A review of our Latest Production, ‘An Excess of Overcoats’

Zoe Hakin and Robbie Lee Hurst in the title sketch

Zoe Hakin and Robbie Lee Hurst in the title sketch

Theatre review of An Excess of Overcoats (A Comedic Medication of Mime Sketches-Peter Mortimer and the cast) from Cloud Nine at Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle, reviewer: Peter Lathan

Mention of mime nowadays will likely conjure up a picture of a white-faced clown, eyes wide and mouth in an O of surprise, trying to find a way out of a glass box (an invisible glass box, of course), and elicit a sigh of “oh no. Not again…”

But in fact mime has a long and honourable tradition in theatre. Our pantomime grew out of the Italian Commedia dell’ Arte, which was mime. In fact the mimed Harlequinade, which arose from the Commedia, was an essential ingredient of that most British of art forms, panto, until well into the nineteenth century when it gradually vanished, although its slapstick comedy remains central to this day in chase or slosh scenes.

But mime was rescued from the doldrums into which it had sunk, surprisingly enough, by technology—the invention of the motion picture, which, although it did have its serious side, lent itself particularly well to comedy as the enduring populartity of Buster Keaton, the Keystone Cops and Charlie Chaplin proves.

It is from this modern mime tradition that Cloud Nine takes its inspiration for An Excess of Overcoats. The titles, for example, are presented to the audience on black cards which exactly mimic silent movie dialogue screens—but there is also another influence at work, writer Peter Mortimer’s fascination with the Absurd—Ionesco, N F Simpson et al—which has been a feature of many of his plays since Marmite, or A Goat in the Wilderness in October 2012.

There are six sketches—Bedding Down, A Baby Called Biff, Suicide, Banking on It, An Excess of Overcoats and The Waiter—performed by a company of four—Arabella Arnott, Zoë Hakin, Robbie Lee Hurst and Torin Pearce. The sketches are accompanied by continuous live music on two guitars and a kazoo by Bugman (Ryan Siddall and Simon Fitzpatrick), music which captures the essence of silent movie piano accompaniment whilst being wholly original.

It has to be said that it’s not all mime; there is a small amount of speech. In A Baby Called Biff, for example, Hurst and Pearce provide the baby screaming noises and in An Excess of Overcoats there is a little dialogue between Hakin the Wife) and Hurst (the Husband).

But who wants to get embroiled in a minor semantic quibble when you’re being entertained? And entertained we were. The pieces are funny and the cast throw themselves into the performance with great gusto and obvious enjoyment, keeping just on the right side of grotesque, for reaching that line but not stepping over is the essence of this kind of comedy.

It’s an interesting and fun departure for Mortimer and Cloud Nine. One wonders where they’ll go next.

Peter Lathan

Crowdfunding Campaign Success

As many of you know in order to raise much needed funds for our next production, The End Of The Pier we had a crowdfunding campaign.  We looked at the various options for this and decided to go with Crowdfunding Justgiving to raise the money.  When the fees from the website company were deducted we had manage to raise a magnificent £1131.47, thanks to our wonderful supporters i.e. you.

Having never organised a crowdfunding campaign before I was somewhat apprehensive.  Would anyone give us anything?  And if they did, would it be enough to pay for lighting, technical support and hopefully clothe the actors?  As it happened donations came in at a steady rate.  Every week I drafted a reminder (i.e. a bullying email) for donors to give money if they hadn’t already.  And it seemed to work.  Most people found the system for paying easy to use (though a few sent us cheques instead) and it was quite exciting to receive emails with the heading, ‘You’ve received a donation!’

It was great to have the support of Dylan Mortimer who was able to send out my emails to prospective donors via Mail Chimp.  And talking of chimps, we also had a Beauregard the Gorilla video clip to accompany the appeal.  It can now be revealed that the person in the gorilla suit on the video was none other than our artistic director Peter Mortimer.  There were problems with sound on the video-it wasn’t anticipated that audibility through the fur of a gorilla suit would be problematic!  However these glitches were soon sorted and the video was watched by many of our supporters.

So, all in all a successful campaign.  Thanks to everyone who rose to the challenge and gave us money.  You’ll be receiving your rewards in terms of names in the programme, limited edition Cloud Nine T shirts, or (in the case of 2 brave people ) actually being in the play.

Noreen Rees (Fundraiser for the campaign)


The End Of The Pier-A Blog From Director Neil Armstrong

The End of the Pier began life as an idea I wrote down on a post-it note.  I scribbled down “A plans to kill B – and B plans to kill A – at the same time.”  I then had a second idea which I shouldn’t really tell you about because if I do I’ll be giving a bit of the plot away.  I love writing comedy thrillers and this seemed like a good enough pretext to get me started – so I did.  When it came to thinking of when and where to set the play and who the characters would be, a song I had recently enjoyed listening to popped into my head.  The song was an old music hall number entitled “Let’s all go to the Music Hall.”  The reason it was in my head was because I’d been working at the time with a Ladies singing group directing their Songs from the Shows production – and this is one of the song’s they had been rehearsing – and I loved it.  So with that in mind I decided upon Edwardian England as my time frame and a music hall dressing room as my setting.  The last play I’d written, “Remember Jim” was also set in a dressing room – all be it a contemporary one.  I wondered if I was just repeating myself. I thought a while – and then came to the conclusion that I was – but was also more than happy to do so.  I was reminded of the play Plazza Suite by Neil Simon – three different plays all set in the same hotel room.  Well, if it worked for Mr.Simon…etc…etc.  And so to the characters – who would they be?  Well a music hall duo sounded like a good idea and then I thought, “Why would these two people consider killing each other.”  The answer was simple – They’ve been married for twenty-five years!  And so we have Lionel and Edith Bosh – the rather inappropriately named duo – The Lovebirds.  Once I had all that in place I structured a comedy plot, added two more characters and then set about writing the thing – the thing became “The End of the Pier” and if you do come to see it, I hope it makes you laugh and I hope you leave the theatre feeling entertained.

Best wishes.  Neil Armstrong.

Director Neil Armstrong writes about the Second Death at Dawn Production

 In the run up to this latest production of Death at Dawn, director Neil Armstrong talks about directing the show, and the legacy left by its first director, Jackie Fielding.

 Jackie Fielding who directed the first production of “Death at Dawn” was a friend of mine. We worked together many times since I first met her in the early 2000s. I, like many others, couldn’t quite believe it when she passed away last year aged just forty seven.

As I’m writing this I’m looking at a big, daft, red swivel chair that takes up half my living room, and I can picture Jackie nestled in it after we’d gone out and got drunk one night for no particular reason (or none that I can remember anyway.). I really miss her not being around and I know of many, many people who feel the same. She did an awful lot of good in her life and I’ll never forget her.

It was with those thoughts in mind that I agreed to direct the second outing of “Death at Dawn” after Pete Mortimer approached me and asked me if I’d like to take it on. We both agreed that if we were going to do it, we ought to do it the way Jackie did. I had no interest whatsoever in “putting my own stamp on it” or any other such directorial/egotistical/ambitious nonsense – no – we’ll do it the Jackie way! So armed with a DVD of the previous production and a copy of the prompt copy this is what we are going to do. I must admit – it’s a first for me – I’ve never had to re-create another person’s show before but we do have the same crew and ninety percent of the original cast back so I’m more than hopeful we can pull it off.

So this one’s for you Jackie. Rest in peace lovely. Neil x

Hello-again! A post from Noreen Rees

I’ve always thought the saying ‘what comes around goes around’ a bit naff. I still do. But how else to describe why I’m here writing a blog on Cloud Nine’s website over ten years after I left the Steering Committee? When I left I hadn’t had a big bust up with Mr Mortimer. I’d been commissioned to write Shipwreck! Beware the Black Middens for Tynemouth Pageant, and felt that I needed to commit my energy to that. And over the intervening years although I was an audience member at Cloud Nine performances (and a later reviewer of some) it’s only recently that I’ve managed a comeback to the Cloud Nine Steering Committee. Of course you can’t go barging your way onto the committee. I was asked (nicely of course!) and accepted (graciously). Personally I think it was on the strength of my large table and abundance of chairs (over a dozen)! But it’s good to be back, though in the 1990s meetings were prolonged with several glasses of wine and a visit to the pub. These days it’s herbal tea and nibbles.

Someone else I’m glad to say who’s also made a comeback to the Steering Committee recently is Diane Legg. She and I were Cloud Nine founder members back in 1997. Diane appears not to have aged at all, but that could be down to her being a much better actor than myself. My acting debut was as the rather stupid tramp, Spot (not the most glamorous of roles!) in the very first Cloud Nine production, The Trip. In that Diane played a housewife from the Meadow Well Estate, mother of a very young son played by Dylan Mortimer. Diane has continued to act, appearing in Death at Dawn as the mother of a grown up son (coincidence rather than typecasting). But for me The Trip was my zenith as far as acting was concerned. Since then I’ve only acted in performances that don’t require lines to be learned and cues to be taken. Anything more demanding would make me as anxious as a bungee jumper on a thin rope!

However, on my return to Cloud Nine Steering Committee I hope I can bring some of my newly learned journalistic skills to the role of website ‘overseer.’ This means that I help to look after content on the website but don’t do techie things-that’s Brian’s job.  So I hope to be enlisting people associated with Cloud Nine to write a blog from their unique point of view. I have some people in mind. Expect a knock on your door (well your inbox!). And I also look forward to bringing ideas and suggestions to Steering Committee meetings.

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