x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Gaddas brothers launch enterprise to bring drama to UAE

The new Dubai-based theatre company Raw aims to bring innovative drama productions to the UAE, say the brothers behind it.

Chris, left, and James Gaddas plan to present classic theatre ‘where the location becomes as much a part of the experience as the text’
Chris, left, and James Gaddas plan to present classic theatre ‘where the location becomes as much a part of the experience as the text’

Imagine sitting on Jumeirah Beach at sunset, watching a performance of Treasure Island, with Robert Louis Stephenson's Long John Silver coming ashore with his motley crew of pirates and miscreants and the real sea and sky as the backdrop.

Or imagine a makeshift theatre somewhere on the dockside at Port Rashid setting the scene for On the Waterfront, the 1954 American drama about mob violence and corruption among longshoremen and the film that made a star out of Marlon Brando.

It's not hard to envisage a production of King Lear or Romeo and Juliet at somewhere like Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain, where some revolutionary theatre, such as the Shakespeare in Arabic production of Richard III, has already been staged, but perhaps you get the drift. We're talking about "event theatre", matching some of the UAE's most interesting venues with an imaginatively produced play. It could also be described as the theatrical equivalent of the currently fashionable "pop-up restaurants" that swap venues every few weeks.

Would you buy a ticket? I certainly would and that's what the Gaddas brothers are banking on. James Gaddas is one of British television's most familiar faces, a Royal Shakespeare Company-trained actor who went on to appear as Vinny Sorrel in Coronation Street and later as Governor Grayling in the prison series Bad Girls.

He has many more credits to his name including Dr Robert Nevin in Granada's Medics, Detective Inspector Latham in A Class Act as well as leading roles in The Camomile Lawn, Backup and Doctors.

His younger brother Chris, 43, a businessman who once also trained as an actor and in stage management at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, is now a UAE resident and the pair have set up a new concept in theatre for the region. They call their new company Raw.

Chris, an oil and gas consultant who also has his own business translating specialised instructions into different languages, explains: "When we were explaining it to people, the word 'raw' kept coming up. We want it to be raw and exciting and it seemed like a good name for the company."

Specialising in classic theatre stripped to the bone, the words they use in their publicity material to describe the new project are "visceral, exciting, tangible and accessible, stepping out of the traditional theatre space, staging performances in areas where the location becomes as much a part of the overall experience as the text itself".

"Our productions will blend British actors and the talents of the UAE, actors, musicians and dancers. Expect bold, passionate and above all … Raw,'' explains Chris.

The brothers have always wanted to do something artistic together but until now Chris's life has taken a different route in business and James has seldom been out of work on television and on the stage. He has just finished in a touring production of Eric Idle's hit musical Spamalot.

Says Chris: "I spent three years at college and stayed in the industry for two years but it was hard. Even James struggled on beans and blancmange for two years before he got his break.

"We have always wanted to do something together. When I decided to come out here it made sense, but we could never get round the table to talk it through until now."

Two years ago they formed a theatrical production company, quaintly named Belmondo Hat after a London shop, to bring a play called All the Great Books Abridged to Dubai's Madinat Theatre. At the time, James's wife Debbie was considering coming out here to open a ballet school, although she opted for London in the end.

Successful as the show was, the cost of hiring a venue and bringing out entire productions made that impractical as a permanent business. Says James: "The problem that we have is that when you come over from the UK you are landed with all the costs of bringing out a production plus the cost of hiring a venue and the worry about whether it's going to sell. It costs about Dh350,000 for one production and that doesn't include the hire of a theatre. There is a lot of red tape. So Belmondo Hat was a one-off production.

"What we want to do is try and use talent that is already here as well as bringing people out. There are people here that want to act but don't want to leave the country but there haven't been the opportunities for them."

The new theatre company would provide regular workshops for aspiring young actors and the brothers envisage working with local schools. "Many students would love to go to drama school so we're thinking of that too."

In the long term they will be looking for their own space, perhaps a warehouse where new and challenging productions could be staged. They also plan to run playwriting competitions, giving local writers a chance to see their work on stage.

With the friends and contacts he has made in British theatre and television series, James expects the quality of actors coming here to appear in Raw productions to be very high.

"If we had our own space we could bring actors in regularly. You get someone leaving a series they might have been in for six or seven years and having a break but not wanting to commit to something long-term too quickly, who is willing to try something like this short-term. They might want to have a go at playing a Shakespeare lead."

Auditions will be held next month for their first production which will probably be a Shakespeare play, The Tempest, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet or The Taming of the Shrew. There will be a cast of about 15 actors, of whom five will be imported from London.

They hope to put on Treasure Island at Christmas on a location on Jumeirah Beach. James Gaddas may play Long John Silver although he will also direct the show.

The brothers chose to launch Raw in the UAE rather than back in London because out here it hasn't been done before.

"It's a much bigger market in the UK and there are too many people doing it there," says James. "Doing it here gives us the opportunity of being at the front of something rather than behind. We started talking about it six months ago. We don't want to take too much of a risk but if you don't take any risk then you never do anything.

"We don't want just to breeze into town, do a play and go. We want to be involved. It makes sense at this stage in our lives, too. We both have an artistic side and Chris has the business side. Also, I didn't want to get stuck doing the same things that I'm doing in the UK.

"When I came out last time, one of the things that became very apparent was that it was very difficult to keep things bubbling along if there was nobody here permanently, so having Chris here, the decision was easier."

Chris, James and their two sisters, Kim and Melanie, were born in Stockton on Tees, where their father, Tom, was a professional wrestler. Chris jokes that he "toured with Michael Jackson" but confesses that he drove a van as part of the star's backstage crew.

"James and I were very close as boys. He was heavily into make-up and would turn himself into horrid characters and wake me up and terrify me. We were all very musical and used to sing in bands."

James adds: "Father would love to have been an actor but came from a poor northern family and never had the opportunity. So when we showed interest he gave us both tremendous support. He was away a lot, six months in the desert and two weeks at home, so it made us even closer."

When James landed a part in an adaptation of the Catherine Cookson novel Black Candle their father joined the cast as an extra.

James is one of those actors who has managed to sustain an almost seamless career, moving from Coronation Street to Bad Girls and Medics, without being permanently associated with any one of them although recognised and remembered in all.

After training at the Bristol Old Vic, where he was a contemporary of Greta Scacchi, Miranda Richardson and Daniel Day-Lewis, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company where he "spent a lot of time carrying spears in 12 different productions".

The improbable scripts of the series Bad Girls, watched by an average of nine million people every week, still bring a smile to his face. "I was in Bad Girls for five years. At times it was just like working in a prison, going into work in the morning surrounded by bars on set in the East End of London. It was a very depressing set and the storylines were wild."

Life on Coronation Street came to an end because he felt that his character was going nowhere and he left when his contract ended.

"My wife was in London and our daughter Cate had just been born. Even though Debbie came up to Manchester quite often she didn't know anyone there and I did miss her. Also the character wasn't being written for. We get a very wide brief when we join the cast. All I was told was that my character Vinnie 'was a man who fits his trousers'. The writers latch on to characters very quickly, but I don't think I ever had that."

Appearing in some of prime-time television's best-loved series meant often being recognised, something he admits to quite enjoying, but he still likes to tell the tale of how he was cut down to size by a group of boys: "I was doing an episode of Back-Up and had all my police gear on when these two young lads started the conversation that most actors get every now and then. 'It's him', 'No it isn't', 'Yes it is, it's him'. Finally I smiled at them and nodded and the first one said, 'Told you so. It's Dale Winton'."

He laughs about it but, like most actors, he knows what a precarious life it is. One minute you're on the biggest show on television and the next the series has come to an end or your character is written out.

"I like to think I've been a successful actor but you are under no illusions unless you are David Jason. Actors always say they are between jobs but they really mean they are out of work. So if you can create work and remember why it was you wanted to be an actor in the first place, it's a sensible move.

"In an ideal world I would like to feel completely fulfilled and remember the last time I did a role just because I wanted to do it."

He's hoping that with Raw, he'll be able to do just that.

For more information about Raw, e-mail rawtheatre.info@gmail.com.