by Emily Grimson
It’s been another busy couple of weeks for our new home: City Lit was cleared of our props over the weekend and they were moved to the Tower ready to be unpacked – no easy task! Thank you to Jean Carr for all of her hard work in arranging the move and to Moira McSperrin, Richard Pederson, Jude Chalk, Ruth Anthony, Richard Davies, Sara and Mike Nower, Wendy Parry, Tom Tillery and Cathy Thomas for all of your hard work and giving up your weekend to help. Thanks to you, we’re one step closer to having a fully functioning home.
Speaking of next steps, Rehearsal Room Two officially opened for business last week as the cast of Blue Orange, led by director Colette Dockery, made use of the room for the very first time!
As the project continues to come on in leaps and bounds, I took the time to chat to Project Leader, Nigel, about how he came to be involved, an unexpected Welsh connection and project highlights.
Nigel – first of all, can you tell me a little about yourself?
I’ve got a very general engineering and technical background. Electronics and computers to begin with, in the 80s, but then I started doing more building projects. About 15 years ago, I started seeing clients in London; one in particular, he’s a film producer and he has three flats in Fitzrovia so even though I’m based in mid Wales, this is the connection with coming to London and working. I do a lot of bathrooms; I did bathroom for Sarah and Stephen Ley two years ago and also last year I converted the top floor of their house for accommodation for Sarah’s mother. Even two years ago, they were talking about ‘oh we’re looking at buying this building’ and thinking what could I do; they said ‘can you do the cloakrooms? Because we need to remodel the cloakrooms’ and so it started off like that and eventually I’ve ended up being the main contractor for the whole building.
So, they told you it was going to be the cloakrooms and it ended up being the entire building?!
A great deal more, yeah. I’m used to running large contracts with 6 or 8 blokes at a time, so I’m experienced at that. It means that I don’t get to do the practical things that I like to do, it’s just I know how to make other people do it. There’s a lot of box ticking as far as health and safety goes these days, we’re very, very hot on that so everyone’s in hard hats and high vis vests and safety boots, they get their induction when they come. I’m digressing now, more about the project than myself!
Anyway, I’ve been in mid Wales for the past 25 years. It’s a small town called Llanidloes and it’s at the heart of the very middle of Wales and it’s quite rural. It’s a very small town and a lot of the guys that I’ve brought to work on this job, the first team that did the first sort of demolition are very close friends and colleagues of mine. Llanidloes, is the first town on the River Severn and the River Wye, just about 6 miles out of town; there’s two little hills with a saddle in between and all the water that goes one way becomes the River Severn and all the water that goes the other way becomes the River Wye. So, it’s a very special, magical little spot.
Sounds lovely! Do you have any other connections to the Tower?
No, that’s it!
How about connections to the theatre? Have you ever been involved in the theatre?
No, it’s a bit of a new world for me. I’ve been to the theatre, a few times, not too many times, but no it’s a new realm.
Do you have any favourite shows?
Well the last one I saw, was The Chimes and that was done by a friend, David Willis and it was done for the benefit of a homeless charity in London and Cardiff. I took my lady to see the show in Cardiff, because it’s an old Dickens Christmas play, A Christmas Carol is the famous one, but The Chimes is the next down the line. Well David Willis’ brother is customer number one in Fitzrovia, and he and I have worked together, for each other and he’s a friend of Sarah’s.
Oh, so there is sort of a connection!
They go back together, they both worked at the Drill Hall in London, which is round the corner from this flat. So, it’s all connections!
So, David Willis produced The Chimes and I made the chimes, it was like a set of orchestral chimes, made of scaffold tube.
So you make instruments as props as well?
No, they just said ‘can you do this?’ it was all for the benefit of the charity so, they covered expenses, but it was just by way of contributing to that show. So, yeah, that would be my favourite play. Because it was meaningful to go and watch it and hear the chimes that I made. That was just before Christmas last year, started off in Cardiff and then went to London.
So, there’s that Welsh/London connection again!
Can you tell me the highlight of this project? Is there a moment that just stands out?
Definitely. To create the auditorium, we had to take down an existing mezzanine floor and it was a massive task, a massive undertaking – 20 cubic yards of plaster board, 4 tons of steel girders that had to be chopped up in the sky and brought down in 5 foot lengths, each weighing about 100 kilos, and it was quite epic and we managed to do it completely safely and without incident and once we’d done that we were really like ‘wow’ and it meant that’s a whole area of operation that we’ve finished with now. Now we’re in the basement and we’re doing the cloakrooms. With the basement, the swimming pool had a concrete upstand going all the way around and that had to be removed, that was very epic because we used a service company who do what they call ‘concrete bursting’ and so they core with diamond drilling equipment these holes in the side of the concrete and then use massive hydraulic pressure to break the concrete, or burst the concrete apart, and we had to chop it up and get rid of it, so we couldn’t have done it without that service. That was a highlight, as you can see it’s all gone now. So that was quite epic. As well as my good friends and colleagues from Wales, I’ve also met and taken on staff here, they’ve all been jolly marvellous and wonderful, for the most part! It’s all ups and downs. So, yeah it’s been very epic and emotional, one hell of a project and I’m really glad to be involved.
What’s it like actually living on the project?
It’s a thing that I do, I tend to move in with my clients! It’s my brand, people are like ‘he’s alright he can stay’! So I stayed at Sarah and Stephen’s when I did the first bathroom for about two weeks and all of my work is what I call a very warm contact. It’s friends of friends; when I started doing this work 15 years ago, news travels and I don’t want for work in London. There’s obviously a limited amount of time I want to spend here compared with Wales. It’s often bathrooms and often two to three week projects, which is nice. This is really, really long. It’s been going on for 8 weeks now and perhaps another 4 or 5 to go, so it’s a long time being away from home and away from my partner. We only got together last year so we’re already missing each other!
Well, we’re very grateful to have you for all this time! Now that you’ve come across the Tower Theatre and its wonderful people, do you think you’ll come back and see one of our shows?
Absolutely, definitely, certainly. Definitely the first show I’d like to come here and just enjoy that and not have anything to do! Just have a drink, meet everyone and it’ll be a nice full-stop to the project and see what we’ve created is for something.
That’s the right answer! And after hearing about all of the hard work you’ve been doing, I for one will certainly be buying you an interval drink or two!