The Magic Tea Kettle
London pub theatre tours for the under-6s and their grown-ups!
Words and music by CT.
This was a riotous musical romp for the under-6s and their grown-ups which toured family friendly pubs in southeast London. Inspired by the ancient Japanese folk tale, The Magic Tea Kettle saw Sophie the Witch and Prince Arnold have a crazy and slightly smelly adventure with a Moody Fairy and an old kettle which is home to a remarkable badger.
“My favourite time ever” Nursery pupil, Ivydale School
“Congratulations on truly winning some little hearts and minds!” Catherine Peters, Parent
“Pitched perfectly and the children were completely absorbed” Miles Smith, Manager,
Ivydale Children’s Centre
“The kids sat through the hour-long show with their eyes glued to the performance which was my first opportunity to sit back and relax all half-term!” Sarah Pylas, Around Dulwich
The Old Police Cells Museum
Brighton Town Hall
‘A harrowing and remarkable play… the script is absolutely phenomenal’ Fringe Review
‘An exceptionally gifted playwright… this inspirational play is nourishment for the soul’ Three Weeks
Winner of an Argus Angel Award for Artistic Excellence
This one-hour play was a fictional account of Sylvia Pankhurst’s monumental hunger and thirst strike in 1913, and her relationship with her prison wardress during this time.
Sylvia Pankhurst is a bizarrely unsung British heroine, perhaps because she was ahead of her time in her views. Sylvia was like a one-woman A-Team; wherever she saw injustice, she was there to sort it out – no matter what anyone thought.
Nourish pairs this idealistic superwoman with a very ordinary working woman; the sort of woman on whose behalf Sylvia was campaigning, and explores both sides of the government policy of forcible feeding – torture under another name. Sylvia’s physical deterioration and mental growth are matched by the Wardress’s growing anxiety at needing to keep her job but becoming unable to ignore the guilt over what that job has become.
The role of Sylvia was written for Davies Grey:
and the role of The Wardress was played by yours truly:
We were incredibly lucky to have a fantastic atmospheric venue in the Old Police Cells beneath Brighton Town Hall. The production sold out, received five-star reviews and a wee award and I was flabbergasted when Sylvia’s son, Dr Richard Pankhurst, emailed me from Ethiopia expressing regret that he wouldn’t be able to see it.
Pinewood Theatre, Wokingham
This was an unusual and lovely commission which came up as a result of Aladdin at Pleasance Islington. The University of the Third Age (U3A) is a charity which is run by and for people who have retired from full-time employment. They run clubs, classes and events covering absolutely every interest and discipline under the sun, from poker to Portuguese. The Wokingham U3A wanted to do a pantomime and they asked me to write one. So I did.
The show was created collaboratively – I was told how many people would like to be involved as leads and smaller roles and what particular skills were waiting to be shown off, and I started thinking. Then the company came up with character and plot ideas and, using these as a basis, I produced a script.
The story goes something like this: on his retirement, Rick Dittington leaves the bright lights of London for an adventure in the mysterious town of Wokingham. Having befriended a talking cat en route (and encountered enthusiastic twitchers, a militia of needlework experts, beer-swilling computer boffins, tap-dancing belles and the Queen) he uncovers a dastardly plot to turn all of Wokingham into a car park. Luckily, with the help of the cat – and the U3A – Rick thwarts the evil town planner and also manages to find enlightenment and true love. Of course.
The show was performed by a cast aged 70-90 and the night I saw was an absolute riot! It was utterly exuberant with fantastic performances and superb singing – and the baddie having his script stashed in his handbag added another level of hilarity to the proceedings.
By CT for Charlie Hartill
Music and lyrics by Alexander Bermange
Additional material by Russell Labey
‘High-spirited hilarity’ Ham and High
‘The most appealing (and original) of the three I saw’ What’s On
In 2004, the searingly intelligent, hilarious and utterly unique Charlie Hartill died. A few weeks before this tragedy, he’d asked me to co-write his Aladdin project for the Pleasance and after his death I faced the sad and difficult task of fully taking up the reins.
This was a tricky project for emotional reasons and also because of the practicalities of joining the team late in the day – everything else was well under way. The wonderful Christopher Richardson, the powerhouse behind the Pleasance, had excellent plans for the set, and the majority of the songs and lyrics had already been written by the prolific and delightful Alexander Bermange. The ghostwritten (oh, for a synonym) script was to be based on Charlie’s notes and, knowing that I would never be able to write like him, I made the decision to use his characters and to keep as much of his plot outline as possible, but not even attempt to imitate his writing style. I also decided to add various things for the under-7s, such as a really big pair of magic underpants, and popped in a character called Charlie.
Aston, Princess Masha Yabooty’s aphorism-spouting bodyguard was my favourite character to write. I quite often don’t remember lines I’ve written, but two of Aston’s lines from this show stick in my head: the unintentionally filthy:‘With tender gardener, even ugly bush blossom’ and the sentimental but undeniably true:‘Big heart like bad hotel – always have spare room’.
The Best Little Whore House in Hampstead
Jackson’s Lane, London, 2003
This was a black comedy set in 1862. It was selected for the Jackson’s Lane 10 x 10 Festival where 10 new plays were paired up with 10 directors for a season of staged readings.
Miss Short, a wealthy spinster, decides to set up a home where she will train penitent prostitutes for domestic service thus giving them a chance to start anew. She enlists the aid of two friends, the upstanding Mr Crabtree and the louche Mr Wilkes, and welcomes her first four protegees. Against a jaunty background of religious fervour and the spectre of syphilis, everyone lusts after and/or falls in love with someone inappropriate, real identities and dark secrets are exposed, and desserts just and unjust are meted out as true love finally triumphs.
I was attempting to look at the (not just) Victorian tug-of-war between respectability and need, and how authority figures – who are usually society’s (self-appointed) moral arbiters – quite often don’t have an upright leg to stand on once they’ve dropped their public face. There was, naturally, quite a hefty helping of slapstickery, hanky-panky and trousers round ankles in this piece.
Live at Carnegie Hall
Clore Studio Upstairs, Royal Opera House
Choreography by Tom Sapsford
Directed by Diana Hillier
Text by Claire Taylor
Dancers: Tom Sapsford, Ricardo Cervera, Bennet Gartside, Sian Murphy, Samantha Raine, Thomas Whitehead
Actors: Tamsin Stanley and Claire Taylor
The inaugural project of the Royal Opera House’s Artists’ Development Initiative, run by Deborah Bull, teamed choreographer and Royal Ballet dancer Tom Sapsford with theatre director Diana Hillier. I joined the project as writer/performer.
Live at Carnegie Hall was based on the sensational concert Judy Garland gave at Carnegie Hall in 1961. The piece began as a dance solo choreographed and performed by Tom Sapsford and set to Judy Garland’s heartbreaking rendition of Stormy Weather. For this production, we expanded the piece and wove Tom’s dance exploration of Judy Garland’s performance together with a story, suggested by the songs in the concert, that revealed the difference between the white-picket-fence dreams of a young American couple and the reality of their lives.
I wrote the text for the parallel story using only words from the concert – song lyrics and Judy’s asides – as if we’d thrown all the concert’s words up in the air and let them fall down to make a new, very different story. The resulting text was a free-flowing poem laden with subtle echoes, foreshadowings and twisted, fragmented reflections of the songs and speech used in the dance sections.
Name-dropping moment: Princess Margaret came to see the show and, at the handshaking line-up afterwards, seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed herself!
Midnight at the Website of Good and Evil
Canal Cafe Theatre, 1999
Written and performed by Claire Taylor
Music by Stuart Barr
Directed by Diana Hillier
Millennium Bug played by Adrian Metcalf
I’d been in NewsRevue at the Canal Cafe Theatre earlier in the year and liked the venue so I decided to rework a show I’d written and performed at university (Night in with the Girls, ADC Theatre, 1995) for the millennium.
The premise was simple. As midnight approaches on December 31, 1999, the Millennium Bug (aka Martin) needs help to prevent the world from certain doom but everyone is out at parties – apart from five women. So, the Millennium Bug persuades one of them to help him, uploads her onto the internet and transforms her into these other ladies who must each perform a specific task in order to save the world. And along the way they sing some funny songs and do some funny things. So, basically a comedy character sketch show with songs… It was great fun and I still wheel out the songs (brilliantly composed by the spectacular Stuart Barr – now Shirley Bassey’s MD) and poems from it every now and then.
Anne Frank: Public Face, Private Child
A dramatisation of Anne Frank’s Diaries
Palace Theatre, Watford, 1998
Edited by Diana Hillier, Tamsin Stanley and Claire Taylor
Directed by Diana Hillier
Performed by Tamsin Stanley and Claire Taylor
‘Gripping… engrossing… a mammoth undertaking… spellbinding’
When the superb theatre director Diana Hillier asked me to join her and Tamsin Stanley in creating a theatrical piece based on Anne Frank’s Diaries, I leapt at the chance. The Anne Frank Educational Trust was taking its exhibition Anne Frank: A History for Today to Watford and our work was to be part of the associated activities going on in the town.
The Diary of Anne Frank: The Critical Edition had recently been published and we decided to use this as a starting point. This edition contains all three versions of Anne’s diaries; the original she wrote, the version she rewrote and edited herself after hearing a call on the radio for people to keep their diaries of their wartime experiences, and the version edited by her father after the war for publication. In all three versions, two voices are very clear: the ‘public’ Anne, who is a naughty, clever, sulky, cheeky, lively teenager who cheers everyone up and also drives them crazy; and the ‘private’ Anne, who is a thoughtful, analytical, gentle and strong, terrified and fearless young woman known only to herself. Anne discusses these two aspects of herself in her final diary entry. We felt very strongly that we should use only Anne’s words in the piece, so we decided to choose extracts that would coherently tell the full story of Anne’s diaries from beginning to end – a distillation rather than an interpretation – and present them as a conversation between these two sides of Anne.
Together, we edited the diaries to produce a final script that took just under an hour and a half to read. Then, me and Diana flew to Amsterdam and went to Anne Frank’s house. We took our scripts and read each diary entry in the room where the events described had taken place. In corners of the bedrooms, bathroom, living room and office we spoke Anne’s words slowly and quietly to each other. We looked out of the windows and saw the views Anne had seen and heard the Westerkerk clock chime as she had so many times. I find it hard to describe how this felt.
Anne’s diaries are overflowing with life. In April 1944, she wrote ‘I want to go on living even after my death’. Her own words ensure she will.