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.
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
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.
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.
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
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