic crew find themselves in become more and more extreme, revealing layer upon layer of their own greed, ignorance and hypocrisy.

The love story of Marged and Spurgeon Evans, played by Huw Davies, is used as the vehicle to untangle the interwoven disputes and reconcile the villagers through revealing their hypocrisies but also finding compromise. Spurgeon turns his back on the ministry and symbolically donates his unpreached sermons to Ben Watkins, who, it is revealed relied on his wives to write his fiery texts.

Our characters are indeed reconciled but the underlying message is that nothing has really changed. The closing moments is storekeeper Rhys encouraging his chickens to eat the rice he has sold the villagers at an extortionate price for Marged and Captain Shacob’s wedding.
While our sensibilities now find such characters and institutions fair game, reactions to other plays raising questions about other religions – or at least manifestations of religion – show passions can still be deeply stirred by drama.
Transpose the satire from religion to other aspects of contemporary Welsh life, notably devolved politics and the role of the language within the new Welsh Establishment, and Taffy rings so true.

Mike Smith