After much soul-searching & debate, the Mumble Team have decided that they will be launching a Fringe programme this August if the current climate of social distancing has evaporated. We will also be supplying free tickets for NHS workers as a way of saying thank-you. The Fringe just needs to happen, & with the ethos being one of Open Access, The Mumble are prepared to step up to the plate & keep the Fringe flag flying high.
THE PEOPLE’S FRINGE is a chance to get back to the roots, to 1947 at the start of it all before it became the corporate behemoth of 2019. A certain quote has been banded around the media recently from theatre director Gerard Slevin, who argued in 1961, when the event was less than 15 years old & already starting to swell in size, it would be, “much better if only ten halls were licensed”.
So, that is just what The Mumble will be curating this August; ten venues, dedicated to one of the art forms, & sponsored by Mumble Theatre, Mumble Comedy, Mumble Cirque & others. Our Mumble Words venue will step into the spheres the Book Festival. Being based in Edinburgh all year round, we are perfectly placed to make it all happen, & its kind of duty to do so, a fringe for the people, THE PEOPLE’S FRINGE.
The Coronavirus may be assaulting the body, but the spirit of the Fringe is immune, & when all gets back to normal – as it surely will -, then the world will once more be able to find cheer, inspiration, hope & solace in an Edinburgh summer festival for the arts.
David William Hughes is currently performing the part of Tobias for Edinburgh. In 2018, his Elizabethan played to packed houses and critical acclaim here in Edinburgh, and also London, Boston, New York, It has been selected for historical preservation by the National Library of Scotland, which is quite a wonder, although not a surprise. In 2019, Elizabethan received its Australian premiere at the Adelaide Fringe, and has also been performed at the Boston Early Music Festival Fringe, So with his piece more than well-rehearsed, the experience unfolded before us early Fringe goers.
It was a close balmy evening, warm and sticky. I had been looking forward to this period piece for a few days. I was feeling right in the mood for a bit of romantic renaissance art and performance. Tobias took to the stage wearing the most lovely of outfits. He reminded me of (the late) Steve Strange from Visage in his classic 80’s pomp. A black and red number and wearing red satin shoes. Visually Tobias was upping his star rating in fine style, and boy could he play that lute.
Performing 16th-century love songs, with lots of warm audience participation, Tobias switched between the wooed and the wooer, with the very clever use of three different wigs and a hat. As he brought a wonderful selection of sonnets & songs back to life, the love-story that Hughes presented with them completely satisfied The New Romantic within me.
Girl Power never, ever went away & its soaring up to the Fringe
Where, when & why did the idea for Wannabe happen? Gabbie: When the show’s producers, Red Entertainment, had the idea of creating a show based on the Spice Girls phenomenon, we all attended auditions for the touring and international productions. I was subsequently cast as Scary – totally my favourite Spice Girl! – and spent five weeks rehearsing before our first tour dates in Spring 2019. The show has been open since 2017 then I joined this year and I can honestly say we’ve been having the best time onstage. Rhiannon: Like the other girls I auditioned for the show and when I got the part of Sporty I was beside myself! I was obsessed with Sporty when I was growing up and I so wanted to be like her I joined a gym club so I could learn to do her backflips! We’ve all got to know each other really well and we’ve become really good friends as well as professional colleagues. It’s a dream job!
Have any of the original Spice Girls seen the show, & if so how did they take it? Lucy: Geri Halliwell has watched a video of us and liked it, not sure about the other girls – and if any of them came to see the show that would be amazing! We’d be honoured!
How are the audiences reacting to the return of the Spice Girls? Natalie: Well from audience reactions to our recent tour dates of ‘Wannabe’ I think we can say they really love the show! Our upcoming run at the Assembly Rooms will be the show’s first time at the Fringe and we’re all really looking forward to it; we performed at the Edinburgh Playhouse back in March as part of our UK tour dates, and it went down really well. Of course we don’t want people to get confused and think we’re the actual Spice Girls! We’re all stage performers playing the roles of each Spice Girl!
You’ve been touring the show extensively, how has that been? Melissa: Amazing! Audiences are really up for it – we get loads of different people at the shows – lifelong Spice Girls fans with their own little daughters, guys and girls, groups and solos and definitely all ages. They’re very familiar with the songs and as soon as the intro starts up – like with Say You’ll Be There at the beginning of the show, you hear the audience roar with excitement! I get such a buzz from the audience’s reaction and their anticipation of a great night out that it just flows onto the stage and gives us all a huge burst of amazing energy – it’s an amazing feeling.
You’ve performed with both Take That on their Progress Tour & Boyzone on their A Different Beat Tour – did mixing with boyband royalty set you up for starring in the female version? Gabbie: Definitely! Dancing onstage with Boyzone and then Take That was an incredible experience. I’d always loved boy bands – and girl bands – and having the opportunity to perform in such enormously popular shows so early on in my career inspired me and gave me the confidence to pursue musical theatre as a career.
Wannabe is receiving a great deal of critical popular & acclaim – how does that make you feel? Melissa: It’s the BEST feeling! And it makes me feel even more excited about performing in the show at this year’s Fringe. It’s a huge privilege to be performing the role of Posh – I admire her so much personally and professionally – and I get to strut around the stage in a little black dress!
You’re performing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; can you tell us about the show & your role? Lucy: Yes, I can’t wait! I play Baby Spice in the show Wannabe – The Spice Girls Show which is a really fun, high energy show about Spiceworld, Girl Power and all those brilliant hit songs. Baby Spice was always my favourite Spice Girl when I was growing up – she’s fabulous, flirty and fun and her sweet character brings so much energy and life to the line-up. And I love her hair – those pigtails! I always loved the way she sang too – she can sing a ballad and then rock-out on a big pop song without batting an eyelash!
What songs have we to expect from the show? Melissa: We’ve got a great mix of the Spice Girls biggest hits including Say You’ll Be There, Who Do You Think You Are, Wannabe, Stop, Viva Forever and some of the band’s best solos are in the show too such as I Turn To You which was sung by Mel C, For Once In My Life from Mel B’s album, and It’s Raining Men which Natalie, as Geri, does brilliantly!
How will you be spending your month in Edinburgh, away from Wannabe? Rhiannon: Ooh, I’ve got loads of plans for my days off… I want to catch lots of other shows and I really want to take a tour around the Edinburgh Dungeon where there’s a new exhibition about the notorious 19th century bodysnatchers, Burke & Hare and…obviously a whisky tour… or two! Lucy: We all get on brilliantly – we really got to know each other during the rehearsal period which we dubbed ‘Spice Academy’ and I think it’s safe to say we’ve become really good friends. For instance, we’ve got similar ideas of what we’d like to do in Edinburgh outside our own shows – some of which includes climbing up to Arthur’s Seat – and so we’ll go and do stuff together. It’s all very relaxed and great fun being with the other girls.
You know a good show when it’s happened, what are the special ingredients? Gabbie: I think it’s really important to deliver a top-quality show that will entertain audiences and give them value for money. We want to give audiences a fun, entertaining experience so that they have as brilliant a time as we do and send them home happy! For me the special ingredients are about connecting with the audience through our characters, the story and our onstage chat – which is generally great fun and really engages the audience’s response. We also have a great time together onstage and I think that comes across to the audience.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the streets of Edinburgh, what would you say? Natalie: Wannabe – The Spice Girls Show is a journey through the music of the Spice Girls, Spice World and Girl Power which is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago! Say You’ll Be There!
What will you & the girls be doing for the rest of 2019? Rhiannon: After Edinburgh we’re having a week off then we’re going back on tour in September, October and November. We then have a break over Christmas and the new year and we’ll be back on the road in February 2020 through to the summer.
What are your top three personal highlights in the show? Natalie: Oooh, just three?! Ok – well one is our fantastic jazz version of Too Much which involves some very cool choreography by our choreographer Becky Jeffrey. She’s created some great moves for us and has absolutely nailed the 90s moves but with her own modern twist. The second one is being able to wear a dress like Ginger Spice’s iconic Union Jack dress which for me is a costume highlight! And the third is sharing a stage with four amazing girls and singing all about GIRL POWER – in sequins, obviously!
Verity – ditched at her wedding, nagged by her mum, hates her job … and it’s only Monday. Nia Williams is bringing her new musical to the Fringe
Hello Nia, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking? Nia: Hello! I’m originally from Cardiff and grew up in a Welsh-and-English world, with a bilingual family and education. I left Wales to study at Exeter University and have lived in a few places since, but I’m now based in Oxford.
Hello Saffi, so you’re playing the lead in Nia’s new musical, Verity – can you tell us a little about your training? Saffi: Hello! Yes, I have just spent the last academic year training at Guildford School of Acting on their musical theatre foundation course. Prior to that I was at Abingdon and Witney College, studying Performing Arts, and have been a part of different theatre schools since the age of 6.
What is at about Musical Theatre that makes you tick? Saffi: It’s everything! There is really nothing that can compare to the feeling of being on stage and performing. The butterflies as the house lights go down, the adrenaline as the curtain rises, and the feeling of pride and pure elation as you take your bow and see your family, friends and complete strangers in a standing ovation. But I think the thing that really makes it for me is the ability to stand on a stage and tell a story that can reach and affect hundreds of people you don’t know, and for those three hours or so everyone can escape the troubles of their own life and can lose themselves in the story. For me, that’s the real magic.
Can you tell us about your links to the English National Ballet? Nia: I’m a freelance musician and writer, and part of my work is as an Associate Artist for the ENB. I work for their Engagement Department, delivering workshops based on their current ballet productions. That can involve going into schools or dance classes with a dance artist, but my main role is with the Oxford hub of the ENB’s Dance for Parkinson’s programme. It’s a wonderful project, giving weekly sessions for people with Parkinson’s Disease. I co-lead them with two dancers, and we use music, stories, characters and choreography from whichever work the ENB is performing, to build a workshop that helps participants move more freely, express themselves, project their voices and use their creativity. It really is magical, and one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
In a world where you can get entertainment ‘on demand’, what makes theatre special? Saffi: The fact that you will never see the same show twice. Don’t get me wrong—we will work and rehearse every hour of every day to get the choreography right and make sure we are singing the right words, but performers are just human; things happen; a prop might break, someone might miss their cue—but as a performer you have to make it work. You can’t just yell ‘cut!’ and take five to fix the problems. Also, when you are in a theatre you get to decide what you see: you can decide where you want to look, what you want to focus on: there isn’t a camera making that decision for you. So you can make your own opinion, which will probably be completely different to the person sitting next to you. You also get to be there, with the people on stage, and personally I find myself much more invested and connected to the characters if they are real and standing in front of me. They’re not just a picture on a screen.
Who are Three Chairs & a Hat, & what is your role? Nia: I created Three Chairs and a Hat to stage the musicals that I write. For years I’ve been harping on about wanting to have my own theatre company and do things my own way … and it suddenly occurred to me that I should stop moaning and do it! The name comes from my love of pared-down theatre that uses minimum props and set, maximum imagination. We’ve cheated a bit with Verity and used four chairs—but my other current musical, ‘Melody’, makes up for that by only using two!
You are performing in Verity at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; can you tell us something about it? Saffi: I don’t think excited is a big enough word! Verity is such a wonderful show, with amazing music and a relatable and touching story line. I feel incredibly lucky to be making my debut with such an incredible show and with such an awesome cast and creative team! All I hear about the Fringe is how amazing it is and how lucky I am to be going and I just can’t wait!
As the creator of Verity, how much of the show is fed by your own life experience? Nia: You know, if you’d asked me that even a year ago, I would have made a joke of it and said ‘not much!’ Verity’s life is in a mess, she seems to be in a downward spiral, bored with her job, annoyed by her family, devastated by the events in her love life. But as we’ve been rehearsing for Edinburgh, I’ve thought more and more about the fact that Verity, as well as Eileen, the apparently dull PA in her office, both find the confidence to be themselves—or at least to begin that process. And in a way that’s what I’m doing with the development of my writing and Three Chairs and a Hat. It’s about that really tricky thing of taking your work seriously—not in a braggy or pompous way, just being prepared to say: ‘this is what I do, and it’s important to me’. For Verity, that’s about redefining herself after her disastrous wedding; for Eileen, it’s about acknowledging the importance of the work she already does. But I think it’s something that feeds into everyone’s life experience, in a way.
Verity is your fourth production; what have you learnt about Musical Theatre since your first musical, Daddy’s Girls? Nia: I think one of the most important, and exciting, things that I’ve learned is how much a musical, or any piece of theatre, is the creation of everyone who takes part in staging it. It’s amazing to see the director, cast, technician, costume lead bring their own vision and ideas to the work—especially when they bring out things I’ve never really thought about myself. It’s quite moving when you find the courage to put your weird ideas out there, and then people buy into them, take them seriously, and build them into something more. It’s all part of the whole storytelling process, and I’m learning from it all the time.
Can you tell us about the rest of the cast & the dynamics between you all? Saffi: The cast is one of the best things about this show. I came in later than the others, as I have been brought in for the Fringe, and to be honest when I started I was a bit worried that I was going to be a bit of an outcast, as they’ve been working on it together for a few years. But I couldn’t have been more wrong! I know it’s always said, but we really are like a family. Everyone is so lovely and supportive and crazy talented. I can’t wait to spend a week exploring Edinburgh and performing with these amazing people.
What is the biggest obstacle you overcame while putting your show together? Nia: This comes back to your question about what I’ve learned about musical theatre. One thing I learned was: everything possible will go wrong—but keep going anyway! Since we first started putting the show together a few years ago we’ve had about seven changes of cast, for various reasons, some of them tragic, all of them to do with the unexpected curveballs of life. Three years ago one of the cast, my dear friend Becca Allison, died suddenly after contracting sepsis. I thought at the time that we would never stage Verity again, but Becca was always hugely supportive of and enthusiastic about my projects, and when Jenna Elliott joined the cast in that role she revealed that Becca had been her singing teacher and had first introduced her to musical theatre. It sort of seemed right—and Jenna has fitted in brilliantly with the rest of our fantastic cast.
You’ll know a good show when it’s happened, what are the special ingredients? Saffi: Working hard, laughing lots, being a team and loving every second of it! Because if you as the performers love it then the audience will too… and I can promise you, we love performing this show!
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the streets of Edinburgh, what would you say? Nia: Songs, laughs, calamities, some rude cocktails, a touch of online stalking and if all else fails, a picture of a cat!
Oran Mor’s Summer Panto boasted a spooky set, at the centre of which was an image of Dracula emerging from his coffin (where he spends the daytime). Finished off by some grimy stone walls and two puppet black crows on either side, the stage was all set for John and James Kielty’s highly enthusiastic portrayal of the Dracula story, satisfyingly packed with all the Panto characters we know and love, and in fact go to these things to see.
Dracula (George Drennan) was in his prime conversing with his two crows (the puppets) about dastardly things to come, mainly the love he bore for Mina (Ashley Smith). As in all good pantos (summer or winter) the plot stuck quite closely to the telling of the actual story, in this case Mr Bram Stoker’s Gothic tale of the terrible Dracula who lost all when his true love died.
Every scene had great punch lines and raucous songs with the lyrics suitably altered to fit the story. As the second scene began all four characters were on stage, each one dressed in such a way – ranging from grim grey to brighter than bright – as to easily distinguish heroes (hooray!) from villains (boo!), and all undergoing their trials and tribulations with a great deal of oomph and gusto. And then there were the artefacts, such as a hoover that would later turn out to be pivotal to the plot, but I’d better not give away how…
The plot was full of twists and turns as each character strove to achieve their conflicting goals. Can Jonathon (Darren Brownlie) save his beloved Mina from turning into a vampire? Can Dame Igorette (Ashley Smith) find a new tourist attraction for Transylvania now that Dracula has been killed by a stake through his heart? Can the revamped Dracula (hence the title!) be defeated again so that Mina can be rescued from enslavement as his vampire bride in gloomy Weegieland where the sun never shines?
Encouraged by the strobe lighting and a loud electric soundtrack the whole room joined in and countered Dracula’s “Oh yes I will!” with an equally hearty “Oh no you won’t!” This jovial, light-hearted show was pure fun from beginning to end – as much for the performers as the audience, and you really felt that they wanted us to enjoy it as much as they did. Dracula: Revamped runs at the Oran Mor until 20 July. I suggest you book yourself a ticket now before they all sell out!
A decade since Piramania! wowed the Edinburgh Fringe, its back! The Mumble had a wee blether with director, Alex Howarth, & producer, Holly Robin.
Hello Alex, so where are you both from & where are you at, geographically speaking? Alex: I live in London now, but am originally from Southport in the North West.
Hello Holly, can you tell us about your training? Holly: In my 4 years under David Tyler’s direction at Running with Scissors Theatre Company I studied Laban and Stanislavski training methodologies. At Burnside Calisthenics and Dance Academy I was coached by some of the most innovative and successful women in the country, and trained alongside state champions. I went on to represent South Australia in the Senior National competition 2018.
What are the differences between the Adelaide & the Edinburgh Fringes? Holly: The first difference that comes to mind would be size, Adelaide Fringe is the second largest Fringe Festival in the world but Edinburgh has almost double the shows participating. There are also more than double the amount of tickets sold every year in Edinburgh, and it excites me greatly to reach a whole new and extremely diverse audience base and share Piramania! with them. I also hear I should expect a higher likelihood of rain during the Edinburgh Fringe.
What is at about Musical Theatre that makes you tick? Alex: I was brought up going to see the big touring musicals in Liverpool and Manchester, as well as being in many local amateur productions, and have always loved the power music has to move people and tell a story.
‘We Live By the Sea’ by your company Patch of Blue was award-winningly successful, but you have something new for us this year. What did ‘We Live By The Sea’ teach you about your art? Alex: That it is vital to take risks and be bold with the stories you want to tell. Over the two and a half years we did the play we were lucky enough to play to well over ten thousand people and give them a really important message, and I’m really proud of what we achieved.
Next year you will be working at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, what will you be doing & how did you get the gig? Alex: Two years ago I was lucky enough to be offered a place on the Introduction to Directing placement the Opera House run, where I was able to observe rehearsals on a revival of Richard Eyre’s incredible production of La Traviata. I stayed in touch with them and at the beginning of next year they invited me to be Assistant Director on the revival in January 2020. I’m really looking forward to being back! I’m currently working on another opera- Offenbach’s Orpheus In the Underworld which is going to Salisbury Playhouse and Buxton Opera House.
Who are Sloshed Theatre & what is your role? Holly: When Alex told me about this funny, piratey musical with a cast of ten he saw in Edinburgh almost a decade ago that he went on to direct at his university the year after, I knew we were sitting on something big here. Moving to the UK to work with Alex and with David Massingham to bring Piramania! back to life in a bigger realisation than ever before has proved a monumental task, but the reward has absolutely been just as great. We’re just at the beginning of this journey now but we have a fantastic crew assembled so I’m very much looking forward to everything coming together over the next short few months.
You are directing a show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; can you tell us about the show? Alex: Piramania! is a brilliant original musical which originally played Edinburgh in 2011. I was there with a show and saw Piramania several times, and got to know the cast and crew, before putting it on at my university the following year. Since then I’ve stayed in touch with the writers Dave and Tim, who have always been keen to get it on again and give more people the opportunity to see it, and here we are! We’re already having a blast working on it- it’s absolutely hilarious, the music is really brilliant, and we’re incredibly excited to have it orchestrated for the first time by the amazing Mark Aspinall.
What is Ben Papworth’s contribution to the show? Holly: As musical director of Piramania!, Ben is working closely with director Alex and orchestrator Mark Aspinall to not only develop the soundscape and musical depth in the show, work with the artists on their parts, but he will also be ‘at the helm of the ship’ if you will during performances; leading our band of pirates through accompaniment on Keys 1.
Can you tell us about the cast of Piromania? Alex: We couldn’t be more chuffed with the brilliant pirate crew we’ve been able to assemble! We are have 10 extraordinary actor-musicians- 5 of whom are people I’ve handpicked from shows I’ve worked on in the past, and 5 of whom we found via auditioning. We have our first rehearsal period in a few weeks and can’t wait to get them all together for the first time- with hopefully some rum after rehearsals (for character research of course).
Its been almost ten years since Piromania wowed the Edinburgh Fringe, why do you think its day has come again? Holly: I think the fun-loving and energetic tone of Piramania! combined with quick wit, and of course dancing pirates! is the exactly the balance of a lighthearted good time for adults audiences are searching for. That’s why fans fell in love with the show originally, and I know will be the emotional core to our festival experience this year.
How is Alex handling directing the show? Holly: As always, like a pro. It will never cease to amaze me the creativity and vision he imparts on all projects he gives his time to. We are trying to ignore the word ‘constraints’ when talking about the scale of projects in Edinburgh, and bringing to life Alex’s ambitious and creative staging ideas.
You know a good show when its happened, what are the special ingredients? Alex: I honestly believe having a happy team of kind, giving people is 99% of what it takes to make a good show. If the cast are having fun then the audience will, and Piramania is a heck of a lot of fun.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the streets of Edinburgh, what would you say? Holly: Murder, betrayal, and incest on the high seas! Have a swig of rum with our perky panto crew, kick your night off the right way and join us for a laugh! And then I’d probably rally the pirates and start dancing for them, if that doesn’t reel ’em in what more could we do? Other than perhaps getting the crowd involved in the dancing too…
The Oran Mor shines again with a whistle stop tour of life’s peripheries. We joined a ship today for this performance of Celtic mythology of Tir Na Nog which translates as Land of the Young. The myth goes that if one was heroic or lucky enough one could attain eternal life in the land of the young. Tir was written by Dave Anderson, well known for his acting career, in an offering that previously won the Best New Musical award at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe.
Two of the chorus, Annie Grace and Brian James O’Sullivan, stood poised and ready, she with her flute, he his accordion, as the house announcer welcomed us. The show bedazzled us from the start as they performed with huge enthusiasm, starting and finishing each song with great gusto. The story was all about the Poet (Anderson), who navigated the sea as he had navigated his life, with passion and depth. No detail was left unturned, with the life of the poet unfurling at the whim of he who was at its helm. In the songs, we feel the camaraderie between the crew, perhaps even a pirate crew, at sea caring and searching for each other. The sea, wild and calm, that captivated and enthralled, no stranger to his great highs and crippling lows, to take his decisions and ride them until the very end.
There was a mesmerising quality to this musical, as the music drew you ever deeper into the memories it explored. You got a sense that no boundary would stop the will for life of this man. It shone, they all shone, as it pierced straight into the hearts of so many who are living remarkable lives, unafraid and courageous. It felt like a homage to every manifestation of life from the small and fragile to the large and melodramatic.
Dave’s own personal self-deprecating humour is always endearing, and somehow brings an invitation to come and think along with him. He reminds us that life is not always a sweet bed of roses, but out of it rises epic strength and a sense of overcoming, all presented with the greatest taste, charm and wisdom. We were with him all the way and felt included in the celebration of the joy and pain of life. At the end, the whole audience sings a rollicking chorus of “Rolling Home” loudly and prophetically. Don’t miss your chance to catch this storm of a show – it’s tour de force!
With ‘Rock’ having a history like no others, this musical was sure to drop a historical bombshell of classic and well known anthems from a time where short hot pants and cut-down jeans were all a rock star wanted or needed. As the lights burn bright and the countdown to 1987 is underway, the set in unveiled and the transformation back to Sunset Boulevard is complete. With the narrator bouncing onto the stage like he was riding a space hopper, the energy was clear to see from the start. This was going to be a musical full off high-octane energy from beginning to the end. The time and care that went into the creative and artistic stage design was uplifting and beautiful to the human eye. Full of colour, bright lights and a full band stage, it definitely caught the essence of a time when ‘everything goes.’
As the stage lights up, the visual production of the show is unwrapped and delivered to the audience as the ‘Bourbon Room’ comes too our attention. Owned and run with efficiency by a long-haired ancient hippy called Dennis, this Sunset Strip club is one of the many venues playing host to the soon to be famous rock bands of their time. It served as the perfect venue for an LA love story. As Sherrie leaves home looking for a better life, Drew is trying to becme a rock star, and with Dennis still chasing the hot pants the show started to produce the humour that proved to be a very important asset for Rock of Ages.
With a concoction of great and memorable classic songs, Rock of Ages is a fun show with a tongue in cheek approach to theatrical entertainment. Take your time, sit back, relax and enjoy the journey through rock as we know it. From Whitesnake, Europe, Foreigner, Starship and other renowned rock bands, not forgetting Stacee Jaxx, this rollercoaster of a musical will not disappoint. There are some fantastically funny scenes, and without these humorous interventions we would have a very different experience. A well-written book throws the audience a laugh at every corner. A day without laughter is a day wasted they say, you can smile, laugh, clap or dance but for sure you will confusingly enjoy this extravaganza of a show.
With strong and well-chiselled acting, the characters are very believable and tend to want to make you turn back time and jump on the Rock Train to Sunset Strip. Trekking through the dramas of eviction and demolition, love and betrayal, heartache and joy, the one thing that always conquers all is Dennis. With all the ingredients of music, hilarity, dance, boiling hot energy and a cast that will tickle every part of your body, this stage production of Rock of Ages will leave you with a warm whoosh feeling that will be present with you for the near future, well at least until you get home. Even if Rock is not your genre, take a dip into something different and trot along to see this one off take on Rock of Ages….
The riotous Riddlestick Theatre are winging into Brighton…
Hello Tom, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I’m was born and brought up in and around Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire. I am now based in Bristol.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
I first developed a passion for theatre when I was about seventeen whilst studying Theatre Studies at A-Level. I had always loved performing and when I was ten years old I had the illuminating experience of playing the crocodile in a local production of Peter Pan which was great fun. But I only really fell in love with it once a dog-eared copy of Equus was thrust into my unworldly hands.
Can you tell us about your training?
I studied Drama: Theatre, Film, Television at the University of Bristol. There was a great balance there between practical work and theory. You’re making theatre and films, but also thinking critically about the craft. I enjoyed studying everything from documentaries to Jacobean tragedies, and of course all of these things inform one another in very exciting, inspiring ways. The fact that Bristol is such a wonderful city also helps. Most of the Riddlestick troupe met whilst studying there.
In a world where you can get entertainment ‘on demand’, what makes theatre special?
I think the act of physically travelling to a space to watch something is very important in this day and age. It reframes and disrupts the pattern of everything being at our fingertips. And of course the inherent liveness of theatre is one of the things that makes it so magical. I remember hearing Complicite Artistic Director Simon McBurney quote Blaise Pascal in an interview with the Edinburgh International Festival: “The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.” McBurney applies this rather sombre observation to the theatre by arguing that “in a way, the intensity of the moment of theatre in the present is about living.” It is a rare moment where, if the performance engages us, we collectively live in the present. These days, we need as much of that as we can get!
What does your perfect Sunday afternoon look like?
Beer in hand, looking at the Championship league table and seeing Leeds United in the top two.
You are a co-founder of Riddlestick Theatre; where, when & with whom was the company founded?
I founded the company with Kate Stokes back in 2016 in Bristol. However, the idea came a couple of years earlier when we were still at university. Kate and I write the shows together and Kate also plays the enchanting Madame Fanny. She is the company mastermind.
What kind of atmosphere are you trying to create?
That’s an important question, because creating an atmosphere is such a vital part of what we do on stage with Riddlestick. Echoing the minstrels and performers of bygone eras, we want to revitalise the tradition of travelling actor/musicians popping up in all sorts of different spaces and entertaining all sorts of diverse audiences. In a Riddlestick show, music fills the space. Stepping into a room with us should be like stepping into a secret carnivalesque party full of friends. A bit like in the film Titanic when Jack takes Rose down to the Irish party in third class. There’s a real sense of fun. There can be a lot of pretentiousness and snobbery in theatre. Shows that aim to make people laugh and have a good time are sometimes dismissed as being silly and somehow worth less. We’re certainly trying to cut through that. The simple act of bringing people together to share a story is hugely valuable in its own right.
You know a good show when its happened, what are the special ingredients?
As I’ve just mentioned, atmosphere is a really important part of it. There’s an elusive, ineffable aura that comes with some shows. Sometimes it hits you immediately, and sometimes it crawls up on you weeks later. Fascination. I like to feel fascinated. Whether it be a West End musical or a verbatim play about toxic masculinity, it’s always nice to be left with a mind full of fascination. In the immortal words of Danish pop group Alphabeat: “we live on fascination.”
Can you tell us about The Cabinet of Madame Fanny Du Thé?
The Cabinet of Madame Fanny Du Thé invites the audience to meet the eccentric 18th century explorer, Madame Fanny, and to take their pick from her cabinet of curiosities. For whichever curio they choose, we perform the elaborate tale behind it. Amongst other crazy events, she battles with pirates and parties with Marie Antoinette. But while we’re all revelling in her outrageous stories, somebody far more serious is on the way to bring her down to earth. It’s a celebration of curiosity and story-telling, with lots of live original music, and we allow the audience to hand-pick the tall tales they are told.
Can you tell us about the musical side of ‘The Cabinet’.
Music is a huge part of the show! For starters, there are lots of songs. We draw inspiration from a different genre for each of the different stories we tell, Django Reinhardt hot jazz and Kraftwerk-inspired surreal techno to name but a couple; all woven together with our folky sound. Pretty much the entire show is underscored. I guess if I had to pick one primary influence, it would be Balkan folk music. You can head to our Spotify and Vimeo pages to get a taste of the music we like listening to. On stage with us we have a guitar, cello, piano-accordion and six voices that help conjure up Fanny’s world of adventure. Most of the time, we’re performing in very intimate spaces which really allows us to fill the room with sound whilst creating a real spectacle in the process.
Being a pop-up theatre, you must have to make certain sacrifices in stagecraft – can you give us an example or two of what is affected, & how as a troupe you adapt to the situation?
We love it! Aside from making technical rehearsals a hell of a lot easier, it is actually very freeing. It’s about stripping theatre back to its storytelling essence. There’s no hiding place. We create this array of worlds on stage with only our words, bodies, instruments and a little basket of props. And most importantly, it means we can be truly accessible and take the show everywhere and anywhere. One of my favourite memories of doing this show was when we performed it in a forest at Brainchild Festival (just up the road from Brighton), peeping out from behind trees, the audience all huddled together in blankets, the sun peeking through the branches, with only the distant sound of kids wailing at the nearby Go Ape to compete with.
You are bringing ‘The Cabinet’ to this year’s Brighton Fringe, what are your thoughts on that romantic, seagirt city?
I love coming to Brighton (usually on a replacement bus). It’s an incredibly vibrant, welcoming and creative place. Plus it’s often sunny when I’ve been there. Long may that continue.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of Brighton, what would you say?
Come to our riotous musical comedy and choose the curious tales we tell! Action, romance, comedy, tragedy, brilliant live music, a fabulous and fierce leading lady and a bunch of men in dresses. One of the Guardian’s Best Shows at the Edinburgh Fringe 2018!
What will you be doing for the rest of 2019?
We have a couple of other festival dates cropping up later this year, and I’m delighted to say that Fanny will be going on another summertime jaunt to the Scottish capital in August. Beyond that, there may well be a new show lurking up our collective sleeves.