By Milan Perera, Arts Critic Columnist
When I met Owen B Lewis and George Harold Millman at the Watershed for our interview, they told me that they had been walking for 40 minutes from where they live. Reading my quizzical expression, Millman said it is something they do every day, whatever the weather or the circumstances. It is their precious share of time where they grapple with new creative ideas and check the progress of current projects.
As we sat against a window overlooking the harbour side, there was a note of gladness in their voices, and the entire evening seemed suddenly golden. Somehow time just flew by and we spoke for over two hours.
Owen B Lewis and George Harold Millman are artists extraordinaire. One of the key features of their art, irrespective of the medium, is empathy. They are acutely aware that characters of a play or a movie are not functioning in a vacuum, cut off from their immediate surroundings. There is a strong socio-political commentary in their works, but they refuse to crown themselves as social advocates for the sake of social media “likes”. On the contrary, they believe that the view of an average citizen is as equally important as that of a celebrity with a larger platform and a blue tick.
George Harold Millman is a proud Bristolian who loves the burgeoning art scene in the West Country. His first school was Bristol Steiner School where there was a huge emphasis on creativity. Millman’s parents took him to various stage plays and musicals which seared a deep impression on him. But his awakening came through audiobooks.
Millman as a child was fascinated by the skills of narrators to assume various characters at a drop of a hat with the correct accent, intonation and expression. To pursue his dream to work in the arts Millman went to University of Essex to read Creative Arts. While at university some ten years ago, Millman read the young adult novel, The Boy Who Made it Rain by the Scottish author Brian Conaghan, which convinced him of its potential to be adapted as a stage play.
Owen B Lewis’s journey began in Abergavenny, Wales. Surprisingly his first passion was music where he played in a punk rock band. His musical ventures were numerous and varied and he was convinced of the potential of music as a medium for storytelling. Like Millman, Lewis was the only child of his family and was showered with the love of doting parents. His natural ability to connect with people enabled him to get his first job in the care sector as a support worker, providing him with an invaluable insight into human experience.
In 2018, Owen Lewis won a place to study Creative and Professional Writing at the University of the West of England (UWE). At the end of his first year at UWE he wrote the jukebox musical, “High School Never Ends” where he seamlessly infused the music of the American punk rockers, Bowling for Soup. He raised money through a crowd fund to put show together in Bristol. He found the actors through networking websites and did rehearsals which led to an exceptional performance and a sold-out show.
The following year, a different director put it on as a showcase performance in London, which again sold out. High School Never Ends the Musical revisits a love story of two high school sweethearts who are reunited after ten long years at a school reunion. The life affirming story is told through a set of flashbacks infused with a nostalgic ambience. Owen B Lewis is currently working to transpose it to bigger venues.
The two artists first met when Owen B Lewis cast George Harold Millman for his first short film – “Love in a Lift”. Since then, they have worked collaboratively on each other’s projects and are together as partners in life.
The pair then co-wrote the pilot for the contemporary TV drama, “SQUARE” which focused on the life of Justin Adams, a university student in Bristol, who has decided to change his life by throwing himself into the left-wing activism scene. They both welcome the current emphasis in television to raise the voices of minority demographics; however, they expressed their disappointment that these characters are often portrayed in a two-dimensional way, bordering on caricatures, which in its turn precipitates the original problem.
Owen Lewis’s debut novel, The Waterfall Warrior, received raving reviews on Amazon, where his professional experience in mental health work, coupled with an unbridled love for fantasy, produced a gem of a young adult novel. He is currently working on the much-awaited sequel which, according to him, “won’t be too long”.
His second young adult novel, Vulnerable Voices, was released only a few weeks ago and will no doubt gain positive reviews on bookselling platforms for its authenticity and nuance. Both Owen B Lewis and George Harold Millman are currently working on the audiobook to be released by Christmas on Audible, which will feature the unparalleled theatrical skills of the BAFTA nominee Nico Mirallegro as the narrator.
Their most recent creative venture, the stage adaptation of “The Boy Who Made It Rain”, was a showstopper of pathos and socio-economic commentary told with subtlety and restraint. It was given an enormous boost from the superlative cast which featured George Harold Millman in the title role, where he portrayed Clem Curran, a teenager who navigates his school days through bullying, class conflict and teenage angst. Millman executed the role with style and earned solid reviews from both the press and the theatre goers. It was a testament to the tenacity of this power couple, as they provided a glistening veneer to the creation of Brian Conaghan.
The pair have many more theatre and musical projects in the pipeline, telling me about a piece of advice they received from a studio bigwig who asked them “not to put all your eggs in one basket”: but the fact remains that they have so many eggs that it is imperative to have multiple baskets!
Featured Image: Owen and George, courtesy of Owen B Lewis