Of course, that’s not the full family history. My maternal grandmother’s family came from county Down, and she was every bit an Irish women (in “Absolute Beginners” there’s a story about a character’s mom being unable to stay in the apartment when the downstairs Italian neighbors were cooking with garlic and onion and basil, and that was my grandma, through and through), but my grandfather’s family had been sailing back and forth from England to the colonies since the Mayflower.
The most recent branch of that particular tree seems to reach from somewhere in Wales to Bristol, which is where my great-grandfather emigrated from.
I was fortunate enough to visit Bristol during the summer of 2010, and while there, I spent the afternoon walking through the SS Great Britain (which has been turned into a museum), and while there, I read the story of Captain Gray: a beloved captain who disappeared from the Britain mid-voyage.
This, I thought, would be an interesting play. After we left the museum, I made my notes while sitting with my wife and her friends, drinking authentic Bristol alcoholic cider (a local specialty that, unlike the American variety, is not carbonated, not sweet and has a distinctly bile-like consistency when you start in on a pint, but, also unlike the sickly-sweet American cider, really does improve once you get used to it.) I originally thought the play would focus on Captain Gray: his life aboard the ship and his reasons for suicide (I had decided to treat the disappearance as suicide). Soon, a second act was planned that focused on the wife that was waiting for him on the dock…then it was his wife in a tavern by the docks, and soon, Gray was removed from the play all together and the focus shifted to those waiting for the Britain and what that ship meant to them.
In the end, “If I Never Look Upon This Land Again” is only about those who are left behind, those looking for a second (or third) chance, and those who are “redeemed by faith alone.”
This Dialogue with Three Chords is the most Punk Rock one so far, which seems strange to say about a play that takes place during the Victorian era, but this is a one-take and hit the stage night. “If I never Look Upon This Land Again” and the curtain raiser “An Ugly, Lovely Town” are brand new and will be rehearsed/workshop for two nights prior. These pieces will find their legs in front of an audience.
“An Ugly, Lovely Town” is set in present day South Wales, in a town called, Newport. Specifically, in Pillgwenlly, a spot under a transporter bridge that straddles the river Usk. It’s about a bar called “The Wild Hunt”, a young man and woman meeting for the first time, and a dead place named for a redeemed pirate saint.
It’s set in Wales because it’s close to Bristol, and because the people of that region, to quote Raymond Williams, “talked about ‘the English’ who were not us, and also ‘the Welsh’ who were not us.”