Monthly Archives: November 2021
12th November, 2021-11-15
The Oxford Play house has celebrated its first return to the stage since the pandemic with musical play about the ancient tale of the heroine Persephone. This Jazz Hands Production relives the Greek story that portrays pivotal standpoints for both gods and mortals. A show lovingly created by the Play house students with the full and touching return to the stage with an important play.
In a jovial mood then the rewriting of this story began with Persephone and her mother Demeter tending to the seasons of the planet (being the gods of Harvest) with Persephone being a most beautiful of daughters but whose father was Zeus himself, king of the Greek gods. As they tended their earthly paradise that mortals survive we found them in a forest with Demeter concerned about her daughter’s position in the world.
Persephone’s young and freely innocent spirit desired more out of her life but of the outside world she had no idea. As she dreamed her songs exclaimed her feelings where all she could do was yearn for tomorrow, with the fates already deliberating her coming adventures. She left her home one night answering the call that her heart had made to her. And when she returned Demeter tried to tell her daughter that the world out there was not as she thought.
Persephone’s powerfully beautiful character so comprised of two great and powerful gods brought her to spend a night without coming home which set her mother Demeter’s worry into overdrive.
She had gone far into the woods (world) and it became clear that she had fallen for someone she met in a gathering. When she went out to meet him again they tried to talk he reluctantly introduced himself as none other than Hades up from his realm hell. It was the beginning of the life she yearned for. It was too strong to ignore though into peril she went, with her mother’s warnings were thrown to the wind.
The classic story from ancient Greece involved their gods who ruled Olympus, the heaven of the Greek world. Persephone’s fates started to become of importance as Zeus himself had willed. The idea of Olympus was portrayed as nothing more than a comfortable office inundated with paper work at desks and continuing the downplaying Hell was a world of quiet and peace.
Written and directed by Emma Hawkins this magically endearing ploy was a match of music set design and costumes all of which complimented the other very nicely and of good taste in order to bring the story to life in a most refined fashion, yet all without fancy, even Zeus wore a smart suit without the smallest hint of gold or any other precious metals.
Hades and Persephone had a deepening and profound love that struck them both without being able to think on anything else. But Hades despaired his position and left his home to speak with Zeus. Who enjoyed tormenting his brother encouraging Hades to do as he pleased, the world of Persephone was to be upset and turned round by events to follow.
The Muses/chorus wore their garlanded and flowery togas, sang in their tradition dancing ad joining the gods both pushing and pulling them, reflecting the plot of Persephone’s imminent demise. She who only knew that love may be a great adventure.
It didn’t stop her from being heinously broken by the advances of Zeus. She found herself in Olympus conversing with him. He explained that her absence from duty had caused cold weather and starvation. And as we saw her break from his careless violence the lights stopping was very meaningful.
The vying story that had been thrown open; became quiet and tender when to console her in stepped Aphrodite (the goddess of love). We were all by now on a flying adventure through the worlds and heavens; all the while taking its time to tell the story that simply rolled around the stage. The great use of the reality of Persephone’s trials came in spoken word and music to take the show away.
The motherly wisdom of Demeter knew what would happen to Persephone. She left to look for her daughter the second time she went missing. Her grief was at hand when he heard what had happened. In her heart she found resolve to forgive and take care of her daughter.
It was Zeus who played the villain not Hades, though he also didn’t always seem to be entirely on the level. Our attentions were stretched by the precise nuances. Hermes, Hera, Zeus and Hades; we still revel in these names but do we understand them and their very nature?
The presence of folk music, costumes and storytelling, the play had a fresh and new example to make with Olympus seeming to be a victim of its own crime. Aphrodite’s part was of the wounds being healed. She sprang around with Persephone, singing songs and drinking some. She gave Persephone a new reason to live and held her in her darkest hour. The personalities of the gods took on an interesting identity as benevolent yet confined by their individual duties.
As she regained her strength Persephone returned home to be reunited with her mother. The sweetness of this scene rivalled all the scenes of the gods. And they ever so faintly sensitive sang and rejoiced. Quietly they understood each other’s toil and turmoil, with the whim of things being almost forgotten.
It’s hard not to think of this play as being perfect. Such an evening of good theatre retelling a tale with every kind of metaphorical fruit lade bear, lavishly told with grace and exciting music, in a set and performance that was most sad but most loving with nature at its heart. A witness brought about through tragic betrayal of to the beauty that can live in life.
Persephone and Hades remained in love and of the future nobody would know, but we came to revel in the story of a journey’s timeless all pervading story that has truly stood the test of time, still as vibrant, new and refreshing, classically portrayed for any modern era.
An Interview with Sam McGowan
Hitting pipes with Flip Flops has proven to be a great success for JunNk. The Mumble caught up with the man behind it all
Hello Sam, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
Hello! Currently I am sitting in sunny Florida, enjoying being back in America after not being able to visit for so long due to the pandemic. I was born in Essex, England but live in the south in the heart of the New Forest.
When did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
As a kid, I was always a part of some amateur dramatic group; but it was when I first started studying Performing Arts at Brockenhurst College and being immersed with other talented performers where I thought this is something I wanted to do.
Can you tell us about your training?
My musical training is all self-taught, I learnt to play guitar first, and used this skill through school and college for bands and musical theatre shows, which increased my love of the arts. However, it was when I started JunNk that I learnt how to play drums and piano. A ‘learning on the Job’ approach; I knew early on that JunNk had the potential to be huge, so I didn’t want to hold back.
By 2021 you have become quite the polymath – a performer, producer, director, and manager. Why so many strings to your bow?
I have always strived for success in everything that I do; I want to deliver the best, which led me down a path of learning as much as I could, expanding my skills and knowledge in order to have the best understanding of everything I was involved in.
I started JunNk in 2008 with 3 of my best friends, from a performance point of view it was a 25% split on stage, however everything behind the scenes needed a lot more attention, everything from running the business, marketing, branding, bookings to building the equipment, arranging the music, casting additional performers. The list goes on, I quickly adapted the ability to do it all and I loved it. Producing and directing more JunNk shows as we started expanding, creating new ideas and opportunities for the company. It was, and still is, a rush and my passion for the show and my determination to ever expand makes it all worth it!
So, what for you makes a good piece of theatre?
For me, it is about being able to create a world that you can immerse yourself into, a complete interactive experience; I want to forget about everything else except what I am watching.
You’re also quite an award winner – can you run us through a few?
JunNk first won a Sky 1, TV show called Don’t Stop Me Now back in 2012 which was the start to our awards. Following that we went on to win the ‘Act of the Year’ award for our corporate engagements in the UK in 2013. Our Edinburgh fringe debut in 2016 led to us win the ‘Spirit of the Fringe Award’; fast forward to 2019 and our debut at the Orlando Fringe where we won 3 awards; Best Family Show, Pick of the Fringe and Best Marketing.
On to JunNk; where, when how & why did you get the initial impulse to create the show?
JunNk started as a college project, and we had a dance exam for part of our performing arts course; collectively we weren’t the best dancers, so we created a very basic form of JunNk to get past the exam.
It was laid to rest after college until we entered a competition on ITV’s tv show Dancing on Ice, they were searching for an act to tour with the production show; I pulled the guys together to take part and we were placed 5th overall. We then entered a local talent competition in Bournemouth, we came runners up however a talent scout watched our performance and later offered us some work if we could create a 45-minute show. This was the starting point to the creation of the JunNk you see today.
Can you give us an overall picture of the JunNk experience?
Truly like nothing you’ve ever seen before; using various items commonly found in a junkyard, the four hilarious performers energetically combine superb acappella singing, captivating percussion, innovative musical creations and mesmerising gymnastics to produce a lively, dynamic and fun show that consistently delights audiences of all ages and nationalities.
From using bottles as panpipes and watering cans as trumpets, to playing well-known tunes on drain pipes with flip flops and a PVC tube as a didjeridoo, a show that really is a unique and sensational whirlwind of pure entertainment that should definitely not be missed!
So its essentially a ‘rubbish-powered variety show’- how do the audiences react in every age group?
We have been very selective with the variety that we add to the show to make sure we can reach a wide spectrum of ages. The show is perfect for all and due to the lack of spoken word also makes it popular internationally for all cultures!
Who writes the material for the show – the jokes, the comedy, etc.?
The material normally starts with a basic idea, a song, a sketch etc and then we would workshop it in a rehearsal; essentially if we found it funny it would go in the show. Quite a lot of the show was generated by me and some of the guys just messing around. When it comes to the music, depending on the songs I would arrange some and bring them to a rehearsal and we would ‘JunNk-ify’ them.
Since its inception, then, how has the show evolv’d?
Most things have a ‘sell by date’ so I try to keep most things updated and current, some bits of material continually do well with the audience so have become classic parts of the show. The biggest part of the show that evolves is the creation of instruments, I’m constantly coming up with new ways to make music, building more equipment to deliver even more unique ways to make sound!
Tell us about China & Abu Dhabi?
Even though JunNk is based in the UK, we have done more tours in China and Abu Dhabi than England; both countries are unbelievable, I love them, and our show is always so well received. Incredible theatres and amazing people, I cant wait to get back over and tour them again.
So Covid. How big an obstacle did it prove to JunNk’s progress?
Live entertainment has certainly been one of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic, with ongoing and ever-changing restrictions plaguing its full comeback. Even in a pre-covid world, the entertainment business is far from easy, with live entertainment usually operating on a last-in, first- out basis, often being seen as a disposable luxury for most events. The pandemic caused the JunNk to lose two year’s worth of contracts overnight. Like many, the company was devastated, however persistence and determination managed to keep the company alive and growing and we are coming back stronger than ever!
In the dark days of the Lockdowns, did you ever feel like you wanted to give it all up?
Honestly Yes, but that was on a cold dark winter’s evening during a power cut… it didn’t last! I then lit the fire and got to it. I turned to the digital age and quickly grew a TikTok following of eighty thousand followers, generating over ten million views. This was the spark I needed to kick JunNk into our post covid gear and start to get the show back out there.
Tell us about your collaboration with Dana McKeon?
This started as a covid project, I met Dana while we were both performing on a cruise, she’s an incredible artist. We had similar goals and an equal passion for creating music, we started by covering Justin Timberlake’s – Cry me a River before deciding to write an original song together. We put our heads together and wrote ‘Love Language’ where I mixed the original sound of JunNk and the beautiful vocals from Dana to write a commercial pop / tropical house song. Love Language made it into the top 10 in the Malta PRS charts. Me and Dana have more in the pipeline so keep those eyes peeled.
You’ve now got an eye on America – what stokes the interest & what are your Transatlantic plans?
So I started JunNk in Orlando, FL in 2018, we have 2 teams that are set for Cruises, theme parks and theatres, touching a market that we hadn’t been able to do with the UK team. America offers a world of opportunities, we have strong connections with Disney due to the Cruises we have done with them over the years, so we are now working closely with another production company to open as many opportunities as possible. A very exciting time that’s for sure.
& Finally, you’ve got 20 seconds to sell your show to a stranger in the street – whaddayasay?
JunNk the manic love child of Stomp and the Blue Man Group, come immerse yourself in our zany world of comedy and music.