A Cwmbran man who has travelled the world as a top designer, beaten cancer and recorded four CDs of Oscar-winning songs has returned to Newport to make his mark on the theatre he loves.
Although he has officially retired, Steve Bissex-Williams’s passion for theatre and music means he has never been busier. He is currently re-designing the auditorium of the 400-seat Dolman Theatre as well as directing ‘Blithe Spirit’ which opens the 89th season of plays by Newport Playgoers.
“Theatre is a wonderful, fulfilling hobby and pastime and such a great way to socialise,” said Steve who has also taken on the role of Playgoers’ Membership Secretary. “I want to encourage more people to come and play an active part in our wonderful theatre. As well as recruiting new members and volunteers, I want to ensure that everyone who plays a part in the theatre, whether front of house, part of the production team, or as an audience member all have an enjoyable and positive experience.”
Steve has been involved with the theatre from an early age. His grandfather was a tenor discovered by the great operatic diva Dame Nellie Melba, his grandmother a world renowned concert pianist and his mother, the late Fay Williams, was a professional dancer and actress.
“It was always my ambition to follow in my family’s theatrical footsteps,” said Steve who began vocal training at the age of twelve and while at school was cast as the High Priest in Verdi’s Nabucco, playing opposite principal artists from both the English and Welsh National Opera Companies. Whilst playing this role, he was awarded a scholarship at the Welsh College of Music and Drama.
“To make ends meet I worked on a part-time basis for a well-known fashion chain, while continuing my studies and performing for local operatic societies. In 1980, I was accepted into the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, but, unfortunately, cuts in Arts Councils grants forced the D’Oyly Carte to disband,” said Steve who continued in fashion retail, working for some of the biggest names on the High Street.
The pinnacle of his career was being appointed Design Director for a well known chain of department stores. Responsible for store design, promotional activity and marketing, he spent most of his working life on planes to and from China, India and the USA. Steve retired from the retail world in 2001 after a long struggle with cancer – but, undaunted, he and his partner Chris set out on a new challenge. They set up a 5 star boutique hotel in North Devon and established a superb reputation for service, style and great food. Fifteen years later, they decided to sell the business and semi-retire back home in Wales. Since returning, Steve has become totally absorbed in his lifelong passion – the theatre.
Last year he developed a touring one man show about the history of the Oscars and recorded his fourth CD, ‘A Night at the Oscars’ which covers nearly every song that has won the Academy Award.
“It’s been marvellous coming back to the Dolman Theatrewhere I’ve been a member of Newport Playgoers for over 30 years.” He has done everything from performing, directing, and designing sets to making costumes and helping on the bar. Steve also designed the new facade of the Dolman Theatre in 2005, for which he was rewarded with life membership of Newport Playgoers. Since returning to Playgoers, Steve hasn’t stopped. He’s designed sets, played five characters in the Alan Ayckbourn play ‘Time of My Life’and in June he headed the Wardrobe team for ‘The Hypochondriac’which Playgoers took for a highly successful run at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall in July.
When he’s not hard at work re-decorating the Dolman’s auditorium, Steve is in the rehearsal room directing ‘Blithe Spirit’.
“It’s one of Noel Coward’s wittiest and best-loved comedies and starts our new season with more than a dash of style and sophistication,” said Steve.
Blithe Spirit’ is at the Dolman Theatre from 12th – 15th September at 7.15 pm, with an extra matinee performance on the Saturday at 2.30 pm. To book tickets call 01633 263670 or visit www.dolmantheatre.co.uk.