When I started this blog, part of the driver was to showcase South Wales and all it has to offer. But, what I hadn’t first considered is what also makes Wales great is the people. Yes I know, it’s obvious!
So I am very excited to introduce a new monthly feature which is all about showcasing Welsh talent – called Locally Sourced! Each month I will introduce you to someone who has a talent and who just happens to either live in Wales or be Welsh, or both.
This month, my Locally Sourced is Nick Evans, Resident Director of the musical Mary Poppins…
In January I was lucky enough to go and see Mary Poppins at the Welsh Millennium Centre, with my family, and it was truly magical; one of those musicals that is loved by all generations. My opinion was mirrored by the many rave reviews from both critics and family and friends who were singing its praises (and the songs) long after seeing the show.
I was very privileged to have a chat with the Resident Director himself, Nick Evans. Nick, originally from Swansea now tours the world, working on shows such as Billy Elliot and Jesus Christ Superstar, but when he’s in his home town he likes nothing more than a Joes ice-cream or a pint in his old haunt, The No Sign Wine Bar in Wind Street.
Nick Evans – Director of Mary Poppins
What was it that sparked your interest in the theatre?
My earliest memory is doing a ‘reception class’ play at Glyncollen Primary School – in which everyone more or less played a tree….and I was there in the middle showing off as the ‘big bad wolf!’ So I suspect the acting bug was there from a very early age!
The real changing point came at the age of 13 when I joined the ‘West Glamorgan Youth Theatre Company’. It was a council run, residential Youth Theatre, that changed my life…and that of many others like Russell T.Davies, Michael Sheen and Joanna Page. I was exposed to the works of Shakespeare, Sondheim, Pinter and many other great writers.
It turned my life on a sixpence, and taught me skills such as empathy, time-keeping, preparation and risk-taking. It finds itself under threat now because of council cuts and I am passionate we need to find ways to keep it going.
What is it like to work on such a well-known musical as Mary Poppins?
Poppins is actually, pretty much, the biggest tour to have gone out around the U.K. I think the best thing is that it keeps your brain active all the time. Even 16 months into the tour you can’t take your eye off the ball for even a second. I like that challenge, I like that sense of constantly being pushed towards excellence.
The only down side is related – keeping something as special as Poppins going takes long hours and lots of attention. Some weeks, you can end up doing 60 hours or so of work…. and you also never really get a 2 day weekend. I’m not sure people who want to ‘go into the industry for the glamour’ realise just how much work is involved.
The stage production is quite different to the film, were you ever nervous about what people might expect?
I have a very palpable sense that the reason people come to see ‘Mary Poppins’ is so often that they feel a personal connection with it. It’s a film that so many people have grown up with; and with that comes a responsibility to get it right, But no, I wasn’t nervous. Sir Cameron Mackintosh has assembled such a talented team on this show over the years – people of the calibre of writer Lord Julian Fellowes (who wrote Downton Abbey) and Sir Richard Eyre (former Artistic Director of the National Theatre). When you are in a room with people like that, you kind of know something wonderful will emerge.
If you had to pick, what has been your favourite show in which you have been involved?
I’ve been so lucky to work on three of the most iconic shows in UK theatre history ; I was Associate Director of Billy Elliot in the West End for 5 years, same role on the Arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar featuring Tim Minchin and Mel C a year or so later, and now Poppins.
Each has brought its own rewards. But I guess if you put a gun to my head and made me choose I’d have to say Billy Elliot. I trained the children as part of my job on that show, and seeing them take what they learned and become so successful as actors, dancers or even in the academic world has been so very rewarding. Plus it matched my anti-Thatcherite politics!
Taking the Billys to Downing Street
If you could direct any show, what would it be?
That’s a really hard question. The show you really want to work on probably hasn’t been written yet, So it’s not like I go to see something and say ‘I should direct that’! That said, I recently saw ‘Hamilton’ in New York and I consider it the most exciting work of art in the last 25 years. But if I could have just one more bash at directing, I’d go back to main my love…Shakespeare. Coriolanus, Richard III or Love’s Labour’s Lost excite me as much as anything I’ve ever seen or worked on.
If you could choose any star to work with, who would it be and in what role?
Gosh. I think Mark Rylance is the most interesting of actors, and it would be such a privilege to be in a rehearsal room with him. On something new though, would be best, though one day he will play King Lear and that will be amazing too.
From all the people you have worked with, who has been the most inspirational?
I worked very closely with Tim Minchin, the comedian and writer, when I was part of the team that directed him as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. He is such an inspiration to be around; clever, funny and so connected with the work. But also uses his fame and position with real kindness and generosity.
The inspirational and talented Tim Minchin*
I think he is someone who is a role model for what ‘celebrity’ should be. Basically because he uses it, but doesn’t value it. For all the money and fame that has come his way, he remains about the work, and about the integrity of the work. I admire him hugely for that.
What’s been the best bit about being back in Cardiff while directing Mary Poppins?
Cardiff has changed so much in the last ten or so years and yet its kept a lot of his character. I was very proud to see just how much my colleagues who have never been here have fallen in love with the City in a very short time.
But the real treat has been working at the Wales Millennium Centre. It’s a beautiful building, both in its iconic design and in how easy it is to work in backstage. We are very quick to criticise our politicians in Wales. but the fact they secured such a unique and wonderful space in Cardiff is something we should all be proud of.
If you have a weekend back in your home town of Swansea, how would you spend it?
I have two cities that have become my adopted ‘homes’, London and New York. But Swansea is the only one that can truly claim the title. My parents still live there, as do many of my loveliest friends. So often its about hanging out with them.
If I had to pick out some regular haunts I’d mention almost obsessive trips to Langland Bay, Rhossilli Beach and Three Cliffs. Fairly regular and wonderful nights out at the only decent pub on Wind Street – ‘The No Sign Wine Bar’. And of course a sneaky Joe’s Ice Cream whenever I can.
What do you love most about Wales?
I’m not sure its easy to express in words, which is why the almost untranslatable notion of ‘Hiraeth’ is such a lovely concept. I am not uncritical of Wales and what we are but I do love that being Welsh, and being a Celt, marks me out as ‘different’ wherever I am in the world. I think for all our faults, we are quite a warm people, and I also think there is a connection with poetry and words that I connect with.
But most importantly I love the Welsh Rugby Team. I collect Groggs (the moulded statues of Welsh Rugby heroes obsessively). And if I had one day left on the planet, Cardiff Arms Park (because I don’t like calling it anything else) would win out over a theatre every time.
Earlier this year you were recognised for your services to the arts in the Lord Mayors Awards, how did it feel to be recognised for your hard work?
I was very touched. The place you grow up in shapes you, and for that place to give you an award that says you are ‘doing ok’ is so very lovely. I was lucky enough to be there with so many amazing Swansea people like Ed Thomas who designed the Tardis and Daleks, Bonnie Tyler, and Alan Curtis. I’ve achieved so little in comparison to those guys that it was quite humbling.
It was a lovely event, and also a chance to give my lovely Mam and Dad a night out, as well as a remarkable chap called Godfrey Evans who set up the West Glamorgan Youth Theatre Company, who came along as one of my guests. Literally thousands of young people lives have been changed by what he created. The award was very much dedicated to him, and I said as much on the night.
What advice would you give someone considering a career in the Theatre?
If it’s what you love, do it. Chase it, pursue it, don’t take no for an answer. So many people will tell you to do something more ‘sensible’. But if its written on your heart go and do it.
But also do it with open eyes. Its hard and unrelenting and sometimes lonely. Go into acting not because you like the idea of being famous – because most of us will never end up there. Do it if you like being tired, and working too hard and taking risks, and because you don’t care about ever having money or owning a house. Because that’s usually how you will end up.
But if you want it, do it. I do the job I wanted to do when I was ten years old. Not many people can get up in the morning saying that!
Nick Evans and Mary Poppins have now said farewell to Cardiff, you’ll now find them in Zurich for the next two months, followed by a stint in Dubai! I’m sure the show will be, dare I say it, perfectly perfect!
All photos of Nick Evans, and of the Billy Elliots, are provided by Nick Evans