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Director Nick Evans talks to Run Riot about exploring Welsh and Romany Cultures in One-Night-Only sensation For Tonight

Emotionally rich and musically diverse, For Tonight is an ambitious, one-night only staged concert at the Adelphi Theatre on the 5 September. It explores the relationship between two Welsh and Romany families and is loosely based on true events, sensitively portraying the cultures and heritage that inspired it. Director Nick Evans talks to Run Riot's Kerenza Evans about the story behind the show and the company's hopes for the play's future.

Run Riot: What are the core themes in For Tonight?

Nick Evans: The thing that is remarkable about ‘For Tonight’ is that when you first encounter it you sort of expect it to be ‘a purely historical’ piece. But the core themes feel very of the moment. How young people express their opinions and desires. How place defines us and the things we do to define the places we are from. And most importantly how vital it is to engage and understand cultures and traditions that are other than our own – in our story, that is about the coming together of proud but fragile traditions of Wales, and the equally proud but fragile Roma culture. And then of course whether we choose love or hate when we encounter those from other cultures.

RR: How much is the play rooted in fact vs fiction?

NE: The story is based on the true story of the third-great-grandfather of one of the writers Spencer Williams, who discovered the story in a diary handed down to him by his mother. But of course the story has grown and blossomed from that truth into a whole world of diverse characters, and plot lines and dramatic moments. But there is no doubting this story is rooted in the small Welsh village of Trelawnyd, and that much of its truth comes from that authentic beginning. There is also a wider truth in that we have worked really hard to engage with artists and cultural advisors of both Welsh and Roma identity- and indeed a majority of our performers come from those heritages. We hope that brings another layer of truth, in that so much of our discussion and research has been about wanting to get those cultural elements, ‘right’…

RR: What musical styles can the audience expect?

NE: The show really keeps you on your toes musically – it’s so eclectic and rich. There are moments that feel like musical theatre numbers but they crash against much of the score that has a very modern, indie pop/rock feel. Then suddenly you’ll hear something that is arranged in the Welsh choral tradition, almost hymn-like. And then you turn another corner and hear a song that is derived from traditional Romani music. It’s a gift to myself and Kevan Allen (Choreographer) because the show constantly reinvents – and we’re also proud that the work of our orchestrator Jen Green has created something that won’t sound quite like anything else on the West End stage.

RR: Is it emotionally challenging to go through all the blood, sweat and tears involved in rehearsing a musical that you know will only run for one night?

NE: Ha Ha. I’d love to say there’s been blood, sweat and tears, but the truth is I’ve found myself working with one of the most positive, most genuine companies of people I’ve ever been in a room with!!! So it’s been much more laughter, support and inspiration! And the thing is anyone who gets involved seems to really ‘care’ about the project in a quite unusual way. As such you have this sort of belief as an artist that you really ‘need’ to share the story – and to do so on a major stage in London feels really important. Of course, we are hungry for more than that in the long term. But for now our focus is on making that performance something really special and unique. It’s funny that both Wales and the Traveller communities place have such traditions of ‘togetherness’. We think we want to foster that same ‘togetherness’ for the audience members who have bought into this music over a number of years – and are ready to hear it in a full production.

RR: How do you think audience expectations have evolved since you began your career as a Director?

NE:  I think it can be a mistake to try and sum up ‘audiences’ because they are such a rich and diverse thing. I love that they constantly demand more, and what is unexpected, and what is different to what they have seen before. It pushes you to think in different ways. Of course there are trends and fashions, but I think most audiences seek truth, and beauty and something that touches their emotional sensibilities. It has always been that from Greek Theatre through to ‘Hamilton’. I really believe that in ‘For Tonight’ we are shaping a piece that hits those timeless expectations

RR: Do you have any global plans for where For Tonight will be heading?

NE: That’s not down to us, it’s down to the ever growing audiences who persistently lift ‘For Tonight’ to new levels. We would love to see the piece play somewhere in the West End. We know that the story will chime with the strong sense of cultural identity that pervades with the American public. But if you push me, I want to see this piece on a Welsh stage soon. Wales has so many great artists – we deserve a musical that talks about where we’ve been, what we stand for, and where we are heading.

RR: Do you think theatre is struggling to compete with the wealth of content viewers have available in their own homes? In other words, are people getting lazier where entertainment is concerned?

NE: I think struggling is a negative way to think about it; theatre has survived since ancient civilisation and the idea the invention of wireless radio would kill it didn’t prove true. The positive way to think about it, is that as technology evolves and how people access stories changes, we have a great opportunity to provide an immediacy that few platforms can. If you come and see ‘For Tonight’ you’ll actually hear the breathlessness of the young lovers, you’ll actually feel the energies of our ensemble, you’ll actually spot the tears in an actor’s eyes. I’m yet to see the streaming service that gives you that intimacy.

RR: Can you share the most memorable anecdote from your career thus far?

NE: This is definitely the hardest question! I think I’d choose the day I got to visit Downing Street. I was the Associate Director of Billy Elliot the Musical, and we were invited to take the four Billys to meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown. I’m a political geek, so sitting at the cabinet table, chatting to the PM and getting a private tour of Downing Street from the Chancellor’s wife was a treat. I also laugh when I think of the four (very) young actors we took along. Ollie Gardner is now a creative at the National Theatre, Dean Charles Chapman went on to be a Hollywood actor (1917, Game of Thrones), Fox Jackson is a musician creating some great new music, and Tom Holland went on to climb buildings in a Spidey Suit. It was quite the ‘school trip’!

For Tonight, a staged concert will be at the Adelphi Theatre on the 5 September.

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