Actor, writer and panel member for charity Adferiad Recovery. Richard Mylan has been shortlisted for a coveted The Stage Debut Award for his first play, Sorter.
The Stage Debut Awards are the only UK awards dedicated to recognising breakthrough theatre talent. They celebrate emerging actors and creatives, from all backgrounds.
Back in late 2021, former Waterloo Road actor Mylan, with friends actor and facilitator Michelle McTernan, actor, writer and director Christian Patterson and singer songwriter Steve Balsamo approached Swansea Council with a big idea. They wanted to tell Swansea stories.
Michelle explains, “We asked ourselves the question: Why isn’t the premier theatre in our city a world class producing house? Swansea has such a wealth of talent, an incredibly rich cultural heritage, so why then do so many artists and creatives go elsewhere for work?”
Council bosses agreed that this local team could be the ones to make a difference, and so Grand Ambition was born. They set to work with their first task being to produce a special Gala celebrating 125 years of Swansea Grand Theatre and making contact with a wealth of community and cultural organisations across the city. They attracted funding from the public and private sector to deliver Future Blood Swansea and TAG, projects offering music and theatre training opportunities to young people in the city and produced their first theatre production, Caryl Churchill’s A Number.
With all this under their belt in under a year, they produced Sorter, a Swansea based play that Mylan had written during lockdown. Sorter tells the stories of two very different people with addiction in Swansea, it premiered at the city’s Swansea Grand Theatre in March 2023. Grand Ambition’s first original production asked if there is such a thing as an “acceptable” addict, and why as a society do we make a distinction?
Mylan wrote Sorter as a way of coming to terms with his own 20-year battle with heroin addiction. He also performed in the play alongside acclaimed Swansea-raised actress Sophie Melville. It was directed by another Swansea native, Francesca Goodridge (Barn Theatre, Theatr Clwyd) and designed by Jacob Hughes (National Theatre, Young Vic, Royal Court) with lighting design by Cara Hood (Leeway Productions, Theatr na nÓg).
The production received lottery funding from Welsh Government through Arts Council Wales Create scheme and from Tŷ Cerdd, Music Centre Wales for the commissioning of tracks from prog rock duo ChimpanA (Rob Reed and Grand Ambition director Steve Balsamo), to create a soundtrack for Sorter, alongside sound design from Russell Ditchfield (Theatr Clwyd).
Every performance of the piece included integrated captions. To complement the production, Grand Ambition paired with recovery charity Adferiad and housing association Pobl for an outreach and awareness project.
Richard Mylan said,“I wrote Sorter for myself initially; it’s been a crucial part of my recovery from heroin addiction. The process ended up being incredibly cathartic and healing. It ultimately allowed me to make sense of an extremely chaotic period of my life. Researching & writing Sorter has been instrumental in my understanding of this.
“Addiction can rob you of ambition, of opportunity, added to that, the stigma around addiction means that you are generally denied the chance of reconnecting with your ambition and opportunity, because stigma almost brands you for life as unworthy, untrustworthy, undeserving of opportunity, of wanting to progress.
“It’s why I didn’t speak publicly about my addiction in the past. Stigma is the root cause of a distinct societal lack of empathy and understanding. We have to challenge that. If we shift the stigma, we shift recovery towards more meaningful, prosperous outcomes that reconnect people more to who they really are.
Capacity audiences, lots of first-time attendees – many with lived experience of addiction, fabulous feedback and a raft of four and five star reviews followed as the team were left stunned by the level of success they had achieved with their first ‘homegrown’ production. Now Mylan finds himself on a shortlist that includes company friend and Sorter producer Jennifer Lunn (for her own first play Es & Flo) as well as comedy legend Sir Lenny Henry!
Richard continues:“My hope was that Sorter could help others struggling with addiction, those in recovery & the friends & family who battle with them. I very much hope it helped people and organisations in Swansea challenge their empathy response to people with addiction, why we consider some forms of addiction to be more socially acceptable than others.
“I hope it can lead to bigger conversations where ultimately all addictions are treated equally with empathy, dignity & understanding. It would be lovely if this nomination leads to it having a further life on stage. A nomination for best writer is a special moment for me. Sorter was the most rewarding, healing & truly life affirming experience of my career & to be recognised for that tops off one hell of a ride”.
Richard and the team will have a bit of a wait to find out if he has scooped the coveted award, with the announcement being made at a ceremony in London on Sunday 1st October.
In the meantime, they are keeping busy developing Michelle McTernan’s play Hop for family audiences with funding from Arts Council Wales. Later in the year they will coproduce Wales Iranian writer Lisa Zahra’s play Baba Joon with The Other Room; Zahra is also from Swansea. More sessions of Future Blood Swansea and TAG take place throughout the autumn and the team is also developing two more Swansea based plays: Mumfighter by Tracy Harris and Bonnie by first time writer Frankie Williams.