BLOG: Ghosts & Queens

I Want Candy

And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens

Director Paul Cresser explains his choice of play for this year’s Totton Festival of Drama – and reports on rehearsals

When choosing the play for my directorial debut at last year’s Totton Festival of Drama, I looked for a play that would suit the dynamics of our group.

I settled on ‘Darlings, You Were Wonderful!’ – an all-woman piece to complement the all-male ‘Bully Beef and Whizzbangs’ that we were also entering.

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Paul Cresser: SUP Secretary and director of AND TELL SAD STORIES OF THE DEATHS OF QUEENS

Having found that, for the most part, I’d enjoyed the directing process, I started looking for another play to propose for the 2019 Festival.

This time I looked for a play that interested me rather than one that would suit others, and the proposal I came up with was rather different to our previous entries!

One of the things I decided early on was that I wanted to direct a play with an LGBT+ theme that wasn’t another (as I call them) ‘angsty coming out story’.

I wanted to direct a play that had a strong LBGT+ character that wasn’t about that character being gay. That’s when I found Candy: an out gay man and transvestite, perfectly comfortable with who he is in that respect.

The story of the play explores Candy’s character flaws that, although coloured by his sexuality, are simply ‘human’ flaws: the need for love and the fantasies that he constructs in order to find it.

In ‘And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens’, I have set myself some challenges: a lead character who must be a convincing transvestite, as well as recreating late 1950s/early 1960s New Orleans and the Japanese-style home of an interior designer – all on a very limited budget.

I have found myself having to research wigs and sailor’s underwear as well as seeking out make-up tips and helping my lead actor try on various dresses. I’ve also had to pull together a co-ordinated set, worthy of the home of a talented interior designer.

These challenges aside, I’ve really enjoyed getting inside this little-known Tennessee Williams’ gem.

The play was never performed in his lifetime due to its subject matter, and it’s a play that is decades ahead of its time. It was written in 1950s/60s pre-civil rights America, yet many of the issues addressed are still as relevant today and it has been interesting to explore and discuss those issues.

I’m also delighted to have pulled together a fantastic cast – all of whom are playing parts outside of their normal experience.

They are working together extremely well and I’m enjoying seeing the characters from the pages of the play coming to life before me. Jonathan Shepherd has bravely stepped into Candy’s high heels and is gradually revealing more and more of his inner diva. Paul Jones is exploring what it means to be a bisexual hustler, whilst Stephen Fenerty and Chris Aland’s gay couple is a match made in heaven (not the nightclub!).

I have certainly found directing this play more stressful than my first experience with SUP, but that is because I feel so much closer to it and that in some way what I am producing here is an extension of my own personality.

It’s my baby, I love it and I’m just really hoping that everyone else will love it too.


SUP presents STORIES OF GHOSTS AND QUEENS at Totton Drama Festival in March 2019 – and FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY at the Rose Theatre, Eastleigh on Sat 6th April at 7.30pm

Tickets from just £9.50 – no booking fee payable

Click here to book tickets

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Christie on Campus #5

Christie on Campus #5

ATTWN1953: the good, the bad and the plain ugly

Guest blogger Stephen Fenerty – who is playing William Henry Blore in SUP’s new production of Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE – reflects on the year this version is set

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is Christie’s bestselling novel, clocking up sales of more than 100 million copies worldwide.

Our production of this “masterpiece of suspense” takes place in 1953: the choice of our director, Paul Green.

The book itself was first published in 1939, when the Second World War was already under way. Christie wrote her play version in 1943, with hostilities still raging.

The story goes that at her agent’s urging, she changed the ending to a somewhat ‘softer’ and happier outcome, so as not to affect morale during wartime.

I’m pleased to report that SUP has reinstated her original 1939 ending from the book, using Christie’s original dialogue.

Anyway, in the original story, the action takes place some time in the late 1930s. Shifting it to 1953 means we retain that all-important vintage feel while also giving the story an ever-so-slightly more modern, post-war look.

TVcoronationIn the UK, the biggest event in 1953 was undoubtedly the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, which was televised.

This was the first time many people had seen a television, and sales of the new-fangled device skyrocketed. It actually poured with rain on Coronation day – which, in our version, takes place just eight weeks before the murderous events on Soldier Island.

everestThe other momentous event of 1953 – famously announced in The Times newspaper on the same day as the Coronation – was the conquest of Mount Everest by a British expedition led by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

Wartime rationing was only just coming to an end in 1953, a full eight years after the close of the war. In particular, petrol rationing ends at the beginning of February (as well as sweet rationing). This leads to a huge influx of cars onto Britain’s pre-motorway road network.

The end of rationing also means clothes and fashions are changing. Younger women favour a more ‘relaxed’ waistline, and so-called ‘pancake’ make-up becomes the norm.

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Teddy boys

While swearing in public places is still an offence, youth culture linked to rock and roll music is starting to emerge with a vengeance, first in London before fanning out across the country.

1953 sees the Daily Express coin the name ‘Teddy Boy’ – Teddy being a shortening of Edwardian. Members of the Ted subculture were originally known as ‘Cosh Boys’.

So what of the plain ugly? The year starts darkly with the hanging of Derek Bentley for his part in the murder of PC Sidney Miles, in the notorious “Let him have it” case.

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Atomic test, USA, 1953

In America, meanwhile, President Truman announces that the US has developed the hydrogen bomb, with nuclear testing in Nevada in the spring and summer.

At the same time as the Cold War is hotting up, UFO sightings are on the increase.

At the end of January 1953, the North Sea flood kills more than 2,000 people in the Netherlands and on the east coast of Britain. Queen Mary dies in her sleep in March, with Joseph Stalin dying the same month.

John Christie arrives in prison van

John Christie arrives at court to be sentenced

The 10 Rillington Place murders are uncovered in March, with another Christie – John Reginald Halliday Christie – hanged for those grisly crimes just three weeks before the houseguests gather on Soldier Island.

That same week, the BBC airs the first episode of a groundbreaking sci-fi suspense serial Quatermass, while US spies Julian and Ethel Rosenberg are executed at Sing Sing Prison in New York.

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Piccadilly Circus, London – 1950s

With the Korean War officially ending, the Soviet prime minister announces – the same day as our characters arrive on Soldier Island – that the Soviet Union also has the hydrogen bomb. The country detonates its first thermonuclear weapon “Joe 4” a few days later.

This is the febrile atmosphere that forms the backdrop to SUP’s new production of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

It’s hardly any wonder that fear, suspicion and paranoia are the order of the day.

ryeBy the way, in 1953, Agatha herself – now aged 63 – is still working hard. That year sees her publish both a Hercule Poirot novel, After the Funeral, and a Miss Marple novel, A Pocket Full of Rye – another nursery rhyme reference, in this case ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’, and again featuring cyanide.

To give you an idea of Christie’s longevity and enduring popularity, the year before saw the premiere of her play The Mousetrap in November 1952 – and 66 years later it’s still running in London’s West End.

However, you have an opportunity in just a few weeks to see her masterwork of suspense live and kicking, onstage in Southampton…


SUP proudly presents Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE at NST Campus theatre from Wed 23-Sat 26 January 2019 – tickets from just £10

Concessions and group bookings also available

You can book your tickets here

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Christie on Campus #4

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Ten Little Soldiers

Meet the suspects/meet the victims

Part 2

The second and final part of our guide to the mysterious house guests on Soldier Island in Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE – at NST Campus (Nuffield) Southampton from 23-26 January 2019 – you can book here

#ChristieOnCampus

In order of appearance continued – you’ll have to see the play for the order of disappearance

‘Mr Davis’ – Stephen Fenerty

This well-built and extremely bullish middle-aged house guest isn’t what he seems from the moment he steps foot on the island. Is he a South African millionaire as he claims or something else altogether: a “bit of a bad hat” with a history of corruption.

General MackenzieChris Aland

The oldest of the house guests, the General’s glory days are long behind him. Expecting a short holiday with Army chums, Mackenzie can be vague and detached: he misses his late wife terribly and appears guilt-ridden about a terrible choice that he once made…

Emily Brent Alison Wells

Rigid, ruthless and extremely religious, Miss Brent doesn’t suffer fools (or anyone) gladly. Although she reads the Bible every day, she lacks basic humanity – and refuses to take any responsibility for the tragic suicide of a young servant girl in her employ.

Judge Lawrence Wargrave Gavin Costigan

A retired judge, Justice Wargrave is intelligent and watchful, with an air of natural authority and commanding manner that mark him out as a natural leader. Could this man of the law have really sent an innocent man to the gallows?

Dr Armstrong – Hannah Harrison

A successful medical practitioner in the man’s world of 1950’s medicine, Elizabeth Armstrong has built a lucrative Harley Street practice as an in-demand nerve specialist. Her no-nonsense exterior may not be all it seems: did her respectability and success come at a price?


SUP proudly presents Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE at NST Campus theatre from Wed 23-Sat 26 January 2019 – tickets from just £10. Concessions and group bookings available.

You can book your tickets here

ATTWN

Christie on Campus #1

Welcome to suspicion, fear, paranoia and ‘get to know you’ games

Kicking off our latest series of production blogs, Paul Green is our first victim: a director and actor with a long and impressive theatrical CV, he also has some distinctly sinister plans to bump off cast members

This being my first show for SUP, I wanted to get to know the cast, and to help cast who were members new to the company to get to know the more established SUP players. The cast for AND THEN THERE WERE NONE includes performers who joined SUP in the last few months working alongside more longstanding members – it’s a 50/50 split, really, between “old” and “new”. And of course, I’m a relatively new member of the team myself. 

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Paul Green is directing Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE for SUP Theatre Company

To me, simply starting rehearsals “cold” can throw everybody slightly, so we started the entire process with a four-hour session of exercises, on a Sunday, to get to know each other. This was, in part, about developing trust and team-working among the company members.

The first exercise, the “Name Game” – which we still play at the start of every rehearsal session – has a number of purposes. It’s for everyone to learn everybody else’s real name as well as their character name, to get them used to establishing eye contact, and getting them used to doing and thinking three things at once (which is, as I keep telling them, the basis of acting). If you can imagine mentally patting your head and rubbing your stomach and reciting the alphabet all at the same time, you get the idea. The cast has embraced this after persevering and the determination shown has been impressive. Much hilarity is also derived from identifying who is establishing eye contact and where you should walk and to whom (it takes too long to explain, but you should play it some time).

I also introduced the cast to “Flying”, which is pretty much as it sounds. Only one intrepid cast member did it to begin with, but after seeing what it entails, everyone took part, with one or two people still having to be convinced. You’ll see some pictures here.

We then played a game known as “Killer” or “Wink Murder” to introduce the cast to the feelings of paranoia and suspicion that I’ll be foregrounding in our production. In this game, one person is secretly chosen as the murderer and winks at their victims when no-one is looking. The victim then “dies” as spectacularly as possible in a way that also misdirects. So, as you can imagine if you know any members of this cast, the “spectacular death” aspect was really underplayed (the longest death scene was timed at more than two minutes). The more you play it, the more extreme the deaths are, and the more paranoid everyone becomes… precisely what I was aiming for.

Of course, we got through far more than just these games on the day, with everyone throwing themselves into the activities wholeheartedly – and we had a lot of fun while working hard to build a strong basis for teamwork and the underlying themes of the production.

Please follow our continued progress in future blogs from various people and different directions and of course, please remember to tell your friends, family and colleagues about the show – and don’t forget to book early yourself.


SUP proudly presents Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE at NST Campus theatre from Wed 23-Sat 26 January 2019 – tickets from just £10. Concessions and group bookings available.

You can book your tickets here

ATTWN

Two Murderous Comedies

It’s a wrap

This week’s guest blogger is Stephen Fenerty, SUP co-chair. He reflects on the performance nights for our October one-act plays – and on a great audience reaction

First and foremost, a huge thank you to our wonderful audiences. 70-plus people enjoyed the Friday night double-bill, with that number swelling to more than 90 on the Saturday – which meant we were almost at capacity in the Rose Theatre and, more importantly, ensuring a great audience response for our casts.

And what a group of performers! 13 actors and actresses across the two plays, with more than half appearing in their first productions for SUP. And everybody did us proud, so a big thank you to our wonderful casts. Here’s a slide show, from rehearsals to get-in, show nights and after-show party…

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In the four-handed 1920’s murder mystery spoof A JOLLY SINISTER JAPE, the daft gags, double entendre and fast pace had the audience laughing and groaning in equal measure. The cast – experienced SUP hands Kerrie Brady and Naomi Scott alongside new members Martin ‘Timber’ Kelly and Michele Zadra – delivered Elliot Strange’s script with aplomb.

With the Rose Theatre at Barton Peveril College providing a bar for the first time, our audiences refreshed themselves at the interval before returning to their seats for THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND by Tom Stoppard.

The longer of the two plays – 65 minutes compared to 35 minutes for the first half – this had the audience in stitches with its smart blend of satire, word play and slapstick, with excellent surreal performances and comic turns from an ensemble cast: Nick Hayward and Tim Ellwood, Paul Jones, Sarah Fergusson, Lee Barden, Jake Williams, Meg Britton, Carolina Scott, and not forgetting Andrew Clarke as the most convincing corpse on an SUP stage since Sophia in Dirk Gently.

Special thanks, of course, go to our brilliant behind-the-scenes team and tech crew, who make it all happen, including directors David Green and Kevin Bowers, along with Duncan Lang, Clayton Peters, Steve Town, Olly Trojak, John Peters and others. Thanks for all your help and continued support: we couldn’t do it without you!

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Lady Stoppard, Sabrina Guinness, with the SUP secretary and co-chairs

We were also delighted on the Friday night to welcome Lady Stoppard, Sabrina Guinness. While she’d read THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND she had never seen it performed – and said she enjoyed the show hugely. Sir Tom, who couldn’t attend because he’s currently immersed in writing a new play, sent a handwritten ‘good luck’ message to cast and crew.

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A sneak preview of our next production: the Ten Little Soldiers themselves. Click here to book for Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

When we plan and perform these one-acts, in addition to our ‘usual’ annual cycle of Totton Festival and January production at NST Campus, our objective is to provide more opportunities for SUP members to get involved, especially our new members, and to give audiences more opportunities to see our work.

There are obviously costs associated with putting on a show: licensing for the scripts (per night) plus set, costumes, props, van hire, and of course venue hire – the latter tending to be the main budget item. While we always try to “beg and borrow” wherever possible, using items for low or no cost, some of these costs are fixed. And there’s always a risk we may lose money on a production: you can never really tell if you’re going to attract an audience, despite your best marketing efforts and word-of-mouth.

Our objective is to at least break even, because it means we’re not eating into our reserves – but making a little profit is always great news, as it means we can carry on what we’re doing and provide even more opportunities.

I’m happy to report that while the final “profit and loss” accounts are still being finalised, it appears we have made a small profit on our Two Murderous Comedies. So thank you, once again, to all cast, crew and others at SUP who make it all possible – and, of course, to our audiences.

We hope to see you all at NST Campus 23-26 January 2019 for what promises to a rip-roaring production: Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE – with tickets from just £10

CLICK HERE TO BOOK

ATTWN

It’s Murder – Take Two

It’s Murder – Take Two

The Meg

This week’s blog is courtesy of The Real Inspector Hound cast member Megan Britton – another brand new SUP member.

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Not that Meg

Hello, I’m Megan – Meg – and I recently moved to Southampton from London, where I worked as a paediatric nurse for the past four years.

Drama wasn’t something I had always enjoyed in the past, and when I was younger the idea of standing up in front of a crowd use to terrify me, as I was incredibly shy. But my parents managed to convince me to join the Lace Market Youth Theatre back in my hometown – Nottingham – and it was the best thing I ever did.

Drama gave me that confidence boost I needed and now it has become a favourite hobby of mine. Hence why I was so happy to join SUP, after having to leave my previous group ‘The Hampstead Players’ in London. Some of my favourite roles I have played are Nancy in Oliver Twist and Cordelia in King Lear.

When I’m not nursing or acting another great passion of mine is music! I have a very eclectic taste in music and some of my favourite artists include Prince, Otis Redding, The Clash, The Cure, LCD Soundsystem, David Bowie and Queens of the Stone Age.

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This is our Meg

I collect vinyl records, new and old, and I am currently on the hunt for Diamonds and Pearls by Prince. I enjoy going to see a lot of live music and my best gig so far this year has to be Thee Oh Sees in London: they were mindblowing!

My holidays consist of me trying to attend as many music festivals as possible, and a particular highlight from one this year, was when I was pulled on stage by a favourite punk band of mine, IDLES. Jumping around on stage with them was one of the best moments of my life.

 


You can see Meg in person in THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND on a double bill with A JOLLY SINISTER JAPE at Eastleigh’s Rose Theatre, 19th-20th October 2019. Tickets are only £11 standard and £9.50 concessions – with no booking fees payable

Click here to book tickets

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Dirk Gently blog archive

It’s the end – but the moment has been prepared for

Kevin puts pen to paper for the last time: it’s the Dirk finale…

Well we’re here, the journey that started in July with auditions and the scripts being doled out is about to come to an end. We’ve done four shows and are in the dressing room getting mentally ready for the big finale.

This has been a great show to be a part of, both in the cast and as the production manager, blogger, delivery man and numerous other tasks that have fallen on my shoulders. I’ve learned a lot and know I’m nowhere near ready to direct on such a large scale, at least not without someone to hold my hand.

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The cast have uniformly been superb: from Paul Cresser as Dirk, wonderfully enigmatic and fully understanding the interconnectedness of everything, Paul Jones as Richard caught up in the whirlwind of the story, and Phillip DG as the forgetful professor Chronotis, in his 50th anniversary on the Nuffield stage – to Lou, Darcy and Beth as the impish Sarah complete with a yo-yo and of course the myriad of supporting players, everyone on the stage has given their all to make this the success it has been.

We were also lucky to have some amazingly talented people back stage and working on props and effects. Without the likes of Ollie, Clayton, Mike, Adam (both), Steve, Dave, and Tom we would look like fools running around in dress up. Their craft makes the unreal real and creates the illusion that we are in the world of Dirk.

All of this of course needs someone to be the puppet master, someone to pull the strings and we had someone colourful and larger than life to corral us and keep us in line. It’s not always been plain sailing, rehearsals with lots of sickness, line learning not where it should be, SFX taking a little, ahem, longer than hoped – but in the end almost 1,000 people will have left the theatre with a smile on their faces and mild feeling of confusion as they work out what they’ve just seen…

Lorraine, it’s time to get the sofa off the stairs and sit down and have a cuppa. Phew!