Chris Connel has been an actor and presenter for 30 years now. The Newcastle native who says he accidentally fell into drama at school, is now writing and directing his first play at Live Theatre in Newcastle, the venue that kick-started his acting career.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how much it means,” says Chris.
“Every time I walk into the Live Theatre it feels like I’m going home – there are over 30 years of my life in that building. The highs, the lows and everything in between. In fact, Lucy and I even had our wedding reception there. It’s a privilege and an honour and I sometimes wonder what my 20-year-old self would think if I could go back and tell him he was going to write and direct a play at Live Theatre. I don’t think he would have believed me. Or more likely, with the arrogance of youth, he may have just nodded and grinned! It’s fair to say it’s a big deal for me.”
Thanks to funding from Newcastle’s Live Theatre Bursary Scheme and Arts Council England, The Twenty Seven Club, a novel written by Chris’s wife, Lucy Nichol, is being adapted for the stage and who better to take on this challenge than successful actor and budding playwright, Chris himself.
“The Twenty Seven Club was originally a book by my beautiful, prolific and, shall we say, tenacious wife Lucy Nichol. The book, which has been a huge success, explores themes of mental health, stigma, sensationalism, friendship and fandom.
“Music plays a huge part in the telling of the story, set in the early 90s. It’s a snapshot of a time when attitudes were different and discourse around mental health was only just starting to break through the surface. Just as importantly, it’s a very human story, it’s full of love, loss and laughter.”
Writing and directing is something Chris admits he has always been passionate about and has been working towards over the years. He’s always been interested in the bigger picture when it comes to a production – not just the part he played in it as an actor.
“A show is only great if everybody involved in it treats everybody else with respect and holds them in the same esteem. A good production is a genuine team effort that starts long before the turns get involved.
“And I suppose the challenge has always appealed to me to see if I could in fact drive something like that, push it across the line and make it good. After 30 years working with some of the best writers and directors, I hope I’ve picked up a tip or two,” Chris smiles.
“The influences I’ve drawn on are from three of my favourite playwrights: Lee Hall, John Godber and Richard Bean,” he adds.
“The play is Brechtian in the sense that it never apologises for being a performance, with the three actors taking on many roles throughout the piece. In parts it’s very stylised, but ultimately, the performers are telling the truth; the characters are real.
And I’m hoping you’re going to fall in love with them. I’m sure you will,” he adds.
Chris’s long and successful acting career has seen him land a variety of roles – some of which were more challenging than others. From taking to the stage in his dream role as Alan Shearer at Live Theatre in Michael Chaplin’s ‘You Really Couldn’t Make it Up’, to taking on his most challenging role as Oliver Kilbourn on Broadway, Chris has never been phased by what challenges stood before him and is always looking for new and exciting opportunities, including his latest move into the world of writing and directing.
“I don’t want to say it’s been easy, because that would sound arrogant. What I mean is I’ve enjoyed it so much more than I expected. It’s been a pleasure to do and hasn’t felt too much like work at all. And of course we’ve received fantastic support from Live Theatre as part of the Bursary Scheme, which has included the invaluable input of my good friend, Steve Byron, as mentor for my first writing project.”
The play will be performed as part of Live’s Elevator Festival between 23 – 26 March.
Tickets are available via: live.org.uk