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.

ATTWN

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

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 #2

Meet the suspects/meet the victims

Part 1

Your guide to the mysterious house guests on Soldier Island in Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE – at NST Campus Southampton from 23-26 January 2019

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

Mr Rogers – Jonathan Shepherd

An upright and dignified Devon man, Rogers the butler is a “proper servant” in every sense. But do he and his wife harbour a dark secret from a previous employer? It’s strange they only arrived on Soldier Island a few days before the rest of the house guests assembled…

Mrs RogersAnna Hussey

Capable housekeeper and loyal wife, Mrs Rogers is also unafraid to take the odd swipe at her husband and is quick to complain about the gaggle of incoming guests she has to cook and clean for, and with her mistress nowhere to be seen. Is she as frail as she appears?

Captain Philip Lombard Paul Cresser

Confident and resourceful, Lombard’s mysterious past includes time spent as a soldier. Do his boldness, cunning and easy charm mask something altogether more sinister? Lombard is instantly and vocally attracted to Vera, before events take a turn for the worst…

Vera Claythorne Jess Capes

A former governess employed as Secretary to the mistress of Soldier Island, Vera is trying to escape a dark event from her past… Intelligent, alert and emotional, she quickly embarks on a sparky and flirtatious relationship with Captain Lombard.

Anthony Marston – Alex Mawers

This young, dashing, amoral playboy likes fast cars and flirting with the ladies. Once he arrives – having driven at break-neck speed from London and nearly running over Dr Armstrong in the process – he sets his sights on Vera and quickly pokes fun at Captain Lombard…


Please follow our  progress in future blogs. Remember to tell your friends, family and colleagues about the show – and don’t forget to book early to get the seats you want.


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

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