A local playwright and London-based actor have teamed up to bring the real-life story of hair salon owners who shunned gossip magazines and tabloids in the wake of Caroline Flack's death to a Jersey stage.
Simon MacDonald's #BeKind movement-inspired 'Sometime, Somewhere', which will be performed on Friday and Saturday, is the result of a residency with the Jersey Arts Centre.
Express caught up with him ahead of opening night...
"It's been quite a long journey," Simon MacDonald says when recalling his creative endeavours to date.
Pictured: Simon performing at the Arts Centre previously. (Wayne Stewart)
After studying drama at the University of East Anglia, Simon moved to Jersey with his family in the late 90s and soon became a storyteller at Jersey Heritage, writing and performing one-man shows based on local myths and legends, from the Black Dog of Bouley Bay to the Dragon of La Hougue Bie.
"I was trying to find out a bit more about Jersey, which was very different to London where I was born and brought up and Norwich where I went to uni," he explained. "It was a good way of immersing myself in the local history."
Simon then went into primary teaching and, became "a performer of a different kind". Then came stand-up comedy shows for kids and a long running double page spread in the Jersey Evening Post called 'Simon Says', which he worked on with illustrator Mark Jackson.
The latter inspired him to write more, including plays for other people. He had the opportunity to do both with like-minded friends at Plays Rough, a local writing group founded by Ben Evans and Leon Fleming.
"We had the support of Jasmine Hendry at Jersey Opera House – she gave us the drama studio every week and we would be performing scripts in hand, doing whatever we wanted to do," Simon recalls.
Then, Simon started moving away from performing to focus on writing and directing long form dramatic plays. During the pandemic, with more people opening their "virtual doors", Simon says he he got to be in more rooms with people. And that is where the journey of 'Sometime, Somewhere' started.
Supported by ArtHouse Jersey, it was selected by Make It Beautiful, a London-based theatre company, for their first SHORTS Festival and staged at the White Bear Theatre in London in 2021. Over the course of this month, Simon has been developing the screenplay during a residency at the Jersey Arts Centre.
In its first iteration, the show was a monologue about the 'Be Kind' movement, which grew on social media following the death of TV Presenter Caroline Flack, who tragically took her own life after a "particularly difficult time in her life".
Pictured: Simon's children, who all took part in 'One of Those Streets' with him.
"Unfortunately, this terrible thing happened and, although I am not your kind of typical consumer of reality TV, I was aware of the coverage," Simon said.
"I happened to catch this segment, I think it was on BBC Essex – thank god for regional reporting – about this woman who was running a hairdressing salon and had made the decision to ban tabloids, saying, 'We are part of the problem, we consume this and perpetuate this problem.' She was taking a stand and I thought, 'My god that is such a political statement to make.' I thought these people need to be applauded and lauded."
'Sometime, Somewhere' may have grown from a five-page screenplay with one person talking to a client – aka the audience – to 40 pages with many more characters, but there will still be only one actor on stage, Alice McCracken.
"She's got such versatility, she definitely has the potential to carry that show," Simon said. "It will be really demanding for Alice, but I think she will do a great job, it shows off her skills in a particular way."
While Simon hopes to one day take the show to the Edinburgh Fringe – "I have always wanted to take something there and it would be so great to take something that you are very proud of" – he also hopes it will find "some resonance" in the island.
"It's a small community: everybody knows somebody who knows something about you and who you are," he explained. "I hope that element is something that the audience sees and recognises.
"We do not have tabloids but that whole sense of people knowing the business of everybody else is quite particular. I do think we live cheek by jowl here."
Even though he has been focusing on writing lately, Simon says he is not against performing, which he recently did for 'One of Those Streets', a play in which his whole family – his wife, their four children and their partners – was involved.
"We were asked by Jersey Arts Centre to open up their 40th anniversary celebrations, we could not believe the great kind of honour!" he said. "I was expecting to write, but I had a major part to play!
"The problem is, the older I get, the harder it is to remember lines! It's easier to remember if I have written it!
"I am not against performing, but I do feel more in tune with writing for others and their writing demands. I did enjoy being in 'One of Those Streets' as a performer and a writer, but it would just depend how I feel that day!"
In the meantime, though, he is looking forward to seeing 'Sometime, Somewhere' on stage, particularly especially given he wasn't able to see it the first time around due to covid. "I thought it would be really nice to show it again, and, thanks to [Arts Centre Director] Daniel Austin, we made it a reality! We have the whole week to work on it and rehearse it.
"ArtHouse Jersey supported the first iteration, and we now have the support of Jersey Arts Centre this time around, I am super grateful for all of that. I hope we can put on a great show and make people think!"
'Sometime, Somewhere' is on at the Jersey Arts Centre on Friday 14 and Saturday 15 April at 20:00 and tickets can be booked through the Arts Centre Box Office.
This article first appeared in the April edition of Connect Magazine, which you can read in full below...
Pictured top: Simon working on his latest play with Alice McCracken.
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