Brian McCann Talks About LIFE at The Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight

Posted on 26 September 2016
By Chris High
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Brian McCann is one of Merseyside’s most prolific – and successful musical playwrights. His work includes Down Our Street: The Story of Birkenhead, Moggies: The Musical and Bully starring Anne-Marie Davies, Suzanne Collins and the late, great comedian Mickey Finn which had a successful 3 week run at The Town Hall Theatre in Birkenhead in 2007, before being toured around local schools. Brian is also the founder of Active Drama, who’s latest venture – Life – is being restaged at The Gladstone Theatre in Port Sunlight from 28th September until 1st October.

Life looks at one character, Veronica Shuttle, who audiences first meet when she is 6 years old. We then see her move to high school and then out into the big wide world. We meet her family, see her relationships and witness ordinary and extraordinary times in her life. It’s got birth, marriage and death and everything in between.

The musical comedy finishes with Veronica in her sixties having lived through her Life with the audience along for the ride. Life was first performed at the Little Theatre in Birkenhead in 2011 and attracted a great deal of praise.

Now the play is back and this time has a cast of characters audiences will be more than familiar with. “Life began as an idea ages ago,” Brian explained over coffee at The Lady Lever Art Gallery ahead of rehearsals. “Sometime when you’re writing something, you sort of write it in your head first. With this one I wanted to try and get every aspect of life right, so that people would recognise as much as possible within the play.

“The setting was also important and I kicked around a few ideas, like using a Saturday night in a pub. I finally decided on a living room because the story follows Veronica from the ages of 6 right the way through to 66, so I wanted both her and the audience to literally feel at home.”

The time-span of the story set quite few challenges. “It was an exercise as to whether we could get sixty years of one person’s life into 90 minutes, I have to be fair,” Brian laughed. “I’m quite lucky in the fact that I can write songs that link different eras, like I managed to do in Down Our Street, and still keep the action moving along.

“But with Life the first time around, just to give myself that extra impetus to get it done, I hired The Little Theatre, designed the posters and started selling tickets before I’d actually written a word. Thankfully, it all turned out okay. The only other person I know who would do something as crazy as that is Lynne Fitzgerald and, as we know, she’s very good at what she manages to achieve.”

As the story follows Veronica’s journey from such a young age, it might be assumed that the adventure starts back in the 1950s. Not so, apparently. “It’s a story that can fit in anywhere, really. I suppose a part of it is semi-biographical because it’s based on what I might recognise but doing it this way, I think, makes it as recognisable to someone in the audience who is 6 as it is to someone who is 66. At least, that’s the intention.

“When we first staged it, the amount of people who said they’d just seen their own lives enacted on stage was pretty remarkable. We all have birthday parties, go on holidays and have different people coming in and out of our worlds. Each experience is unique to us all as individuals, so I’ve just tried to encapsulate little aspects of everything to make up a 90 minute musical comedy-drama. ”

On the advertising posters there is a quote from Mark Twain which reads: ‘When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.’ Philosophical stuff it might be, but Life is far from being heavy going.

“I don’t write comedies filled with loads of jokes. What I write I suppose are best described as caricatures, looking at people and their oddities as individuals. I used to do a workshop called We’re All Odd which developed some of the stranger people we’d encountered, before examining each other and realising we all something about us that was a bit quirky, our mannerisms or ways of speaking or whatever.

“So taking that to its extreme might means that, to someone who doesn’t know us that well, we’re all mad in one way or another. In Veronica Shuttle and the people she meets, a lot of these quirks are exemplified and so I think Twain’s brilliant quote is absolutely right. Once we accept we’re all mad, then perhaps we can start accepting everyone on their own merits.”

The cast for Life couldn’t possibly have a stronger assortment of Merseyside acting talent. Suzanne Collins and Lynne Fitzgerald are back alongside Brian, with Roy Brandon, Lenny Wood, Lesley Butler and Edwina Lea all lending their particular skills. “I couldn’t wish for a more talented bunch to work with,” Brian said happily.

“I first met Edwina when I was working on the music for Moggies: The Musical at The Unity earlier this year. She played the hairdresser in that and has the most wonderful voice imaginable. She’s just out of LIPA and yet is so professional it’s great. Even amongst the most experienced of actors, learning lines is still a pretty big deal but it’s something she’s managed on both occasions. Believe me, as a director, that’s a great thing to hear in rehearsals.

“Suzanne is just a bundle of energy, of course, and Roy Brandon is such a superb actor it is always a privilege to work with him. The way he can change characters within a single play – like he does so well in Down Our Street – is incredible. Lesley is just such a lovely, lovely person and a great actress to work with that I firmly believe every cast should have a Lesley Butler involved. Then there’s Lynne Fitzgerald who, as one of the best comedy actors around, can basically stand there and get laughs, but also bring tears when she needs to as well.

“Lenny Wood a lot of people will know from his work in shows such as Lost Soul, Night Collar and Council Depot Blues at The Liverpool Royal Court, of course, as well as TV shows such as Good Cop: yet another fine actor with a terrific stage presence. Then there is Sam Heller, who has been involved in a lot of Active Drama’s productions and I’m just so proud of his professionalism and attitude. He’s worked on Bully with me also The History Busters a couple of years ago and he’s such a good actor and a lovely, lovely lad!”

“I think director’s work very differently from each other and I honestly believe that the actors always have to bring something different to the script as a part of their job, so that I can take something away to work on. That’s what allows me to bring together a final production. If I didn’t do it that way, I’d think I was telling the actors what to do – or, in effect, telling them their jobs – which wouldn’t be fair at all. So what this cast bring to the characters they’re playing is a wealth of experience so we can see each one develop across the years as individuals. They also bring a lot of fun and some great performances that will have audiences both laughing and crying.

So what can audiences expect from Life? “I’d like to think an enjoyable experience,” Brian said, “and that they leave the theatre thinking that they’re really pleased they came along to see it. It’s a play that’s a bit different that’s been performed by a cracking cast. Mainly, though, I hope they can go away thinking ‘yeah, I understand Life a little better now’ but, then again, I think possibly every playwright that’s ever lived has said the same thing at one time or another.”

Life by Brian McCann is at The Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight, Wirral, from Wednesday September 28th – Saturday October 1st. For Tickets: CALL 0151 643 8757 for the box office or go on line to: http://intelligenttickets.co.uk/index.php?th=gd&pg=selectevent&start=1&sel=2


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