Writer and publisher Richard Lewis Davies remembers his friend, playwright, producer and director, Jeff Teare, who died suddenly and tragically on July 2nd, 2018, shortly after his production of Old Soldier.
It is two days before the opening night of a new play and Jeff Teare is on top form. The dress starts at 10.30. Sean Carlsen and Alison Lenihan are on the stage of the Melville Theatre in Abergavenny. The play is Old Soldier, which Jeff has adapted, created and is now directing from the books of the soldier and writer Frank Richards and the letters of his daughter, Margaret Holmes. The dramatist and director has produced a successful distillation of four hundred pages of text into a compellingone-hour script, and in a week, with the actors, has created a bit of magic that will happen live on Saturday night, 7.30 pm the 30th of June 2018. This will be his last show.
After the rehearsal Jeff runs through a series of short, perceptive notes – a comic “Darlings, you were wonderful, but…” The actors love him, as they always do. He is a shy, generous, thoughtful man. I sit at the back of the theatre and listen. He has been a good friend and mentor for twenty years and more now. He tells an excellent story but its only part of what he’s about. Afterwards, as he drinks a coffee, eating a sandwich, relaxing, thinking, looking forward to the excitement and revelations of another opening night, I congratulate him on the work of the week. It’s got shape. It’s going to work. He doesn’t take compliments easily but smiles and says “Yes, I think so. I’m looking forward to seeing what Margaret thinks of it…” Jeff will not be in the theatre on Saturday night. On the Friday morning just before the technical run, he collapses on the way to the theatre and is taken to the Neville Hall Hospital in Abergavenny with a suspected brain haemorrhage. He will not regain consciousness and dies on the Monday morning while his partner and wife, Sue Cartlidge holds his hand.
Old Soldier is somehow a distillation of a professional life spent in making and directing theatre, the actual realisation of working class, culturally diverse, socially committed theatre and story-telling with something to say. A journey that includes being one of the founder members of the Medium Fair Community Theatre Company, Studio and Theatre in Education Director at the Derby Playhouse, then Associate Director with Michael Bogdanov at the Leicester Phoenix Theatre. He continued as Associate Director with Bogdanov at the Young Vic, then becoming a Staff Director at the National Theatre on their production of Hiawatha, for which he arranged the music, after which Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Royal, Stratford East took him on as Associate Director with Philip Hedley.
He completed a range of work for Made in Wales Stage Company before recent international work with Theatre Science, the Wellcome Foundation and Jagriti Theatre in Bangalore. He was also a committed supporter of Equity and was chair of the Director’s committee for many years.
Jeff Teare ventured to Wales in the mid-nineties as director of Made in Wales – bringing a new energy and direction to the company in developing first work by writers such as Roger Williams and Othniel Smith and working with the best of a young generation of actors such as Lowri Mae, Sean Carlsen, James Westaway, Kieron Self and Hywel Morgan. A good number of shows sold out and toured including the hit, Gulp by Roger Williams, a dark comedy on Gay life in Cardiff while his work on Safar by Afshan Malik brought a fresh Asian voice to the stage. It was part of a hit-season in rep at the Point in the days when Welsh theatre was largely white and male. He was a mentor with many talents, generous with his time and advice. After Made in Wales he was able to move on and work internationally with the Wellcome Foundation through, Theatre Science, a company he founded with his fellow director and long-time friend, Rebecca Gould, including youth theatre projects in Uganda and also at the Jagriti Theatre in Bangalore. India was a place in which he was particularly successful and he professed an affinity with the style of theatre and the people he met. His father had served there in the British Army in the 1930s and his interest in the work of Frank Richards also had some roots in the conversations he wished he had with his father.
His latest work, Old Soldier, was a last synthesis of what Jeff Teare’s theatre skills had always been: an inspired talent for bringing ideas and people together to create new work.
Richard Lewis Davies is a publisher and writer. His short story, The Stars Above the City appears in Queer: An Anthology of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Fiction from Walesedited by Huw Osborne and Kirsti Bohata to be published in 2020.