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Cardiff character: Simon Riordan

Simon takes a hands-on approach when working with his cast.

It takes time, money and an awful lot of determination to set up your own theatre company but Simon Riordan did just that, with very little training and a self-confessed lack of business knowledge. Two years on Bare Knuckle Theatre is consistently producing profit and well-satisfied audiences.

29-year-old Simon picked up his directing abilities while volunteering at a sixth-from college in Cardiff and it’s easy to see this informal approach in his work. He is rarely still during rehearsals and takes a hands on approach with his cast, teaching stage combat and standing in for trees at every available possibility.

Simon came late to acting and decided not to go to university for fear of the debt. He took small acting roles in theatre and television before training as a drama teacher and taking a backstage job.

Launching his own company was no mean feat. “The night before we did Midsummer Night’s Dream I was interviewed for a making of DVD and I’m a shambles,” Simon laughed. “It’s four days since my pay-day and I don’t have a shirt, I’m just wearing a hoody, I’m a mess and there’s about eight pounds left in my bank account.”

Bare Knuckle is committed to the re-imagination of Shakespeare. There are no stuffy costumes or formalities at the cast’s rehearsal of upcoming performance The Tempest and Simon hopes to show people the raw emotion of the plays.

“I genuinely hated Shakespeare when I was at school,” he said, “I absolutely loathed it. I just didn’t get it but it’s not complicated and when you see a good production of it.  It’s all the stuff that I loved as a kid, it’s all violence and murder and fighting and sex.”

As well as directing and acting, running an independent company means you need to have a great many strings to your bow. Simon puts together all the scripts himself and is also trained in stage combat. He can show you how to make a strangling look convincing or even hold a full scale riot, he’s full of enthusiasm as the talks about it, “I think no matter how old you get you’re a boy and you’re given toy swords and you have a great time.”

Bare Knuckle is currently an unpaid company but Simon hopes to change this in the near future. Next year’s production is to be Titus Andronicus and he’d like to tour a production or even produce something brand new. But his continuing mission at the moment is to bring accessible theatre to the venues of Cardiff.

“I very much like the fact that if people are still talking about a play that we’ve done when they get into the car to go home we’ve succeeded to at that point I’m happy,” said Simon. “If we can do anything else with it it would be paying people for the time and the commitment they make to the company. Without them it’s just me in a room with a book.”

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