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.

064-tennessee-william-theredlist

“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.

streetcar-scaled-brando

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.

cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof-1958

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

Screen Shot 2019-02-13 at 17.18.29

Advertisements
Christie on Campus #10

Christie on Campus #10

It’s show time: don’t blink

Ten victims. Ten suspects. Ten blogs… AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

It took a little persuasion from SUP to convince director Paul Green to take the helm on this new version of Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

He’d seen too many creaky am-dram productions on cluttered drawing room sets – and so he wanted to try something a little different…

“Don’t blink. Don’t even blink… Don’t turn your back, don’t look away, and don’t blink! Good luck…”

This time last year, if you had told me that I’d be directing an Agatha Christie play at NST Campus, I simply would not have believed you. But here we are, and you are about to see the culmination of a great deal of hard work, fun and ‘thinking outside the box’.

Fittingly, this is number ten in our series of pre-show blogs: the tenth and the last.

My starting point with the play was our group of performers. How do you integrate people who haven’t all worked together to trust each other? Remarkably easily, as it turned out.

I’ve been blessed with a cast that is happy to take multiple leaps of faith (quite literally) into uncharted territory, from the very first rehearsal onwards.

cast_costumebw

The cast of SUP’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

Maintaining the tension, suspense and paranoia that I wanted has been challenging and exhausting for all concerned but will, I am sure, produce a gripping, exciting and involving experience.

If you look at Christie’s script, I think the only real issues are to do with the stage mechanics, not her writing: notably the extremely detailed stage directions and the set itself, which are extremely prescriptive – if you choose to use them.

Her plotting is great. The story rattles along at a fine pace. Her characterization and dialogue are excellent. But the first thing I did was to strip back the set and furniture, so we could focus the action (and the audience) on what was really important – the growing suspicion, fear and paranoia on Soldier Island – and to throw the stage directions out of the window.

I wanted to create a far more fluid, free-flowing and immersive experience – reaching out into the audience at times.

So, if you come along expecting a drawing room/sit-down jolly murder mystery, I’d suggest that you strap yourself in and prepare for a rollercoaster ride instead. I believe theatre should be fun for all involved as well as challenging and risky – and hopefully there will be shocks and surprises aplenty.

Photo 07-10-2018, 16 07 34

Paul Green

I also believe that challenging theatre convention provides a more interesting experience, so our audiences can expect to see stage pictures and behaviour that might grate and raise questions. That’s healthy.

A great many people have contributed to this show, far too many to mention, but my heartfelt thanks go to all those who have helped and supported the show.

So, can you spot the clues?

Never let your guard down. Don’t trust anyone. Don’t blink.

Enjoy the show.


Take your seats… 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

Click here to book tickets

ATTWN

 

Christie on Campus #9

Christie on Campus #9

A killer writer

You think you know the story. Think again.

Nobody plots and executes a murder mystery like Agatha Christie. In fact, writes cast member Stephen Fenerty, she pretty much defined the genre – and set the template for generations of ‘stalk and slash’ thrillers to come

screen shot 2019-01-15 at 15.18.23

As part of our preparations for rehearsals, director Paul Green asked the cast to read Christie’s original novel of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

Although Christie adapted the play herself – and the play hits virtually all the main beats of the novel – the detail and depth of characterisation in the book make for a different experience. I have a 1966 Fontana paperback edition (costing 3/6) that retains the book’s original UK title. It must have been one of the last to do so.

ATTWNAND THEN THERE WERE NONE is the Christie novel that is most often mentioned by readers as being “the one that stumped me” when it comes to working out ‘whodunit’.

The main narrative ends with the killer still unknown. The reader only discovers who and how in a lengthy epilogue, which includes a chilling confession.

It’s all very clever: how Christie structures the plot, and plays with the reader.

This structure is distilled and ramped up in her play version, which has a running time of just 95 minutes. A great deal is packed in, I can tell you.

Christie builds the tension like a rollercoaster: the prolonged click-click-click of the carriages being pulled to the top of the first drop… that tiny pause… then the drop comes, you’re rushing over peaks and through tunnels at high speed, screams around you – until that sudden, shocking stop at the end.

Christie is a forward-looking writer in many ways. I was surprised more than once by the deftness of her writing, and by what a trailblazer she is.

Here’s an example. The preamble in the novel has the characters travelling to Soldier Island. In his train carriage, Blore meets a fully-fledged ‘harbinger’. Or to give this trope its proper name, a “Harbinger of Impending Doom” – and this apparently drunk old man plays a blinder. “There’s a squall coming,” he cackles. “Watch and pray… The day of judgment is at hand!” Lovely.

mordecai-the-cabin-in-the-woods

Mordecai: the harbinger in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011)

In narratives like this, the harbinger plays a specific role: to warn the main characters about what’s about to befall them in the house, holiday camp or whatever location they’re heading for. The threat may be non-specific but the danger is very real. I was delighted to see this small but satisfying incident in the novel make it through to the play, in a brief recollection by Blore.

What follows in the novel is a template for the countless “murderer on the loose” stories that came in the decades after. A group is isolated, cut off from the world in a specific setting, and picked off one-by-one by a merciless killer. Revenge is generally the motive. All is revealed at the end.

And as Christie wrote, “it’s always more exciting to have a girl at the end” – whether that’s Jamie Lee Curtis or Neve Campbell.

Indeed, like the harbinger, the ‘final girl’ is another slasher convention that came to the fore in the 1970s when this set-up entered the post-Vietnam era with a cycle of increasingly gory horror films

halloween-poster

HALLOWEEN (1978) – ever spotted the screaming face made by the knuckles? Eyes, nose and mouth…

The setting could be an archetypal small town, as in John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) – a film that further solidified the template, opening the floodgates to a thousand imitations – or a summer camp, as in Sean S. Cunningham’s equally successful FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Along with high schools, hospitals, shopping malls, and so on.

Described as “stalk and slash” they soon became known simply as “slasher movies”.

Violent, bloody (and often misogynistic), they generally match the Christie template in that victims are often ‘punished’ for a previous crime or transgression. These might range from the minor (sex outside marriage, tut tut) to the major (previous actions resulting in the death or disfigurement of the future killer).

Agatha Christie laid the foundations.

friday13th.jpg

FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)

And while avoiding the excesses the genre would later feature, and generally writing (for the times) from quite a progressive pro-woman stance, Christie also takes the time to deliver ingenuous deaths. They are often clever and grisly (and sometimes funny) – like the FINAL DESTINATION films, a supernatural variation on this narrative – and in playing to those themes of revenge and/or delayed judgement or punishment for past misdemeanors.

So you can see a clear line from AND THEN THERE WERE NONE right up to today.

While SCREAM (1996) and its sequels cleverly subverted the genre, playing around with our expectations, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011) does this even more intriguingly: a smart, funny and ultimately unsettling film.  The poster – shown at the top of this blog – shows the cabin (as seen in the EVIL DEAD films, CABIN FEVER, etc.) as a tricksy Rubik’s cube.

The house on Soldier Island might as well be a cabin in the woods.

happy_death_dayChristopher Landon’s HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) brings the slasher movie bang up to date with a blackly comic and clever mash-up of GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) and HALLOWEEN, featuring a brilliant central performance by ‘final girl’ Jessica Rothe. Watch it. It’s not very gory – and it’s huge fun.

The sequel, HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U (2018) is out this February. I’ll be in the cinema.

In these modern takes on the genre, things are not always what they seem. And that brings us right back to the Dame of Death, Agatha Christie. As the poster for THE CABIN IN THE WOODS says: You think you know the story. Think again.

This applies, completely, to SUP’s new version of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

Think you know the story already?

Well, it’s true: we are using Christie’s original text and her original ending, and the characters you probably remember. But we are going to make you think again.

I promise.


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

cast_costumebw

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…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…

Photo 07-10-2018, 16 07 34

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

IMG_4084

Ten Little Soldiers

Christie on Campus #7

Christie on Campus #7

The New Year brings new blood to the Nuffeld stage

The cast of SUP’s upcoming AND THEN THERE WERE NONE includes new faces

When we auditioned and cast the show, we were pleased to welcome some exciting new talent to SUP Theatre Company.

In fact, the 10-strong cast is an almost 50/50 split, comprising five new or new-ish members alongside five longstanding players. This has made for a genuinely interesting dynamic within the cast, as old friends have come to blows in character – and new alliances are forged.

So, it’s in with the new…

Anna Hussey plays Mrs Rogers

screen shot 2019-01-04 at 11.15.42

Anna Hussey

Anna has mainly been working backstage for the last decade, specialising in costume since leaving university.

She returned to the stage in 2016 and is making her debut performing with SUP in this thrilling production, with a marvellous turn as the hectoring and put-upon housekeeper on Soldier Island.

Along with performing, Anna enjoys board games, sci-fi and fantasy TV/film and attending rock gigs. She also hopes to return to another of her university pastimes in the near future... skydiving!

Gavin Costigan is Justice Lawrence Wargrave

Gavin’s first public performance in 1972 received mixed reviews from the critics.

Some thought that a loud solo rendition of “Baa Baa Black Sheep” may not have been entirely appropriate for a Nativity play – and perhaps even less so since he was in the audience.

screen shot 2019-01-04 at 11.14.56

Gavin Costigan

His acting skills have progressed since then, although sadly his singing is much the same. He has appeared in a variety of shows for different groups, and before the current production his favourite part was Charles Condomine in BLITHE SPIRIT.

Gavin is returning to the stage after a break from acting due a combination of work and children – but both of these are now somewhat more under control. His Wargrave is watchful and controlling. When not acting or trying to earn a living, he writes poetry, drinks whisky and walks up Scottish mountains, though not all at once.

Hannah Harrison plays Dr Elizabeth Armstrong

screen shot 2019-01-04 at 11.07.48

Hannah Harrison

Hannah likes to think that her revolutionary gender swap makes her the TRUE first female Doctor!

She trained as a professional actress at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts alongside fellow cast member Jess Capes. After following her friend of six years to Southampton, Hannah decided that she had to go one step further and join SUP – to further annoy Jess with her constant company.

Hannah is also an avid snow globe collector and has a thing for pineapple shaped objects. Her Dr. Armstrong is a joy to behold.

Alex Mawers is Anthony Marston

Alex is a qualified accountant working at Southampton General Hospital. As his amoral playboy character in the show says – repeatedly and annoyingly – he’s a “triffic!” addition to the team.

He’s only just returned to acting and this will be his first stage performance since his GCSE performance of Alice in Wonderland in 2010!

Although not seen on stage with SUP yet, Alex did appear as the Inspector’s assistant at two SUP Murder Mystery Dinners in 2018.

screen shot 2019-01-04 at 11.20.02

Alex Mawers

Jess Capes plays Vera Claythorne

screen shot 2019-01-04 at 11.24.46

Jess Capes

Jess trained at drama school with fellow cast mate Hannah.

She is very excited to be tackling this role alongside an amazing cast: if rehearsals are anything to go by, her performance in the climax of the play will have audiences on the edges of their seats.

Jess used to compete in ice skating, loves her brass music and once owned 13 gerbils!

Please remember to tell your friends, family and colleagues about the show – and don’t forget to book


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

ATTWN