Celebrating Tom Hadaway

When the North East playwright Tom Hadaway died in 2005, it was the lead item on the BBC Look North television news. Two years prior to that, to mark his 80th birthday, Cloud Nine had organised a two week Hadaway Festival.

Almost every major stage, screen print and broadcast media in the region took part. Hadaway’s plays were shown on television, heard on radio, performed on the live stage, by the big prestigious companies, youth theatre, amateurs – an uplifting coming together of talent to acknowledge what Tom Hadaway meant to this region. Public discussions centered on the influence of his work here and elsewhere. We ourselves commissioned for the festival a new play on his life, Hadaway – The Making of a Writer by Whitley Bay playwright Valerie Laws. It played to packed houses at North Shield’s Saville Exchange, now sadly defunct as a theatre venue.

Hadaway was nurtured for many years by Newcastle’s Live Theatre Company. Cloud Nine’s ‘sister’ organisation IRON Press published many of his plays and in later years we ourselves formed an ever closer bond with the man, commissioning his last produced play Billy Wilson, Big Fish, which the retired BBC TV producer Roger Burgess went on to make into a film, using the same cast.

In those late years I often went round to the big rambling Whitley Bay house where Tom lived with his wife Barbara. We’d drink wine ands invariably talk would turn to the play Tom could never finish – his Laurel & Hardy play as it came to be known. Early in this new century Live Theatre had given Tom some development money for this idea, based on the brief visit of Laurel & Hardy to The Grand Hotel, Tynemouth in 1932.

Much of the script was excellent but it fell away in the second half and no satisfactory ending was forthcoming. How many hours were spent discussing this play, reading the text? How many suggested ideas all of which came to nought?

Tom died in 2005, since when the script has lain mainly forgotten on a shelf. Until, with the kind of serendipity we sometimes need, Ema Lea of the Whitley Bay Film Festival told me of the festival’s idea in 2014 to stage an event at the Grand Hotel celebrating the famous duo’s one-day visit to Tynemouth. But did they know of Tom Hadaway’s unfinished play in the same area? No.

An idea which previously had been vaguely circulating in my head, really took hold. Get Tom’s daughter Pauline – herself a playwright who had co-written some plays with her father as well as her own work – to direct an extract of the unfinished play on the night. Pauline now lives in Liverpool.

To a packed audience, along with a showing of the film The Music Box (inspired by the steep steps down to North Shields Fish Quay, close to Stan Laurel’s Dockwray Square home) we did a script-in-hand performance of the opening scenes in an atmosphere of great excitement and staged in the same large suite Stan and Ollie hired for their visit. After which things moved rapidly and it became apparent to both of us that Pauline should now tackle the play head-on. Thus she is now is now redrafting her father’s original for the new play, Laurel & Hardy in Tynemouth which Cloud Nine hopes to produce at the coast in late Autumn 2015 and which will be advertised as written ‘by Tom and Pauline Hadaway.’

We have asked director Teddy Kiendl, a long-time admirer of Hadaway’s work, to direct the play. During Teddy’s years as artistic director of Live Theatre (he now lives in North Wales), he produced new plays by both Tom and Pauline Hadaway. This year is the tenth anniversary of Tom Hadaway’s death; the fiftieth anniversary of Stan Laurel’s death. All the stars seem in place.

I’ve just returned from Liverpool, where myself, Pauline and Teddy sat round a table for an all-consuming but exhilirating six and a half hour discussion on the work. All of us bring to this project emotional and artistic Hadaway baggage.It excites us all and scares us all a bit too.

Pauline made the interesting comment that although her father is still held in enormous affection in this region and elsewhere, his body of work is not being sufficiently performed. This production may redress that.
A preliminary event at the Grand Hotel– along with two L & H films and a talk on Stan Laurel’s life, sold out rapidly and the eventual play may prove to be one of the theatrical highlights in the region for some years. The script (still in formation at the time of this blog) takes as its premise the possibility that one of the young chamber maids at the hotel in 1932 may have been Stan Laurel’s daughter – though he left North Shields at an early age, Stanley did briefly return to his roots later.

Laurel & Hardy’s 1932 visit, when they were the most famous comic act in the world, cause enormous interest at the time, but has now been mainly forgotten. This play will, we hope bring both that visit and Tom Hadaway the playwright back into public focus.

Peter Mortimer

Updated: February 16, 2015 — 4:09 pm
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