It’s been three years since playwright Paul T Davies called up actor Harry Bowen and asked whether he’d done any dancing before.
Perhaps not a particularly surprising question, until you realise Harry is a wheelchair user.
“When he asked me that question,” he smiles, “I had a vague idea where it was going, but the funny thing about it all was I had actually always wanted to try ballroom dancing but never had the opportunity to give it a real go.”
The reason for Paul’s interest, and Harry’s subsequent dancing lessons with acclaimed ballroom dancing teacher, Jane Hambling, was a play called Jacky!
In recent years the production has seen lots of different incarnations from a five minute scratch to a performance at the Lakeside at Essex University to an on-line reading as part of the Mercury Reads programme.
Later this month it’s back at the Mercury in the Studio getting another outing as part of the Colchester Fringe.
In the show, Harry plays Antonio, a pretty mediocre ballroom dancer. But that was before the accident, and now not only has he got to learn to walk again, he needs to learn to dance with a new partner – his wheelchair.
It’s a very personal story because Harry himself was seriously injured when a branch fell off a tree on a school trip more than 15 years ago.
“At various points, it’s been a difficult story to tell,” he admits. “When Paul came up with the idea, we spent a lot of time talking about the accident and my subsequent recovery from it.
“He also interviewed my mum and there are a few times when I can hear some of the lines as though they’re coming straight from my mother’s mouth. But although the show still brings back some bad memories, it does now feel more like Antonio’s story than mine.”
Despite his severe injuries, the accident has never stopped Harry living out his dream of appearing on stage, his passion for theatre and performance taking him to Essex University, where he studied Drama.
Since then he has been a firm fixture on the local theatre scene and continues to do so with a future role playing Frankenstein’s Monster coming up next month at the Headgate Theatre.
“It has been quite the journey,” he says. “We were supposed to be at the Mercury in November 2020 but the pandemic put paid to that, so it’s nice to finally be presenting the play there.
“The break, mind you, has allowed Paul to really develop the characters, which has been great for all of us and it’s been brilliant to have the same cast. I can’t wait for people to see how the play has transformed since we last did it at the Lakeside.
“The whole process has been so rewarding. I’ve learnt so much, and not just the dancing, although that was amazing. Jane is incredible. I pretty much learnt how to dance from scratch and she has given me so much confidence in my dancing.”
Who knows where it will take Harry next!
Also featuring Sara Jane Derrick, Jonathan Davis and Sara Green, Jacky! is at the Mercury Theatre Studio on Thursday, October 20 at 7pm, and then again on Saturday, October 22, at 4pm and Sunday, October 23 at 7.30pm.
For tickets call the box office on 01206 573948 or go on-line at mercurytheatre.co.uk