NEWSLETTER - APRIL 2007
PC: The recent releases of PRESTON FRONT have been received well
by fans. It must have been very satisfying to know that fans
were queuing up to watch the three series all over again.
TF: I was perhaps
the happiest of anyone, as I no longer had the videos of the
first series and was on the verge of having to ring up the BBC
to make me some copies like JR Hartley asking for his copy of
Fly Fishing. Each copy would have cost me about £100
so these DVD releases have saved me thousands.
PC: The addition
of the bonus footage on series three was a nice touch
was that your idea?
TF: That was
Henry Normal, he of Baby Cow Ltd. It was those guys who shot
it. Theyd done an extras feature on DVDs of my TV Film
CRUISE OF THE GODS which marvellously managed to capture the
location cruise ship crashing in Athens harbour. Then while we
were filming some sequences of the PRESTON FRONT videos in Cheshire
a car ran into another car in the back of shot. Makes you wonder.
CAFÉ is one of my favourite Tim Firth series and were
asked again and again about a possible DVD release. Is there
something you can do to influence a BBC decision? Or does the
final say rest with others?
has any idea what inspires the BBC to bring out shows on DVD.
My honest opinion is that it never will come out as not enough
people watched it in the first place! It just didnt win
enough hearts. The cast was great for that show in retrospect.
It was weird seeing Tom Goodman-Hill, one of the two slack coppers
who I adored go on to play a slack copper in the
Johnny Vegas sitcom. And of course the other, Dean Lennox Kelly,
went on to great things in Shameless.
PC: I bought
a copy of the CD (BORDER CAFE) some time back and the series
really does have some great music. Do you choose particular music
when scripting a piece?
TF: Never specific
tracks as its a terrible risk. You cant just specify
tracks as they may prove too expensive or simply unavailable
come the final count, and if youve built a scene around
a set track, it may then seem anaemic without it. I always indicate
on scripts where I think orchestration music should leave and
enter. For me, music is a character and its presence totally
transfigures the way that an audience react to a scene.
PC: KINKY BOOTS
is such a brilliant film, it was great to have it released on
DVD this year. What do you think of one of the site guests talking
about KINKY BOOTS becoming a stage show? Have you any plans to
turn the screenplay into a musical it seems a natural
for a musical show?
a thing the rights to the stage show rest with Disney
as is always the case with films they have funded. The originators
have no automatic right to make the stage version. The writer
of THE FULL MONTY had nothing to do with the stage version and
earned nothing from it, even though the whole thing was his idea.
I did hear that the rights to KINKY BOOTS have been picked up
for stage but I dont know if its true. It certainly
doesnt involve me. There are however rumours of CALENDAR
GIRLS coming to the stage, though - a project in which I may
well be involved.
PC: KINKY BOOTS
also wowed the American audiences and won awards at various festivals.
Did you go over to American for the awards, how did American
audiences react to your brand of humour?
TF: I saw KINKY
BOOTS in the snow at the Sundance Film Festival in the largely
Mormon city of Salt Lake. Remarkably given the ultra-conservative
tenets of their religion they didnt seem too fazed by a
heavy-drinking black transvestite. When American audiences get
a film they really get it, and were much more vocal than English
PC: We said
last year (on the site) that OUR HOUSE was due to tour again.
What is the latest news of this new production.
TF: Our House
is still planned for next year so fingers crossed. Its
easier to set up a new nation state than it is to organise a
are also keen to see OUR HOUSE available for Amateur productions.
TF: I am sure
this will happen at some point. There are various publications
being talked about, but I dont want it to be rushed into
publication too quickly.
PC: Its been
a good year for your stage plays also with SAFARI PARTY touring
with Christopher Timothy and then Mark Little?
PARTY is the reason I dont want to rush into publishing
OUR HOUSE. It was printed ready for its run at Hampstead, during
which I then decided to make several changes and had personally
to buy back large numbers of scripts so we could reprint the
FRANK also premiered at Scarborough? What decided you to rework
the original play?
always wanted to expand the original one act piece ever since
I wrote it, nearly twenty years ago. A one act play has a very
limited life. Scarborough, its first home, offered a great opportunity
to put the new version up on stage, put the new second half against
the first to make sure it stood up. Ive only worked in
the round at Scarborough, but FRANK is a play which absolutely
cant be done in the round, so it all came together rather
beautifully. Bizarrely the prop letters from the original production
have been stored by the theatre for nearly twenty years and we
used them to rehearse with.
PC: FLINT STREET
NATIVITY has been a huge success for the Liverpool Playhouse
and in fact took more at the box office than any previous Christmas
TF: They were
a little worried initially as we didnt have the cast until
late, sales were slow and doing a brand new play in the crucial
Christmas slot is a real risk. Im so pleased it all worked
out for them. It turned out to be the most successful play in
the recent history of the theatre, and there are rumours they
want to bring it straight back this Christmas.
PC: Now I know
there are plans in the pipeline for several new tv/theatre/film
projects for the coming year. What can we talk about?
let you know as and when anything becomes definite. Which in
this business is usually after it has gone out.
It's child's play Philip
Key discovers that all is not sweetness and light in Bethlehem
To an outsider, the school
Nativity play is one of the sweeter aspects of Christmas, as
angelic children act out the old story of the birth of Jesus.
For those who know about these
things, the sweetness can be an illusion as the children squabble,
fight for the best roles and generally bicker like real grown-ups.
Cheshire playwright Tim Firth
is a man who does know about these things - his parents and grandparents
were all teachers - and his television comedy, The Flint Street
Nativity, struck a common chord with viewers when screened in
Now Firth has returned to the
play and subject, expanded it into a full stage show, and written
his own music alongside traditional carols. It opens at the Liverpool
Playhouse next Thursday for a Christmas run.
I catch up with him during
a rehearsal break at the theatre along with one of his ten-strong
cast members, Liverpool actress Gillian Kearney. They seem to
be having fun.
The twist in the play, as viewers
may recall, is that all the children are played by adult actors.
And they still are.
Gillian takes on the role of
Mary, a part taken in the original television series by Josie
Lawrence. It's quite a change of pace from her last Playhouse
role earlier this year when she played the tragic Hedda Gabler
in Ibsen's drama.
"I play a seven-year-old,"
she explains. Like the rest of the cast, she went to observe
children of the same age in a Formby school, at lessons and in
"One of the things I noticed
is that they don't keep still, they have so much energy. And
there is no such thing as private space, they are in your face."
Firth, whose past writing triumphs
have included the TV series All Quiet on the Preston Front and
the film Calendar Girls, had his own children to observe, now
aged 12, 10 and six "so they have been the right age when
I wrote the TV play and now this stage version".
The opportunity to write a
stage version came in a strange way. "Last year, a friend
of mine in Llandudno asked if he could have a go at doing the
TV play as a stage work for his amateur dramatic company. I told
him to go away and have fun with it and they had a great time.
"Then, the week he sent
me a DVD of them performing it, I had a telephone call from the
Playhouse saying they had not realised I had written the TV show,
which they had always known about, and would I be interested
in considering it for the stage? Had that friend of mine not
taken it and shown that it could work on stage, I would have
As it was, he was delighted
to return to an old work. "You are a little older and as
a writer you always think you might now want to tell the story
in a different way."
He thought it would not be
as much of a rewrite as it became, he admits. "When you
move anything from one medium to another, it is never as straightforward
as it first appears."
By changing the shape of the
play, he has been able to focus on the characters more and he
has also introduced carols which were only heard in the background
in the TV version.
He has, however, written some
additional music for the carols, a descant which explains exactly
what a child is thinking. "It has really become a play with
music which justifies it taking place on stage."
Firth has been involved in
school Nativities himself, along with his wife. In the absence
of a staff member to play the piano, they have stepped in. And
he was able to collect a host of stories from family and friends.
"I researched it for a
long time collecting and harvesting these stories, some are great,
some good but not usable. I would say that about 90% of the play
is based on real stories."
For Gillian Kearney, she recalled
that the smallest girl in her class always played Mary. She was
the second smallest. "I just played the triangle so when
the star appeared I went, ping."
In the Flint Street Nativity,
her bete noir is the Angel Gabriel (played by fellow Liverpudlian
Leanne Best) who would have liked to play Mary. They duet on
Away in a Manger, retitled in Gabriel's words "Away to Kill
Mary . . ."
Gillian explains: "Mary
is someone who gets her own way by using her brain rather than
her fists, one of those children who has an answer for everything.
She knows all her words, does her homework and wants to be top
of the class."
In the stage play, Firth has
got rid of one wise man and one shepherd thanks to an outbreak
of chickenpox at the school ("I had that in the TV play,
but it is more virulent in the stage version") and there
is no Joseph so the child playing Herod is forced to take on
the Joseph role - and does not want to do so.
One of Firth's views is that
children reflect their parents and home lives, a subject examined
in the second act: "It is not really the history of the
children but the history of their parents - children are refractions
and sponges to what is going on around them.
"One important subject
is that the membrane between the world of children and the world
of adults is never thinner than at a Nativity play. Children
are playing adults on stage while adults in the audience are
often reduced to childish and infantile jealousies.
"Basically, it is the
story of children's lives while The Greatest Story Ever Told
is being told."
The production, directed by
Matthew Lloyd, stars some fine actors, Liverpool's Andrew Schofield
(as the Innkeeper), Natalie Casey (Donna from TV's Two Pints
of Lager and a Packet of Crisps) as a shepherd, Rina Mahoney
from Casualty as The Angel and Neil Caple (from the Liverpool
Everyman's award-winning Unprotected) as Herod among them.
Firth is glad to be back working
in the theatre, where he gets instant audience reaction. The
Flint Street Nativity had the largest viewing figures for any
TV play he had written, but once it had gone out came silence.
"I didn't even know anyone at the Playhouse had seen it."
He says it is a family show
(apart from a couple of "bloodys") and will certainly
be taking his own children.
And he has learned one thing
during the rehearsal period from that time at a Formby school.
The teacher there kept order with a tambourine. He now uses one
with his school choir, first a warning rattle and then a tap.
It apparently works a treat.
Philip Key -
Liverpool Daily Post
TOP OF PAGE
Anyone can be a shepherd,
but there's only one Mary
Playwright Tim Firth recalls
the lessons he learnt while writing a comedy about a school nativity
Come Christmas, there are always
those cynics who dismiss infant nativity plays as pointless charades.
What lessons, they ask, are to be learnt in the modern age from
watching kids trying to work out what a "virgin's womb"
is and how not to "abhor" it? The answer is many, for
all concerned - not in the tale itself, but in the telling.
For time-starved teachers at
the end of term, the casting of a nativity is an object lesson
in social engineering and appeasement. In the darkest vaults
of each infant school is an unspoken template which can be slapped
on any class register: Mary - give it to the girl whose parents
are most trouble.
Joseph - the docile boy who
is happy being led round like a Victorian orphan but would protest
at being the donkey. Donkey - give it to the kid who doesn't
mind being a donkey. (There is always one, and the chances are
that they will achieve the greatest happiness in later life.)
Gabriel - give it to the girl who could have been Mary but whose
parents were less trouble.
Shepherds - any child who won't
go on without their best friend. Wise Men - any child who won't
go on without their best friend but can also be trusted to carry
out a simple motor function when glared at. Star of Bethlehem
- save this for the child who is odds-on to back out at the last
minute. No one misses the star. Narrators - these are your Corinthian
pillars. Choose wisely.
During my research for writing
The Flint Street Nativity (a comedy, in which adults play schoolchildren
putting on a Christmas show), teachers divulged more than one
occasion of anxious mums asking staff to share out the Mary role,
suggesting they alternated Marys between matinee and evening
performance and in one case during the course of the show. Proof
perhaps that the membrane separating the world of adults from
that of children is never thinner than during a nativity: on
stage, children act like adults, while in the audience adults
seethe with infantile jealousies.
In a world where school football
touchlines are peppered with proto-Mourinhos reprimanding refs
for not helping their kids' side win, it's a refreshing slap
in the face to know that there is, and will only ever be, one
Mary. The children play adults, but it is the adults who are
forced to grow up.
The stinging lesson learnt
first-hand by the children prepares them for one of the toughest
issues they will ever have to face in adulthood: the part you
end up with in life may not be the part you feel you deserve.
The dock leaf to the sting, however, is that very often what
you thought to be the best part turns out not to be so.
When I was four, I was taken
to the nativity at my future infant school. Could I tell you
now one thing about Mary or Joseph? No chance. Do I still remember
the donkey turning to one side halfway through and shouting from
inside his head: "Bloody hell, Mrs Quirk, it's hot in here"?
Deliver the killer line at the right time and you will steal
the show/board meeting/political summit.
The following year, now an
infant, I felt I was a shoo-in for the part of Joseph, following
a very promising (ie loud) recitation about our sheepdog. Tragically,
disaster loomed in the form of a student teacher on secondment.
He took over the nativity and reset it among kids who were "in
the neighbourhood of Bethlehem at the time".
Not only did this trendy angle
totally nuke the part of Joseph, but it meant that I no longer
stood a chance of holding the hand of Mary, a babe who fancied
my best mate.
Consumed with injustice, during
the holiday I wrote my first three-minute play for assembly.
In short, I owe the whole idea of my ever becoming a playwright
to the nativity, not out of any desire for self-expression but
rather out of desire for a girl and her cardigan, sweet with
Lenor. I cast myself as the handsome prince, Mary as the princess
and my best mate as the arse end of the dragon.
Thirty-odd years later, repeatedly
dragged earthwards by fear of failure, I look back to that nativity
and the lesson it taught me of free-wheeling, ruthless, single-mindedness.
I have never attained such singularity since. There are plenty
of lessons to be learnt in an infant nativity, they're just not
all on stage. And they're not all about love and peace.
Tim Firth -
TOP OF PAGE
It was 15 years ago
when Alan Ayckbourn spotted that Tim Firth had a talent to amuse.
The playwright and TV dramatist returns to Scarborough with a
comically Frank story.
Tim Firth is the writer behind the
film Calendar Girls, the Madness musical Our House and the television
series All Quiet On The Preston Front.
His talent to amuse was spotted
first by Alan Ayckbourn, who took a punt on him 15 years ago
at the Stephen Joseph Theatre with his lunchtime divertissement,
A Man Of Letters.
This summer, that bite-sized
play is being expanded by Firth from a snack into the complete
meal of Absolutely Frank for a run in Scarborough from Thursday.
"Alan's assistant director
at that time, Conal Orton, had known me at university and he
gave Alan a play of mine to read: a rather studenty play starring
two humans and two yucca plants that spoke through speakers in
"It was about the breakdown
of a couple's relationship, where the yucca plants only spoke
to each other when the couple weren't in the room, and Alan very
kindly said it had promise but was slightly whimsical. Nevertheless,
he still commissioned a play from me."
Ayckbourn showed him where
the play would be performed at the old Stephen Joseph Theatre.
"It was the restaurant, and so I thought I better write
a play where the characters would have to shout to be heard,
but when I turned up, there were only people drinking soup, so
it wasn't necessary after all."
Tim felt he had unfinished
business with A Man Of Letters, hence his creation of the new
play Absolutely Frank: the comic story of 57-year-old Frank Tollit,
who puts giant letters on the sides of buildings but has always
dreamed of working with slightly smaller letters in the form
of spy novels. Stories of espionage, treachery, disasters, explosions
and daring rescues all jump from fiction to fact one day at work
and Frank must learn the greatest lesson in life: how to live
happily ever after.
"I always wanted to make
it into a full play, and the original didn't seem to have dated
at all because it's a play about ambition and the pursuit of
happiness and the gap between the two and that hasn't changed.
"For me, plays that have
been written theme first have always failed; they have to be
character driven first, and there's a point where you create
a situation you like and you put the characters into the mix
and the story then generates the scene," Tim says.
"The good thing with A
Man Of Letters is that it ended with Frank being made redundant
from a job of high status, and I wanted to come back with him
now being an apprentice to a very ambitious young man. The play
comes down on the line that ambition can ruin your life as much
as make it. Happiness is something you may have already without
TOP OF PAGE
I'm a celebrity... get me
trout of here!
Tim Firth wrote his comedy Neville's Island 13 years ago and it has toured the world
without any adaptations.
But after it was scheduled
to open in Birmingham he realised there was one thing he needed
The story line centres around
a group of middle managers sent on a team-building exercise to
a deserted island - but once there their team is anything but
"No matter how many times
it has toured I have never seen a need to update it - until now,"
"This time I got a call
from the director Paul Raffield, who was actually in the first
production of Neville's Island, and he said "we have a problem
with the mobile phone".
"Over the last ten years
or so mobile phones have shrunk so much that a scene in which
one of the men kills a trout by hitting it over the head with
a mobile phone would no longer work. Today's mobile phones are
just too small to kill a trout!"
But apart from this tinkering
at the edges, Tim believes Neville's Island, which comes to Birmingham
Repertory Theatre with Les Dennis in the lead role tonight, remains
as relevant today as ever- if not more so.
"The story first surfaced
when there was a television series about one of these team building
courses and it was terribly austere and dictatorial with people
who wouldn't even swim being forced into freezing cold water,"
"Around the same time
a friend was telling me about this bonding weekend he had been
on and it was so cushy. They basically did a brief walk and then
went back to the hotel for dinner.
"It just occurred to me
to write about what would happen if a group of people were sent
away for a few days expecting the cushy option and instead got
other type of course.
"It has remained relevant
because these type of team building exercises still happen and
in fact has now become really popular on television with programmes
like I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here," says Tim.
"It is fascinating to
see the dynamics when a group of people are thrown together like
this. And these dynamics seem to apply anywhere - there is always
a need for someone to come out on top and for bullies to take
He adds: "I think there
is an added edge to this play now because there is so much competitiveness
in the market place. These guys are all middle managers and we
have seen a recent trend for those to be the people who are culled.
This may look like a teambuilding exercise but it is really survival
of the fittest."
TOP OF PAGE
GOING FOR A SONG
Tim Firth can remember everything
about the first time he met Willy Russell. It was the day his
life changed. The year was 1983, the summer was hot and he was
18 and about to go to Cambridge to read English. Back home in
Cheshire, hed spent months working on a musical version
of Macbeth in the style of Marillion ("funnily enough, it
never got anywhere"). But writing musicals was what he had
set his heart on, so when he heard about a course which Russell
was tutoring on entitled Writing for Performance, he put his
name down straight away.
Earlier that year, Russells
Blood Brothers had opened at the Liverpool Playhouse. Even though
no-one could possibly guess it would still be making him millions
21 years later, for a would-be singer-songwriter like Firth,
it seemed to have a compelling freshness. Here was a show written
not by a classically trained musician, but a straight-from-the-heart
Scouser who had learnt his craft in the citys folk clubs.
Maybe Russell - who was giving the course with the shows
director, Danny Hiller - could teach him how it was done.
Except Firth had got it all
wrong. The course, run by the Arvon Foundation at Ted Hughess
old farm high up the steep Pennine valley, overlooking Hebden
Bridge, had nothing to do with music and everything to do with
writing plays. "There was this terrible moment on the first
night when Willy said, Go away and write a couple of minutes
of dialogue between two people. Youve got an hour.
"I was petrified. Id
never done anything like that in my life. So I went away and
wrote the only thing I could think of - about a couple of kids
my age trying to write a song.
"Willy read one of the
parts and, within a couple of lines, Danny had started to laugh.
If I can trace my interest in comedy to any one moment, that
These days, Firths track
record as a writer is almost as impressive as his first mentors.
Last year, you could have wandered out of the London premiere
of his film Calendar Girls and have the choice of either watching
another, Blackball, about lawn-bowling and starring Johnny Vegas,
or Our House, his Olivier award-winning West End musical based
on Madnesss greatest hits. On television, All Quiet on
the Preston Front, Once Upon a Time in the North, The Flint Street
Nativity and Nevilles Island all dot the CV of the man
who had once never thought of playwriting.
But talent needs luck to survive
and grow, and Firth has had almost indecent quantities of it.
At Cambridge, he spent three years mostly writing plays, every
single one of them - including his 1984 Fringe debut, Hexen,
about witchcraft in Cheshire - directed by his friend, Sam Mendes.
Still at university, he was taken under the wing of Alan Ayckbourn,
who, over the next decade, directed and commissioned much of
his work for his theatre at Scarborough.
His latest project, though,
circles right back to when he first met Russell. After his first
snippet of playwriting had been so warmly received, Firth started
messing about on the piano in the farmhouse lounge. Russell got
out his guitar and an impromptu session, fuelled by more red
wine than the teenage Firth was used to, lasted until 4am.
Over the years, as their respective
careers blossomed - Russells with Educating Rita, Shirley
Valentine, and his recent, hilarious novel, The Wrong Boy - the
two writers kept in touch. Occasionally, theyd even give
courses together at Lumb Bank, and whenever they did, they would
still play music together, with Firth at the keyboards on that
same old, upright, farmhouse piano around which their friendship
had first began.
In the last year or so, though,
their music-making has had an added sense of purpose. For each,
it has led to a debut album - Russells Hoovering the Moon
and Firths Harmless Flirting, which will be out later this
year. And it has resulted in their Singing Playwrights show at
the Pleasance Grand Theatre, where they will be performing songs
with a seven-piece band and reading extracts from their writing.
"Its difficult to
describe," says Russell, "but essentially its
a mélange of the spoken and the musical. We might begin
with one of my songs, but within the first minute of it, while
the tracks still running, were into a reading from
Nevilles Island, then its another verse and a reading
from Shirley Valentine. And thats how it carries on, not
just song followed by a reading, but mixing them up more.
"When Blood Brothers first
came out, people found it hard to pigeonhole, and theyll
have the same problem here. We might be in mid-song and then
suddenly well take off into another melody, and then straight
into a reflective section. Any audience expectations about what
theyre going to get is going to be completely blown away."
The Singing Playwrights show
is a condensed version of a production Russell and Firth have
already taken on tour throughout England. That in turn had its
roots in their collaboration over the last two years which Russell
dubs "a musical WeightWatchers".
"Every six weeks or so,
wed meet up either in my house or Tims with the promise
that wed each have a couple of songs completed," he
explains. "That deadline was like a WeightWatchers
weigh-in - and gradually we found we were amassing quite a few
The initial idea was to make
a record, but they soon agreed that their differing styles would
work live but not on CD. I wonder about that. While Russells
music has a harder edge, both writers lyrics have a depth,
an eloquence and a sheer verbal dexterity. They tell stories
- sometimes simply, like Russells hymn to fatherhood ("Any
father would be glad to know/You went further than hed
dared to go/He would forgive you that you dared to dream/Hed
gladly give you the worlds ice cream"); sometimes
unravelling the complex minutiae of betrayal, as in Firths
Harmless Flirting and Sometime in July.
Whether they swing out to vaudeville
or back to quiet reflections on unfulfilled dreams, these are
songs where words matter. They are distinctive, rooted, unashamedly
thought-provoking rebellions against recyclable pop pap. Why
a major label hasnt signed them up - Russell produced Hoovering
the Moon himself - is beyond me. But the playwright himself isnt
bothered. "At least this way we get to keep complete creative
Firth adds: "At least
these are honest songs. Certainly theyre not trying to
be American songs. Only recently Ive been starting to notice
that among the biggest influences in the core structures are
the Methodist hymns I remember from going to Chapel with my mother
as a kid. But as Willy says, thats no surprise: most of
them were just purloined old English folk songs. To Be a Pilgrim
is a case in point. You get all these powerful, moving chords
for the left hand to play that almost force out a really strong
melody for the right."
After Edinburgh, the singing
playwrights careers will take different tracks. Russell
is to write a film version of his 1980s TV series One Summer
for the Pleasance shows producer, Ian Brady. Firth has
turned producer to get a series of TV comedy dramas, which will
be unveiled at the television festival, off the ground.
Right now, though, theyre
tuning up for a show which may just be the first time any one
British playwright - never mind two - has sung in front of a
paying audience since Noel Coward entertained London café
And if you want to hear a masterclass
in writing for performance, whether its the spoken or sung
word, theres probably no more enjoyable show around.
TOP OF PAGE
- FRODSHAM playwright Tim Firth thought of
calling his new show Indescribable. In the event, the show in
which he and fellow writer Willy Russell appear has gone on tour
under the title In Other Words.
- Opening for a two-night run
at the Liverpool Playhouse tonight, it features Firth and Russell
singing their own songs, reading extracts from their own film
and stage scripts and telling anecdotes.
- "It's gone down really
well with audiences but it is very hard to describe," Firth
admits. "As soon as you get in the theatre the show is very
- "But when you are trying
to describe it to someone you get this feeling of people thinking,
'Okay, but why would we want to go and watch John Betjeman on
a unicycle when we know him for one thing?'"
- The simple truth, Firth explains,
is that both be and Russell had been writing songs before they
- Firth, one of Britain's most
successful writers with television series like All Quiet on
the Preston Front, stage comedies like Neville's Island and film scripts like Calendar Girls, first met Russell
on a writing course where Russell was lecturing and Firth a student.
They became firm friends.
- A joint interest in songwriting
led them to put this show together. They had a trial run last
year at a restaurant in Oswestry but the new show is very much
a theatrical event.
- "There are more funny
songs," says Firth. It is also more structured.
- In Oswestry, Russell read
an extract from his musical Blood Brothers over a Firth song.
"That was the moment which inspired this show which is much
more wrought, moving from one song to another, using bits of
movies we have written and telling anecdotes."
- Both Firth and Russell have
recorded albums - titled Harmless Flirting and Hoovering the Moon respectively
- although in some ways their styles are very different. Russell
composes on guitar, Firth on piano.
- "But you can hear that
they are songs written by playwrights: they have stories and
characters and very often the 'I' who is singing the song is
- "I admire songwriters
who take another voice. I love Randy Newman who can write a song
from the point of view of a racist and sing it as 'I' which makes
it more powerful."
- The two writers originally
planned to make a song album together. "But side by side
we have very different voices. Willy's voice both narratively
and in timbre is completely different. But that's what makes
the show so interesting: there are two different voices often
with songs dealing with the same areas."
- The show is not the start
of a career as a performer but Firth certainly plans to keep
up the songwriting. "That's something I want to keep doing
but you need an outlet for it otherwise I would spend all my
days writing plays and never finishing songs."
- He provided the book for one
recent West End musical Our House using the music by the
group Madness. It won an Olivier Award and there are now plans
for a tour.
- But he would like to write
his own musical as Russell did with Blood Brothers. "I would
love to write the book and lyrics but whether I would be brave
enough to write the music as well is another matter. I would
probably end up having a hand in it, though!"
- But Firth is keeping pretty
busy. He has just written his first period comedy film script
set in 1600 after several months research. As yet untitled, it
is now in the hands of the film company Working Title. "I
have a deal with them that they get a first look at anything
I write but it is early days yet."
- Of more immediate interest
is a series of one hour plays for ITV under the title Trapped,
due to be broadcast later this year. "I have written one
and so have Simon Nye and Jonathan Harvey. Richard Wilson is
in mine and Martin Clunes and Caroline Quentin in the others."
- At present, however, he is
having great fun on the road with Russell and a seven-piece band,
three of them from the Liverpool Institute for the Performing
Arts. "This is seen as part of their course assessment so
not only are they great but they are getting marked!"
PHILIP KEY - Liverpool
have produced an on-line programme for this show and you can
view it from this web-site here