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Cleric's double role brings us divine comedy.

Byline: Celia Lucas

ARCHDEACON Alun Hawkins leads a double life. In the cathedral at Bangor, he is The Venerable Hawkins, preaching and organizing diocesan business. But in his free time he is a dedicated thespian.

He has acted in all manner of plays from Shakespeare to drawing room comedies and whodunnits. Currently he is the amateur operatic group Rhos-on-Sea Savoyards' leading man for their productions of Gilbert and Sullivan's operas.

In June he wowed the audience at Theatr Colwyn with his performance in Patience as Reginald Bunthorne, the effete poet for whose attentions 20 love-sick maidens are prepared to die. His duet with the redoubtable Lady Jane brought a round of encores. His velvet costume, complete with large, squashy hat, was divine.

"It was right over the top and I enjoyed playing the part enormously, " said the Archdeacon. "When I first came to Bangor in 1969 I joined the G&S Society at the university and played in Iolanthe and Yeomen of the Guard but I haven't done any since. The Savoyards asked me to take part before but it wasn't possible. This year the timetable worked.

They rehearse on Friday nights and there are never, or hardly ever, any church meetings on Fridays. Next year they've asked me to be in The Mikado.

"It's my off-duty relaxation. Everyone in the Savoyards knows what I do, but they never mention it."

Archdeacon Hawkins came late to the priesthood. He was not ordained until he was 37, 20 years ago. But neither was he ever a full-time actor.

"I did a lot of acting as a boy in Pembrokeshire - I was in the Tenby Players - but I was afraid if I took it up as a job it might become a chore, " he said.

"Also, as the eldest child, I felt I had responsibilities, so I decided on teaching. From 1969 I had 10 happy years as a lecturer in English and Drama at St Mary's College, Bangor."

But all through university - at King's, London - and throughout his teaching years, Hawkins forgot neither the stage nor his niggling interest in theology and the Church. As a student, he managed to fit in a course at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He also took an optional course at King's in theology, as well as his main degree in English.

"I thought about being a priest but said, no, I'm not doing that. I even refused to do religious education for A-level. Then I went to King's and found it had a huge theology faculty. I did the diploma out of interest. Then I thought, no more theology."

But in 1978 in Bangor his vocation finally caught up with him.

"In the course of a retreat in Chester my path became clear, " he said.

"In many ways I didn't want to become a priest but I knew I ought. I felt I'd been running away from it all these years and had the uncanny feeling that this was the last time of asking. I knew I would never be bothered again but if I refused I would have done something terrible.

"It was the most massively inconvenient time. I was married with two young children and a house. But the family were wonderful. My wife said she had always known I would not be happy until I became a priest. She was teaching and she kept us going."

Hawkins was ordained deacon in 1981 and priest in 1982. He worked as curate in Dwygyfylchi, rector of Llanberis, vicar of Knighton and Norton in Powys, before being summoned back to Bangor to be canon residentiary and canon missioner.

Last year he was appointed Archdeacon of Bangor, one of two archdeacons in the diocese.

Acting always caught up with him.

When he first came to Bangor it wasn't long before a representative of Theatr Fach in Llangefni called.

"She arrived out of the blue and said, 'We're doing The Noble Spaniard by Somerset Maughan and you look like a noble Spaniard. Will you do it?' "After that I played all manner of parts including both identical twins in Ring Round the Moon, the witch finder in The Crucible and the Bishop of Beauvais in The Lark. I was in countless drawing room comedies and whodunnits."

Now the Archdeacon, besides being with the Savoyards, is a member of Mixed Blessings, formerly The Bishop's Players, nearly all of them clergy, who put on shows for charity and entertain at Christmas and Harvest suppers.

Barry Wynne, musical director of the Savoyards, is delighted with his new recruit. "I saw him in the early '70s and he stood out. When he came back to Bangor I tried to get him for the Sorcerer, then Yeomen, but he was too busy. His mannerisms, good acting and elastic voice were tailormade for Bunthorne so I tried again.

He agreed and from the minute he arrived he fitted in."

The Savoyards will be performing Songs from the Shows at the Ucheldre Centre, Holyhead, tomorrow (November 10). The Archdeacon is their leading man.


CENTRE STAGE: Archdeacon Alun Hawkins as Reginald Bunthorne in Patience with the Rhos-on-Sea Savoyards LEADING MAN: Archdeacon Alun Hawkins Picture: JEFF PITT
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 9, 2001
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