Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Thank you

Well, it's done. After several weeks of rehearsals and four frantic days getting into the venue, we were thrilled and delighted by the wonderful feedback. The cast all appeared to have the time of their lives; the audiences joined in appropriately and were pleasingly extravagant in their praise; and we are so glad that all the hard work paid off.

Click here to see photographs taken at dress rehearsals by the director; the official images will follow soon.

Here's a very happy cast and crew in the bar after the final performance:

... and here are a few reviews received by Facebook or email...

"... you and your cast had engaged the audience throughout; there were even people humming along and singing. So well done to you and all the MH Company. I hope that the audiences for the rest of the performances grow and appreciate the hard work and talent that has gone into the show."

"Just had to email to say what a wonderful production. Fantastic singing and characterisation. Brilliant show all round."

"If Cassie and Selwyn ever do another Music Hall at the Sewell Barn Theatre (and I hope they will), make sure you go! ...really top-class ... that was an amazing evening. Slick, funny and poignant. The characterisation was outstanding. Thank you!"

"...the "audience experience" was excellent opportunity for you to showcase the talent of this Company... a well researched, well presented and highly entertaining quality performances...other venues could take note..."

"What a fantabulous show! Awesome! ... Well done Cassie Tillett & cast! Ya made me laugh & cry xx"

"Just been to see 'Down among the Wines and Spirits' at Sewell Barn Theatre! Absolutely brilliant - well done to all!"

"Attention all! Especially theatre and music lovers! Please do go and support my good friends and their fantastic music hall production "Down Among the Wines and Spirits" at the Sewell Barn Theatre this Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I've just seen a wonderful rehearsal and they all deserve big audiences for all the hard work and passion they've evidently put in. I can't recommend this highly enough. Fun, amusing, touching and something for everyone!"

Update, 21st March: I have just today received my copy of the Sewell Barn Newsletter, and am delighted to read the review below from Jenny Hobson. Click on the image to see a larger (readable) version.

To our wonderful cast and crew: thank you for being part of such an amazing creation. Your theatrical forebears would, we know, have been immensely proud of you.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Places, everybody

The stage is set. The lighting is rigged. The costumes created and the performers ready. Twenty-seven characters, all of whom really existed, portrayed by ten performers, await your presence. Come and meet them; laugh and cheer and sympathise; join in choruses and enjoy a night out as your ancestors might have done.

Tickets are selling well, and the Sewell Barn can only accommodate 100 people for each of the four performances, so advance booking (especially for Thursday, which as I write is 75% sold) is highly recommended. Call Jarrolds on 01603 697248, or visit the Sewell Barn booking page for more information.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Time to book your tickets

The world of the music hall is being recreated, bit by bit, song by song, mostly in our rehearsal space in Rosebery Road Methodist Church Hall. Our ten performers (nine singers plus pianist) bring to life between them twenty-seven people who really existed: some are well-known names, even to a twenty-first century audience; others no more than a one-song footnote in the annals of theatre history. They all have their parts to play, and they are our theatrical ancestors.

You'll have a chance (nay, be encouraged!) to sing along, as your forefathers would have done if they attended the Norwich Hippodrome in its Victorian & Edwardian heyday, or any of hundreds of equivalent halls across the country. You'll hear what it was really like to dash from one hall to another doing the same act several times on the same evening, how the managers held the purse-strings, how the personalities clashed.

Come and meet them. Click here for booking details. Four performances only and the theatre seats just 100 people: don't miss out!

Monday, 20 January 2014

Hard at work

We began rehearsing on 9th January, and our magnificent cast are already having huge fun recreating these larger-than-life characters.

Publicity is going out soon; these are the details. Please share wherever you can!

The golden age of the real music hall
Directed by Cassie & Selwyn Tillett
Performance dates: 6th - 8th March 2014

For these four shows only, we’re bringing to life characters who entertained the UK from around 1880 until World War 1, the era that became known as The Golden Age of Music Hall. Many might still be familiar names, even to a 21st century audience (Marie Lloyd, Vesta Tilley, George Robey) and were at the top of the bill; many others you’ll never have heard of, but they were able to earn a modest living ‘down among the wines and spirits’ – at the foot of the bill, next to the list of refreshments.

Our cast will between them re-create the stage performances of no fewer than 26 stars and lesser lights of the halls. In between their appearances onstage in the course of the evening, we see them relaxing, reminiscing, criticising and bickering in the Green Room of an unspecified theatre across a period of years (loosely based around the Norwich Hippodrome where Marie Lloyd appeared in March 1913 – 101 years, to the week, before our show). As they interact we learn something about their own personalities and experiences, and what life was like for those at the bottom of the bill.

As the playbills used to say: we count ourselves extraordinarily fortunate to have secured the services of several fine artistes, many of whom are already well-known to Sewell Barn audiences:


“Crowded audiences are certain to prevail this week” – EDP, March 1913

Be among them – be enthusiastically entertained – be wild in your applause!

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Audition notice

The new Sewell Barn newsletter, just published and sent to members, includes our audition notice. As we've said below, we reckon the auditions alone would be worth the price of a ticket. Come along and enjoy them, join in and entertain!!


Down Among the Wines & Spirits

Are you an entertainer? Can you deliver a song or monologue direct to an audience and create a whole character in three or four minutes? Can you work on your own as well as in a large company?

Can you deliver a monologue in a way that’s natural and musical (not necessarily sung)? Can you project, focus and keep a rhythm?

Do you fall into one or more of these categories?

·         Powerful, tuneful, confident singers (can deliver a good ballad)
·         Actors who can use music with confidence without being 'singers' (think Victoria Wood, Noel Coward, Dame Judi) - this is probably our most important category
·         People who can't sing at all (or don't think they can) but who can deliver that monologue with masses of character
·         A speciality act (e.g. juggling, ventriloquism, tightrope-walking, fire-eating, magic illusions, etc etc)

If so - you have the opportunity to create a unique experience for performers and audience alike. For four shows only, we’ll bring to life the characters who entertained the UK from around 1880 until World War 1, the era that became known as The Golden Age of Music Hall.  Many might still be familiar names, even to a 21st century audience (Marie Lloyd, Vesta Tilley, George Robey) and were at the top of the bill; many others you’ll never have heard of, but they were able to earn a modest living ‘down among the wines and spirits’ – at the foot of the bill, next to the list of refreshments.

So yes, we need you to help create this.  Ideally around 12 performers, but could be as few as 8 or as many as 16, playing probably two characters each in the course of the evening and covering as wide a range as possible. We’ve identified many of the artistes who played alongside Marie Lloyd herself at the Norwich Hippodrome in 1913, and it depends on YOU who will be resurrected for the delight of the Sewell Barn audience a century later.

Our script will be created after the auditions, since we won’t know till then whether we have a Dan Leno, an Albert Chevalier or a Gus Elen; a Vesta Tilley, a Nellie Wallace or a Florrie Forde. Please don’t try to second-guess what we want, because in many cases we won’t know until we see it! And you may well end up playing somebody you’ve never previously heard of.

The one fixed point in the show will be one of those representing the ‘foot of the bill’: Selwyn’s real-life grandfather, Ben Tillett, who performed on the halls for many years with his three children. Ben needs to be fairly young (early 30s), will act as observer and link-man (in the absence of a ‘chairman’, who belonged to an earlier era), and will need to perform one or two of his own songs and re-create the patter of his double-act with a suitable colleague.

If you can entertain in any of the ways above, please come along and audition. Enjoy the chance to captivate an audience and move them to tears or laughter; create a tiny and memorable vignette. Celebrate the legacy that’s seen today in more aspects of the performing arts than many probably realise – and be a part of a unique homage to our theatrical ancestors.

While the show will only include items that would have been performed during the ‘Golden Age’, audition pieces can be from any era, as long as the style’s correct. So, many of the songs of Flanders & Swann, Victoria Wood or Noel Coward would be ideal to show us your skill for entertaining; likewise, many songs-from-shows tell a story in a few minutes.  Or, of course, any genuine music hall numbers.

  • If you can entertain, please audition
  • If you have a speciality act, come and demonstrate it
  • If you want to sing or perform a monologue that’s underscored with music, bring the music with you
  • And remember, there are no obvious castings in this show – its form depends completely on the combination of characters we’re offered.

Our auditions are of course open: we need to see you ‘play an audience’. They are at 7.30 pm at the Barn on Monday 28th October. If you can’t make that date, please let us know and we’ll make another opportunity for you.

Contact us if you have any questions – and we very much hope to see you there. If all goes as we’d like it to, the auditions alone would be worth paying to see!

Cassie & Selwyn Tillett

  • Cast meet-up in early November
  • Rehearsals begin during w/c Sunday 5th January
  • Rehearsals on Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons, but you’ll probably only be called for 1 rehearsal per week until they increase in the final fortnight as usual
  • Performances Thursday 6th to Saturday 8th March 2014 (matinee on 8th March)

NB: it’s unlikely that you could take part in this show if you are in Once in a Lifetime, as our final rehearsal period clashes with the performances of that show.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Centre stage

Having attended the Sewell Barn's annual AGM this afternoon, I was especially delighted to see their beautiful new poster advertising the whole season; and not a little chuffed that our special little show takes the central spot...

And before you ask, yes, it's actually four performances - but it is three nights, as the fourth is a Saturday matinee.

Fancy taking your own place centre stage? Come along and audition... if you're a Barn member, you'll find the details in the newsletter which will be out within the next few days. I'll also add the article as a new post to this blog (although most of it is repeat of stuff which is here already!).

Monday, 16 September 2013

"But I can't sing!!"

If I hear another potential auditionee trotting this one out, I shall throw a very diva-like tantrum... OK. I've already posted a few thoughts on this elsewhere, but I wanted to bring it further up your awareness list.

When we audition, on Monday 28th October (or some other close date if you can't manage that one), for this show, we do not need singers as much as we need entertainers. We need you to be able to tell a story, play the house, create a character. Yes, there will be a lot of music, and yes, it's helpful if you can carry a tune in a bucket; but stop thinking that 'good singer' is the only qualification. Here are a few pointers.

There's room for all combinations of vocal ability - as long as we get a couple of each:
  • Powerful, tuneful, confident singers (can deliver a good ballad)
  • Folks who can use music with confidence without being 'singers' (think Victoria Wood, Noel Coward, Dame Judi) - this is probably the most important category and one that too many people forget about
  • Folks who can't sing at all (or don't think they can) but who can deliver a monologue with masses of character
Listen to some of the guys on the YouTube playlist we've been building up.  Find the one of Ella Shields performing I'm Burlington Bertie from Bow. How much singing does she do? The last line of the refrain each time. Every other line is spoken with verve and character. Many of the Music Hall stars came into this category.

One other pointer: it's actually far more important that you can keep a rhythm rather than hold a tune. If you were at either of our Music Hall workshops at the Sewell Barn, you'll remember that we included an exercise in each which involved all the participants joining in with a line, or a couplet, each. In one case, it was the non-sung monologue Albert and the Lion (Stanley Holloway, who again, seldom sings a note); in the other, it was Noel Coward's I have been to a marvellous party (another performer who has plenty of chutzpah but next to no 'singing voice'). Both were reliant on the performers delivering their lines with character, feeling and rhythm, but involved no singing whatsoever.

Oh, yes. I'm going to include a link to one more type: the performer who pretends to be really dreadful for a specific effect. Have a look here at the inimitable Sheila Steafel performing a genuine music hall song, Popsy Wopsy. In manner of Les Dawson at the piano, or Morecambe & Wise tormenting 'Andrew Preview', this is a skill all its own. Keep it in mind.

Don't forget that we'd also like to include speciality acts if possible. I've posted about this separately here. Do let us know if that's you!

One final thing. Our Barn colleagues will be familiar with the fact that Selwyn & I have directed The Shakespeare Revue at the theatre, with a superb set of performers whose vocal styles were all very different but perfect for what we wanted; and that some of that cast, and several others from around the county, have taken part in the occasional concerts of Vocal Score, who perform to raise funds for various charities. 

Obviously we'd LOVE to have those performers audition for the music hall. However, part of the point of suggesting this show was to give as many people as possible the chance to try out for, and to take part in, a show that requires some unusual skills - some of which you might not even know you have. I'd love to have loads more auditionees than I could possibly use in the show, because I want to mix and match the personalities, voices, appearances and characters, and to include as many authentic characterisations from the Golden Age as I possibly can. There are no obvious castings here: it depends on the combination of people I get. There's no point in my casting three men who, while all 'good singers', are each perfect as Albert Chevalier; I'd prefer to have one Albert, one Harry Champion and one Dan Leno. Or whatever. In other words, don't try to second-guess: let us decide!

This is therefore a plea for you to come one, come all. Audition (using any appropriate song - you'll find more about that here). Enjoy the experience. It will be fun, I promise, whether you're cast or not. If you want to entertain: give it a try. Please.