On Bear Ridge
Royal Court Theatre, London

Sion Daniel Young interview: 'It’s important that theatre isn’t just the norm we've become used to'

Having opened at National Theatre Wales in Cardiff last month, Ed Thomas’ latest play On Bear Ridge is set to bring a touch of Cymru to the Royal Court, where artistic director Vicky Featherstone directs.

Set at an abandoned butchery/petrol station in secluded Wales, the play stars Rakie Ayola, Jason Huges, Rhys Ifans and Sion Daniel Young – a 100% Welsh cast – to tell the story.

We caught up with Young as he was preparing to stage the play and asked him whether he thinks there will be any difference in the reception the play receives from Welsh and London audiences, and what he’s learnt from some of his recent theatre credits, which include War Horse, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and Jellyfish.

This is a very Welsh play: completely Welsh cast, it’s set in Wales, you had a run n Wales before the Royal Court run. How are you finding that?

It felt right the way we opened it in Wales and rehearsed there before we brought it to the Court. For me, it’s lovely because I live back here now after I moved to London when I graduated. 

We know it’s set in Wales, but what is it about?

The crux of it is about grief and loss and love. It’s set right now at an out-of-service butchers’ shop and petrol station in Wales. Without giving too much away, one man’s arrival sparks a big opening from the rest of us where we find ourselves able to talk about things we haven’t been able to previously. It does feel very Welsh and it’s about language, but it also feels very universal; you don’t need a knowledge of Wales to be able to connect.

Do you think you’ll get a different reaction in London as you did in Wales?

I don’t think so. I did a similar thing with Killlology a few years ago, and we started at the Sherman and then took it to the Royal Court. I remember wondering then if the London audience would get it in the same way and they did, and I think it will be the same thing with this. It might be a bit more personal to a Welsh audience, but I don’t think there’ll be anything lacking.


Your career started in Wales with National Theatre Wales, and then you had two pretty major roles with the Royal National Theatre here in London. How were War Horse and Curious Incident for you?

They were massive parts of my life. A year-contract is a big commitment and with War Horse especially, I was very young having just graduated. That experience definitely helped when I came to do Christopher in Curious Incident, which was an even bigger commitment just because of the nature of that role. That was a really hard but a really brilliant year, something I’m really proud of.

What made that role so difficult?

Christopher’s brain works in its own specific way, so the commitment to making sure you’re always putting across his thought process is very draining. His energy requires a lot from you as an actor. The repetition of doing eight shows a week over an entire year is very draining, but you get what you put into it because the audience reception is so moving, you feel that give you the energy to keep going out there every night and doing it. Christopher and that year still mean a lot to me.

You were most recently in London in a short run of Jellyfish at the National. It was such an interesting play and your character especially was so complex…

That was such a short job because we only did 20 performances, so I never really felt like I got to gauge what the audiences thought but from my point of view, it was a really lovely script with a lovely cast and a great, diverse team behind it. I was lucky to be a part of that. I could tell it was a piece of theatre that people were really pleased that it was happening. It’s important that the theatre isn’t just the norm we've become used to. Obviously Sarah [Gordy] was brilliant, as was Nicky [Priest], it was another learning curve to work in a different way but very satisfying. I think there might be more life to that at some point.

What kind of lessons?

A real patience, and that came across from the audience as well. There were moments that if things do go wrong, it’s okay, because the occasion of that play and the positives and diversity was so important, then actually that was a lot bigger than the little mistake happening. It felt like it was much bigger than the two hours we spent on stage.

Are there any similar lessons you might have learnt from the process with On Bear Ridge?

You can’t really compare the two because the way we’re working is so very different, but with this we’re working with three actors who are greatly experienced on screen and on stage so for me it’s an opportunity to watch people work, and with a director like Vicky Featherstone and with Ed in the room, it’s great to just be a sponge because I’m aware how fortunate I am to be in this room.

On Bear Ridge is at the Royal Court until 23rd November.

On Bear Ridge tickets are available now.

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