Prologue: an Extract from Owen's Story



Owen walked into the S4C television studio, dressed for the part. His Paul Smith suit had come up well with a dry clean.  His navy silk shirt, bought in Milan, during one of Ethnosphere Dance Company’s tours, glistened expensively in the studio lights.  His brogues, handmade in Madrid, had survived the walk across the farmyard that morning. Evenso,  he had carefully washed the soles in a service station on the way over, just in case.


Standing there, looking at the set for the interview, he felt his nerve endings sizzle.  This was a stage and so a place for performance. Adrenalin, the dancer’s old friend, was kicking in and he smiled ruefully at his Pavlovian response.


Good looking people with clipboards swept him up and took him into make-up.  It wasn’t what he thought of as make-up, not theatre make-up, just a dusting of something light.  The good-lookers circled around, jolly and sparkly-eyed.  Then the perfumed interviewer for the series Cultural Game Changers came to introduce himself and ran through the format.


So far, Owen was coping.  His Welsh had been learnt from his grandparents and from watching SuperTed on S4C when he was small.  That was long ago.  Since then there had been London and that other life.  


Cautious of his ability to sustain an interview in Welsh, he had been listening to Radio Cymru constantly.  He also had his brother-in-law, Rhodri, speak to him only in Welsh. Rhodri even ran mock interviews with him, failing to suppress amusement as Owen’s accent veered from newsreader Welsh to that of the Llyn Peninsula (Rhodri’s own). 


Owen took comfort in the fact that no one with whom he had performed over the years was ever likely to find out about this programme, nor would they understand the Welsh language if they did track it down.  He would certainly not be telling them.


Owen was running on old instincts, and they were serving him well.  This show was all about him.  It was one of a series on leading Welsh artists: a survey of his career as a foremost contemporary dancer, illustrated with video clips and stills. It covered everything from his first performance in The Nutcracker in Brecon at the age of 12, to video of him playing Don Lockward in Singing in the Rain at the Wales Millennium Centre.


Owen was familiar with stagecraft.  He knew how to shed his own self, no matter how he felt, and perform the required role convincingly.   This time it was playing the role of a successful Welsh dancer, as defined by S4C. No one there knew that he accepted the interview because there was a fee and travel expenses.  He couldn’t remember the last time he had earned anything, other than subs from the farm for helping out with odd jobs.  


Friends and family were divided on whether it was a good idea. His friend Huw thought it would help him see his career in a positive light.  Dai Top offered to drive him to the studio.  His former flatmates, Nat and Mostyn thought he should give it a miss; they knew his frailties.  His sister Meg wasn’t keen, knowing that if it failed she would be picking up the pieces.  Owen said yes, nevertheless.


The telly people knew nothing about the breakdown that had put him in a London hospital, nor that he had been brought home in small pieces by Rhodri and Dai Top nearly two years ago. They didn't know he would probably never perform again.  They just saw him as a man with a positive story about a very successful career in the arts.


With his performance face firmly  on, Owen was brought back to the set and settled into his chair.  Sound checks followed.  The good-looking people continued to circle and the perfumed interviewer continued to smile.


And then it began:


‘Tonight, in our special series on Cultural Game Changers, we are pleased to welcome one of Wales’ foremost contemporary dancers and star of musical theatre.  Owen, welcome to Game Changers, said the interviewer with a professional  twinkle.


‘I’m happy to be here came Owen’s calm reply and he was off and running


Owen exuded grace and charm, topped up with humour and self-deprecation.  A lifetime of being in the spotlight had honed his skills to perfection.  


The fact that he was extraordinarily beautiful certainly helped.  In his London life, he had adorned the covers of glossy magazines and occasional adverts for extortionately expensive watches.  His friend Nat once said that his looks were his saving grace, even when he was being totally shit on stage.


The interview progressed.  Owen’s Welsh was holding out and he could feel himself on a roll.  Then, at last,  the final  question:


‘Well, Owen, what brought you back to Cymru at this point in your career,  and what’s lined up for you next?’


Owen knew not to pause nor blink, as this would give the game away.  He filled the air with words he thought the viewers in Cymru might like, such as hiraeth the longing for home. He said something vague about creative projects.  At that point, the floor manager counted down the interview to the end credits.  There was no time for elaboration. It was over.


Congratulations and many handshakes followed.  They were happy with the programme.  Owen departed with a sense of job done and began climbing back into his own skin as he closed the studio door behind him. 


He found his way back to the S4C carpark and his sister’s Land Rover, borrowed for the day.  He hoisted himself into the driver’s seat and closed the door.  He grasped the steering wheel tightly and released a litany of expletives.  He had just taken part in his career’s obituary and all he knew of his future was that it was a blank.


© Gaynor Kavanagh