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.

The Single-Mindedness of Mr. Smith By Peter Mortimer

On the first rehearsal day of our new production, the one hander titled A Parcel for Mr.Smith with Dylan Mortimer in the eponymous role, director Neil Armstrong came up with the intriguing suggestion that for the play’s duration Mr. Smith could be talking to a full size dummy as against simply out into the ether.
Neil was aware my own house was full of the species, discarded by various shop windows. We chose a specific dummy – rapidly named Bon by Dylan – and placed him in the set’s living room corner, where he could witness everything that happened in the play. As rehearsals proceeded, so Bon became more integral to the play, and eventually it was difficult to think of the play without him. Mr. Smith confided in Bon, asked Bon questions, chastised him, joked with him and slowly built the whole performance round him.
Bon of course was unable to utter a single syllable but he did manage a show-stealing moment at the end of the final performance at Seaton Delaval Arts Centre. Dylan left Bon free standing for a few minutes and walked downstage to deliver his final lines. By some strange dynamic which is beyond human comprehension, the dummy began slightly to sway back and forward. The incomprehensible momentum grew in strength until it became obvious Bon was soon to topple over.
Which he did with a loud crash just as Dylan was delivering the final lines. Thinking on his feet, (which was more than Bon was now capable of doing), Dylan picked up the dummy and embraced him in a way to suggest the topple was a fully intentional piece of symbolism. And maybe it was – from Bon. He then spoke his final line – Dylan not Bon.
Later I drove home Bon was now split in two and sprawled over the flattened back seats of the car. It was nearly midnight when I carried his two-piece body into the house followed by the two large packages used as props. A young couple walked past on the mainly deserted street and some yards further on turned back briefly to view the packages. “A parcel for Mr. Smith?” enquired the man, then they walked on.
Nice one.
We did six performances in four venues. Five were full. One night at The Low Lights Tavern, North Shields, a member of the audience inadvertently knocked an essential part of the sound system to the floor when squeezing past our tiny control desk (space was at a premium as we crammed as many people in as possible). Sound was restored seconds before the 7.30 start.
In another performance, a severely drunk member of the audience (always a hazard with pub theatre) kept shouting out, ‘Eeeh, Dylan!” before staggering out mid-play. On a third night our musician (the show’s first half) failed to turn up, meaning a hasty readjustment was called for.
We survived all of this and the play was enthusiastically received, both by audiences and the critic Peter Lathan of the British Theatre Guide who wrote about it walking a fine line between the world of the absurd and the real. Dylan lost about three stone nightly in the extremely demanding one man role where his physical appearance plus stage persona meant some people simply failed to recognise him.
Bon of course recognised him all the time – and throughout was patiently awaiting his final show-stealing moment. END

A Bridge over Troubled Water for Alison !

Many of you will know that Cloud Nine Theatre recently undertook its first ever survey amongst its audience.

Why now !? , I hear you cry – well, why not, say I.

We were trying to get some more objective feel on what people appreciate – and dislike – in the works we have put on – not always an easy task but worth doing all the same .      As the results came back it brought me back to Simon and Garfunkels album from the 1970’s – Bridge Over Troubled Water – a vinyl album owned by a former girlfriend , Liz , whose favourite track was the one about keeping the customer satisfied.

But a question must arise ? – how can you keep the customer satisfied without establishing first what it is they wish for.   Well, we tried, and the results may have been a bit distorted by the system we used but a kind number of you did indeed reply and all comments were much appreciated.

Maybe there are a few trends in the feedback, some we expected, others maybe new to us. The Steering Committee will formally consider the findings shortly but it seems clear that the C9 audience are an appreciative lot – we received high scores on the performances we have been doing and even some requests for repeats of certain shows- you seem to tell us some venues are better by far than others, which we will consider, and overwhelmingly you like the more varied format which brings 2 shorter plays over 1 and maybe some new local live music too.

Thanks to all for the feedback – an exercise we will repeat again in the fullness of time. Perhaps offering free seats helped the response levels and it is with pleasure that we can announce that Alison Allan is confirmed as the draw winner who will receive a free pair of tickets for the next show – Mr Smith!

Thanks to Alison and all of you who submitted your opinions and watch out for some tweaks to reflect your thoughts in coming months. Hoping to see you at the next series of shows.

 

 

Mike Jessop    Chair – Cloud Nine Theatre Company

Walking for Hadaway and Mr. Smith’s Parcel

We had a full house at The Grand Hotel for the Stan Laurel night and here’s to the full production of Laurel & Hardy in Tynemouth planned for late Autumn. How can it go wrong, requiring, as it does nothing more than (a) Pauline Hadaway completing the play her father Tom began all those years ago and (b) Cloud Nine managing to raise £25,000 towards the production? Then we’re really in business.
As regards fund-raising, I’ll be sitting down over the new few weeks to the unenviable task of putting in an Arts Council England application. Anyone who has been through this exhaustive process will sympathise. The will to live can rapidly evaporate and slit wrists become an attractive option as you struggle through completing 30 detailed pages of finance, policy and your weather forecast for the relevant dates (OK, I made the last one up). The challenge of writing a new play or a short story is as nothing compared to an ACE bid and grown men and women have been seen weeping and wailing, – an ululation even – sobbing desperate tears, heads sunk onto their keyboards as they confront the gargantuan task.
It is, I tell myself (and remember, I was brought up a catholic) a necessary purgation for some past misdemeanor, so I accept my fate and get on with it.
A slightly less daunting fund-raising idea for the play is for Cloud Nine this Summer staging the event, Hadaway and Walk. We shall invite friends, colleagues – even enemies if they’re so minded –to take part in an attractive seven mile North Tyneside perambulation along our distinctive sea shore and through pleasant countryside. This will followed by a barbecue for all. Each walker, who will be expected to raise £100, will get his or her name in the play’s programme. I’m confident we’ll find enough folk willing to do it. If even now the blood is surging through your veins at the prospect and you’re reaching for your Nordic walking poles, get in touch to put your name down. The walk is likely to be Sunday, August 2.
Everyone I’ve spoken to is excited by the prospect of a ‘hidden’ Tom Hadaway play coaxed into the light via his daughter Pauline and Cloud Nine.Ten years after his death the writer retains the respect and affection of people in the region, partly because he was/is not some remote academic or shallow celeb, but one of – for want of a better phrase – the people, brought up in North Shields, a man who always lived in the borough and deeply immersed himself in the Shields fishing community of which he wrote so powerfully He was probably the only playwright to run a wet fish shop and own part of a small Shields trawler. Add to the fact that he wrote some of the best plays to emerge from this region in the past half century (The Filleting Machine and The Long Line to name only two) and his continuing popularity is easy to understand. Yet despite this popularity, productions of his plays during this ten years have been few. May Laurel & Hardy in Tynemouth (focussing on the famous duo’s one day visit to the town in 1932) renew the theatre world’s interest in Tom Hadaway’s work.
I’m thrilled that Teddy Kiendl., erstwhile artistic director of Live Theatre Company, Newcastle and a long-time admirer of Tom’s work is travelling up from Wales to direct the piece. During his Live Theatre tenure, Teddy also directed a Pauline Hadaway play (The Glass House) so no-one’s more qualified to face this challenge. The Grand Hotel itself (where Laurel & Hardy were based that day) plus Northern Stage’s Stage Three in Newcastle are already booked for runs for November and there may be other additions.
Meantime, our next production, due early May is a one man play specifically written by me for my son Dylan. More soon about A Parcel for Mr. Smith, which could be described as a post office absurdity, a profound warning about the dangers about unsigned-for consignments, or a commentary on the efficacy of the parcel delivery service. There again,it might just be a piece about a man reluctant to open his front door. The play itself is planned to open for a week of various venues on Monday May 11.
PETER MORTIMER

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

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