TIGER BAY: NOEL SULLIVAN | INTERVIEW
Ahead of the premiere of the WMC’s grand premiere of Tiger Bay, Rhonda Lee Reali had a chat with one of its stars, Cardiff’s own Noel Sullivan.
Like its more famous counterparts in Liverpool, San Francisco and Shanghai, Cardiff’s docks are full of history – good and bad. Though the neighbourhood is long-vanished, its legacy still endures, with Tiger Bay The Musical arriving soon. Co-produced by Wales Millennium Centre and Cape Town Opera, it is based on the book by Michael Williams (authoring the script and lyrics here), with music by Dafydd James and direction by Melly Still.
“It’s a brand new, original story”, said Sullivan. “It’s set in Edwardian Cardiff, around 1908 when the immigrants were kind of running the docks and when The Marquess of Bute was in charge of coal production in South Wales. [Tiger Bay] is reminiscent of Les Miz and very much the show Cardiff deserves.”
Sullivan, who’s been singing all his life, last graced the WMC stage in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels two years ago. He was looking for a change when he was chosen for one of the starring parts in Tiger Bay. “I only wanted to do theatre that was new and exciting…as opposed to walking into productions that had existed previously. The nice thing about Tiger Bay is that I’m the first person to play this role. I’m creating it from scratch. It’s exciting to be back in Wales doing the biggest ever production that the WMC have mounted, and it’s about my home, so it’s amazing.”
“I’m playing Seamus O’ Rourke. He was more of a featured role in South Africa, and they’ve re-written the show after the work I did on it. Now my part is a lot meatier. It was a compliment to what I had done in South Africa.” His ratio of singing to speaking is half and half. “I do have some belting music! It’s very high and very complex, really challenging, but it’s great because [O’ Rourke] is such a mean guy. It’s nice to have music that reflects his personality and to be able to belt it out like that is really satisfying.”
“I’m playing the harbourmaster of Cardiff. He’s the controller, the puppeteer to a lot of situations. He has a fiancée, and also a lover who’s hidden away. He’s trying to con the Marquess of Bute out of a lot of money… He’s got a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, and he’s juggling all these different things.”
The character is very different from Sullivan’s previous roles, and the actor is spreading his wings. “It’s nice to see and to feel that transition from boy to man. I’m 37 now, and I’m starting to get those roles that are challenging me more. [You’re] not just resting on the easy go-to tricks. You have to dig a little deeper and build a character from scratch, which is not an easy task but is ultimately more rewarding.”
Sullivan has a history connected to the area as his grandfather worked on the docks. “We have some family connections to the docks, as I think everybody who’s from Cardiff has. Growing up, loads of my friends were of different heritage because their parents worked on the docks or passed through. The story that we’re telling now is about everybody in Cardiff’s ancestors. I think people will be surprised by the title of Tiger Bay. We’re telling a historical story of how people came to be in Wales, and the struggle of worker’s rights, women’s rights and all those things. [Tiger Bay] is very political, but it’s a very epic, exciting tale. It could be a brilliant piece of theatre that could represent Wales on the world stage.” Might it be headed to the West End and beyond? “I don’t know where it’s going to go, but I know that Cardiff won’t be the last that the world sees of Tiger Bay.”
Wales Millenium Centre, Cardiff. Mon 13 Nov – Sat 25 Nov. Tickets: £7-£39. Info: 029 2063 6464 / wmc.org.uk