The town of Port Talbot has long been seen (quite literally) as synonymous with the steel industry. Yet it also has another claim to fame as the actors' capital of Wales. It has produced a remarkable number of actors since the inter-war years. Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Michael Sheen head the glittering cast but there are many others including early stars such as Ronald Lewis and Ivor Emmanuel, more recent figures like Rob Brydon and Di Botcher as well as a cluster of exciting young actors starting to make their names in the West End and on the big and small screen.
This book suggests explanations for this phenomenon. Its author is a historical biographer who hails from Port Talbot and has done extensive research including numerous interviews. It explores the provision of educational and cultural facilities for young people over the years and demonstrates a commitment to drama that is deeply embedded in the town's history.
It tells in some depth the stories of the super-stars but in a novel way, focusing on how they emerged and on those who nurtured their talent, presenting the actors as part of a tradition that was set in motion even before Richard Burton began to make his mark. It surveys the careers of fifty actors from Port Talbot and it considers what its most famous stars have put back into their community, culminating in the spectacular three-day event of Easter 2011 when Michael Sheen resurrected Port Talbot's pride and hopes through the immersive theatrical experience of The Passion.
Written at a time of mixed fortunes for actors when funding for training is threatened yet opportunities for theatre and film work are expanding within Wales, this book puts centre-stage a town, its actors and those who guide them and so offers a new kind of cultural history. Such an approach also raises wider questions about the importance of the arts and of drama in particular to the wellbeing of communities.
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Angela V. John is a Pembrokeshire-based historian and biographer. She was, for many years, Professor of History at the University of Greenwich and is currently an Honorary Professor at Swansea University. Although her earlier books were aimed at an academic audience, she now writes for a wider readership and enjoys speaking at all sorts of events. Forthcoming talks in the next few months include speaking to groups in Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion and at Penarth Literature Festival as well as The Tropic cinema in Key West, Florida. She is currently working on her twelfth book, a volume of essays about a bunch of feisty Welsh women of the 19c and 20c. For more information see www.angelavjohn.com and her publisher www.parthianbooks.com