If Dr William Price (1800-1893) was around today he’d be a media star as well as a highly-skilled doctor. His outfits would feature in fashion magazines; he’d be a regular at music festivals; he’d campaign for Extinction Rebellion and the NHS; he’d share a platform with his namesake, Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price, and his choice of transport, a carriage drawn by goats, would command attention wherever he went.
Price was a contrary figure. He was a passionate believer in workers’ rights, yet he drank champagne with industrialists. He claimed he was an Archdruid, yet the druids despised him because of his showmanship, but this was a man ahead of his time. Price wouldn’t treat smokers; he had a plant-based diet; he believed that exercise was the best route to a nation’s health, and he was a practitioner of what became known later as ‘free love’. Price was largely written out of history, and this was due to his eccentric behaviour in later life, with many commentators ridiculing him. He went from being a forceful character to a figure of fun. However, it was fascinating to read last week that Robert Downey Jnr channelled Dr Price for his role as Dr Dolittle, after looking up ‘weirdest Welsh doctor’ on Google.
Price’s most famous act occurred when he was eighty-three after his five-month old son Iesu Grist (Jesus Christ), died of natural causes. Price burnt the baby’s body on a hill which caused an outrage. The police stepped in to avoid Price being lynched, he was arrested and a famous trial followed.
In January 2018 shortly after I was commissioned to write this musical my daughter Sylvie, was born. She had two heart operations and spent five days on life support. We were told that there was a 50/50 chance she’d survive, so I got a glimpse into the grief that Dr Price and his equally characterful partner, Gwen, must have suffered. Fortunately, Sylvie is now a happy, healthy and rather noisy two-year old.
Musically someone said that the show was a cross between ‘urban’ folk’ and ‘pub disco’ and it’s hard to argue with that. Visually, the musical is a combination of a surreal catwalk show (Price designed his own flamboyant clothes), the film ‘Cabaret’ and a Flaming Lips gig. The creative team led by director, Adele Thomas, are phenomenal, and we have a wonderful troupe of actors, dancers and musicians, with Lee Mengo playing Dr Price.
It should be fun!
National Theatre Wales
Newbridge Memo, Newbridge
23 March – 4 April 2020
Writer Jon Tregenna
Director Adele Thomas
Jon Tregenna Biog
Jon created Raw Material: Llareggub Revisited with artist Marc Rees for National Theatre Wales in 2014, and has written two further plays – Buggerall and The Prince Of Wales. Away from the stage Jon wrote the BBC ebook, Dylan Thomas: The Road to Milk Wood; has several TV credits, including The Bench and Belonging (BBC) and Cowbois Ac Injans (S4C); produced the Youtube comedy channel David Garland Jones, and records music as The Mams. Jon is from Llanelli and now lives in Laugharne.