We are privileged to welcome Brian Mitchell, Jerry Rulf, Amy Sutton, Glen Richardson and David Mounfield from The Foundry Group for a joint (and hopefully joined up) Guest Blog to accompany their new show, Whaddya Know – We’re in Love! at the Rialto Theatre, Brighton.
“All aboard! Full steam ahead on SS Freedonia for the craziest show at Brighton Fringe. Four musicians with a secret, a girl in a green velvet dress, stowaways, a Mediterranean monarch, and glorious unforgettable swing era style songs make this mad-cap tribute to the Marx Brothers, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and the ‘Let’s-Do-The-Show-Right-Here!’ school of musical theatre a
The Foundry Group is proud to present this world premiere at Rialto Theatre in May’s Brighton Fringe, starring Radio 4 regular David Mounfield, comedian and musician Glen Richardson (Radio 2′s ‘The Day the Music Died’), Amy Sutton (‘The Ministry of Biscuits’) and Jerry Rulf (‘The Spudguns’).”
B. M. :
In May 1998, The Ministry of Biscuits, the musical comedy I co-wrote with novelist Philip Reeve (now touring in a new production), premiered at Pavilion Theatre as part of Brighton Festival. There was no Fringe then, just some pages at the back of the festival brochure called ‘Umbrella’. For a mere tenner you could get your show listed in them, and the Dome Box Office would sell your tickets and put up your poster on their walls. And that, seemingly, was all you need do to get an audience.
I well remember, on the first night, poking my head through the door to see a queue stretching down New Road. We were sold out – 220 seats. We were sold out on the following night too. I couldn’t believe our luck.
Getting that audience proved the easiest part. Writing and staging a new musical comedy is uniquely knackering (all right, it’s not exactly a stint down the pit, but it’s exhausting enough) and, after The Ministry of Biscuits, I swore I would never do it again. Yet here I am, twenty years later, premiering Whaddya Know – We’re in Love! at Rialto Theatre. It is my third musical.
Jerry – over to you.
J. R. :
The show just came about as a final piece for a performance art degree at Brighton University in 1992. That said, it’s actually good. cf fig. 1
After a brief hiatus of 25 years mulling it over, I got Brian Mitchell to write a proper story to go with the songs I’d written, inspired by unobtainable women. I wrote a few more songs and bought some trainers that look a bit like shoes with spats on, because the show is set in the Spats Era! Thus equipped, we did a rehearsed reading at the Latest Music Bar with the original cast, now much older. It was a bit of a reunion, and was lovely. That made us want to do it properly, as it had turned into a proper old-fashioned musical comedy. Now armed with a more talented cast and myself much more beautiful, I’m very much looking forward to the first rehearsal. I’m considering buying a wig. #retrotastic
B. M. :
The show had actually occupied my thoughts far longer than Jerry suggests.
I first met Jerry in late 1994 at Zincbar, the legendary open mike night run by Adrian Bunting. Our mutual friend Jason Pegg, singer-songwriter of Clearlake fame, was then making forays into stand-up comedy. I thought he was hilarious and was a big fan. He told me that I should meet Jerry, as he wrote a lot of his gags, adding “He’s a bit of a (DELETED), but you’ll get on with him.” Both of these statements turned out to be true.
I soon learnt that Jerry had written a musical – a very short one, lasting about 30 minutes – but it had proper, Swing-era style songs and everybody had, apparently, loved it. There were no demo tapes or recordings – there wasn’t even an extant copy of the script – but one night he and Jason, after a folk session at The Stable (the pub I lived next door to), crowded into my tiny fisherman’s cottage parlour with their double bass and accordion and played the score through.
I was immediately struck by the catchiness and so envious was I of these chopper chunes that, about two years later, I wrote a bunch of my own for ‘The Ministry of Biscuits‘. Jerry’s show, sadly, lay in a bottom draw, neglected – the songs existing merely as ear worms that burrowed constantly around my brain.
Then, suddenly, about – ooh – eighteen years later? Jerry showed up at mine with a dvd. His mum had found a video she’d made of the original performance all those years ago. We watched it and for the first time I had a clear idea how the show could work. What Jerry had done, brilliantly, was throw all the musicals he’d remembered from his childhood – especially those that had Doris Day or Judy Garland in them – into a pot and reduce them to a fine consomme. My job was to put back all the chunks of carrot, onion, celery, meat and gristle to make it into a stew again.
We agreed the very basic outlines of a new plot, which preserved the original setting, and then did nothing for another three years. Then, for no obvious reason, despite my vow never to write another musical, despite my later vow never to write another play, I suddenly wrote the book in a couple of afternoons in December 2016. And here we are.
D. M. :
I play the drummer in this musical. This is because I am not a musician. Anyone who knows a drummer will be aware that this is good casting. I also play the head Steward or whatever, who hates the band as he has an abiding loathing of all things musical. I am basing my performance on the terrifying bulldog father who constantly threatens to kill Tom if anything should happen to his puppy son. I’m deep that way, like Daniel Day Lewis. I may sleep in a doghouse chewing a big bone for a few weeks. (See video below)
This musical is very realistic and is based on actual events that Brian saw on TV when he was six. There are a lot of profound themes in this play, issues that affect a lot of people, like how to behave around eccentric but fabulously wealthy heads of state on a cruise, and the best way to (SPOILER ALERT) avoid being in the foreign legion by faking it as a jazz band. It could happen to any one of us, so don’t go around shooting your big yap off about it all being a big bunch of hooey, you hear me? Good. So long as we understand each other.
B. M. :
Yesterday we did a photo shoot and Louise Clarkson took some lovely snaps. David Mounfield was off ill, so the images came out much better than expected:
We are rehearsing at Jerry Rulf’s house in Mile Oak. He is the composer and lyricist, and his skills don’t end there. We are rehearsing in his conservatory, that he bought secondhand of gumtree and built for 700 pounds all in, teaching himself to build foundations, lay brick walls and install double glazing. So if you like our show, ask about our great rates for building jobs. He also rebuilds vintage cars pretty much from scratch, and makes his own excellent musical instruments. In short, he’s a clever bastard. Oh he paints as well, really good fifties style pin up girls and the like. From the front though Jerry’s looks like the kind of house you might see on the edge of a trailer park that is the long time domicile of a serial killer. Such is genius. We are all quietly delighting in the songs, which are in a classic swing era style and achieve almost instant earworm status, and while accurately pastiching the period don’t seem in the least bit derivative. As Jerry puts it, “I took great care to hide my influences.” It’s great fun too to play characters who don’t need much backstory or deep psychological motivation; they are wisecracking archetypes that we grew up watching in black and white. Just tune to Talking Pictures any day of the week! American wisecracking is immense fun to do, and Brian has nailed it.
B. M. :
It’s been a few days since we opened and this is the first chance I’ve had to write about it. While directing and producing this show I have also been touring ‘The Ministry of Biscuits’, which just enjoyed three sell-out performances in the West Country. Today we drove back from Cornwall – I had a slab of Heavy Cake in my jacket pocket, which weighed me down. That should give an indication how tired I am.
Anyway, I think it’s fair to say that ‘Whaddya Know – We’re in Love!’ has gone well. We’ve had good houses, big cheers and a couple of lovely reviews, one from GScene:
and another from Sussex Playwrights:
Whaddaya Know – We’re In Love!
The Foundry Group
The Rialto Theatre
The team that brought you the hit show Ministry of Biscuits, currently on a rural tour, now pauses for two nights only to deliver a great potential new addition to The Foundry Group’s touring repertoire.
Four actors, a bunch of instruments and the occasional stuffed seagull have a ball performing this screwball comedy musical, with terrific original vintage-style songs by Jerry Rulf, now gathered together with book by Brian Mitchell.
Three guys on the run have stowed away on a 1930s Mediterranean cruise ship and have to pose as a music quartet to escape detection … spot the problem?
Enter Amy Sutton, sashaying in as Sam,
the girl in the green velvet dress, in full sultry smoky-toned mode – and Jerry Rulf’s laconic Joey’s a gonner.
Rulf and Sutton – mostly – rise above the lunacy, as shades of the Marx Brothers and some bonkers character doubling kick in around them.
Dave Mounfield and Glen Richardson duck behind the curtain to re-emerge in mad new character, Mounfield channelling TopCat’s Benny the Ball as Mikey and in full rant mode as music-loathing Chief Officer Brown. Richardson has real piano and singing flair as Lenny, and whips up audience near hysteria with recalcitrant fake moustache and crazed Italian accent as lovelorn Euro aristo Prince Frederick Xlll.
Everyone sings and plays, getting a buzzing Rialto Theatre into full party mood plus audience participation – just try stopping us …
It’s great good hearted fun performed in a tiny space; as with last year’s Ministry of Biscuits I’d love to see it on a bigger stage, although the intimate setting does add to the general chaos.
Whaddaya You Know is back at the Rialto 14th, 23rd & 24th May.
Winning this praise was quite a feat, given that half the cast were in poor shape, ravaged by this ruddy cold no-one can get shot of. Amy Sutton, our female lead, had no voice at all a day before opening, and I had to ‘overdub’ her during the dress and technical rehearsals to rest her voice (which felt like the plot of another altogether more famous musical comedy).
Also, frankly, we are not used to the fringe regime. When rural touring, you turn up hours before doors open with acres of time to set up, make sure all the tech equipment is behaving itself, check through your props etc. But in a Fringe you generally get about 15 minutes – and that’s if you’re lucky.
We were, as it happens, exceptionally lucky at Rialto in that we had an unusually generous 30 minutes to get in – but it still proved a massive challenge.
Somehow we made it through and the audience, for some reason, did not egg us but cheered us. The second night was even better – they cheered and hung around in the bar with us afterwards. So we must be doing something right.
B. M. (30/5/18):
Well – we did it – managed to get through the run despite the many ailments.
On Sunday before the last two shows, I got this text from Jerry while I was setting up for a performance of ‘The Ministry of Biscuits’ in Derbyshire: “Heads up – I’ve lost my voice. Same thing as Amy and Glen had.”
I texted back telling him to rest it completely. For the next three days he avoided company and quit smoking. We cancelled the rehearsal we’d planned for the Tuesday and hoped for the best. With only a whispered line run an hour before the show, we went up again on the Wednesday and, somehow, Jerry’s voice held out.
All in all, this has been a uniquely nerve-wracking run. But the reviews have been very kind, and the audience comments have matched them.
Here is the review by Simon Jenner for this website.
I would like to thank him for giving so silly a show such thought and careful attention, and Paul Levy for his equally thoughtful interview and for hosting this blog. Thanks to the cast, to the Rialto, and to everyone who came.
And thanks to Jerry for the great songs.