Review: Sharon Morgan: Actores a Mam
The latest instalment of Sharon Morgan’s memoirs presents us with the myriad challenges of the acting life and of life itself, no least that of trying to act at all when you’re pregnant, or even more so when a new mother, trying too breastfeed or be in three places at once.
Luckily Morgan’s own mother helped in every way possible and her indomitable spirit presides over the book, right up until her death from lung cancer, which she faced with the sort of fortitude one would expect from her after reading about her.
Like its predecessor volume, Hanes Rhyw Gymraes, the new book is candid and crisply written, offering many insights into theatre-making and its colourful characters both on and off of the stage.
There’s the time-killing involved in making films and tv, and the uncertainties of money coming in to pay the bills. Throughout all of this we see an actor committed to the craft of acting, often turning down better paid work for stuff that challenges, probes or pushes Morgan further.
The teetering balancing act between being a mother and being an actor, plus the pressures of having to make a living made Morgan very aware of the inequalities of the sexes and made her a feminist, reading her way into the subject through the works of the likes of Margaret Drabble, Betty Friedan and Marilyn French and confirming her beliefs.
But, as she avers, by the time the third wave of feminism broke the first two had yet to do so in Wales.
The book starts with the testing and difficult birth of Morgan’s son, Steffan and his life is also an arc in it, as we track his progress through school and aikido and his growing love of football and see how there’s something inevitable about his becoming a maker of tv programmes as he appears on telly at an early age and spends a lot of time on various sets.
A lot of inspiring things happen to Morgan during the years here described. The Wooster Group bring their brand of experimental theatre to Cardiff’s Chapter Arts centre. She lands a plum role alongside Ronnie Baker in ‘The Magnificent Evans’ and acts alongside Glenda Jackson in Karl Francis’ ‘Giro City.’
And then there is the dizzy excitement of being involved in the early productions of Ed Thomas’ ‘House of America’ described by David Adams in The Guardian as ‘an explosion of guilt, passion, angst and cultural concern, in which murder, incest, fantasy ad matters of identity are interwoven.’
Then there is acting in Siwan Jones’ ‘Tair Chwaer’ for tv, both a critical and popular hit and, pivotally, her involvement with Teliesyn, the tv co-operative that gave her many important opportunities both as an actor, and latterly as a presenter, often highlighting women’s lost histories.
But plenty of things also go wrong in the world of acting and often on set. There’s the comedy of errors that is a Welsh language version of George Borrow’s ‘Wild Wales’ where the heavy lighting equipment is almost washed away in a flood while the shambolic director is christened ‘Ffa Ffa’ because she knows eff all about eff all.
Creativity and politics are two mainstays of Morgan’s life, and she has been an active campaigner on language issues and women’s rights.
The book charts her development as a writer even as it shows us how she tried to be a director and chose another path.
She also tells us about her relationships and the break-ups too, all adding to the sense of how difficulty often threatens to meld into impossibility when it comes to making a living as an actor while also being a single mother.
And when she becomes a mother again, in her forties, there are great surges of love for her daughter Saran, but also the juggling acts become ever more difficult, more testing and tiring.
The book is not short of strong opinion. Morgan, a self-described anti-authoritarian rails against the fact that S4C’s entire budget is that of just two episodes of ‘The Crown.’
She bristles at the way BAFTA Cymru has become more corporate, ironically distancing itself from Wales as big companies from outside move in.
She also criticizes the phenomenon of ‘Welshface’ where English actors are cast in productions over Welsh ones when they can’t do the accents, or in the case of Welsh language productions, can’t even read the words held up on a board for them.
We all know of such examples. Morgan cites some of the casting in the cinema version of ‘House of America’ among egregious examples. It’s a film that left her personally disappointed.
Despite all the challenges that came her way and the obstacles that were strewn in her path, we also know from the calibre of the work that Morgan took the opportunities when they came and fashioned some of them for herself, from penning one-woman shows (and actually penning them, as she shunned the use of a computer) and winning not one but three BAFTA awards for her performances.
She has acted in three languages – in English, Welsh and French – and was a mainstay as the cool-headed pathologist in the grisly ‘A Mind to Kill’ and had some really memorable roles in films such as ‘Martha, Jac a Sianco’ which almost had her typecast as a tragic farmwife thereafter, but not quite.
Here is another frank and engaging account of a period of Sharon Morgan’s life, a charting of the rise and fall and rise again of a struggling actor, flailing against life’s injustices, or noting the diminishing opportunities for actors in Wales as such bodies as the BBC diminish their commitment to local drama to vanishing point.
And throughout all this, as the title of the book portends, Sharon Morgan carries off the most testing and rewarding role in life, that of being a mother.
It’s one without newspaper plaudits or encores, but it’s clearly the one that had given her the greatest rewards, a son and daughter, being extraordinary awards that she clearly treasures beyond words.
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