A Leading Light of Local Theatre Returns to Newport

September 3, 2012

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.

Steve Bissex-Williams

Steve Bissex-Williams
(PHOTO: PHIL MANSELL)

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 Bissex-Williams directing 'Blithe Spirit'

Steve Bissex-Williams directing the cast of ‘Blithe Spirit’ (PHOTO: PHIL MANSELL)

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.

Steve Bissex-Williams at the Minack Theatre

Steve Bissex-Williams in ‘The Hypochondriac’ at the Minack Theatre (PHOTO: PHIL MANSELL)

“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.


John puts a Sheen on French farce at Minack

June 26, 2012

In July, the Minack Theatre will see why the name Sheen is synonymous with theatre at its very best. John Sheen, father of musical theatre star Caroline Sheen and uncle of award-winning actor Michael Sheen, brings his years of expertise to directing the classic Molière farce ‘The Hypochondriac’, which has been updated by legendary Liverpool poet Roger McGough.

Newport Playgoers present 'The Hypochondriac'

Hypochondriac Argan (Richard Dymond) is outwitted by his wily maid Toinette (Claudia Barnes)
(PHOTO: PHIL MANSELL)

“This modern take on Molière’s very funny comedy is a lavish costume romp packed with fakes – a wealthy hypochondriac who pretends to be dead, a wife who pretends to love her husband and doctors who pretend to understand medicine,” said John.

“I think we’ve concocted the perfect remedy for all the doom and gloom that’s around these days.”

Newport Playgoers present 'The Hypochondriac'

Argan (Richard Dymond) is keen to marry off his daughter Angelique (Rachel Fenwick) to a doctor – even when he’s an idiot like Thomas (Ryan Salter)
(PHOTO: PHIL MANSELL)

The play, which was a great success during its run at the Dolman Theatre in Newport, features several members of Playgoers who have proved a hit with Minack audiences in previous years: Richard Dymond as the eponymous Argan, Claudia Barnes as the scheming maid Toinette, Caroline Drewett-Mansell as Beline, Argan’s gold-digging wife, Rachel Fenwick as his daughter Angelique who is pursued by foppish suitor Thomas, played by Ryan Salter and the man she loves, Cleante, played by Kevin Myers.

Two years ago, Newport Playgoers enjoyed enormous success at Minack with another Molière play, ‘Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme’, and they are hoping for a repeat performance – and good weather.

‘The Hypochondriac’ by Roger McGough is at the Minack Theatre from 9th – 13th July. For more information phone 01633 263670 or visit  www.dolmantheatre.co.uk or www.newportplaygoers.wordpress.com.

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John puts a Sheen on frantic French farce

June 22, 2012
John Sheen

John Sheen (PHOTO: PHIL MANSELL)

The name Sheen is synonymous with theatre at its best. For proof, check out the latest production by Newport Playgoers – it’s directed by John Sheen, father of musical theatre star Caroline Sheen and uncle of award-winning actor, Michael Sheen.

John brings years of expertise to his production of ‘The Hypochondriac’, the classic Molière farce that has been updated by Liverpool poet Roger McGough.

Newport Playgoers present 'The Hypochondriac' by Roger McGough after Moliere

Comic capers in ‘The Hypochondriac’
(PHOTO: PHIL MANSELL)

“Following a successful run at the Dolman Theatre we’re now presenting this modern take on Molière’s very funny comedy at the famous open air Minack Theatre on the cliffs in Porthcurno, Cornwall,” said John.

Newport Playgoers present 'The Hypochondriac' by Roger McGough after Moliere

‘The Hypochondriac’ at the Dolman Theatre
(PHOTO: PHIL MANSELL)

“The play is a lavish costume romp packed with fakes – a wealthy hypochondriac who pretends to be dead, a wife who pretends to love her husband and doctors who pretend to understand medicine. I think we’ve concocted the perfect remedy for all the doom and gloom that’s around these days.”

‘The Hypochondriac’ by Roger McGough is at the Minack Theatre from 9th – 13th July. For more information visit  www.dolmantheatre.co.uk or www.minack.com


Proving Laughter is the Best Medicine

June 2, 2012

Add the wit of legendary Liverpool poet Roger McGough to the comic shenanigans of a classic French farce and the result is a real laughter tonic guaranteed to banish the blues.

Newport Playgoers present 'The Hypochondriac'

Argan (Richard Dymond) feels another ailment coming on, to the amusement of his brother Beralde (Chris Bissex-Williams). (PHOTO: PHIL MANSELL)

McGough’s modern take on Molière’s play ‘The Hypochondriac’ is this month’s presentation by Newport Playgoers and centres around the antics of Argan, a perfectly healthy and wealthy gentleman, who is convinced he is seriously ill. In fact, he’s so obsessed with taking medicine for imaginary ailments that he’s blind to the naughty goings-on in his own household.

Newport Playgoers present 'The Hypochondriac'

Saucy servant Toinette (Claudia Barnes) helps Argan (Richard Dymond) with another imaginary medical problem. (PHOTO: PHIL MANSELL)

In a neat twist, his most effective cure does not come in a bottle or a bedpan, but in his sharp-tongued servant, Toinette, who has a cunning plan to reveal the truth and open her master’s eyes.

Roger McGough updates this classic Molière comedy, turning prose into verse with a witty edge. A scathingly funny lampoon on both hypochondria and the ‘quack’ medical profession, this tour de farce with its very public enemas gives the action the look of a 17th-century costume romp that could easily be re-titled ‘Carry On Up the Colon’.

Playgoers will be taking the production to the outdoor Minack Theatre in Cornwall next month so there’s another chance to see it in the unique setting of the amazing theatre in the cliffs.

Prescribe yourself a real laughter tonic and see ‘The Hypochondriac’ at the Dolman Theatre from 12 – 16 June at 7.15 pm, with an extra matinee performance on the Saturday at 2.30 pm. To book tickets call 01633 263670 or 656757.  More information is available online at www.dolmantheatre.co.uk