A New York Tale

 

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With our theatre soon to play host to Guys And Dolls, we take a look at Damon Runyon – the chronicler of New York life behind the guys and the dolls – not to mention the gamblers, gangsters and hustlers.


 

Appropriately for a man so associated with the city of New York, Damon Runyon was born in Manhattan. However, Runyon’s birthplace was a long way from the Big Apple. This Manhattan was in Kansas, in the US mid-west, a far cry from Broadway and Brooklyn.

Runyon was born in 1880, and his birth name was Alfred Damon Runyan. The spelling of his surname was changed, apparently accidentally, at a newspaper he worked for, but he allowed the change to stand. The name Alfred was later dropped from his byline after he arrived in New York – whether this was accidental or not isn’t  clear, but it’s perhaps significant that ‘Damon Runyon’ was essentially a creation of the city of New York.

Young Alfred Runyan left school early – by some accounts he completed only the American fourth grade, which would have made him just ten when he quit full time education. He began working on newspapers in the town of Pueblo, Colorado, where his family had settled following financial difficulty a few years after his birth. His father – previously the editor of his own newspaper – was working in journalism in Pueblo, and helped his son find work. After a short spell in the army during the Spanish-American War, he established himself as a sports reporter (specialising in baseball), working for a number of papers in Colorado. It was during this period that the spelling of his surname changed.

In 1910, Runyon moved to New York. It was in his first byline in the city, for the American that the name Damon Runyon first appeared in print. It wasn’t until 1932 that the first of the collections of short stories that would make his name appeared in print. It was called – as you might be able to guess – Guys And Dolls. The musical of the same name was adapted mainly from one of the stories within this collection, The Idyll Of Miss Sarah Brown, which tells the story of the unlikely but eventually triumphant romance between the titular missionary girl and the inveterate gamble Sky Masterson. It also features elements from another story in the same collection, called Blood Pressure, and several other Runyon short stories.

The musical makes use of the same slang employed by Runyon in his writing, where a knife is ‘shiv’, a gun an ‘equaliser’ or a ‘John Roscoe’, and a ‘pineapple’ a grenade. Some less violent examples are more recognisable, like ‘noggin’ for head, or ‘snoot’ meaning nose. Runyon was also famous for writing almost entirely in the present tense, a trait perhaps derived from his work as a journalist.

As well as the slang, Guys And Dolls contains many themes which run throughout Runyon’s work. One was gambling, whether on horse races or craps (a dice game), perhaps because he was a habitual gambler himself. Another was the explosion of crime which took place in America in the Prohibition era, from 1920 to 1933. During this time, the production and sale of alcohol was illegal in the United States – the unintended result of this was that a whole criminal industry sprang up to supply the taste was alcohol, which could not simply be legislated away.

It’s this world, of gangsters and gamblers, that Guys And Dolls will bring to life on our stage – along with some fabulous songs!

Guys And Dolls: Tuesday 28 June to Saturday 2 July. Book here.

 

 

 

 

 

More than just Friends

Ross & Rachel @ Assembly Box (c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit (_D3C0484)

Ross & Rachel, a new play which was a huge hit at the Edinburgh Festival, comes to The Marlowe Studio in June. Here our Studio Manager, Adam Wood, tells us why his experience with the play in Edinburgh made him determined to bring it to Canterbury.


It was the morning of my last day at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and it’s possible I was tired, but nevertheless I didn’t expect to find myself openly weeping inside a venue that resembled nothing more closely than a shipping container. The venue for the Edinburgh run of James Fritz’s new play Ross & Rachel was not flattering:  cramped and hot, staff were handing out cups of water as the audience went in and giving instruction as to what to do if someone fainted. Still, once the play started, none of that mattered any more.

Without giving too much away, Fritz’s script calls for one performer to play both of the titular parts in his or her own accent. It’s a duologue for one, and the level of difficulty for the performer is exceptionally high. Right from the beginning, however, it was clear that Molly Vevers was equal to the task.  It was Vevers’ receiving The Stage Award for Acting Excellence that had persuaded me to see Ross & Rachel, and I was immediately glad that I did. By turns animated, reserved, impassioned and distraught, Vevers embodies both halves of the performance flawlessly. And yet this isn’t mimicry: knowledge of the characters in their television portrayal will make you laugh here or there as references crop up once in a while, but the play is more concerned with Ross & Rachel as icons of what it means to be in a long-term relationship. Frtiz’s script and Vevers’ performance are most interested in what it’s like to love someone for years, and to do so despite everything that life throws at you. Put simply, the play is about what it means to be a couple.

I’m thrilled to be able to bring Motor Theatre’s production of Ross & Rachel to The Marlowe Studio. In a season full of excellent-quality theatre, it’s a real highlight for me and a show I can’t wait to experience all over again. I can’t recommend strongly enough that you come along and watch Molly Vevers bring James Fritz’s wonderful play to life. I guarantee you’ll be deeply impressed, and there’s a chance you may shed a tear.

Ross & Rachel:The Marlowe Studio, Friday 17 June. Book here.

 

Claire Sweeney interview

 

Claire Sweeney (Velma Von Tussle) in Hairspray. Credit Ellie Kurttz.jpg

Claire Sweeney as Velma von Tussle

We catch up with Hairspray star Claire Sweeney ahead of the show’s visit to Canterbury next week. Since we chatted to Claire, it’s been announced that she’ll be back here at the end of August, to play Baroness Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.


When I catch up with Claire Sweeney on the phone one Thursday, between the matinee and the evening performance of Hairspray, she sounds remarkably chipper for someone who’s been on the road for several months, with several more to go: “The tour started in September, so we’re well into it. We don’t finish until May, but I’m really enjoying it.”

Part of the reason for her enjoyment is her character, Hairspray’s villainess, Velma von Tussle: “Velma’s fantastic. She’s so evil, she’s vile. She’s fat-ist, she’s everything you shouldn’t be. She’s hysterical. She’s so bad she’s funny! She’s great fun to play, I get to go completely over the top.” Her fellow cast members also come in for praise: “They’re fantastic. They’re really good fun, a really good fun cast. And they’re young and vibrant. They’re great.”

Not that Claire has time these days for socializing with her fellow cast members. When she’s not on stage she tries to spend as much time as possible with her son, Jaxon, who’s 18 months old: “I don’t go out partying, I just want to get home to my baby really. I’d rather be at home with him, although he does come on tour with me.”

Claire is probably best known to the public for her television work. She first came to prominence playing the part of Lindsey Corkhill in the Channel 4 soap opera Brookside, as well as starring roles in TV dramas such as Merseybeat and Clocking Off. She’s also presented several shows, and was a regular panelist on ITV’s Loose Women for several years. She’s also no stranger to reality TV, having appeared in the first series of both Celebrity Big Brother and Strictly Come Dancing.

But although the public may think of her as a TV star, Claire’s heart is firmly in the theatre: “I’ve done a lot of theatre, as well as the television. I love theatre, I really love it. It’s the live response, that instantaneous response that you get. The audience for Hairspray, every single night, they go absolutely crazy, it’s amazing.”

Her theatre career has certainly encompassed some iconic roles, ranging from the title role in Educating Rita to Roxie Hart in Chicago, as well as the one woman show Tell Me On A Sunday. Claire says: “I’ve been dead lucky, I’ve done some great roles. I think my favourite was probably Miss Adelaide in Guys And Dolls, that was a really special one.”

That latter role involved her working alongside Patrick Swayze, the late star of the film Dirty Dancing, of whom Claire says: “He was wonderful, absolutely amazing.” She counts working alongside him as her best on-stage experience. However, it was that role of Miss Adelaide that also led to what she regards as her worst: “I fell over in Guys And Dolls. I had pearls round my neck and they snapped and went all over the floor and I fell over them. That was probably the worst.”

Future roles she has her eye on include Mrs Johnson in Blood Brothers: “It’s just an amazing role, fantastic… I think I prefer musical theatre [to straight drama]. I started out as a singer, in clubs and things, which was great.” Outside of her career, she’s pretty content: “I’ve had my son so that’s my dream. Box ticked. I just want to carry on working and providing for him now.” (Claire split up with Jaxon’s father a few months after his birth).

For now, she’s enjoying her time touring with Hairspray: “It’s a wonderful show. People think of it as just being frothy, and fun, but people don’t realise how amazing it it, and the message it has. It’s a wonderful, wonderful show with great songs and a really strong message attached to it.” She also relishes the chance to see new places that her job brings with it: “I haven’t worked in Canterbury before, it’s going to be a first. I’m looking forward to it, seeing the town, the architecture. It’s great to explore a new place. I like travelling and getting to see different places. I worked on cruise liners when I was younger, and it’s so nice to travel and get to see different places. An international tour of Hairspray would be great!”

Hairspray: Monday 25 to Saturday 30 April. Book here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Box-set theatre

James Plays Group Shot

Described by one reviewer as “Scotland’s answer to Game Of Thrones”, a unique theatrical experience will land at our theatre this spring.  The James Plays are a brand new trilogy of plays written by acclaimed playwright Rona Munro. They’re a fresh, modern – and occasionally bloody – take on the tradition of history plays.


 

When it comes to history plays, Shakespeare is the grand-daddy of them all. But The James Plays aim to challenge him – and to do for three medieval kings of Scotland what the Bard did for the Richards and Henrys of England. Rona Munro’s trilogy premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 2014, to huge critical and popular acclaim. As you may have guessed, it tells the stories of three Scottish kings, all called James, who ruled Scotland during the tumultuous fifteenth century.

Let’s be honest: this may all sound a little obscure. But these plays are vivid and exhilarating, with The Daily Telegraph going so far as to describe them as “better than Shakespeare”. Although they can be enjoyed individually, together they are a unique insight into one country’s development at a key moment in its history. And, as such, the producers have come up with an unusual way of presenting them.

Instead of the conventional performance schedule of a week of evening performances, perhaps with a matinee or two added, the plays are performed over the course of just one day, with audiences at each venue having two opportunities to catch the entire trilogy. It’s described as the theatrical equivalent of watching a DVD box-set all in one go.

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In Canterbury, the plays will be performed on Friday and Saturday, with performances at 11am, 3pm and 7:30pm on each day. As well as referencing the modern era of box-sets, this schedule harks back to the origins of theatre in Britain, when mystery plays would have been performed as cycles, spread out across a whole day. You can choose to buy tickets for just one or two of the plays – but if you book for all three you’ll get 10% off.

James II by Manuel Harlan Image 11

If you want to get even more involved in the action, a limited number of seats are available actually on the stage itself. Although there’s no actual audience participation as such, (insert your own relief or disappointment here, depending on your view of such things) the on-stage audience are used to represent the king’s court. Talk about being at the heart of the action!

The James Plays have the ambitious aim of showing the birth of a nation on stage. Better than Shakespeare? That, you will have to decide for yourself…

You can book here: James I James II James III

 

The Marlowe Theatre’s Guide To Opera: Don Giovanni

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English Touring Opera’s Don Giovanni

In the latest of our series looking at the operas that we will be bringing to our theatre this year, we meet Mozart’s famous anti-hero.


There can’t be many comedies which end with the hero’s consignment to hell. But this is exactly what happens at the end of Don Giovanni, as the titular character finally gets his comeuppance. This fate is foreshadowed in the opera’s full title, which is: Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni, which translates as The Rake Punished, or Don Giovanni. As you may have guessed, it’s written in Italian, even though Mozart, was, of course, Austrian. (If you’ve read any of these blogs before, you’ll probably have noticed that this linguistic confusion is a running theme in opera). However, in this case, the words were actually written by an Italian – Mozart’s regular librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte.

It was first performed in Prague, on 29 October, 1787 – Mozart having finished writing it only the day before. It was met with a rapturous reception both in Prague, and in its first appearance in Vienna in May of the following year. It has remained one of the most frequently performed and popular operas ever since – it’s currently ranked as the tenth most-performed opera worldwide.

The opera is based on the stories about Don Juan, the legendary libertine and seducer of women. Don Giovanni is seducing his way around Spain, accompanied by his long-suffering servant Leporello. While attempting to seduce one young lady, he gets into a fight with her father, whom he kills. Showing no remorse, Giovanni continues with his debauched lifestyle – until the spirit of the dead man returns to seek his revenge.

As you would expect from Mozart, their opera contains some great music – whether that’s the Don’s predictably sparkling ‘Champagne’ aria, or the famously seductive duet Là ci darem la mano (There We Will Entwine Our Hands) the tunes in this opera are among Mozart’s best.

Don Giovanni - Mozart - Glyndebourne - 7 June 2014Conductor - Andres Orozco-Estrada Director - Jonathan Kent Revival Director - Lloyd Wood Designer - Paul Brown Lighting - Mark Henderson Leporello - Edwin Crossley-Mercer Donna Anna - Layla Claire Don G

Glyndebourne’s Don Giovanni

This year, we are bringing you not one, but two chances to see Mozart’s masterpiece (we try to be generous…). The first is from English Touring Opera, which will be with us on Friday 6 May. This new production, sung in English translation, is performed in Victorian dress. It was described by The Guardian as, “Beautifully acted and finely sung… A fine achievement, and the best UK staging of Don Giovanni for some time.” What’s On Stage as, “Unmissable… Gets practically everything right.”

If you miss this, or it’s just not enough of the Don for you, the rake will be back in our theatre in November, as part of our annual visit from the Glyndebourne Tour. This is a revival of a modern-dress production first created by renowned director Jonathan Kent in 2010, sung in the original Italian (with English supertitles). If you’re curious to know more about Don Giovanni and opera in general, Glyndebourne will also be bringing us their new Behind The Curtain presentation, a unique chance to learn more about this unique art form.

Don Giovanni:

ETO: Friday 6 May Book here

Glyndebourne: Tuesday 15 & Friday 18 November Book here

Behind The Curtain: Thursday 17 November Book here 

Across the bay

The Lamellar Project_image

We find out about a production with a global scale and some very local connections, which is coming to The Marlowe Studio next month.


It’s 2039. The Earth’s eco-system is collapsing. Two scientists on opposite sides of the Atlantic are thrown into a new kind of war…

That’s the premise for The Lamellar Project, an exciting story of eco-activism, love and betrayal coming soon to The Marlowe Studio. More than just your usual theatre performance, The Lamellar Project also features film, and a live video link from Philadelphia in every show.

But although the plot has a global scale, the show has some very local connections. It’s being produced in conjunction with The Bay Trust, an environmental education charity based at St Margaret’s Bay, near Dover. The Trust aims to preserve and enhance the local environment, as well as providing a wide range of opportunities for people of different ages and backgrounds to learn about sustainable living.

Their chairman Alistair Gould says: “We’re thrilled to be helping support the multi-faceted Lamellar Project come to the stage. Writer Grant Watson is leading the vanguard of a new model of  ‘Eco Edutainment’ – a highly thought-provoking piece that sees mankind arriving in a challenging future scenario. This is both riveting theatre and also a wake up call – an opportunity  to  consider the pathways still open to us today regarding how we will live and feed ourselves a couple of decades from now. Will the path we choose be folly or one our grandchildren will thank us for?”

 The Lamellar Project: The Marlowe Studio, Tuesday 3 & Wednesday 4 May. Book here

 

Farewell to Vincent and Flavia

The Last Tango

Marlowe Theatre favourites Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace will be dancing into our theatre next week for the third time, with their new show The Last Tango – which will be their last ever theatre tour together. So as we bid them a fond farewell, we thought we’d take a look back their careers.

For most of the general public, the Vincent & Flavia story starts in 2006, when the couple both appeared as pro-dancers on the fourth series of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.  However, their partnership goes back much further than that – the two have been dancing together since 1994.

Both were born in Italy. Flavia moved to the UK as a child when her father, a chef, got a job here. Vincent – the son of two professional dancers- arrived in England as a teenager, and met Flavia when both attended the same dance school in London. The pair won several titles together at both UK and International levels, including becoming the UK’s first ever Argentine Tango champions in 2006.

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Vincent and Flavia in our auditorium during their last visit.

They left Strictly Come Dancing in 2012, in order to give them time to work on their first theatrical show, Midnight Tango, which opened in 2013. As well as another theatre show, Dance ‘Til Dawn, since that time, they’ve created an app to teach dance, and Flavia has released her own range of cosmetics, By Flavia, which proudly boasts that its products are ‘tested on dancers not animals’.

So, they’ve certainly got plenty to occupy them after they bid farewell to the stage, and they’re both probably looking forward to spending time with their families (Vincent has two sons with wife Susan, and Flavia married actor Jimi Mistry in 2013). But they have promised that although this is their farewell theatre tour, they will keep dancing – together and individually. So, it’s not a final farewell, just yet…

The Last Tango: Tuesday 11 to Saturday 16 April. Book here.