Making tracks #3

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The rail-related charities we’re proud to be supporting

SUP and its production of THE RAILWAY CHILDREN are pleased to be supporting two charities: The Railway Benefit Fund, and Railway Children.

We will be promoting and collecting for both charities at all performances of The Railway Children, NST Campus 22-25 January 2020, and will be donating all profits from programme sales. We hope you can support SUP in supporting these very worthy causes.

Railway Benefit Fund (RBF) – ‘helping railway families through tough times’

Based in Crewe, a railway town in Cheshire, the RBF is the only UK charity that is solely focused on supporting current and former railway employees and their families when they find themselves in times of need.

An independent organisation founded in 1858 and incorporated by Royal Charter in rbf-master-logo-for-website1949, the charity offers financial help, practical support and wide-ranging advice, all in strict confidence.

The RBF president is Pete Waterman OBE – record producer, songwriter, DJ, TV presenter and a keen railway enthusiast.

Earlier in 2019, the RBF launched an updated identity, including a new logo, colours and font: “In the past 160 years the charity has evolved and changed depending on the needs of the industry. But in the last few years we’ve changed quite a lot: we’ve listened to market research and industry stakeholders to ensure we are relevant to today’s modern railway people. We’ve launched new services of support as well as looking at new ways in which we can engage and work with the industry to better look after its main asset – the people!”

“First and foremost, we hugely appreciate our supporters. Without your help we wouldn’t be able to do the work we do to change railway peoples’ lives.”

You can learn more and donate at https://www.railwaybenefitfund.org.uk

Railway Children – ‘fighting for street children’

Helping more than 300,000 street children over the last 22 years, Railway Children provides protection and support for children with nowhere else to go, and nobody to turn to.

RClogo“Every year thousands of children across the UK, India and East Africa run away or are forced to leave homes that have become unbearable through poverty, abuse, violence and neglect. Reaching a child as soon as possible is crucial to getting to children on the streets before an abuser can, and before they become entrenched in street life. We race to get to children before the streets get to them.”

Working at street, community and government level, Railway Children uses research to inform its work, influence policymakers and plan effectively, and works closely with partners on the ground.

The charity launched its third UK project in Leeds in summer 2019, looking out for children at risk on and around the rail network:

“Since we started this work in 2016 at Manchester Piccadilly, adding a base at London Euston in 2018, we have been able to help hundreds of young people and keep them safe from harm. Some have been running away from care or home or groomed by people planning to abuse them. Many have been exploited by criminal gangs into transporting drugs and money on the railways and others were just found at the station struggling with their own mental health issues. Wherever we’ve met them, we’ve been there and we’ve been able to make a difference.”

You can learn more and donate at https://www.railwaychildren.org.uk/


THE RAILWAY CHILDREN at NST Campus, 22-25 January 2020 – matinee Sat 25th Jan

Book now: call 023 8067 1771 or click here

Tickets from just £10


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BLOG: Making Tracks #2

BLOG: Making Tracks #2

Action stations!

SUP director Paul Green explains why he wanted to direct The Railway Children – and his vision for this immersive production

I’ve been keen to direct this particular adaptation of The Railway Children for quite some time. Let me explain why.

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Paul Green is directing THE RAILWAY CHILDREN for SUP Theatre Company

First, the place that its author E. Nesbit and this particular story hold in popular culture.

I read my first E. Nesbit  book at the age of nine and read virtually all her books in the next three years.

They were completely different from anything I had read before. As the previous blog explained, Edith Nesbit was a genuine trailblazer for what we now recognise as ‘modern children’s literature’. The genre, as we know it today, didn’t really exist before ‘Daisy’ got cracking.

Her style, structure, her approach and the way she presented her characters led the way, and many others followed in her wake. 

And for generations of adults, the 1970 film version starring Jenny Agutter, beautifully directed by Lionel Jeffries, is a touchstone for their childhood. It’s still a family favourite.

I felt we could not only bring the story to a new audience in Southampton, for all ages, but that we could also do something interesting and a little different with this well-known and much-loved story.

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SUP is promising “an immersive experience”

Which brings me to the second reason I wanted to tackle this story: this adaptation by Mike Kenny.

It was first produced as a site-specific piece at York Railway Museum, featuring a live steam train. The show then moved into London for two highly successful runs, at Waterloo station and then Kings Cross. Both, again, featured a steam locomotive.

His main surprise was that the children are played by adults (20 year olds),  to emphasise the family aspects and the humour that runs through the whole play.

We have a few surprises up our own sleeves. We plan to recreate ‘The Golden Age of Steam’ live on the NST Campus stage with an immersive experience, in the same way we created that distinctive atmosphere for our Agatha Christie production – but it’s the writing that really marks this adaptation out.

It’s fast moving and it’s funny. It moves along at a cracking pace like, well, like a train.

The structure is clever, and the dialogue directly involves the audience. As a result, we feel emotionally invested in the story. It really is for people of all ages.

It has some marvellous moments. Twinges of sadness, flashes of anger, moments of tenderness.

All the characters are beautifully drawn, in particular the central trio of children. If you haven’t seen this version, I think you’ll love it. (And we also have some fantastic actors rehearsing their socks off right now.)

My overall vision for the show is based on open staging with very fluid changes, projections, and fast-paced action, with evocative lighting and special effects. The emphasis is on fun and, for the cast, team work.

I want to give audiences a dynamic experience, gathering them up and taking them through the story. With a few surprises along the way.

So, how am I going to tackle the set-pieces on stage, those moments you may remember from the book or the film?

The simple answer is “you’ll have to wait and see”. But expect imaginative and inventive effects.

We are planning to give you the sense, sounds and visuals of a full-sized steam locomotive coming your way. We want you to feel a part of it. Expect immersive sound, lighting and special effects. We’re working hard to present the landslide in a very interesting way. The five-bar gate the children watch the trains from is the easy part.

Hope to see you there!


SUP proudly presents THE RAILWAY CHILDREN at NST Campus, 22-25 January 2020 – matinee on Sat 25th Jan

Book now: call 023 8067 1771 or click here

Tickets from just £10

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BLOG: Making Tracks #1

Welcome to The Three Chimneys

SUP Theatre Company is taking audiences back to the Golden Age of Steam: SUP co-chair Stephen Fenerty introduces our January 2020 show and its author.

E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children is an acknowledged classic. Originally serialised in The London Magazine in 1905, it made its debut as a book the following year.

The story, in case you didn’t know, is about an Edwardian family forced to relocate from London to a house near the railway line in Yorkshire – the house is called The Three Chimneys – after the father, a high ranking civil servant at the Foreign Office, is imprisoned after being accused of spying.

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A classic image from the 1970 film version of THE RAILWAY CHILDREN

The narrative follows the central trio of children – Bobbie (Roberta), Peter and Phil (Phyllis) – in their various adventures and with the colourful characters they meet in and around the railway.

The book mentions the then-current Russo-Japanese war, which dates the events to spring, summer and autumn of 1905.

The railway setting is believed to have been inspired by the author’s walks to Chesfield railway station in the London Borough of Bromley, near where she lived, and her observing construction of the railway cutting and tunnel.

Described by her biographer as “the first modern writer for children”, Edith Nesbit (1858-1924) wrote or collaborated on more than 60 books. Incidentally, even though her name was Edith, she was always known as Daisy.

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Edith Nesbit – ‘Daisy’

A follower of the Marxist designer, poet and novelist William Morris, she was also a political activist and co-founded the Fabian Society, a socialist organisation that was later affiliated to the Labour Party.

The Railway Children is perhaps her most famous work, closely followed by The Story of the Treasure Seekers and Five Children and It.

Noël Coward was an admirer of her work, writing that she had “an economy of phrase, and an unparalleled talent for evoking hot summer days in the English countryside.”

The Railway Children has been adapted for the screen six times, including three serialisations on the BBC in the 1950s and 1960s, and a TV movie in 2000. The most famous version is Lionel Jeffries’ 1970 film. Jenny Agutter played Bobbie in both the BBC’s 1968 and the 1970 film version—and was re-cast as Mother for the TV movie in 2000.

The Olivier Award-winning stage adaptation being presented by SUP at NST Campus in January 2020 was first staged in 2008 and 2009 at the National Railway Museum in York, and later enjoyed highly successful runs at London’s Waterloo and Kings Cross rail stations.

Almost one hundred years after her death, E. Nesbit’s work is still with us, and continues to delight successive generations of children. As her biographer Noel Streatfeild wrote:

“When an author dies, as E. Nesbit did in 1924, too often their books are forgotten. This did not happen in her case, for the books have gone on, loved by generation after generation of children. Not all her books were great, but enough were for her name to belong forever to children’s literature.”


SUP presents THE RAILWAY CHILDREN at NST Campus, 22-25 January 2020

Book now: call 023 8067 1771 or click here

Tickets from just £10

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BLOG: Ghosts & Queens

Stellar! Stellar!

Meet one of the star writers of 20th century American theatre: Tennessee Williams

Thomas Lanier Williams III – better known by his pen name Tennessee Williams – is considered to be one of the greatest American playwrights of the last century.

Born in 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi, the Southern United States would inform his most famous works, including SUP’s upcoming AND TELL SAD STORIES OF THE DEATHS OF QUEENS.

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“I’ve had a wonderful and terrible life and I wouldn’t cry for myself, would you?”

Williams’ father, a travelling shoe salesman, was an alcoholic and generally not around the house.

He grew up with his mother in the parsonage home of his grandfather, an Episcopal priest. An early case of diptheria had left him a weak child, and he was confined to the house for a year.

His father, a violent man, had little time for the delicate son that he considered too effeminate. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, Williams’ mother focused her attentions on her frail son. Williams would draw on his turbulent family experiences in his later writing.

Aged eight, the family moved to St Louis when his father got a new job, and they moved around various homes.

https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/sup

Book here for Tennessee Williams’ AND TELL SAD STORIES OF THE DEATHS OF QUEENS – http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/sup

Studying journalism at the University of Missouri, Williams feel in love with a girl and began writing to earn extra cash, but had little success.

He joined a University fraternity but it wasn’t exactly his scene, and he also failed a military training course in his junior year.

His father pulled him out of college and got him a job in the International Shoe Company factory.

Williams hated the nine-to-five monotony and starting writing prolifically in his spare time, often until late into the night. Overworked and unhappy, he suffered a nervous breakdown. He was still only 24.

In 1936, Williams enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis and his writing continued. In 1937 he transferred to the University of Iowa, graduating with a BA in English in 1938. In 1939 he adopted the pen name Tennessee Williams.

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Brooding Brando in the movie version of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951)

After another five years of writing toil and working in menial jobs, he became famous ‘overnight’ with The Glass Menagerie (1944), a play that reflected his unhappy family background.

This was the first in a run of huge hits that included A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) – both of which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama – and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959).

Both Streetcar and Cat were made into highly successful films, which brought his work to a much wider audience. Both stories included references to various aspects of Williams’ life including his depression, alcoholism and homosexuality.

The playwright has began exploring his homosexuality in the late 1930s and had various relationships before settling into a long-term relationship with Frank Merlo in the late 1940s.

By this time, and following his sister’s severe ill health and institutionalisation, Williams was already a seriously heavy drinker, suffering from depression, and a user of amphetamines and barbiturates.

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Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1958)

Merlo became his personal secretary and a source of stability for some years until drug use and infidelities on both sides ended the 14-year relationship.

Shortly after, Merlo was diagnosed with lung cancer and Williams cared for him until he died in 1963.

In the years following, the writer descended into depression and increasingly heavy use of prescription drugs. A convert to Roman Catholicism (later said to be against his will) he was committed to mental health facilities a number of times. He never again scaled the heights of his earlier successes.

On 25th February 1983, he was found dead – aged 71 – in his suite at New York’s Hotel Elysée. The Chief Medical Examiner said Williams had choked to death after inhaling the plastic cap of a bottle, although there has been some debate about his actual cause of death. Despite his wishes to be buried at sea, he was buried in St. Louis, Missouri.

On his death, Marlon Brando said of Williams, “He always told the truth as best he perceived it, and never turned away from things that beset or frightened him. We are all diminished by his death.”

During his career, Williams also wrote screenplays, poetry, short stories and one-act plays – including And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens. This was originally written in 1957, with Williams apparently continuing to work on the text as late as 1962. It was first performed in in 2004 in Washington DC, and published in its present form in 2005.

SUP is proud to be presenting this groundbreaking piece of LGBTQ+ writing on a double-bill with GHOST STORY by acclaimed British writer Mark Ravenhill – for one night only.


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 – 7.30pm

Tickets from just £9.50 – with no booking fee payable

Click here to book tickets

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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 #8

Countdown to death

It’s all hotting up in rehearsals, as the scripts go down and the cast don their costumes.

Director Paul Green pens our latest blog from the kill-zone that is Devon’s Soldier Island…

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All cast having made it through the Christmas and New Year break virtually unscathed – allowing for the odd car accident, house move and hangover, of course – everybody is now present and correct for Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

As you may have seen from some of our recent photographs, including those on this very page, the authentic 1950’s costumes have been obtained and tweaked. Just a few finishing touches are required now; the carefully chosen vintage costumes match the characters.

I think they look wonderful. It’s such a shame so many have to die. Then again, considering what they’ve all done in the past…

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Director Paul Green

These costumes really add something to the tone and character of the production.

Get it right, and the audience simply accept and get on with enjoying the show: just another element of the theatrical jigsaw to assimilate in a barely noticed way.

But get the costumes wrong, and the audience notice. We want the audience to be fully immersed – not distracted. 

So, we’re now entering the final stretch of rehearsals and the tension is rising nicely.

As the scripts have been torn from grasping hands, the flow and pace I’ve been striving for is now being achieved.

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Have you booked yet?

Everyone is having fun – or so they tell me – and this is evident in the performances and the group dynamic.

I am confident that, visually and verbally, this will be quite different from the traditional murder mystery format. I also believe this will be a very good thing – especially if you like edge of your seat tension and surprises.

Our prompt keeps telling me how transfixed she is by it all  – and she knows the ending!

I’m delighted with where we are, and I can’t wait to see it in front of an audience. So please make sure you’re part of this show too – by buying your ticket now.




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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Ten Little Soldiers

Christie on Campus #6

Christie on Campus #6

Christie mystery

The strange case of the missing plaque

paulAgatha Christie famously disappeared in December 1926. The nation was gripped by this real-life mystery, which began when the 36-year-old author’s husband had asked her for a divorce.

Christie left the marital home in Sunningdale in Berkshire after writing a letter to her secretary to say she was going to Yorkshire.

Her Morris Cowley car and clothes were later found near Guildford, abandoned apparently after an accident, with no sign of the author, prompting speculation of suicide.Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 16.23.03

Eventually, more than 1,000 police officers and 15,000 volunteers joined the search.

Even fellow crime writers Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers became involved.

Christie eventually turned up at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate eleven days after leaving her home.

She had spent the entire time there, under an assumed name. She never discussed what happened.

Reasons ranging from depression and amnesia to a publicity stunt have been suggested.

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Agatha Christie in 1946

In 2006, a biographer used “medical case studies” to show that Christie “was in the grip of a rare but increasingly acknowledged mental condition known as a ‘fugue state’, or a period of out-of-body amnesia induced by stress. In effect, the writer was in a kind of trance for several days.”

Her disappearance even formed the basis of the film AGATHA (1979), starring Vanessa Redgrave, Dustin Hoffman and Timothy Dalton.

And now – 92 years after the famed author became the star of her own ‘why-dunit’ rather than a ‘whodunit’ – another Christie-related disappearance is set to grip the nation. Well, perhaps not.

SUP Secretary and cast member Paul Cresser, our very own Captain Lombard, takes up the story:

ATTWNAND THEN THERE WERE NONE is the second Agatha Christie play that I’ve appeared in, having been cast as Leonard Vole in “Witness for the Prosecution” in Torquay many years ago.

In fact, I have something in common with Christie: we were both born in Torquay.

So a few days ago, whilst visiting my family for Christmas, I decided to visit the blue plaque that commemorates her birthplace.

I also wanted to prove to our Director, Paul Green, that I was looking at my script over the Christmas break!

I thought I’d be able to track down the plaque fairly easily, as my family said they knew exactly where to find it…” OR SO THEY THOUGHT!

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What Paul should have found…

“We were surprised on our arrival to find nothing but an empty space where the plaque should be.

I’ve already tried to investigate what has happened to it, but without success.”

We will continue with our enquiries and report back to you.

In the meantime, if you have any ideas on what’s happened to the plaque, do get in touch. Please remember to tell your friends, family and colleagues about the show – and don’t forget to book  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 also available

You can book your tickets here

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Ten Little Soldiers