Richard Bean on One Man, Two Guvnors

Richard Bean, writer of One Man, Two Guvnors. Image via The Times.

Richard Bean, writer of One Man, Two Guvnors. Image via The Times.

Next month the National Theatre’s critically-acclaimed comedy One Man, Two Guvnors arrives with us. Seen by more than one million people worldwide, Canterbury now has the chance to enjoy this laugh-out-loud smash hit.

In our previous blogpost the National Theatre’s Artistic Director Nicholas Hytner looked back at how it all began. Now we hear from the show’s writer, Richard Bean.

How did you adapt the play and why

I adapted a version of Don Boucicault’s London Assurance for National Theatre director Nick Hytner in 2010.  Nick described it as a juiced-up old play and our version was a fabulous success. When Nick was talking about adapting Carlo Goldini’s eighteenth century farce, The Servant Of Two Masters, I got the gig.

Can you tell me about your background and how you got into writing..

I started writing very late in life. I was born in Hull, studied psychology at Loughborough University and worked in industry as an occupational psychologist for fifteen years.  I had no particular interest in theatre.  Then at 35 I started doing stand-up comedy which was my first venture into writing.  For that kind of comedy everyone has to write their own material.  I lived with an actor for a while and that got me interested in theatre.

I was 42 when I wrote my first professionally produced play – it was produced by the National Theatre and the Royal Court. 42 was quite old for a first play. I then came to the NT Studio for three-month bursaries for a couple of years and found I could write plays quite quickly.  This was a great boost to me as I could become a full-time playwright. I wrote my second, third and fourth plays at the National Theatre.

Toast was my first play in 1999, and it was 10 years later that I wrote One Man, Two Guvnors.  The first few plays I wrote tended to be ‘hairy bloke plays’ about men at work – trawler men and factory workers and that kind of thing.  That was an early phase if you like.  Then there was my second phase.  They are what I call my ‘counter-intuitive plays’ .  Others have called them controversial plays.

My stand-up background has always meant that I’ve relied on my comedy to keep the audience interested even if I’m dealing with serious subjects.  Other writers, without naming names, might use poetry or sensationalism.  But I’ve always tended to use comedy or the odd funny moment to keep people interested in the plot – even with serious plays like The Big Fellah about the IRA in New York. I’ve written about 15 plays but I’ve only tried to write two out-and-out comedies in all that time.

Emma Barton as Dolly and Gavin Spokes as Francis Henshall in One Man, Two Guvnors at The Marlowe Theatre Canterbury in September 2014.

Emma Barton as Dolly and Gavin Spokes as Francis Henshall. Photo by Johan Persson.

One is my own farce called In The Club about an MEP in Brussels, in the European Union and the second is One Man, Two Guvnors. The stakes are so different when you write a farce. A lot of my plays are incorrectly described as comedies in my opinion. Just because they are funny, that doesn’t make it a comedy.

Farce is incredibly difficult. When I tried to write my first farce, In The Club, I remember sitting in the corner of my study crying – a grown man sobbing. I’m not proud of it. I just couldn’t make it work. It’s so difficult to make a farce work.  Every time someone leaves there has to be clear motivation and every time someone comes in there has to be clear motivation and the doors are so important. It’s unbelievably difficult plotting to do that kind of thing.  In The Club was moderately successful and so I gave myself five or six years off before I tried my next farce. One Man, Two Guvnors wasn’t that difficult to do the plotting as it had already been done by Carlo Goldini.

Why did you set it in Brighton during the 60s?

The credit for the  show should go to Nick Hytner.  It was his conception to do this old Italian Comedia dell’Arte museum piece as a funky 1960s beat band comedy with music hall turns.  If the book works – I don’t mind taking the credit for that. Skiffle was my idea – so I’ll take the credit for that.

The Craze, house band in One Man, Two Guvnors coming to The Marlowe Theatre Canterbury in September 2014.  Photo by Johan Persson.

The Craze, house band in One Man, Two Guvnors. Photo by Johan Persson.

I originally wanted to set the play during the second world war. I was hung up by the food.  In the first half, the central character of Frances is driven by hunger. No one in the 60s was that hungry – you could always get a slice of bread and butter. It was still food. Whereas in the war, people were hungry, and it would have been a drive. It could have been set in the blitz and it wouldn’t have been so good.  Well done Nick, you won that argument.

I don’t think anyone in the audience thinks – it’s 1963 – how can anyone be that hungry?  We get away with it.

Are you surprised by the play’s success?

Well, I can’t honestly say I’m surprised. I didn’t have any particular hopes for it anyway.  What has happened has been fabulous. When you write a play and want to get it on, you don’t think – will it be still on and will it go to Broadway. You think – will it survive the first or second night.

When we were in the rehearsal room Nick arranged two performances with audiences.  On the Thursday, we invited about 80 children into the rehearsal room. It was kind of alright, but not that good.  For some of Frances Henshall’s long surreal speeches, the kids didn’t get it at all. We did quite a lot of cuts, and had another school coming in the next day. We did those cuts and the show absolutely stormed it with those school kids. It made us a lot more confident to go into technical rehearsals the next week.

The first preview was such a knock-out, despite technical problems in the first week.  We guessed it would be a hit.

I’m looking forward to seeing this new version of One Man, Two Guvnors, and am particularly pleased that it is touring to so many cities around the UK and Ireland.

One Man, Two Guvnors is at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury from Monday 29 September – Saturday 4 October.

If you’re interested in trying your hand at playwriting, our new term of writing workshops for all levels of experience starts this September.

A day in the life of… Will Millar, Deputy Stage Door Keeper

Will Millar, Deputy Stage Door Keeper at The Marlowe Theatre. Photo by Tim Stubbings.

Will Millar, Deputy Stage Door Keeper. Photo by Tim Stubbings.

In this series we’re taking you behind the scenes at The Marlowe to find out about our staff. Our previous colleagues under the spotlight have been Creative Projects Officer Andrew Dawson and Arts Marketing Trainee Nadia Newstead. Now, it’s the turn of Deputy Stage Door Keeper Will Millar.

How long have you been working at The Marlowe Theatre?

It’ll be exactly 3 years on 14 September! I started a few weeks before we officially opened; it was still a bit of a building site then.

What does a typical day for you look like?

Stage Door is open before everyone arrives and we close after everyone has left. For a 7am start, I wake up at 5.30am to be at work for 6.50am. The first hour is spent doing the previous day’s paperwork, having a cup of tea and a sing-song with the housekeepers. If it’s a day when a show is ‘getting in’ then it is very busy with cast, crew, postmen and visitors. It’s not a job for those who get flustered under pressure.

There are two full-time staff on Stage Door; Natalie and myself – one of us does a week of ‘earlies’ while the other does the ‘lates’. Week-long shows always ‘get out’ after the show on Saturday – so it’s not uncommon for Stage Door to be here until 5am on the Sunday morning. We couldn’t stay awake without copious amounts of junk food and lots of sugar!

What inspired you to work in theatre?

It was actually quite convoluted. My first dabble at it was aged 11 when I was stage crew for a school production – a post I was urged to fill as I was a very sensible child! Fast-forward four years when a friend of mine mentioned that they built sets at one of the local theatres on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Ever the tag-along, I showed up (aged 15) with a toolbox in hand and a very timid voice.

Within 6 months I was at the theatre every evening building sets, designing lighting plots, running shows – just about everything you can think of. I would literally run from school to the theatre and head home about 11pm to sleep then do it all again the next day. You soon learn how to shout above power tools.

What are your first memories of theatre?

I remember seeing a touring production of Alice In Wonderland at my school when I was 6. I had to be taken out halfway through because I cried when the Cheshire Cat lost his smile. The first professional show I saw was Riverdance at the Hammersmith Apollo in 1996. It remains one of my favourite shows.

What is the best part of your job?

When cast and crew from previous shows come back with different shows. It’s like seeing old friends. There are several Company Managers whom I keep in touch with outside of work.

Outside of work I…

Can you guess? I run my own theatre company – ‘Back of House Theatre Company’ who have hosted two shows in The Marlowe Studio: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (September 2013) and Metamorphosis (April 2014).

I’m happy to say that it has gone from strength to strength and we are currently putting together our new show Horror Box. We’ve written and created something that is the closest thing to a horror film in live theatre form. We’ve been very lucky to receive a Grant for the Arts from Arts Council England for this particular production, something that is not easy to come by. It’s a clear indication that the Arts Council are recognising our work and supporting us on our journey.

I’m also an avid magician, musician and aviator – I’m currently working towards my private pilot’s licence.

Favourite production you’ve seen at The Marlowe?

I was dreading this question! There are so many that have been exceptional. If I had to choose one, it would be Some Like It Hip Hop because I went in expecting to be totally out of place (I know as much about dance as Mr Kipling knows about submarines) when in fact I was completely taken in by the story and the staging that I had goose bumps for the majority of the show.

And the production you’re most looking forward to?

Can I say Horror Box? If not, then it has to be An Evening with Roger Moore – the man is a legend!

Any advice for someone looking to work in theatre, or produce their own work?

In regards to producing your own work, if you have a story to tell that you believe in and want to share its message then that is the biggest driver. It gets to a point where you have to tell it because not doing so would be detrimental to your development as a person. I very much believe in the saying “love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life”.

I’m very fortunate to be able to work in the theatre world because periods where I haven’t been able to work in it, have been like losing a part of myself. Local amateur theatres are the backbone of your journey – learn from the ground up. I learnt so many skills from being thrown in at the deep end. It’s a long journey but that isn’t a negative; there’s only one way to eat an elephant – a bite at a time.

The Marlowe meets…Ben Elton (writer of Tonight’s The Night)

Ben Elton with cast of Tonight's The Night: Andy Rees, Jade Ewen, Jenna Lee-James , Ben Heathcoate, Michael McKell  and Tiffany Graves. Photo by Phil Tragen.

Ben Elton with cast of Tonight’s The Night: Andy Rees, Jade Ewen, Jenna Lee-James , Ben Heathcoate, Michael McKell and Tiffany Graves. Photo by Phil Tragen.

Ben Elton is the protean talent whose career has spanned plays, novels, and a feature film, in addition to 30 years as one of the most successful comic writers and performers on the British television and stand-up circuit. But Elton, 54, has always reserved a special place in his heart for musicals, having written three that feature music from such diverse talents as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Queen, and Rod Stewart.

The last-named rocker was the inspiration for Tonight’s the Night, the West End show that is currently touring the UK, and is coming to Canterbury this July. He talks to theatre critic Matt Wolf about his love of the stage, and why jukebox musicals deserve a far better rap than they sometimes receive.

It’s been over a decade now since Tonight’s the Night played the West End. What’s your feeling about the show as you return to it in a fresh production this many years on?

I’ve always loved this show for the same reasons that I have always loved the theatre. It’s wonderful to be a part of this community of artists who dedicate themselves to their art. Backstage they may be rinsing their socks out in the sink or whatever and then they go out and make everybody in the audience feel like champions. What we want to say with this show, in particular, is that there’s nothing wrong with theatre being a fantastic night out that makes you feel great so that you go home feeling better than you did when you arrived – that’s what people are paying for and that’s what the theatre can do.

In fact, you were exposed to the theatre as a youngster before you were ever exposed to Rod Stewart.

Absolutely. I played the Artful Dodger [in Oliver!] twice as a kid and my first real musical theatre experience came when I was about 12 or so and I was taken as the guest of a school friend to see Grease at the Dominion Theatre – where [Elton’s Queen musical] We Will Rock You is playing now!

I love musical theatre and always have done, whereas it took some time in my own life before I started going to gigs the way that my own children [14-year-old twins and a 12-year-old] do now. Going to gigs then was nothing as prevalent as it is now; I don’t think I went to any until I got to Manchester University and saw The Talking Heads and Dire Straits

What was the impetus behind a show that tethers an original story by you to Rod Stewart’s songbook?

Well, let’s face it. It’s difficult to think of anybody more famous in the world of pop music than Rod Stewart. There may be people as famous like Bono and Paul McCartney but there aren’t many out there who can surpass what Rod has achieved. And what’s great is that when you listen to Rod’s music and then look at his life, he always seems so fabulously good-humoured, so I thought what would work might be a story that brought to the stage his grace and good humour and something of his devilish side while also recognising the fact that he sings about heartache as well as anyone ever has.

Tonight's The Night ensemble

Ensemble cast of Tonight’s The Night

Your script for Tonight’s the Night involves Satan and a so-called “soul swap” and a geeky young mechanic from Detroit who is none-too-accidentally called Stuart. How did the idea for the story come to you?

I spent a week listening to Rod’s music intensively, which of course was no hardship at all, and as I listened and listened and listened, I tried to identify the overriding spirit of the songs, which were all about love and good times and winning and losing girls and all the things that quite frankly make for good stories!

So I sat down and tried to think of something that would do justice to Rod’s own gift for storytelling and came up with a story that reminds us of that thing we’re always been told over and over again in drama – “to thine own self be true.”

How does a quote from Hamlet apply to Tonight’s the Night?

[Laughs] Our show is really about a shy kid in Stuart who wishes that he could be like Rod. He learns that you’ll do better in life if you try and build on your own strength and personality rather than being jealous and wishing you were somebody else – that’s to say, nobody but Rod can be Rod just as nobody but you can be you and nobody but me can be me: it’s a simple story, which I think is perfect for a musical.

Were you worried about what Rod would think?

I first sent a synopsis of the script to Arnold [Stiefel, Rod’s manager, and a co-producer on the show] and fortunately he loved it and said that he was going to say that to Rod and hoped that he would love it, too. To this day, I’m not sure whether Rod ever read the synopsis or not but what happened was that he came to our workshop and turned to me at the end and said, “Well, you’ve made me a legend, haven’t you?” – which was of course hilarious because he’s been a legend all along!

Still, it must have been heartening to have so strong a seal of approval. Did you have an intuitive sense that his music would translate well to the musical theatre stage?

Tonight's the Night Tour

What’s great is that Rod writes songs from the heart like Maggie May or he will choose to cover exquisite material like The First Cut is the Deepest, the Cat Stevens song, but they always tell the story of somebody going through some set of emotions – be they pride and joy and heartache or from love to hate or hate to love.

They’re all about being a guy, really, I guess – they’re guy songs – but obviously they appeal to women as well because they’re written with such sensitivity and they come with emotions that concern us all, which are love, pride, hope and the dream that tomorrow will be a better day than today.

You’ve had success with the songbooks of Rod Stewart and, of course, Queen, with We Will Rock You roaring into its second decade at the Dominion Theatre on the West End. Are there some popular singer-songwriters whom you don’t think would lend themselves to this approach?

There are. I’m busking here as I say this but I don’t think Bob Dylan’s music would necessarily work in this way; his music is too eclectic in that you can’t sit down and say, “What’s Bob’s vibe”? It’s just too crazy. And for my part at least, I’m just not that interested in writing the biography of someone set to their music. I was approached to do that as regards the genius of Tina Turner but what I prefer to do is write an original story embodying the spirit of the artist or the band.

Since Tonight’s the Night, jukebox musicals have continued to proliferate both sides of the Atlantic; a new one drawing on the songbook of Carole King and entitled Beautiful has recently opened on Broadway.

I’m not surprised and I will argue to anyone who wants to listen that jukeboxes are not something to be ashamed of! They are filled with memories and dreams and love and laughter and they are good, fun things, and the theatre can be good fun, as well. In my view, it’s a perfectly legitimate and honourable thing to seek to entertain the public with music that they love, and the fact that the music is old and the story is new strikes me as no more reprehensible than attaching new music to an old story, as with The Lion King and Billy Elliot.

One last question for now: was Tonight’s the Night always the obvious song title for your show as a whole?

No and the jury’s still out as to whether this was the right one; Phil McIntyre, our producer, still thinks it should be called Hot Legs!

Tonight’s The Night plays at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury from Monday 28 July – Saturday 2 August.

The Marlowe meets…Derren Brown

Derren Brown's Infamous at The Marlowe Theatre. Photo by Seamus Ryan.

Image by Seamus Ryan.

Next week Derren Brown takes to our stage with his new show Infamous. It’s been picking up great reviews on tour and it seems you’re in for quite an evening: What’s On Stage gave it ★★★★★, calling it an ‘experience you will never forget’.

We’re excited to have this enigmatic performer with us for a week, and were lucky enough to get to know him a little better ahead of his arrival…

Infamous has been very well received by critics and the general public alike. How does criticism, good or bad, affect you when you’re performing?

It doesn’t. The only advice I really listen to is my director in the first instance, my producer, and occasionally my manager or the guys that come on tour with me make a point that I think is worth taking on board. It was clear quickly via Twitter that the show was being well received, and it’s lovely to have that backed up by the press, but aside from the relief that no-one’s complaining about it I don’t think it has any effect on the show.

It’s been well documented that you love touring. What’s the fatal attraction?

Performing the show is a huge delight. It doesn’t matter what sort of day I’ve had, the show picks me up and leaves me buzzing with adrenalin. Normally I’m fairly quiet and perhaps a little isolated, so that in itself is a lovely feeling and provides a healthy balance. But aside from that, I get my days free to read or write and am able to travel round the country with a bunch of friends, all of us knowing we’re putting on a great show every night. I can’t imagine anything nicer.

Are there any downsides to being on the road for six months of the year?

It’s tricky when you’re in a relationship. It’s a common thing with performers – you don’t see your partner for months and then it takes a while, especially for the one who’s been at home, to get used to being back together again. And if big things are going on in your partner’s life and you’re not around to support them, that’s hard too. We’re both very independent and have our own creative things going on, which helps a lot, but we’re going to make more effort next year to see each other on the road.

Will there be a new show for 2015? And any plans to tour abroad?

Hopefully there’ll be a new show, certainly. As for taking it abroad, I’ve no huge drive to, other than to see some countries I otherwise wouldn’t. So I’m in no rush, and currently don’t have the time that would be needed to go abroad and promote it and so on.

Are you pleased with how your latest TV special, The Great Art Robbery, has been received?

Yes, it seemed to go down very well. I wanted to do something less ‘dark’ than Apocalypse, and it felt like I had exhausted the hidden-camera stunt genre. You can’t do much more with an unwitting participant than end the world for him! So this was very different – quieter in some ways but a real pleasure to make.

A lot of people are saying how the recent shows have become warmer and less ‘self-orientated’. Would you agree with this? 

I’d hope so. I’m sure some people miss the mind-reading tricks but as I’ve grown up and felt less need to impress, I’ve enjoyed moving into an area where I can shift the spotlight to other people. It’s surely much more interesting watching real people steal a painting than a magician. In the latter case you’re never sure how much to believe or where his abilities are supposed to end, in which case the potential for drama is very limited.

By putting the focus on members of the public and taking a behind-the-scenes role, I can work with clear drama and story-telling. And it doesn’t have to be huge: some old people swiping a painting can hopefully be every bit as compelling as a guy fighting post apocalyptic zombies.

There are still a lot of trickery and illusions on show. Would you say that your magic roots remain as important as ever?

I seem to be in a lucky position now with TV where I can deal with a wide range of subjects. If I had been stuck with only ever being a ‘mentalist’ or magician I’d have lost interest by now. I like to use some of the knowledge I have as a magician and as a person with a keen interest in the fringe areas of psychology and apply them in ways I find more interesting than appearing to read someone’s mind. But then stage is different from TV: it’s more enjoyable for me and a much more natural home for that sort of performance. In fact it’s a huge joy. And it’s theatre, which opens up a new kind of relationship with an audience that doesn’t happen with TV.

I think it’s important in life to do what’s fun, rather than what you feel you ought to be doing, and for me now at 42, that means I have less interest in trying to impress people in real life or on TV with magic tricks, but a greater delight in trying to create these theatre shows. It might be that there’s a different unspoken contract with an audience that know they’ve come to see a show, or perhaps more selfishly it’s the adrenaline of doing it every night. Or more likely it’s a bit of both.

Either way, secular magic – and its related arts – can provide a very special experience and I’m enjoying finding ways that suit me as a grown-up of trying to provide that.

Derren Brown's Infamous at The Marlowe Theatre. Photo by Seamus Ryan

An intense moment during Infamous. Photo by Seamus Ryan.

What can we expect next in terms of TV?

Most likely the next TV show will be the televised version of Infamous. Sadly a lot always has to be cut to fit these two-hour-plus shows into about an hour of actual TV time, so the TV version never compares to seeing the shows live. Beyond that, who knows? If people retain interest, then perhaps it’s time to try something very different.

You are also writing another book. Fact or fiction?

I’m taking my time with the current book. And not fiction – I’m not sure if I could write a novel, as I don’t really read them.

What are you reading at the moment?

Schopenhauer quite avidly, while re-reading Anthony Storr’s Solitude and Darrin McMahon’s The Pursuit of Happiness. And when upon the loo, David Thorne’s The Internet is a Playground, which is truly hilarious.

Are there any plans for a new exhibition of your paintings?

Yes, hopefully at Rebecca Hossack’s London gallery late in 2014. I haven’t painted for two years so am hoping to get a chance to start again later this year.

Is there anyone left you greatly admire that you haven’t painted yet?

I moved away from painting famous people, particularly because I now only work from photographs I’ve taken myself, which was a good thing. Now I think I can return to painting known people but bring something more mature to the process.

And finally…you have 1.6 million followers on Twitter but who are you currently following?

Ha – I only follow 60 or so people. It’s a mix: Alain de Botton for my daily aphorisms, a handful of friends who use Twitter very well or make me laugh, and a few liberal intellectual types. More than that I couldn’t keep up with.

Derren Brown’s Infamous is at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury from Monday 30 June – Saturday 5 July. Limited tickets available. Click here to watch Derren’s past TV specials on 4oD.

The Marlowe meets…Alistair McGowan

Alistair McGowan as Professor Henry Higgins in Pygmalion. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Alistair McGowan as Professor Henry Higgins in Pygmalion. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Alistair McGowan takes to our stage next week as Professor Henry Higgins in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the play that inspired the musical My Fair Lady.

While best known for his work as an impressionist, Alistair has had a diverse career which includes writing and directing as well as starring in West End musicals and a variety of plays. Our Spotlight writer Dawn Kingsford got to know the man behind the mimicry.

With your fascination for phonetics, you are ideally placed to teach Eliza Doolittle (played by Rachel Berry) to “speak like a lady”!

Well, I loved English at school, and my dad – who was born in India – was fascinated by language and always made sure I pronounced my words correctly. So, I’m half-way there. It’s a fascinating story. Can Higgins pass this girl off as someone else, teach her a whole new way of speaking and tempt her to leave her past behind? Or are we all the product of our past?

You received rave reviews when you played Higgins in the West End in 2011. This time, the George Bernard Shaw play will be directed by Tony award-winning David Grindley.

With David at the helm, my part will, undoubtedly, take a different direction, but it’s great to have the freedom to be someone that doesn’t exist in real life.

Your portfolio extends to 300 personalities, how will you stay in character?
I learned dance at drama school, and one day my teacher drew the curtain across the mirror. I asked her how I would know what I was doing if I couldn’t see myself and she taught me that you have to know, inside, when you’re doing the right moves… inhabit a character.

You last appeared in Canterbury doing stand up in 2009. How do you feel about returning to the city – and this time with Charlotte Page, whom you married in June and who appears in Pygmalion as housekeeper Mrs Pearce?

Of all the places I’ll be visiting, Canterbury is right up there. It’s a beautiful city and I’ve heard lots about the new theatre. I’ll be staying – I won’t be commuting back to London. I’m a keen environmentalist and don’t own a car. All I’ll miss is Bunny, our cat, swimming and playing snooker!

You are notoriously private, but please do tell us how you feel about turning 50 this year.

I’d be lying if I said reaching 50 wasn’t on my mind, but now I reflect on how being 50 will feel when I’m 80 and it makes me feel much better.

Your special year started on a high when you won BBC2’s The Great Sport Relief Bake Off.

The last few years have been very varied, which is the story of my life. I only got into cooking when a previous relationship ended and I swore not to become Mr Takeaway. I love to learn, and when my wife bought me a Nigel Slater book for Christmas in 2012, that set me off.

Apart from Pygmalion, what’s next on the agenda – children, perhaps?

It’s something neither my wife nor I have ever been interested in. My sister Kay doesn’t have children either, there’s just always so much to do. I am trying something new though – I’ll be performing on a cruise ship off Norway once the tour of Pygmalion as finished!

Pygmalion plays at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury from Monday 2- Saturday 7 June. Cast also includes Jamie Foreman (EastEnders), Rula Lenska (Coronation Street) and introduces Rachel Barry as Eliza Doolittle.

This interview was originally published in Spotlight Magazine, our free publication exclusive to The Marlowe Friends.

The Marlowe meets… Tiernan Douieb

Tiernan Douieb's Everything You've Ever Needed To Know Ever...And Some Extra Stuff

We’re having a brilliant half term here at The Marlowe with Canterbury Children’s Festival. It’s lovely having a foyer full of happy children and an occasional appearance from a big blue monster too! There’s still a few days left with our last day this Saturday.

If you came to Comedy Club 4 Kids at the festival last year you may remember the very funny Tiernan Douieb. He’s back this year with his super silly comedy show Everything You’ve Ever Needed To Know Ever…And Some Extra Stuff, ready to impart some wisdom and most importantly, make your little ones laugh!

We caught up with Tiernan to find out what it’s like performing stand-up comedy to a younger audience.

What inspired you to create comedy for children?

James Campbell who created the Comedy Club 4 Kids asked me to try doing it after seeing some of my adult stand-up, which was, at the time, quite silly. I did one set at an early Comedy Club 4 Kids show in Camberwell and found it more fun than a lot of adult shows. I took over the Comedy Club 4 Kids along with two others after James Campbell wanted to pursue his solo career a few years ago and have since started writing my own solo kids shows too.

Do you remember your first experiences of seeing comedy as a child?

I can’t remember seeing live comedy, but I do remember managing to persuade my parents to let me watch some of the BBC show Friday Night Live when the likes of Alexei Sayle, Ben Elton and Harry Enfield were first starting out. I didn’t understand it all but I thought it seemed really exciting and when I did it get it, very very funny.

Any interesting heckling experiences with your family shows?

Lots. Just recently I’ve been asked ‘why aren’t you made of pepperoni?’ and yesterday a small boy shouted out of nowhere ‘my mum wants to sing a song.’ She didn’t. And she looked very embarrassed about it! Kids rarely maliciously heckle. It’s more something they just have to tell you. My ‘Everything Ever’ show really encourages children to shout things at me, so I’ve had some brilliantly odd comments during the run.

You studied here in Canterbury at the University of Kent. Do you have fond memories of the city? Does Canterbury have a funny bone?

I loved studying in Canterbury. I think it’s a such a beautiful town and yes it does have a very good sense of humour. I started stand-up comedy because of part of my Drama course taught by Dr Oliver Double, so nearly all my early gigs were in and around the city. They were loving, supportive and quite forgiving crowds in Canterbury, which I’m pleased about or I may not have been persuaded to continue doing it for a career!

What should audiences expect from Everything You’ve Ever Needed To Know Ever…And Some Extra Stuff?

It is an hour of very silly nonsense. I know everything there is to know ever, of course, and some more stuff than that and I have decided it’s only fair I use this knowledge to answer certain very important questions that children need to know answers to. I use a variety of drawings, have a couple of guests to help me on the way and hopefully solve some queries from the crowd.

 And lastly, your favourite joke?

That’s a tough question. I recorded a Vine video when asked this question recently, of me telling a joke that always make me laugh, so probably this one.

Tiernan Douieb’s Everything You’ve Ever Needed To Know Ever…And Some Extra Stuff plays at The Marlowe Studio on Saturday 31 May at 11am as part of Canterbury Children’s Festival.

Canterbury Children’s Festival is sponsored by Lipscomb Volvo.

The Marlowe meets…Happy Days’ Amy Anzel

Amy Anzel

Left to right: Cheryl Baker, Andrew Wright (director/choreographer), Ben Freeman, Amy Anzel, and Heidi Range.

Those of you who watched Channel 4’s The Sound Of Musicals will remember the passionate producer of Happy Days – A New Musical, Amy Anzel. Ahead of the show coming to us it was great to get this glimpse behind the scenes and to see the enthusiasm of the woman making it all happen. Now, the day has arrived when the show opens with us!

We catch up with Amy ahead of opening night to hear more about her experiences with the show so far…

What first inspired you to bring the Happy Days musical to life in the UK?

I was an actress in the developmental workshops of the show back in 2004 and 2005.  At this point, Garry Marshall, the creator of the TV show,  was in the process of turning the TV show into a musical.  I was fortunate enough to be cast in the workshops, which was when I fell in love with the show.

After moving to the UK upon marrying a lovely Scotsman in 2009, I noticed that 1959 Americana was doing really well on the West End – Grease, Jersey Boys, and Hairspray were all running, so I thought that Happy Days belonged in the UK as well.

What challenges have you faced along the way?

There have been so many challenges along the way.  As a first-time lead producer, I found that many people were skeptical and didn’t believe the things I was saying.  I was constantly having to prove myself.  Also, I found a lot of people were trying to take advantage of me and thought I had no idea what I was doing.  On top of that, this business is quite closed, so I had to push really hard.  In the end, I got there thanks to hard work, tenacity, and my thick skin!

It was great seeing behind the scenes with Channel 4’s The Sound Of Musicals, how was that experience for you?

I was really grateful that I was able to be a part of the documentary series.  It was so helpful with regards to our publicity, which for a first-time producer and for a new musical, was priceless.  In addition, I’m so pleased that the public was able to see what goes on behind the scenes and also just how difficult it is to get a show up and running.

What do you love about this production of Happy Days – A New Musical?

I am so proud of this production.  I think everything (set, costumes, talent, direction, and choreography) comes together so well and lend themselves to a really enjoyable day or night out at the theatre. The cast are incredibly talented.  I am still blown away by the singing and dancing in the show!  I also love the nostalgic element as well as the fact that the whole family, from grandparents to small children, can enjoy the show together.

Happy Days A New Musical. Production photo by Paul Coltas.

Production photo by Paul Coltas.

The characters from the TV series were much loved – what’s been the audience reaction to seeing Ben, Cheryl and the rest of the cast take on the roles?

When we were casting the show, it was important to us that the actors we cast would resemble and remind the audience of the TV actors.  It might have taken a bit longer to find the perfect cast, but it was worth it in the end.

Cheryl Baker could not be a more perfect Mrs. Cunningham as not only does she resemble Marion Ross, but she is just as warm and maternal.  Pinky Tuscadero, Fonzie’s love interest, played by Heidi Range, was only in a few episodes of the TV show, so we had more room with regards to her casting as people don’t tend to remember what she looked like on the show.

The Fonz, played by Ben Freeman, was the most challenging role to cast, as it’s virtually impossible to find someone that looks like Henry Winkler and can sing, dance, act, and do a convincing American accent.  However, as Ben worked one on one with Henry, who was our Creative Consultant, he really exudes Henry Winkler’s Fonz while also making the role his own, which is the perfect combination!

What are your hopes for the future of the show?

I am currently exploring various next steps for the show including the West End.  As the TV show was broadcast in 126 countries and the nostalgic element has proven to be a big draw, I think the show has a promising future.  Audiences have been loving the show throughout the tour, so I do hope to continue to be able to entertain many more.

What makes you happy?

I know it sounds cheesy, but I absolutely love seeing audiences enjoying the show.  To hear audiences laughing and seeing the great big smiles on their faces, makes me so happy!  I especially love seeing them on their feet at the end of the show dancing in the aisles.

Happy Days – A New Musical plays at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury from Tuesday 27 – Saturday 31 May.