Newport Playgoers Society’s production of Tonto Evans by Frank Vickery plays the Dolman Theatre this Spring.
A farce set in the Welsh Valleys, the story focuses on Ray ‘Tonto’ Evans, an ex-miner and Western fanatic who loves dressing up as a Native American. He is bedridden due to a breathing problem when he gets a windfall. He plans to blow it all on a dream trip to America, but Mair, his long-suffering wife, has other ideas. They wrangle non-stop while their son Wayne and his dozy wife Wendy plan a trip to Disneyland with their share of the money, but all their plans are put on hold when their other son John, a local policeman, and their neighbour Fat Pat are forced to conduct a murder enquiry. The play is one of celebrated Welsh writer Frank Vickery’s most ingenious comedies filled with hilarious one-liners and moments of pure slapstick.
Tonto Evans was originally scheduled for performance in the Dolman Theatre during April 2020 and the play was already in rehearsal when lockdown struck. To add to this, Richard Dymond, the director of the play and a much-loved actor of the society sadly passed away after a short illness.
When the theatre re-opened for the 2021-22 season, long-standing member of Newport Playgoers Society (NPS), Chris Bissex-Williams stepped in to direct the play in memory of Richard.
Steve Bissex-Williams plays the title role. Steve has a long list of theatre credits with NPS, including Alan Ayckbourn’s Time of Your Life, playing six different characters. He also recently directed a critically acclaimed production of Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman for the company.
Here, Thomas Howells chats to both Chris and Steve about Tonto Evans.
Interview with Chris Bissex-Williams, Director of Frank Vickery’s Tonto Evans
How did you become involved as director?
Because of COVID we had to postpone the performances until now because they were originally meant to be performed last year.
Richard Dymond was meant to be directing the production. Sadly, he died, and Newport Playgoers decided as a tribute to Richard that the play should go on. Because I’m Stephen’s (who plays Tonto) partner,I thought I should step in to direct.
You’ve been involved as a director of a lot of productions over the years, how is Tonto Evans different?
I have directed some comedies in the past, but this is the first farce that I’ve directed. I’ve directed all sorts of plays Waiting in the Wings by Noël Coward to Murder by Death. I started with Wind in the Branches of the Sassafras of which I directed about 40 years ago and I’ve probably directed in the region of 15 productions since.
Can you tell us about Tonto Evans?
Well, it’s set in the Welsh valleys and Tonto is an ex-miner. He’s mad about westerns and Native Americans, of which he likes dressing up as one. He’s been incapacitated because of his work down the mines for some years and so he’s now stuck in bed waiting for the end. His wife must look after him and he gives her a hard time. Several people are involved in the play including his neighbour Pat, his son and daughter-in-law Wayne and Wendy and another son, John, who happens to be a policeman.
What do you hope the audiences will take away from seeing Tonto Evans?
I hope they’ll go away laughing and I hope they’ll have belly ache-with laughing, because it is a very funny play!
Interview with Steve Bissex-Williams (Tonto Evans)
Can you tell us about the role you’re playing?
Yes! He’s quite an endearing character in some ways. He’s irritable, but in very humorous way. He drives his wife crazy because he is bedridden and so needs a lot of attention. He’s got the most amazing lines to deliver and obviously has this passion for Country & Western music. For most of his life, he’s gone around the valleys clubs as a tribute to Frankie Laine and he also loves dressing up as a Native American!
What did you find appealing about the role?
When Richard Dymond rang me saying, “Will you please consider this role” I looked at it and thought, “Well it’s nothing like I’ve ever played before!” I first couldn’t see myself playing this character. I’ve never done farce before, so that was quite interesting! Now, as the rehearsals have progressed, I love him, and I’ve got a real passion for the character.
Has there been anything about the role that has proved a challenge to you as an actor?
Yes! The swearing! Every other word is a swear word, not strong language but words like that finishing every sentence, so that’s been very different for me! Also trying to channel this miner because, this sounds terribly elitist, but I’ve never seen myself as being a guy that goes down the pit. Channelling that has been quite a challenge.
What do you like about the script?
The humour. I think the audience will straight away say “Oh gosh! I know an uncle exactly like that! I know a nosy neighbour like Fat Pat.” The daughter-in-law, well you see so many of these kinds of characters performed by people like Catherine Tate and Little Britain who use these characters well. She’s the laziest chav in town and so that’s very humorous and I think the audience will be able to associate with so many of the characters.
What do you hope the audience will take away from the show?
Most definitely the humour and as I said, I think they will be able to compare a lot of the scenarios that we are acting out in their own lives. That’s the one thing about Frank Vickery, it’s a little bit like Victoria Wood’s work, when you watch a sketch of hers, you know some people might be bigger and larger than life, but you know that character or you’ve seen the character portrayed.
- Tonto Evans will be performed at the Dolman Theatre, Newport from Tuesday 8th March until Friday 11th March at 7:15pm with a Matinee at 2pm on Saturday 12th March.
- Photographs by Thomas Howells.