Friday, 14 March 2014

Reflections: Down Among The Wines And Spirits

'You think I'm making this up...'
It's been a while (8 years to be precise) since I was in a full show in a theatre. I've done loads of concerts, and I'm in front of audiences every day for work, but for a long time now I haven't experienced the joyous, sequin-encrusted, make-up-smeared, heart stopping, foot blistering, so-tired-but-wide-awake-at-1am treadmill that constitutes the full run of a 'show'.

Enter 'Down Among the Wines and Spirits'. A proper show all about the old Music Halls, at Norwich's super Sewell Barn Theatre! With audiences and everything!

Devised and directed by Cassie and Selwyn Tillett, it was an expressive theatrical interpretation of what we call the Golden Age of British music hall- the bit that went from about 1880-1920. The Golden Age came after Song-and-Supper clubs, but before Variety, and encompassed great names like Alec Hurley, Vesta Tilley, George Robey and of course, my gal Marie Lloyd. We still know these names today because they were the big headline stars, but Cassie and Selwyn also wanted to shine the limelight on to the lesser known names, the ones listed 'down among the wines and spirits' at the bottom of the theatre bills.

Cassie and Selwyn used songs from the era, together with some imagined and documented conversations between performers, to present a dynamic onstage/offstage glimpse into the world of the music hall. Selwyn, indefatigable at the piano as 'Mr Fitt' the theatre manager, accompanied all nine other performers as we each did our best to characterise two or three bygone stars.

My hat was quite something as Ada Reeve.

I also sang as Marie Lloyd (of course) and Gwendoline Brogden; the latter best known for the WW1 recruiting song 'I'll Make a Man of You' used in the musical 'Oh What a Lovely War!'.

Marie Lloyd we all know about, but Ada Reeve was a very long-lived comedienne and singer who worked the 'Alls in the 1890s and was still performing in films in the 1960s.

 I sang a hit from early in Ada's career: The Bird on Nellie's Hat. You can just about see it peering over the brim in this photo.


Needless to say, we all had great fun. We had lovely audience feedback and good houses for each of our four performances. I hope that this encourages the Barn to put on more shows featuring music as their central ingredient.

In this show our music addressed the broadest themes of wonderful, horrible, breathless, groaning, sighing human experience; marriage, death, poverty, superstition, love, laughter.  Yet I know that there are those that dismiss music shows as the slightly ill-bred cousin of 'proper' plays. I couldn't disagree more. My experience of singing is extensive and, from classical arias to 'Knees Up Mother Brown', without exception every performance I do demonstrates to me unequivocally that music- of any type- engages audiences on an altogether different level; a more visceral experience, more emotional, and equally as powerful as any mere spoken words.

So thank you, Judi, Gill, Steve, David, Johns x 2, Angela and June, and of course the back stage crew Anne, Adrian and Jane, for sharing this wonderful experience with me and with our audiences. And thank you to Selwyn and Cassie for creating a jewel and allowing me to sparkle in it! Long may it continue!

For more photos and information on DATWAS see Cassie's blog about the show here, and for details of forthcoming shows at the Sewell Barn following the link here.


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