Monday, 29 May 2017

Gaslight by Eloise Williams

Our guest for May is Eloise Williams

Credit: Angharad Thomas photography
This is what Eloise tells us about herself:

Sixer of Pixies. Child of the 70s. Survived encephalitis, pizza thrown in face, a decade as an actor, school, endless years of Heavy Metal abuse from younger sister’s room. Lives in West Wales. Lives for the sea, love, repeats of ‘Murder She Wrote’, for as long as she can. 'Elen's Island' was Highly Commended for the T'ir na nOg Awards. 'Gaslight' is Eloise's second book.

My love of the theatre goes back to childhood.

One of my very first memories is watching Yul Brynner onstage at the London Palladium in ‘The King and I’. Of course, at the time I had no idea who Yul Brynner was but I can remember the excitement of the trip to the Big Smoke, the vivid colours of the costumes, the joke where Anna’s hooped skirt reveals her bloomers as she attempts to bow. I was hooked by the atmosphere, the magic of the lights, the glamour, the glitter, the applause. Who wouldn’t be?

I trained as a Drama teacher at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in my early twenties and was fortunate enough to follow a module on the history of theatre. I loved it all but was particularly drawn to the theatre of the Victorian age. I’ve always been a fan of the Victorian. Not the glorious dresses and the well-to-do side of things. More the ghosts of Jacob Marley and the Woman in Black. Gravediggers at Highgate Cemetery, foggy streets with cutthroats on every corner, and, of course, gaslights.
I could imagine Sir Henry Irving as another worldly creature onstage at The Lyceum in ‘The Bells’. I wrote my dissertation for the BA on Irving’s influence in Bram Stoker’s creation of Dracula, and talked of his face glowing green in the limelight, the long shadows his frame would have cast against the scenery, his stooped stance and otherworldliness. That period of history reached out to me.

When we talked about the Greeks letting people out of prison so they could experience the catharsis of theatre, I was impressed, but I couldn’t imagine it. When Oscar Wilde quips were thrown at me I laughed, and then immediately forgot them. There was something magical about the Victorian. Something that was already there in my psyche.

Don’t worry I’m not talking about reincarnation, or claiming that I was Ellen Terry in a past life. I think it’s more to do with my childhood. My doll’s house was Victorian, my actual house was Victorian, the woman I wanted to be when I grew up – Jean Simmons as Estella Havisham - was a Dickens creation, Narnia was navigated by a lamppost which looked pretty Victorian to me. The list goes on…

Gaslight came to fruition a long time later but if I really analyse it I’d been writing it in my head for about twenty years.

Cardiff is my birthplace and my first love as a city. You can actually feel the history there as you walk the streets. It’s a fascinating place of flat vowels (I proudly own them myself) and kindness. Close enough to The Valleys to have a feeling of community, on the Bristol channel, so the air is fresh and salty. I knew when I looked out of that lecture room window to the grounds of Bute Park below (I spent a lot of time staring out when I should have been concentrating) that Cardiff was going to play an important role in a story one day, I just didn’t realise I would be the one telling it.

With its theatres and castles, the sweep of the rivers towards the docks, the tunnel they were then building beneath Tiger Bay, the coal export, the fog, the dramatic tumble and dance of the city, I found the perfect place for a foundling to start her story.

My mother disappeared on the 6th of September 1894.

I was found at the docks in Cardiff lying like a gutted fish at the water’s edge.

Or, more accurately, you could say that the place found me. It just took me a while to listen.

1 comment:

Susan Price said...

That's a great opening.