Duelling pistols, cross dressing, thwarted lovers, double-crossing, romance and intoxication are the order of the day when European Arts Company bring their evening of one-act Victorian farces to the grandeur and faded magnificence of Wilton’s (the world’s oldest surviving Grand Music Hall) to provide the perfect backdrop for this hilarious evening of short plays, by three of the best farce writers Victorian England had to offer.
There’s more than a hint of Monty Python and The Goons to these hidden farcical gems, which have been touring the UK since April and will continue until July. Written between 1847 and 1860 Box and Cox, A Most Unwarrantable Intrusion (John Madison Morton), Wanted, A Young Lady (William E Suter) and Duel in the Dark written by Joseph Stirling Coyne (co-founder of Punch Magazine) take us back to a nearly forgotten era of theatrical conventions; from direct address, asides and pleading epilogue’s European Arts Company whisks us back over 150 years and invites us to forget our worries for an hour or two.
The show stars celebrated farceur Richard Latham who in a long comic career has worked with Sir Brian Rix in his Whitehall Farces, with Mia Farrow at the RSC, as well as appearing alongside the great Alastair Sim in Sir Ian McKellen’s production of The Clandestine Marriage, other cast members are Asta Parry (Nice Sally at Riverside Studios) and John O’Connor artistic director of European Arts Company.
It is directed by Jonathan Kemp who is currently starring in the UK stage production of Yes, Prime Minister! who says that ‘These four unjustly neglected plays will give the audience a great insight into what made the Victorians’ ribs tickle, as well as providing them with plenty of 21st century laughs and entertainment!’
The audience are of course invited to join in the fun and come wearing their Victorian best. Corsets and bonnets, caps and moustaches, feathers and fans all welcome and greatly encouraged!
CAST and COMPANY INFORMATION
John O’Connor: Actor for European Arts Company The Dumb Waiter and The Lover. Chekhov’s Shorts. The 39 Steps (Embros Theatre, Athens), A Slight Ache (UK tour). Other theatre credits include Twelfth Night (Gloriana & UK Tour), The Pickwick Papers (Library Theatre), London Continental (Arcola Theatre), The Boundary (Gielgud Theatre) and Soap Opera (Barbican Theatre). He has performed rehearsed readings for The Royal Court and The Tricycle Theatre. Film & TV: Eating Out (Soma Films/Sky TV), New Eyes (O Production) and The Incredibly Strange People Show (Powercage Films). Directing: EAC’s Italian tours of Pride & Prejudice, The Importance of Being Ernest & Waiting for Godot.
Richard Latham: Actor for European Arts Company Chekhov’s Shorts, A Slight Ache, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Pickwick Papers and The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Other theatre credits include REP Seasons in Worthing, Derby, Bristol and Watford. Fringe Benefits (Whitehall Theatre), The Marrying of Ann Leete (RSC at Aldwych Theatre) and A Clandestine Marriage (Savoy Theatre). Film & TV: Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Casualty, Rock Follies and Shackleton
Asta Parry: Actor Theatre includes: Nice Sally (Riverside Studios), Scrambled Eggs (Windsor Fire Station), An Ode To My Sisters (UK Tour), Comedy of Errors & The Taming of the Shrew (Cambridge Shakespeare Festival), Foreskins Lament (Hackney Empire), Recipe for a Perfect Wife (King’s Head Theatre), Cycle (The Young Vic) and Enchanted Spaces (Ed Fringe and French Tour). TV & Film: Trollied (Sky One), Patient (Sony), Dangerous Parking (Flaming Pie Productions) Radio: Stockwell (BBC Radio 4), Dark Shadows (Big Finish Productions)
Jonathan Kemp: Director for European Arts Company The Dumb Waiter & The Lover, A Slight Ache, Chekhov’s Shorts, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Pickwick Papers and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. Other directing credits include; The Fighter Pilot’s Tale, The Digger’s Daughter (Riverside Barn) O’Sullivan Beara (Irish Tour) & Sister Queens (Waterloo East) both for Play On Words Theatre. Acting Credits: The Dumbwaiter & The Lover and The 39 Steps (European Arts Company) he has worked for The National Theatre, in the West End and at Rep theatres throughout the UK, Europe, North America and Japan.
Interview with Asta Parry
What can you tell us about the actress that is Asta Parry?
I trained at The Drama Studio London and The Desmond Jones school of Physical Theatre; I’ve been acting since I could walk and talk, putting on plays with my reluctant sister and belonging to every drama group I could. I graduated 7 years ago and have been lucky enough to have a varied and happy career since. I do drama workshops, events work and nannying whilst ‘resting’, all of which give me lots if material for my acting work!
I adored my experience at Drama School and am still extremely close to a lot of my contemporaries…we are all very supportive and encourage each other to hang on in there during the tricky times as well as celebrating the success together.
What do you enjoy most about acting?
The diversity of the job is exciting, immersing yourself in characters, learning about different periods in history, styles, genres and situations. I love being involved in the whole environment of the theatre and the thrill of it being ‘live’. I think my Mum would say that I was born to do it, I’m not quite sure if that’s a compliment or not.
You are currently touring with the European Arts Company’s Four Farces, and have been since April, performing at nearly 50 venues. Can you tell us about the tour and some of your favourite moments?
European Arts Company has developed a fantastic reputation nationally and it has been such a joy to work with them. There is a family feel to the company and we all muck in and help with everything. We perform mostly one-nighters which can be both challenging and rewarding. No one theatre is the same; we’ve had several hairy moments with tiny, lopsided stages but that’s all added to the charm. On a personal level, I have felt so lucky to visit lots of beautiful places I have never been to before and meet all sorts of wonderful characters. We performed for 3 nights at The Ellen Terry Barn Theatre in Smallhythe (Kent) which was an actor’s paradise; her house has been made into a museum with letters, costumes of hers (and Henry Irving’s) and her own personal play scripts equipped with notes and ideas of the characters. I was overwhelmed with a sense of theatre history and awareness of all the great actors, writers and thinkers who were connected to the place.
What are your likes and dislikes about touring?
The likes are definitely visiting all the wonderful and interesting places we’ve been to. A personal favourite of mine was to be able to perform at a theatre near to my 95 year old Grandma who’s been longing to see me in something for years. Having her in the audience was very special to me. Driving long journeys in a van can be tough. I’m the only female member of the cast and crew, which has both its benefits and negative points. I miss that good old gossip with girls but it’s great to have people to do the heavy lifting!
What can you tell us about the Four Farces? Do you have a favourite?
These are genuine, original, Victorian farces, as they would have been performed 150 years ago. They are called ‘Box and Cox’, ‘A Most Unwarrantable Intrusion’, ‘Wanted, A Young Lady’ and ‘Duel in the Dark‘ and they were written between 1847 and 1860. They are by 3 different writers, the most famous of whom is John Madison Morton, who wrote over 90 of these farces. The Company wanted to do something a little bit different, that no-one else was doing.
You tend to think of the Victorian’s as being very stuffy, that was perhaps true of high culture but these plays were low culture that were performed in low theatres, popular theatres, before there was television so these are like the comedy sketch shows of their time. I think anyone who comes to see the show will have a different favourite. That’s the beauty of doing a four short plays – there is something for everyone. My personal favourite is ‘Duel In The Dark’. It was written by Joseph Stirling Coyne who founded Punch Magazine. I play Mrs Greenfinch who poses as The Countess de Rambuteau and lures her feckless husband to Dieppe in order to test his constancy.
It’s reminiscent of Restoration Comedy mixed with ‘Allo ‘Allo. I love the audience interaction and relating to women in the audience who really enjoy the rings she (and her maid) run round her hapless husband!
What can you tell us about the characters that you play in the Four Farces?
I get to play 3 very different characters, a dodgy landlady, a plucky heroine and a wronged wife, they are all fabulous larger than life characters and are a joy for me to play. I love comedy and these wonderful characters give me plenty of opportunities to have lots of fun!
You will soon be playing at Wilton’s Music Hall, which is the oldest surviving musical hall in the world. What does it feel like to have the opportunity to play in such an iconic venue?
It is an honour and a dream…. The Victorian era is my favourite period in History. I love the costumes, the innovation and the wit. To be able to perform these four plays in a historic venue such as Wilton’s where they would have been performed 150 years ago, is a great feeling.
Why should everyone come along to see the Four Farces?
There is nothing currently like this being shown in London, it’s a chance to see something that hasn’t been done in 150 years, which is as fresh and funny as when it was first performed, but also where it would have been performed, so its authentic. On one level, you’re getting a laugh and a great night out, on another you’re getting a great historical experience. It’ll appeal to people who love theatre, who love music hall, to people who love history and to people who just enjoy a great night out.
Wilton’s are encouraging the audience to dress up in some Victorian accessories or costume (silly moustaches, fans and feathers etc) to enter into the giddy spirit of the show. There’s a free bottle of wine awarded every night to the best dressed audience member…. Need I say more!)
The Four Farces concludes its tour early in July. What are your plans for the rest of the year?
I am working on some audio dramas ‘Dark Shadow’s with Big Finish Productions, playing a cut throat presenter from the 70’s who runs her own paranormal scfi television show and will stop at nothing to get that elusive story. I’ll also be performing with The Beehive Theatre Company at the spectacular Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis; it’s a devised, physical piece with lots of live music and I’m very excited about its progression. I have a couple of other exciting projects in the pipeline too….watch this space!
Following the production’s run at Wilton’s The Four Farces will head to the Royal Borough of Greenwich where it will play for two performances at the Greenwich Theatre on the 4th & 5th July.
Writers: John Madison Morton, William E Suter, Joseph Stirling Coyne, Director: Jonathan Kemp
Wilton’s Music Hall : 18th – 27th June
Wednesday 12th June 2013