Actor Daniel Llewellyn Williams will be putting his director’s hat on this weekend, as the play Between the Crosses plays Caerleon Festival. This recent work follows the Newport actor’s successful one-man show A Regular Little Houdini and coincides with his casting in the lead role of Richard Hannay in the West End production of The 39 Steps. Andy Howells recently had the opportunity to put questions to Daniel .
It’s been a busy year for you so far, having won a Wales Theatre Award for Best English Performance in Not About Heroes, taking on a West End Role in The 39 Steps and producing Between The Crosses. How are you managing to balance all these projects?
With difficulty! I could do with a couple of clones to be honest. It's been a great year so far and I've been extremely lucky to have these opportunities. I haven't always been this busy or lucky and life as a jobbing actor can be very challenging especially when you have a young family.
It's like waiting for a bus and now several have come along at once. Working in the West End or touring is lovely but the down side is I miss out on a lot of landmarks in my kid's growth because our family home is still in Newport. Although I do see them and my wife every Sunday, without fail.
You’re one-man show A Regular Little Houdini was fabulous, you’re passion for bringing some of Newport’s history alive really came through in the performance. Was it well received?
That's very kind of you. It has been extremely well received and I'm immensely proud of it. It really gives people with any affiliation with Newport a real kick of pride and nostalgia when they see it but the story is about more than where it's set. People who have no idea about Newport also love it because it is set in a real place, which isn't London or New York, it has an identity and a heart and people pick up on that and love it for that too.
I've had requests to take it all over Britain and America and I've also been invited to play at the Pleasance theatre at the Edinburgh Festival but my West End commitments now mean A Regular Little Houdini will be "on hold" until I'm available in the New Year. In 2016, I will finish the radio play and I'm also in early stages of turning it into a film.
Will there be any further performances of A Regular Little Houdini in the future?
Yes - Definitely! I had to postpone a few performances this summer/autumn due to The 39 Steps which I will be re-booking some time in the New Year and I will be doing whole month of August 2016 in the Pleasance at the Edinburgh Festival. I'm also booking more venues for next year. Check the website or like the Facebook page for event information.
Can you tell us about Between the Crosses, what inspired it?
I wanted to continue to produce shows after the success of A Regular Little Houdini. I knew a First World War piece would be apt because of the centenary, and I started to pursue a story to develop. An actor/writer friend of mine, Will Huggins, had a personal story to tell about his Great Uncle Edgar who went from Stable-Hand to Soldier to Survivor through four years of the Great War including Ypres and the Somme.
Edgar was present at the first use of Chlorine gas as a weapon and he lead a ragtag troop of men out of the green cloud with only urine soaked rags over their faces to protect them. He also witnessed the first appearance of tanks in the battlefield. But the interesting thing about Edgar's story is what he didn't tell, his family and loved ones back home. We only know of his story through the Imperial War Museum's interviews with him in his 94th year. What we were fascinated with was why were so many survivors silent? And what effect has that had on the subsequent generations? In the name of sparing our loved ones, how can we learn if we don't know? I really wanted Will to develop the story into a one man script for him to play, which he then did and I have now directed it and produced it.
You are directing this time instead of acting, how different have you found that?
I've always wanted to direct as I'm fascinated with "process". I analyse everything. It suits the way I think. I'm also a lover of communication and when someone has a great story to tell, the way you connect to an audience is paramount. Clarity is everything. Working with other people (writers, actors, musicians, choreographers and designers) to help them make their story clearer to an audience excites me. I am an advocate of simple and effective drama.
How inspirational were Edgar’s recollections when putting the play together?
Edgar's life post War seemed on the outside to be brutally normal and his voice recordings as a 94 year old appeared to be that of a sweet, elderly gent. But the inspiration comes from between the lines, his words unsaid, and the knowledge of what he actually did, influences the listener and makes for a compelling journey.
How has that experience being for Will?
Cathartic and a great honour I imagine.
Who do you hope will come to see Between The Crosses?
Firstly everyone who has an interest in a human story of realism and truth. Then everyone with an interest in history and finally everyone who loves a good story. Friday 4th July, Caerleon Arts Festival 7.30 PM
Is it suitable for all the family?
I would say this one is for 16 and over.
You’ve also recently been cast as Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps in the West-End. How did you come by that role?
Since winning the Theatre Wales Award, I've had a lot of companies interested in me. They called me which was nice. I think it's hilarious though that a Welsh speaking Newport boy is playing the most quintessentially English literary character. Hannay is sort of the pre Bond, but in tweed. He's a colonial adventurer and a gent.
Were you a fan of the original book?
To be honest I found the original stories a bit hard going. All about the thrill and the suspense but without the humour. The stage version, thank god is a wonderful thriller parody which will have you on the edge of your seats but also in fits of laughter.
The 39 Steps popularity has continued to endure in film and television adaptations over the years, why do you think that is?
Because of Richard Hannay himself probably! He is such a likable English twit / hero. He's very "Tally ho pip pip! Jolly good! Fry me a kipper I'll be back for breakfast". What's not to like?
Of all the Richard Hannay’s on screen do you have a particular favourite yourself?
Robert Donat probably although I like Robert Powell and Rupert Penry Jones too. I have to say I think Kenneth More was miscast.
How long will you be in The 39 Steps?
Till this Autumn.
Are you developing any other projects for the future?
Not at present. I'm busy enough right now.
- For further information on Daniel Llewellyn-Williams projects visit his official website
- For more information on A Regular Little Houdini visit the official website
- For more information on The 39 Steps, visit the official website.
- A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on July 3, 2015.