Victor Richards talks to robert dex (South London Press) about the challenges of producing a one man show and how he was influenced by his own history.
STREETS Paved With Gold tells the story of one man – Augustus Cleveland Johnson – but is also the story of a generation. Victor Richards has gone back to his own family history to tell a tale that will be familiar to thousands of South Londoners.
It is the story of the Afro-Caribbean immigrants who started coming to London in 1948 and found work on the buses and in the hospitals. It tells how they made their homes here, brought up their children here, and eventually began to look back home to the Caribbean again in old age.
The 47-year-old admits it is a story he has a personal stake in. He says: “My mum came from Barbados and my dad from Trinidad. “They met in London and lived in those one room flats. Mum was a nurse and my father was a bus driver.
“They lived as so many people did and had difficulties with jobs and things like that.” Although born in Bromley, Victor’s family moved away to the Midlands when he was two-years-old in search of a better life. He grew up in the area and still lives in Leicester. He was working as a model and choreographer when he made a decision that would change his life forever – he went back to school, drama school to be precise.
And it was in college at Nottingham that Victor started writing what would become Streets Paved With Gold.
“It was my first play,” he said. “I was working as a model and choreographer in 1983 and what became the play actually started as a fashion show. We got all the clothes and accessories and all the styles of the dancing and talked about what people like Desmond Dekker meant to us.”
The one man show is still marked by that attention to detail and the clothes in particular will be familiar to anyone who grew up in a family like Victors. He says: “The story starts in 1948 and I play a character who gets off the Windrush and follow his life through getting work, buying a first house and up to the present.
“The props include a bible and a bottle of Guinness. People try to visualise how you going to do it and they are amazed. ”
“The character is at home just dossing around in his waistcoat and trilby and his pocket watch. There is just enough detail so the audience can visualise where he has come from.” The play starts with the character of Augustus packing up his belongings in a battered old suitcase to go back to the Caribbean.
And Victor insists the suitcase is one of the most important parts of the whole story. “The grips [suitcases] are very important,” he says.
“For most people that was all they came with. Their whole life was in the grip.” Since the show was first performed in 1996, Victor has taken it around the world including Ghana, South Africa and New York.
He admits he didn’t expect the show to still be going strong more than 10 years later. He says: “I got my grounding performing in schools and day centres and social occasions for black history month. “It’s a wonderful character because over the years I’ve branched out into poetry and I can go off cuff and go out of character a bit.
“People tell me they come back and see it once a year because I always manage to keep it fresh. “When I started I never dreamed how it would develop and where it would take me.” Victor Richards: Victor spent two years training at the Sandfield Centre, Nottingham, between 1994 and 1996 – here he gained a Higher Diploma in Performing Arts, with particular emphasis on examining the function of performing arts in society and working with both course tutors and national directors from RADA to explore individual techniques, styles or character development and voice-over.
Victor’s acting skills have been shown on several TV channels. Appearances on the BBC have been for East Enders and Casualty, Channel 4 has seen him in Ama and The Bath, and he has also appeared in The Chief for Anglia Television.
Alongside his TV work, most of Victor’s performances have been on stage in the form of his one-man plays. Audiences from all over the country have seen him in action – name a big town or city and someone there will have seen Streets Paved With Gold, Return To The Caribbean or Children Of The First Generation. The term one-man play sums it up nicely – Victor directs himself. He has also provided assistance to several groups who have been after a direction, which he has duly provided.
The Company: V Jay Theatre Productions is a dynamic company offering a variety of services, established 15 years ago by Victor Richards. Based in the City of Leicester in England, the company has worked all over the UK and has been taken to an international level!
The company also writes and produce one-man productions exploring issues such as identity, sense of belonging and communication.
V J Productions: www.vjaytheatre.net