A very theatrical expedition


Photo: John McCormick

Over the last two years the Mullumbimby Drill Hall Theatre has been collaborating with Everyman Theatre in Cardiff, Wales, to create their production of  Do Not Go Gentle. Greg Aitken of the Drill Hall Theatre shares how this unlikely internationally informed production came to be!

Greg, how did the Drill Hall Theatre Company develop a relationship with Cardiff?

The Welsh theatre director Ray Thomas and his wife, the production manager Kath Thomas, have family in Mullumbimby. Ray devised  An Evening With Dylan Thomas  for small venues as a ‘cafe style’ show. In 1973 I had played small roles in a pro-am production of Dylan Thomas’s  Under Milk Wood where James Condon played the First and Second Voices. Others who have played the First Voice are Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Dylan Thomas himself. So I said to Ray that if you are performing extracts from  Under Milk Wood  and I agree to produce your show for the Drill Hall if I may I play the First Voice. It was clearly artistic blackmail on my part. Anyway Ray agreed; he thought I might be a good producer. The show was a success and while my First Voice does not rank with the abovementioned it was a privilege to perform.

How did you collaborate on this show?

The initial collaboration was at The Middle Pub after the final performance of the Dylan Thomas piece. Near the end of the party Kath Thomas suggested that the theatre company they were involved with in Cardiff, Everyman, and the Drill Hall should mount a co-production together. With that split second of inspiration that comes to a streaker I said, ‘Yes!’. The following day I gave Ray a copy of the Australian playwright Patricia Cornelius’s  Do Not Go Gentle.  The title is borrowed from Dylan Thomas’s poem of the same name and the story is of a group of senior citizens who think they are characters in Scott of the Antarctic’s 1910–12 expedition to be first to the South Pole. Scott’s expedition even began in Cardiff. Ray loved the play and thus our creative expedition began.

What was the experience like for the actors?

The two companies worked separately under Ray’s direction. He and Kath came to Mullumbimby twice over the two years to cast and rehearse. Four Drill Hall actors workshopped the production with five other Drill Hall actors who were going to be part of the international production.

Was this a unique experience for a small-town theatre company?

For two amateur companies to produce a show when they are in different hemispheres signals to me how diverse individuals can work together collectively. I was asked the other night if I ever had any doubts about getting  Gentle  up and running. I never doubted it for a moment. What makes this project special is that it has been done with the purest of emotions, love and good will.

How did it strengthen or inform your new production of  Do Not Go Gentle ?

Ray Thomas worked with the Drill Hall actors first and then the Everyman actors, so the ideas flowed and blended over time. Our first rehearsal together in Cardiff in late August was one of the highlights of my creative life. Though the actors had just met and had different accents, they combined movingly. Into the first hour of the rehearsal the usually reserved, Alex Benham proclaimed, ‘We have a show!’ And he was right, if understated. Alex should have been exultant!

What should people expect for the local show?

More than fifty creatives have been involved in the  Do Not Go Gentle project in Cardiff and Mullumbimby over two years. The combined companies are very close and work as a true ensemble. A lot of work and love has gone into  Gentle.  It is undoubtedly a unique experience that has changed our lives. After the show’s success in Cardiff we are confident that the Mullum audience will be both entertained and uplifted. We know we have a show.

Friday and Saturday at 7.30pm and Sunday at 2pm (and 20–22 Oct).

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