One Last Waltz: a story about dementia

One Last Waltz

Something that I love about the Studio is how it really engages with issues that matter to people. One example of this is upcoming production One Last Waltz – a touching new play about living with dementia. Playwright Luke Adamson talks us through his personal inspiration for the piece.

One Last Waltz was an interesting play to write. Often when writing I set off at a million miles an hour and stall about five pages in with no idea where I’m going next but this was different.

I’d had an idea in my head for a while that I wanted to write a play mainly for actresses, I have never quite been satisfied with the female characters in my writing and there seems to be dearth of interesting parts in interesting plays for older actresses. So I set myself the challenge of writing a play that contained interesting, three dimensional characters for older actresses.

I began constructing the characters without any real idea where I was going to go with them and after a while I abandoned the early drafts and waited for some kind of inspiration. Unfortunately this came in the form of my Grandad’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Grandad had long been somewhat of an idol to me, I was even given the nickname “little Ernie” as a kid as I was so much like him. Living alone as a widower well into his eighties, he was battling on admirably but small things had started to happen.

He’d forget little things. Not big things like who we were or who he was, but small things, like where he’d put his keys, what he’d had for breakfast. We chalked this up to ‘growing old’ at first but then things started to happen that we couldn’t continue to ignore, putting metal things in the microwave or plastic in the oven, these moments of forgetfulness began to cause tension, often leading to arguments, with Grandad becoming even more flustered and confused.

The eventual diagnosis of Alzheimer’s came as quite a relief to me, suddenly we understood why these things were happening, why he’d forget or get confused, and once he started on the medication we saw an instant improvement. I was just frustrated that we hadn’t known these things earlier, that we hadn’t spotted it. We’d be getting angry with him, insisting that he try to remember where he had put his jumper rather than simply helping him to find it.

I was reflecting on this one evening when suddenly I saw how the characters that had been sitting inside my head could come together. I remembered once seeing an advert about Alzheimer’s that said “the earlier we spot it, the more of your loved one we can save” that always stuck with me but when it happened to us we didn’t know what we were looking out for! One Last Waltz is my way of using humour and emotion to try and signpost the things to look out for.

The character of Alice in the play went on to become a kind of amalgamation of my Grandad and his late wife; my Grandma and Alice’s daughter Mandy is heavily influenced by all of the strong northern women in my life.

A lot of the content in the play is based on real life experiences, some of the dialogue even lifted verbatim from actual conversations I’ve had. Some is, of course, embellished for the stage, some is complete fabrication. Once I knew what I wanted the play to achieve and how my characters were going to help me do this I sat down to write the play and finished it within a month, without stalling.

After a little fine tuning and editing we held a rehearsed reading to an invited audience in Leeds and based on their feedback I made some more changes resulting in the script we have now: hopefully a funny, moving and enlightening look at how to spot Alzheimer’s and how to deal with it. I was delighted when a representative from The Alzheimer’s Society read the script and (with a couple of minor adjustments to some of the dialogue) gave it their seal of approval.

One Last Waltz is, if you like, a tribute to my Grandad, as he is now, and as he was. Hopefully now immortalised in play form.

One Last Waltz comes to The Marlowe Studio on Thursday 8 October as part of a national tour. The performance will be followed by a discussion with the company.

Memories of Agatha Christie, from her grandson

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie: crime writer and loving grandmother

This September the legendary murder mystery, and the longest running show in theatre history, The Mousetrap, returns to us. We were really intrigued to find out about the modest, generous and enthusiastic woman behind these thrilling books and infamous plays, in this personal piece from Agatha Christie’s grandson Matthew Pritchard.

I suppose it took some time for it to sink in that I had a famous grandmother known to the world as Agatha Christie. I first remember her during the years when I was at preparatory school and her house at Wallingford was nearby. We used to have enjoyable ‘exeats’ on Sundays and it was, I think, then that the first glimmers of understanding came through.

Very sensibly, the headmaster of my school insisted on initialling all books that came into the school. I came back from Wallingford clutching the latest Agatha Christie and wondering, quite genuinely, whether the Head could possibly find any reason for withholding the coveted signature. He never did! There was, however, one occasion when my book took a terribly long time to re-appear. Later I realised that the headmaster’s wife had taken the opportunity to read it!

In such small ways, therefore, did I become aware that I had a talented grandmother. Not that it made a great deal of difference to me. She was just a marvellous grandmother and someone nice to have around. I think perhaps there were four things which, more than anything else endeared her to me. The first was her modesty. To the outside world I suppose this appeared as shyness, but to us she was always infinitely more interested in what we were thinking and doing than in herself.

She could manage to write a book almost without one noticing and sometimes she used to read the new one to us in the summer down in Devonshire. She did so partly, I suspect, to test audience reaction, but partly to entertain us on the inevitable wet afternoons when, no doubt, I was rather difficult to amuse. We all tried to guess, and my mother was the only one who was ever right. I think most of my friends who met her during those years were quite astonished that such a mild, gentle grandmother could really be the authoress of all those stories of intrigue, murder and jealousy.

The 60th Anniversary tour of The Mousetrap. Image: Liza Marie Dawson.

The 60th Anniversary tour of The Mousetrap. Image: Liza Marie Dawson.

Her next great characteristic was her generosity. It is by now well-known that she gave me [the rights to] The Mousetrap for my ninth birthday. I do not, I’m afraid, remember much about the actual presentation (if there was one) and probably nobody realised until much later what a marvellous present it was, but it is perhaps worth remembering that my grandmother had been through many times in her life when money was not plentiful.

It was therefore incredibly generous of her to give away such a play to her grandson, as in 1952 her books were only approaching the enormous success they have now become. It is also a mistake to think of her generosity only in terms of money. She loved giving pleasure to others – good food, a holiday, a present, or a birthday ode. She loved enjoying herself, and also to see others around her enjoying themselves.

The third thing I always enjoyed was her enthusiasm. Despite her modesty or shyness, it was never far below the surface. I think she always had a love/fright relationship with the theatre. Although I am sure she found the experience very wearing, she always enjoyed other people’s enthusiasm for her plays and found it infectious.

I went to The Mousetrap several times with her in varying company – family parties, girlfriends, and the Eton cricket team when I was captain in 1962. I would say we all enjoyed the play and my grandmother’s company in equal measure. But she was enthusiastic about other people’s plays as well, about archaeology, opera and perhaps above all about food! In short, she was an exciting person to be with because she always tried to look on the good side of things and people; she always found something to enthuse about.

When I had the pleasure of taking my own children, aged twelve and eleven, to The Mousetrap for the first time they enjoyed it tremendously, and crossed off assiduously in their programmes those whom they thought couldn’t have done it. It was a great evening for me, and would have been, I am sure, for my grandmother had she been there.

I think it tells us something about the success of the play, too: it contains so much for everybody – humour, drama, suspense and a jigsaw puzzle – suitable for all ages and taste; regrettably not too many plays on the London scene can say the same, and I sometimes feel that actors and actresses, anxious like everybody else for employment, must wish that there were more plays with universal appeal like this.

The 60th Anniversary tour of The Mousetrap. Image: Liza Marie Dawson.

The 60th Anniversary tour of The Mousetrap. Image: Liza Marie Dawson.

My grandmother died in January 1976. My family received hundreds of letters from all different walks of life and every part of the world, and I have never seen such a uniform expression of devotion and admiration. No doubt that was because she was a kind, generous and devout person, and preferred always to believe the best of people. She never had an unkind word to say about anybody. We were all left with many happy memories and, of course, all her books and plays, which I am sure will be enjoyed for many generations to come.

It would be remiss of me not to say, on this occasion, something about my grandmother and Peter Saunders. I myself remember Peter as a persistent producer of medium-pace off-cutters in my boyhood cricket days at Greenway in Devon. I am sure it is no exaggeration to say that many Agatha Christie plays would never have been written at all but for his judicious mixture of persuasion, encouragement, confidence and pleading. She adored it all, and certainly, we all recognise what The Mousetrap owed Peter in its earlier days. His confidence in it never wavered and its longevity is as much a tribute to his great partnership with my grandmother as to anything else.

It is inevitable perhaps that my own impressions of my grandmother are rather personal ones. She was, above all, a family person and though everybody, from the literary world, from the world of archaeology and from the stage, has good reason to be grateful to her, it is her family who have the most to be grateful for – her kindness, her charity, and for just being herself.

The Mousetrap is with us Tuesday 1 – Saturday 5 September, as part of a national tour.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time: From Page To Stage

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenberg.

Production photo by Brinkhoff Mögenberg.

In 2003 Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time hit bookshops. Telling the mystery story of the extraordinary Christopher, brilliant at maths but with a difficulty in the day-to-day, it gripped the public’s imagination. Some years down the line, Haddon approached Simon Stephens to adapt the novel for the stage, bringing to life Christopher’s world.

The show went on to become a massive success in the West End and on Broadway. With seven Olivier Awards and, recently announced, six Tony Award nominations (with the winners announced in June), the production now makes it way to Canterbury on a UK tour.

We found out how the novel was adapted, with writer Simon Stephens.

What inspired you to adapt The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time for the stage?

Mark Haddon asked me to write it for him. I was immensely flattered. I loved the book for years and was inspired by it in earlier plays before I’d even met him.  I was daunted by the book’s celebrity and fascinated by the challenge of how one dramatises a novel. I very much wanted to find out what Christopher’s parents looked like and thought a good way of doing that would be to dramatise them.

Mark once described his novel as un-stageable. So, how did you go about the adaptation process?

The innate dramatic charge of his dialogue means his work is eminently stageable.  I spent some time trying to separate the narrative from the prose of the book. I worked through it listing all the events that happened in the story. I then spent some time transcribing the direct speech. I had the hunch that in the direct speech there would be clues as to the book’s dramatic heart.

It was through this that I came up with the idea of using Siobhan as a narrator. She is one of only three people who read Christopher’s book in the novel and her view point is so much like the novel’s readers. I also think that the idea of a favourite teacher is one many people can relate to. She’s a peripheral character in the novel but central to the play.

What do you think the story is about and why does it appeal to readers and theatre-goers?

I think it’s a story about family. I think it’s about what it’s like to raise a child or be raised; to parent or have parents. I think it’s a celebration of the capacity for bravery in the most unlikely of environments. Stories of bravery resonate. Stories of families resonate.

How much did you and Mark collaborate on the stage adaptation?

Hardly at all! He told me I could do what I wanted. He was supportive and I also kept a beautiful distance. He read early drafts and was very encouraging.

Can you tell us something about the staging and why you think Marianne Elliott was the right choice to direct the play.

Marianne has an innate sense of democracy. She combines a fearlessly and ferociously theatrical imagination with a real concern for her audience. She and designer Bunny Christie and the rest of the artistic team committed completely to trying to get into Christopher’s head and dramatise his world from within. That’s what watching the play feels like.  It feels like you’re in Christopher’s brain.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time Canterbury

Production photo by Brinkhoff Mögenberg.

How involved were you with the creative process?

I was at a fair few rehearsals – mainly to offer occasional re-writes and a very few insights into the progression.  But Marianne and her team were so robust that they didn’t need me too much. I mainly turned up late and tried to make everybody a cup of tea!

How do you feel about the show touring around the UK and Ireland?  Are you excited about the fact that the show is opening at the Lowry in Salford?

The whole notion of the tour seems to resonate beautifully with Christopher and his sense of adventure and bravery in the novel.  The book is a road story and we’re hitting the road. That it might start at the Lowry in Salford, so near where I was born and raised means the world. I’m taking sixteen members of my family, including my 94-year-old Grandma to opening night. In fact the show is starting at the Lowry so she can see it!

How did you feel about the success of the show – from the Cottesloe – the National Theatre’s smallest space, to the West End, and on to Broadway..

Well I‘m proud of it. And proud that we never compromised anything to have it succeed. We never tried to succeed with the play: we just tried to tell the story as well as we could. I think that bravery and sense of experiment comes through in the performance and the idea that bravery like that appeals to people is inspiring.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?

I’ve four new plays opening this year. Carmen Disruption at the Almeida in London; Song from Farway by Toneelgroep Amsterdam opens in Sao Paulo; a play called Heisenberg opens in New York and then a version of Ödön von Horváth’s Karsimir and Karoline, that I’ve called The Funfair will open the new Home Theatre in Manchester.

I understand you were a teacher.  How did that inform your writing and how did you make the leap from teaching to become a playwright?

I think both writing and teaching operate from the same optimism. The writer and the teacher work from the assumption that they can make the world better and they can change people. I loved teaching and the kids I taught continue to live with me in my imagination and inspire my work.

I never stopped writing while I was teaching and after a while (in January 2000) Ian Rickson at the Royal Court Theare read my plays and asked me to be their Resident Dramatist. I still see some of the teachers I worked with and occasionally some of the kids I taught.

Who was your favourite teacher and how have they influenced your life?

A teacher called James Siddely taught me A Level General Studies. He was the first person I ever told that I wanted to be a writer and he encouraged me without reservation. Late in his life he came to see several of my plays in Manchester and we would have lunch. That was very special. He remains an inspiring presence in my work.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time comes to Canterbury’s The Marlowe Theatre from Tuesday 12 – Saturday 23 May.

Creating Rebecca: an interview with Kneehigh’s Emma Rice

Kneehigh Theatre's Rebecca, at The Marlowe Theatre Canterbury

Rebecca production photo

Ahead of worldwide acclaimed Kneehigh Theatre bringing us their stunning new production Rebecca from Monday 30 March – Saturday 4 April, we found out more as Al Senter spoke to the company’s Artistic Director, Emma Rice

When you think about it, it was surely only a matter of time before two such formidable women, both with deep-rooted associations with Cornwall, should have joined forces. Therefore it comes as no surprise to learn that Emma Rice, Kneehigh’s Artistic Director, had been planning a new show, based on one of the works of Daphne du Maurier, the author of the immortal Rebecca.

“I’d been thinking about Daphne du Maurier for some time,” she reveals. “Daphne and Kneehigh share a Cornish connection and it felt that a piece based on one of her writings was long overdue. I’d been looking at the short stories when producer David Pugh offered me the perfect apple. “How about doing Rebecca?” he suggested and I nearly leapt off my seat in excitement.”

Nature in all its moods is a constant theme in Rebecca; the ever-changing weather, the sinister woods that flank the driveway to Manderley, the perpetual roar of the sea.

Rebecca is elemental, almost a Greek Tragedy in the way Nature is represented,” says Emma. “If you walk along the beach at Menabilly, one of the models for Manderley, you can almost reach out and touch that sense of the elemental. Daphne must have loved that spot. It’s astonishingly beautiful. Her work is a bit like Cornwall itself – beautiful but threatening as well.”

Perhaps one of the reasons for the enduring popularity of Rebecca, first published in 1938 and still a bestseller, is the book’s refusal to be pigeon-holed in one genre or another. It’s a gripping whodunit and a social satire, a ghost story as well as a critique of the position of women in twentieth century Britain. Above all, says Emma, pointing to this production’s sub-title, it is “a study in jealousy” Daphne was characteristically sure of what Rebecca is and what it isn’t.

“According to her son Kits, it used to drive his mother mad when she heard Rebecca described as a “romance”. She insisted, and this is a direct quote, that it was “a study in jealousy”.

Kneehigh's Artistic Director Emma Rice with Daphne du  Maurier's son, Kits Browning.

Kneehigh’s Artistic Director Emma Rice with Daphne du Maurier’s son, Kits Browning.

There is also something of a fairy tale in the way that the second Mrs de Winter is whisked away from her tyrannical employer to become the mistress of Manderley.

“It’s Cinderella meets Bluebeard,” says Emma with a smile. “But this Cinderella feels that she is not good enough to be the new Mrs de Winter and what woman has never felt the same?”

Rebecca’s status as a classic, read and re-read by millions of devotees around the world, might make the task of adapting it something of a poisoned chalice. But Emma is undaunted.

“I’d argue that people think they know the novel when in fact what they remember is Mrs Danvers the housekeeper and the scene at the Manderley Ball. I felt that the Third Act of the book needed a theatrical overhaul. We have followed the second Mrs de Winter throughout the narrative, only for all those blokes to take over at the end and relegate her to the side-lines.

Working on the show has been fun and straightforward and the du Maurier estate has been hugely supportive. We have moved on from the time of Rebecca’s publication in the 1930s: we’re in a different century after all, so changes needed to be made.

However, I am never disrespectful. I love this period. It’s a bit of history which you can reach out and touch and I feel the link to the 1930s and 1940s very strongly. It is a time of great foreboding, a feeling of unease which you can sense in Rebecca. It was published a year before we went to war and I find the era very evocative. I’m also rather fond of the stiff upper lip. People were like icebergs with such a lot kept below the surface and a tension generated by what was implied rather than spoken.”

Kneehigh's Rebecca

Rebecca production photo.

Kneehigh’s many fans will know the company’s house style, a style that has been applied over the years to a number of classic narratives. How would Emma describe the company’s trademark to a Kneehigh newcomer?

“I always have – and I always will – call myself a storyteller,” she replies. “We use a number of different elements; acting, music, film, design to tell the story and we stitch together a great big tapestry of ideas. Audiences coming to Rebecca will see a recognisable 1938 world but with something of a twist.

Those experiencing Rebecca via Hitchcock’s 1939 film version may be surprised. The movie is confusing because Hollywood couldn’t stomach the idea that the leading man might also be a murderer. When I went back to the book, I was astounded by its detail and complexity. It is also a gripping read.”

On the surface Maxim de Winter would appear to be the romantic hero par excellence, a Prince Charming on the cusp of distinguished middle age. But Emma has been busy probing beneath that elegant veneer.

“Max deliberately gets himself a very young wife who is not going to challenge him in the way that Rebecca did, “explains Emma. “He wants life to be simple again. We talked a lot in rehearsal about Mrs de Winter’s lack of a name. Daphne teasingly says that it was given to her by the father and that it is hard to pronounce. I sense that it might be something botanical – like Floribunda. However, I think that it’s really important that we don’t know her name and that we don’t get on intimate terms with her. In a way, to know her name is to know her.”

Both Rebecca – and to an extent the second Mrs de Winter – fall into a pattern of behaviour which Emma argues has been a common theme in both fact and fiction.

“Why is it that so many female beauties; Ophelia, Carmen, Princess Di, Marilyn Monroe who have attracted the male gaze, have also ended up dead? We seem fascinated by the idea of the female victim. We never see Rebecca and all we know about her is what we hear from other people and I’d take what Max says about her with a large pinch of salt. I’m inclined to judge Max quite harshly: he represents a privileged class who feel they’re above the law.”

What kind of a future does Emma predict for the de Winters?

“They remind me of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, living quietly in exile. To an extent, their roles have been reversed. She is looking after him now. I think she’s destined to have a quiet death, the quiet little woman who can’t quite keep silent.”

Rebecca is at The Marlowe Theatre from Monday 30 March – Saturday 4 April.

A glimpse into To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird. Photo by Johan Persson (previous cast).

Photo by Johan Persson (previous cast).

Following sell-out performances at London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, the  highly-acclaimed new production of To Kill A Mockingbird starts its tour with us at The Marlowe tomorrow night (Tuesday 16 September).

Press Officer Sarah Munday and Arts Marketing Trainee Lucie Blockley were lucky enough to catch it as it wound up its (second) season at the Open Air Theatre.

Lucie writes…

Sitting in the glaring afternoon sun at Regent Park’s Open Air Theatre, I felt a step closer to the hot Deep South summer unfolding onstage before me.

The weather was playing its part in creating a fitting atmosphere for the production, with the assistance of the greenery and soundscape of Regent’s Park as a backdrop.

The audience were transported into Depression-era Alabama through the narration of eight-year-old Scout, with the inventive use of setting and storytelling. The stage itself started as a clean slate, but quickly became a chalk-drawn map of Maycomb, evolving constantly with the story’s twists and turns.

By doing away with excessive trappings of costume and props, I was completely sucked into Scout’s world and the tragic events unfolding. Even whilst competing with the helicopters, thumping music and general racket of central London, the cast held a completely captivated audience in this fantastic adaptation.

Rehearsal photo: Arthur Franks as Jem, Connor Brundish as Dill and Ava Potter as Scout. Photo by Johan Persson.

Rehearsal photo: Arthur Franks as Jem, Connor Brundish as Dill and Ava Potter as Scout. Photo by Johan Persson.

Sarah writes…

I guess like most people, To Kill A Mockingbird was a classic I read at school, many years ago. Along with titles like The Catcher In The Rye, Wuthering Heights, and 1984, these amazing books have stayed with me all this time.

The mists of time may have clouded my mind, but minutes into the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s superb production of Mockingbird, the characters of Harper Lee’s novel came back to life!

With a sparse set, it was left to the excellent cast (with special mention to Daniel Betts as Atticus Finch, and Ava Potter – in her acting debut – as his daughter, Scout), and the words of the book, to tell the tale of racial injustice in America’s Deep South in the 1930s.

The small cast are planted amongst the audience at the start of play; the first we are aware of them is as each stand in turn to read from the pages.

Once on stage, each still clutching their copy of the book, they continue with the narration, interspersed with the words and actions of the characters they occasionally become (with the help of some very clever costume changes).

The books each actor carries play an important role until the very end: but I won’t spoil it here by telling you what happens!

As Lucie says, the production did have to battle against a busy London soundscape, but this provided small distraction (to the audience; most certainly not to the cast), which we won’t experience in the confines of The Marlowe Theatre.

Having said this, it will be interesting to see how Mockingbird transfers from the reasonably intimate setting of the Regent’s Park theatre, to our main auditorium. Either way, I urge you not to miss this mesmerising and deeply moving production.

To Kill A Mockingbird is at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury from Tuesday 16 – Saturday 20 September. A limited number of discounted Discovery Tickets are available for anyone aged 16-26 years or full-time students (over 16 years).

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.

Wrong ‘Un: A Suffragette’s Story

Ella Harris playing Annie Wilde in Red Ladder Theatre's production of Wrong 'Un.

Ella Harris playing Annie Wilde in Red Ladder Theatre’s production of Wrong ‘Un.

Our new season in The Marlowe Studio kicks off on Friday 12 September with Red Ladder Theatre Company’s Wrong ‘Un – a one-woman musical drama about the suffragette movement.

This year marks the centenary of the First World War, but landmark dates for the suffragette movement sit alongside this. Not wanting people to forget this history, and with recent prominent feminist conversations in the media (No More Page 3 and Everyday Sexism being two examples), it seems the perfect time for this story to come to the stage.

With 40 years of theatre promoting social change and global justice behind them, Red Ladder’s Artistic Director Rod Dixon talks us through the journey of this particular production, and their move into musical theatre.

Five years ago Boff Whalley (ex-lead singer with the band Chumbawamba) and I decided we wanted to make musical theatre which appealed to audiences who wouldn’t normally access theatre very easily or even willingly.

We made several shows featuring the band and Red Ladder actors; shows such as Sex & Docks and Rock n Roll which toured trades clubs and small theatres, and Big Society! a music hall comedy starring Phill Jupitus.

Unite the Union asked us if we could make them a show about the Suffragette movement which would be performed at Durham Miner’s Gala in 2013. The shows up until then had been expensive to make and tour and so we set ourselves a challenge – to make a one-woman musical with no musicians: an acapella musical. Boff had always wanted to write a show specifically for Ella Harris to perform as he had long admired her work.

The first draft of the play came in and Ella was worried that her character was portrayed as slightly crazy, and who was not afraid to break the law or face a prison sentence. The truth is, that when ordinary people feel the need to take direct action they are far from brave or unhinged – they are usually very frightened and are only taking desperate measures because of the need to force change.

Boff rewrote the piece showing Annie Wilde as much more vulnerable and real – in this way her character quickly forms a positive relationship with audiences who love her humour and her story.

It has come as quite a surprise to us that this little play has exceeded all expectations – and I am sure this is due to the attractive qualities of the character that Ella plays. We made the show more or less as a one-off for Durham in 2013. Fifteen months later it is still touring and it has received four and five star reviews in national and local newspapers and websites. Wrong ‘Un isn’t just a suffragette’s story – it is a story for all of us today.

Wrong ‘Un is at The Marlowe Studio, Canterbury on Friday 12 September and will be followed by a free post-show Q&A.