Of Coarse it's Acting!

Shakespeare, Opera, fish 'n' chips, and Christmas? It's all happening in The Coarse Acting Show!

With a huge cast and four short plays to direct, Ian Appleby has been busy working his theatre magic and has developed a truly wonderful, hysterical and at times bewildering production. The final dress rehearsal is complete and the stage will be set tomorrow evening ready for a two week run. Amidst super quick costume changes and operatic singing, we thought we'd catch up with Ian and find out a bit more about the play, his role in creating additional scenes and his very own adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol...

Q: How long have you been involved in directing plays?

I've been involved in directing plays for... ooh, probably nearly 50 years. I've done an awful lot of plays in that time: some amateur operatic plays, a lot of school drama. I've taken up plays to the Edinburgh Fringe occasionally. I've done quite a lot of directing at Highbury. I've done a play in South Africa in a Township School where I taught at for 10 years. So I have a pretty big involvement in amateur drama. I also go to theatre a lot - just about every three weeks I go to see something in  London, so I'm pretty well-versed in all sorts of up-to-date theatre.

I enjoy directing plays. I enjoy readying a play. I have an idea in my head of how the play's going to look on stage. Sometimes I don't always communicate that as well as I might do to the cast, but I know how things are going to be at the end.

Q: What drew you to direct The Coarse Acting Show?

I first came across The Coarse Acting Show in 1983 when I directed it at The Riland Bedford School with a very talented sixth form cast, quite an outstanding cast, and it was hugely successful. I've never seen it or encountered it again - apart from Il Fornicazione which I've used a couple of times - until I came to Highbury Theatre. I was surprised it hadn't been done at Highbury because it was hugely popular piece in the late seventies and early eighties. It's based on Michael Green's The Art of Coarse Acting in which he talks about actors and styles, and acting, and styles of plays and production and so on... he exposes the foibles and frailties and the weaknesses and the funny side of all sorts of aspects of drama.

Sandra Haynes and Rob Phillips in rehearsal for A Collier's Tuesday Tea

Q: What are the four plays in the production and what are they about?

The show opens with a play called A Collier's Tuesday Tea which is derived from D. H. Lawrence's play A Colliers's Friday Night, which I think was first performed in 1906, something like that, in the early part of the nineteenth century, and it was the first play about the gritty working class life to enjoy any commercial success. All the elements of that are present in A Collier's Tuesday Tea: the over-bearing, ill-educated, bullying husband, the long-suffering wife, the two children who hope to lead a better life than their parents, but of course in this particular version we have all the cliches of working class drama, but they're all ridiculously over the top.

The idea of the Coarse Actor is that he just gets on doggedly doing his best in the face of calamity and certainly calamities occur in A Collier's Tuesday Tea. When I originally came across the piece, I thought it was very good but it was very short. It probably lasts between 10 and 15 minutes, so I thought I might write an extra scene which would extend it to 25 minutes.

Peter Cooley in rehearsal for A Collier's Tuesday Tea

I've also done the same with All's Well that Ends As You Like It, which sends up over-blown and pompous Shakespearean acting and staging. Michael Green is making fun of certain aspects of Shakespearean performance in this play and he's based it on As You Like It. In As You Like It there's a famous scene where Rosalind disguises herself and meets with Orlando who's very shy and awkward. They meet in the forest and she finds out that he's in love with her and so she disguises herself as a boy and says 'I will give you lessons on how to woo Rosalind' - when of course it is Rosalind herself who is leading him on.

I felt it was a shame that this scene is missing from All's Well that Ends As You Like It, so I thought I would write that scene where Rosalind is disguised as a bit and encourages - well, in this play it's Delia disguised as a boy, and she encourages Dronio to woo her and says 'I'll show you how to win the heart of Delia'. I've tried to write some sort of Shakespearean Iambic pentameter, but it's not very Shakespearean in terms of quality of verse.

Laura McLaurie, Kimberley Marlow and Phil Astle in rehearsal for Definitely Not a Christmas Carol

Definitely Not a Christmas Carol, or A Christmas Caper, I put together as a melodrama for a Christmas show during the 70s. There was an Upstart Crow special on last Christmas and some of the things I thought were quite similar to Definitely Not a Christmas Carol, but that had been written forty years earlier. It's a Christmas Carol story told as a silly Victorian melodrama.

Then Il Fornicazione. In Michael Green's script there's a very, very basic plot. It lasts probably about ten minutes and the actors are invited to make up the tunes and recitatives. When I first wanted to use that I thought it would be far too difficult for a sixth form cast to do, so I thought, I wondered, if I could find some music that would fit some of the words. I started off with a few bits of Michael Green's script and found some tunes that would fit them. Often I had to adapt the words to fit the tunes, and then I added in extra verses. And then I thought: 'Oh, this is a good tune. Let's get that in. Let's get some words to go with that', and just gradually expanded the original story. I would say it's a very time-consuming piece, quite hard work to do, but I hope it will entertain the audience.

Dave Douglas, Peter Cooley, Richard Irons, David Kemp, Phil Astle, Rob Gregory and Duncan McLaurie as The Huntsmen rehearsing for Il Fornicazione

Q: How big is the production?

There are twenty performers on stage. We've got several people who've just joined the theatre because they wanted to be in this show. Several people in the cast play multiple roles so they'll be in each of the four items, or in three of the four items, and we've got quite a few Highbury favourites in the cast who do a lot of performing. It's a very talented team. There's some very good acting even if they're working hard to be bad actors! We've also got a very strong stage crew. We're doing four short plays and they've each got a different set, and so each set has to be changed. So we've got, as well as an unusually big cast, and unusually big crew.

We've got quite a lot for the sound people to do in terms of sound effects and of course running the whole opera: Il Fornicazione. Chris Corcoran, a musician who's probably well-known in Sutton Coldfield, has played and arranged the music for us so we're very grateful to Chris. And of course we've got good people working the lights for us as well.

Like any show it's a big team effort and everybody has a part and a valuable part to play. The ultimate thing is that everybody has worked really hard, but we don't want the audience to just enjoy it because we've worked hard. We want the audience to enjoy it because they feel they've had a really good, entertaining and amusing evening.

The Coarse Acting Show runs from 12 February (Tuesday - Saturday) until 23 February 2019.
Tickets are available by telephoning the Highbury Box Office on 0121 373 2761, or by booking online here


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