THE FAR AWAY PLAYS: New Welsh play reading company keep actors’ muscles flexed during lockdown

As theatres remain closed, The Far Away Plays have been holding weekly Zoom play readings of contemporary Welsh plays and organising free online workshops for actors and theatre creatives in Wales

As restrictions continue to affect theatre in Wales, actors and theatre makers know that it is unlikely they will be together in a rehearsal room this year; the Sherman Theatre and Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff have both recently announced that they will not reopen until early 2021. With Christmas shows now in fear of being cancelled, The Far Away Plays is focussed on making sure actors and creatives have the opportunity to meet together virtually and flex their creative muscles, and perform to a selected number of people that form each weekly company. 

The Far Away Plays is a new online play reading company that hosts weekly play readings from some of Wales’ most established playwrights, such as Ed Thomas, Gary Owen, Katherine Chandler, Daf James and Tim Price. It has so far hosted over 14 Play Readings, worked with over 80 actors, 14 Welsh playwrights and directors and  8 free workshops with over 300 creatives attending.

Founded by Llanelli born actor Scott Arthur and Swansea born theatre director Francesca Goodridge, the company was born from two creatives looking for a way to outpour some creativity in a dark and quiet time. Scott said: “There has never been a more important time for the theatre community to come together and support one another. Each week we host readings of contemporary plays, providing a platform for artists to connect with one another and feel creative again. Imagine it as a virtual kick around for artists within the theatre world, during a time when rehearsal rooms are off limits and stages are empty.”

Francesca said: “We’ve invited established actors such as Steffan Rhodri, Catrin Stewart, Di Botcher and Sule Rimi alongside 2020 graduates, to read the modern Welsh plays that we love, as well as discovering new plays and playwrights who are yet to be heard.”

Welsh and Wales-based actors, directors, writers, producers, casting directors, dramaturgs, designers and technicians have been able to volunteer their time and take part in the Zoom readings, creating a space for theatre makers to discover old and new plays together without the pressure of an audience.

The pair have also hosted eight free workshops to connect actors and creatives with established figures in the industry such as Artistic Director of Chichester Festival Theatre, Daniel Evans; Artistic Director of Theatr Clwyd, Tamara Harvey, and BAFTA nominated Casting Director Lauren Evans (behind television programmes including Game of ThronesSex Education and the 2019 Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special).

Playwright Daf James, whose bilingual play Pan Ddawr Byd i Ben featured as one of the readings says: “In a very short-time, The Far Away Plays has made an incredible contribution to the Welsh arts scene. During the COVID crisis, they provided a fantastic focus for a staggering amount of Welsh artists and created a much needed online community for artists in isolation. Personally, as a writer, I was able to revisit a script, which otherwise would have remained untouched. Due to the response online, I’m now looking at how I might go on to stage its production in the future.”

Steffan Rhodri who is well-loved as ‘Dave Coaches’ from Gavin & Stacetook part in a reading of Simon Harris’ play Badfinger originally staged at London’s Donmar Warehouse in 1997. He said, “Reading a great Welsh play with The Far Away Plays has been a highlight of this lockdown period for me. In this uncertain, isolated time to be connected with a theatre family to share our skill and enthusiasm for some exciting Welsh work was just what I needed. I feel that, as an idea, an online play reading community of Welsh theatre workers would be a valuable resource going forward, even once this devastating pandemic is over. Long may we remain together, though far away.”