Monthly Archives: July 2022
Mrs Pack @ the Edinburgh Fringe
Three Chairs & a Hat are back
The Mumble caught up with Nia Williams
The lady behind the magic
Hello Nia… its been 3 years since Three Chairs & Hat, & many others, have performed at the Fringe – what have you been up to?
Hello! Well, we were all set up to take a new musical to Edinburgh in 2020 and then, as we know, Covid hit and everything changed. I count myself very lucky to have been able to get back to work fairly quickly during Lockdown, in the form of online music/theatre workshops, and to continue writing — and thanks to the support and creativity of companies like theSpaceUK, Three Chairs and a Hat were able to venture into digital theatre and take part in the online Edinburgh and Brighton Fringe Festivals. We produced several pieces, including short dramas and musical extracts, which involved a massive learning curve in video and editing, often remotely! Two other significant projects were also direct products of the pandemic — our animated musicals, which I’m proud to say have picked up some awards at international film festivals, and a major digital project called ’Shakespeare (She/Her)’, directed by Wayne T Brown, which presents Shakespeare’s women performing monologues, sonnets and songs in contemporary settings. So the last two years have taken us in unexpected directions and, I think, will have a lasting effect on our company.
Three years after we reviewed it’s visit to the Fringe, I saw recently that ‘Verity’ has won the 2022 Scenesaver Birthday Honours award for Best Musical – why did it take so long to be recognised, & how do you feel about the award?
This was such a lovely surprise, and a tribute to the skills of the whole ‘Verity’ team. During the past two years we’ve been supported and encouraged by Scenesaver, the international digital platform, including a major launch of ’Shakespeare (She/Her)’, and have become aware of the opportunities digital theatre presents to reach a wider audience. So, thanks to great feedback like yours at the 2019 Fringe, we eventually took the plunge and submitted a video of our original Oxford stage production to Scenesaver, and were really delighted to win the Best Musical award this year.
So what are you bringing to Edinburgh in 2022?
We’ve got a brand new musical called Mrs Pack. This is a bit different from our previous musicals, as it’s a period piece, set in the 1690s, and is based on a real person—a wet nurse who was brought in to feed the ailing heir to the throne, and given the run of the royal court, much to the resentment of the other staff.
How did you come across the story of Mrs Pack & what was the moment you felt it would make a good piece of musical theatre?
I came across Mrs Pack purely by chance, when I was researching a completely different piece of work. She was mentioned in passing as this interloper in the very hierarchical world of the royal court, who shook things up and was accused of carrying tales from Princess Anne’s court to the King and Queen. All this was set against a very tense political background, just after the Glorious Revolution had deposed James II, and this odd little story seemed to give a glimpse of a world where women were at the heart of power, but ultimately powerless.
The show focuses on the rivalry between Mrs Pack & the royal family’s chief nurse, Atty. Can you tell us more about that & how did you translate their conflict onto the stage?
Atty, or Mrs Atkinson, is described in the archives as popular and kind to the royal children, going against the harsh discipline and corporal punishment which was the standard practice of the day. Very little is known about Mrs Pack, and most of what we do know comes from the memoirs of a manservant, Jenkin Lewis, so who knows what his own prejudices were? But it’s clear that she ruffled a lot of feathers, and I tried to imagine how it would feel from both sides: Atty, a respected and professional figure, suddenly undermined and contradicted; and Mrs Pack, an outsider, resented and suspected by the court clique. Two women who could have been allies, instead turned against each other.
What are your motivations for choosing this particular subject?
Quite often, when I start writing something, it’s just an individual story or strange situation that captures my imagination, and I focus on that personal aspect of things. The great thing about then going into collaboration with others is that they really bring out the wider themes and dimensions, and this has been the case in working with our director, Katie Blackwell. Essentially this is a story of women — even women as ostensibly powerful as the future Queen Anne — who are being used and diminished in the service of a dynasty. Anne suffered horribly, enduring miscarriages, stillbirths, and losing all her children to fever and smallpox, but was under constant, unrelenting pressure to try and produce a male heir to the throne, at whatever cost to her physical and mental health.
Can tell us about your cast?
We’ve got a wonderful cast of four, who between them are portraying a whole range of characters, from high society to the streets. Rhiannon Llewellyn, who plays Mrs Pack, has extensive experience as an opera singer and has performed for ENO and Glyndebourne among many other companies. Olivia Baker, a theatre-maker, actor, singer and producer, plays Atty. Isabella Jeffrey, who graduated this year from Italia Conti, is Prince William, Atty’s ally Mrs Fortress, and an ambitious courtier, and Chris Johnstone, who recently played the lead in our show-in-progress ‘Dexter’, is Jenkin Lewis himself, as well as many others including a disaffected bugler!
Who is your director & where did you find her?
Katie Blackwell is a multitalented director, singer co-founder of interactive opera company All Aboard Opera and one of the singing trio Sorelle. I met Katie when we were both working for touring company Opera Anywhere, and we’ve worked together as singer/accompanist and director/MD on many productions. This is the first time Katie’s worked with me on a Three Chairs and a Hat production and it’s an absolute joy — she’s creative, enthusiastic, and calm in a crisis!
Which of your team have never been to the Fringe before & what advice would you give them to survive the Edinburgh August?
This is the first Fringe for all our actor/singers, and we’ve told them to expect anything and everything! I think they’ll find it exhausting, exhilarating, unique and completely addictive. For me, the key was to find a balance between wanting to see and experience it all, and needing some quiet time out to recharge the batteries — and to appreciate the eccentric beauty of this remarkable city.
You have 20 seconds to sell your show to a stranger on the streets of the Royal Mile, what would you say?
MRS PACK — she milked the monarchy, spied for a queen and turned the royal court upside down! All that plus song and dance — how can you resist?
theSpace on the Mile
Aug 22-27 (19:35)
An Interview with Aoife Fagan
From Ireland via Los Angeles,
Jewellery making has never been so dramatic
Hello Aoife, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Hello! I’m from Dublin, Ireland, but I’m living in LA at the moment.
Can you tell us about your theatrical training?
After secondary school I spent a year in Stratford-upon-Avon studying with Year Out Drama Company. I then went on to train at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute and did their two year conservatory. Training at Strasberg was such a formative time for me. We explored sense memory, animal exercise (which was my favourite!) and improvising into the scene which helped my work a lot.
How did you end up in LA?
My brother is an animator and he made a short film a few years ago. He went to LA to promote it and he let me go with him. I really loved the city and the relaxed culture. It was unlike anywhere I had ever been so I auditioned for drama school out there and thankfully got in. I’ve been back and forth since and that’s also where I met my husband who is from LA.
What is at about Theatre that makes you tick?
I love the rawness of theatre. As an audience member, I love watching stories and seeing the actors go through different experiences. I can be quite a shy person, so playing a character really gives me the freedom to say the things I feel I can’t say or do in real life.
You are bringing a play to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; can you tell us about it?
My solo show, ‘Glimmer of a Rainbow,’ explores what beauty is and what society deems valuable all in the backdrop of a vintage jewellers. My character Orla is working in a jewellers and is tired of being told who she is by everyone around her and is trying to figure out who she wants to be.
Can you tell us about the writing process of Glimmer of a Rainbow?
During the Pandemic, I took a writing for Solo Performance class through Berg Studios which was taught on zoom by Ann Noble. I was so worried because I had no idea what I wanted to write about. I thought I needed to have an idea or a fully fledged story before I started to write. Ann told me to just write what came to me and see where it took me. That was the best advice because it freed me up so much and really helped me find my voice.
Who are Unmuted Participants?
Unmuted Participants are a collective of solo performers that came out of Ann’s solo class. In April we presented, Solo Flight, our first online storytelling festival. It’s amazing to be a part of such a supportive group of artists.
What is the biggest obstacle you overcame while putting your play together?
Performing, or even reading my own work out loud was really difficult for me. I thought that performing my own work would be easier in a way, but it really terrified me. I realised that as an actor I’m always hiding behind someone else’s words, but with my own work, there’s nowhere to hide. It created another layer of vulnerability that I wasn’t anticipating.
How much of your own experience is in Glimmer of a Rainbow?
My show is definitely semi-autobiographical. I think it’s hard not to put some aspects of your own experience into your work. It scared me at first, but I needed to write it for myself and not for how people might perceive it.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the streets of Edinburgh, what would you say?
A girl’s reluctant journey through a material world. She’s trying to figure out who she is, while also dealing with a slight jewellery obsession.
Glimmer of a Rainbow
19,21,23,25 August (15:10)
The Conchordia Folio: Germany
I am definitely the only person on the planet trying to take down Shakespeare. Everyone thinks he’s the best, but I know for a fact my bass-lines are better. To determine who wins will be easy, place the First Folio by my Conchordia Folio & let people decide themselves. That means I have to compose 39 plays – Shakespeare did 37 for sure, but there’s a couple of plays that have his pensmanship incorporated, & 39 is a nicer number 3×13. Whatever happens, however, between the Bard & I we will have recorded a great deal of history in the dramatic form. Shakespeare would have buzzed off being able to write about Napoleon, but unfortunately died two centuries earlier. That’s where I step in…
I am currently in the city of Koblenz, a beautiful spot where the Moselle meets the Rhine, over which corner there is a huge stature of Kaiser Wilhelm I looking towards Berlin I expect. I’ve been availing myself of the 9 euro all-month, train-bus ticket, in order to explore the area.
Bad Ems is the playground of Tsars & Kaisers, a gorgeous spot, over which towers Concordia Hill, which I felt rather appropriate as I watched the sun go down over the spa town. I even wrote a little sonnet;
Tis four & twenty years since I took seat
Oer Portovenere, one long sunset
Where I became a poet, quite a feat,
So much promise slips the Muses’ net,
But I was just so happy then, alive,
A man, a pen, an empty leaf of book,
Those simplet joys that to these hours survive
Atop the steep Concordia, just look!
Bad Ems slithers so beautiful, both sides
Of dreaming Lahn that elegantly glides
Between unbroken woodland hanging oer
This sylvan scene which Tsars & Kaisers saw
& Wagner too, Parsifal composing,
I’ll soon be back, this valley’ll hear me sing!
Not my greatest sonnet. I do sense my poetry needs Conchordia now. Minor sonneteering feels a tad trivial when I have over 20 conchords to write. Hopefully by the time I’m fifty, by the way, which works out one of every couple of months. Very doable if I’m very dedicated.
Returning to Germany, on the day of the great heatwave (unless you live in India), from Koblenz towards the west winds the Moselle – so stunning a gorge of greenery & curves & cute little towns – to Trier, another spectacular city, possibly the oldest in Europe & the de facto operational Roman HQ for NW Europe. It was there that I’ve found my 38th subject for a conchord, the witch trials of the late 1580s ran by Jesuits. The devil was clearly work in those days & the whole story should make a gripping watch. Its going to be called DIETRICH or DIETRICH FLADE, after one of the Witch-hunters whose story is the most interesting. After returning to Koblenz I lunched, siestaed, then caught a train to Mainz & back gushing over the Rhine gorge, drinking rose wine, which I finished off sipping as I wandered the very beautiful old town of Koblenz.
The last time I was abroad I was in Malta, December 2020, completing the 13th conchord of the Conchordia Folio, The Siege of Gozo. So what’s happen’d since? Well, I’m still on Arran, where I did write an update in February setting out my plans. I did manage to complete the first part of the Madchester trilogy, which I’ve made available to buy in ‘quarto’ form so to speak, as will the rest over the coming months.
There’s been some evolutions since then, including the setting of the final 39 concords (bar one). These neatly fit into 3 blocks of 7 separate conchords follow’d by a sexology block of connected concords. Three acts if you will, which in chronological order appear as (completed conchords in bold type)
The King & The Spider
The Siege of Gozo
The Siege of Vellore
The Flight of the White Eagles
Paradise of Exiles
Stars & Stripes
In a Man’s Garden
Exes & Axes
Black Watch Brodick
The Day of the Gryphon
GODS OF THE RING
Float Like A Butterfly
Sting Like A Bee
Fight of the Century
Rumble in the Jungle
Thriller in Manilla
Madchester: The Gathering
Madchester: The Come Down
The Rock & Roll Apocalypse
Little Black Book
No Nay Never
I am currently composing Atahuallpa, the story of the last Incan King & his defeat by Don Pizarro. Cool constumes will abound with this one, & the story’s guest. I’ll also be working on the Savoyards at the same time, the story of Gilbert & Sullivan’s creation of the Mikada. It’ll be something of a G&S light opera about Gilbert & Sullivan themselves. I’m also converting Black Watch Brodick, my epic ballad cycle, into an actual conchordia, one which I’ll be presenting this armistice day.
The Edinburgh Fringe is on the horizon, which I’ll be reviewing & running the Mumble, but at the same time working on several conchords at once, including the finalisations of Rock & Roll Apocalypse – which might be a dream by Bez – & Exes & Axes. The latter I’ll be sitting in Navarenx, southern France, where I’ll be visiting on a drive to Portugal after the Fringe… watch this space.
Damian Beeson Bullen