Chris Harris - History Will Tell Blog
History will Tell
We had only rehearsed for 2 hours on the German chamber opera ‘The Hunting Gun’ at Dutch National Opera – Ensemble Modern’s repeat staging of its production from Snape Maltings a year before - when the pandemic became a reality. I was assisting the Austrian actor Karl Markovics for a second time and was due to stay in the city for 15 days. The Dutch government shut down all cultural and public events, and our producers at DNO told us simply to: ‘go home’.
I sat in Café de Gaeper in Waterlooplein (a favourite haunt) the night before coming home to what would be an unfolding nightmare on a global scale. It was there that I began writing ‘Golygfeydd o’r Pla Du’ (Scenes from a Plague),my satire on the changing behaviour during the pandemic seen through the comical, grotesque lens of the Black Death. But the gem of the idea came weeks before that, probably based on many years of wanting to write a ridiculously fun and entertaining piece, stemming from years of absorbing Mel Brooks, Monty Python and The League of Gentleman.
Two years on, with the brilliant and influential guidance of Carmarthenshire Theatres and 20 other individuals, this ridiculous pastiche, with 4 actors sharing 30 characters, will be embarking on a tour of Wales late Spring 2023. Talk about the changing fabric of time!
When the pandemic changed how we look at ourselves, our relationships and our politics, so did my work. I began to re-examine myself, and truly questions what was important to me. Laughter was key. The unfolding events from the media each day could becoming overwhelming. Finding ways to laugh whilst stuck at home became a coping mechanism. But with theatres closed, I was still aching to make work that spoke to our current circumstances, and yet offered a little retreat from the harsh reality. Realism is a little scary for me sometimes, and so I find it easier to respond to what I see around me and what I experience through a different lens.
In this case, as well as two others, it’s history. I wasn’t clever enough or born without a personality to continue with the dry-teachings during my BA. Probably because I’m too imaginative, and like to subvert history in many ways. But I still love history.
Stuck at home, I was fortunate enough to begin building relationships with many regional, community-based theatres in south Wales, including Carmarthenshire Theatres, Blackwood Miners Institute, as well as Welsh producing-powerhouses like BBC Radio Cymru, Boom Cymru, Theatr Bara Caws, Theatr Iolo and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru.
‘Cariad yn Oes y Gin’ (Love in the Gin Age) – a play I began writing for Theatr Bara Caws in October 2020 – begins to grapple with the rollercoaster events of turning 30, getting married, and thinking of starting a family. But why choose the gin craze of London’s early 1700s seedy districts, where drunken behaviour was the norm from young and old? Well, the play is more concerned with the dramatic life changes two individuals undergo in a changing political landscape – something which I experience now. Life has changed so much for everyone. How do you embrace the dramatic changes that life constantly unfolds, and yet still retain the very pure element that makes you ‘you’? This play will tour Wales with Theatr Bara Caws from January 2023.
‘Trwbl Mawr yn Tremyglyd’ (Big Trouble in Tremyglyd) – my collaboration with Blackwood Miners Institute – will firmly place the ‘what if?’ on our own local history. I describe it as a play about community, cottage pie and nuclear weapons, and merge together localities into one fictional circumstance that speaks to a wider context, asking – what makes a leader? Or, indeed – due to the war un Ukraine and the Partygate scandal - it’s probably more relevant to alter this slightly to: ‘what makes a dictator?’. Even the word ‘nuclear’ had a very different meaning when I started writing it in January 2021, compared to now in April 2022. We have the opportunity to research and develop this play in September 2022, with the hope of a tour in Autumn 2023.
I owe a lot to history. Without it, I wouldn’t have many jumping off points.
Did I know that history would dictate where the work would go, or how a play I began at a small table in an Amsterdam side street café would now reach audiences across Wales? I don’t know. I just hope Welsh audiences are ready to re-examine – through an eccentric blend of thought, provocation and laughter – the way our world behaved during the pandemic, and its legacy. I suppose history will tell.
Photos taken by El+Ell Photography