Simon Quinn, Director of the Fired Up Theatre Company, with the help of local poet and film maker Mal Dewhirst as associate artistic director, has embarked on producing a stage version of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” which will play at Tamworth Assembly Rooms in early June. Revisiting and re-imagining classic album material from past decades appeals to me and is something I suspect we will be hearing more of from various artistic quarters.
I managed to steal some time from Simon’s busy schedule to secure an exclusive interview with the man responsible for bringing this epic show to the Tamworth stage, as well as securing all the vital production information:
Q. What attracted you to “The Wall” in the first place?
Total self indulgence to be honest, or at least years ago that was the main reason, since then a recognition of how The Wall can resonate individual and group social issues has become more important . I used to deliver drama sessions for disabled learners at The Mac in Birmingham and we would get a half hour coffee break, so I used that time to go wandering around the foyer looking at the publicity flyers dotted around. I was a bit shocked to spot a programme for The Wall which had been, I think, a production encompassing all youth theatre’s across the city. This was about 2004/5, but the production was either early 90’s or late 80’s. I vowed that one day I was going to somehow produce a version of the show, what I didn’t know at the time was how to go about it. I started to experiment with other youth theatre shows that I had written and deliberately slotted in Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 as part of that particular narrative
within the performance.
Q. “The Wall” was released as an album in 1979. Three decades later how well do you think it has worn?
I think it is more relevant now then back in ’79. There are some simple clues as to why. I think the Floyd reunion for Live 8 captured a new audience and therefore created a clamour for their recorded work, in addition the fact that Roger Waters is still touring it , albeit a more political version and has been since 2010, has identified that new and older audiences still demand Floyd/Waters live performance. The crucial aspect however is that the album, film, live performance can so easily be reconstructed to something that can be recognised within each and everyone of us-where back in ’79 it was about the break up of The Floyd, Syd’s break down, the division between band and audience, loss of a loved one and greed- because that is what it was. Without sounding too pompous, it’s exactly the same remit as Shakespeare being designed in a contemporary vein for new audiences.
Q. Is there any new material in the production? How rigid were the demands of the Rights Holders?
This is the interesting one. The script is brand new-it is designed to be more localised ,in other words to fit the identity of the people of Tamworth. That is not mean’t in a derogatory way, it merely means this is a show by the people of Tamworth for Tamworth. It is very dance orientated and contains a lot of symbolism and metaphor’s, but crucially it also pays respect and testimony to Roger Waters work, so it is a bit of a balancing act. Strangely enough the demands regarding copyright have not been too rigid. I went through all the correct channels. Since last July I have been e-mailing ‘Matt’ at the fanzine web site Brain Damage asking questions of how , why and what, and he has been very helpful and courteous in passing on my requests to Mark Fenwick who is Roger’s manager, and eventually I received a very short e-mail granting permission-it was all a bit surreal. Brain Damage have also publicised the event which was terrific of them to do. The one thing I had to do was send a synopsis of ‘our’ creation so that we had a original slant on the existing work.
Q. What influence did the film version of 1982 have on this production?
To begin with it probably had more influence on certain cast members than myself. We used it as a template-certainly on the launch day, but to be honest I wanted to move away from the film-because we have our original script and we were more than keen in creating new practical and textual works-within the work-if that sounds ok.
Q. Who is performing the music and what challenges did recreating Pink Floyd’s sound create?
The music is being provided by Floydian Slip-a Pink Floyd tribute band from Chesterfield. They are the oldest or second oldest Floyd tribute act-so creating the Floyd sound is their ‘bag’. That was crucial to the project. If I am going to be honest, in an ideal world we would have wanted a group of musicians that we could have put together ourselves, but time and funding prohibited this course of action and in any case Floydian Slip are pretty accurate to the Floyd sound.
Q. Pink Floyd have a fan base dawn from their heyday in the 1970’s, how did the younger members of the cast respond to the material?
This was very curious. We had primary schoolchildren belting out We don’t need no educshun!!! like second nature, and their parents would then play the album or the film to them at home. The cast is very mixed-our actor who plays Pink has morphed into Pink…..I mean worryingly so!.. but he is fab….other cast members had no idea about The Wall but rock n’ roll and performance drew them in. The real cool aspect is the mixture of ages taking part, or who have contributed in some other way to the project. I could get into grumpy old git mode and say can’t imagine this happening with artists today, but it is the longevity and kudos of certain works that draws ’em in!
Q. What does “The Wall” have to say to a 21st Century audience?
The Wall , I think resonates more as a political and social vehicle today. We have added the themes of ageism, religion, anti-social behaviour, disability, domestic violence, contemporary war fare, greed, lack of respect , intergenerational apathy to the tried and tested formula. They are kind of little photographic snippets pocketed throughout the show-blink and you’ll miss them. This was the appeal to our backers, they could see that a work over 30 odd years old could be adapted to and involve people and groups into a piece of musical theatre that had contemporary ideologies running throughout.
Q.“The Wall” is one of the great popular music shows, what were the challenges of producing it for theatre rather than rock arena/amphitheatre?
It’s not just about the show. We are trying to use The Wall to encourage arts development for minority groups who can interact with Tamworth Arts development in order to improve the well being of all participants; so the show is only one aspect of The Wall. However as you asked about the challenges of the live show…how long have you got.? Rehearsing peripatetically, in other words visiting different, groups making sure they are on the ball with what they are doing. Liaising with the band, the real difficulty has been this. We made a point that we would all rehearse to the live album, Is There Anybody Out There? and not the studio album so the authenticity of the live performance could be felt by all parties, throughout. Also the synchronicity and cohesion is a major problem, because musically, the tracks generally segue from one into another. Our version is different because at different moments, the piece is broken up by poetry or acting or both then by dance and acting-so it is a headache-but that is the originality of the work. I don’t think it matters whether it is a theatre or a amphitheatre-it is still a performance arena-in fact I think the intimacy of our space makes the atmosphere a lot closer, alot more intensified, plus in true Floydian spirit we’ve maintained the lasers, lights, the back projection and the dry ice!
Q. What audience are you aiming for, is this a nostalgia show?
No it is not a nostalgia show! If it was intended that way we might just as well delivered it as a tribute act. This is one of the largest intergenerational community arts events that Tamworth has ever staged. We are aiming to enhance our arts development programme for people and places through this project. This is about increasing arts awareness for groups and individuals who otherwise are unaware of what is happening in the borough. This is our offering for the Cultural Olympiad. If on the other hand people just want to come and enjoy an evening of Pink Floyd-that is fine-but hopefully they will gain a greater insight into other artistic strategies and techniques also.
Q. Are there any other classic concept albums which you would like to bring to the stage?
In my view -and it is only my view-there are only three classic rock theatre concepts that ever demonstrate originality. One is The Wall, the other two are both by The Who, namely Tommy and Quadrophenia. I have actually enquired about performing Quadrophenia with a spoken narrative-as it did actually tour a couple of years ago with dialogue-but to date I have heard nothing. Two other concepts that would interest me would be staging a play by Patrick Jones, which I saw in Cardiff a few years ago, Everything Must Go, which has various songs by the Manic Street Preachers running throughout ( Jones is the brother of Nicky Wire), and on a more localised angle , I would like to do an original musical based on the life and work of Julian Cope from Tamworth, who of course fronted Teardrop Explodes.
The huge demand for tickets for one of the biggest community arts projects ever staged in Tamworth has prompted organisers to encourage prospective audience members to snap up tickets quickly – before they sell out.
The Wall is a contemporary re-imagining of the Pink Floyd rock opus. It is being staged at Tamworth Assembly Rooms on June 5, 6, 7 and 8 by Arts Connects and Fired Up Theatre, by kind permission of Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and Mark Fenwick Management.
Using Pink Floyd’s classic music, with a new narrative brought bang up to date by Simon Quinn, The Wall is set on a fictitious housing estate somewhere in the West Midlands and explores contemporary themes including anti-social behaviour, poverty, unemployment, social deprivation, peer pressure and racism.
The project is Tamworth’s Cultural Olympiad offering for 2012 and is already bringing together and involving people from all ages and communities across Tamworth, including groups of people who would not normally work together.
People from all across Tamworth with skills including acting, mime, storytelling, dance, poetry, rapping, graffiti art, puppetry, music, stage fighting, film, projection, costumes, set design and props are already hard at work putting the production together.
They will be joined by top professional Pink Floyd tribute band Floydian Slip who will be performing throughout the production to create a polished performance, not only for Pink Floyd fans but for anyone with an interest in music and theatre.
Tickets for The Wall are available from the Tourist Information Centre in Corporation Street or by calling the box office on 01827 709618.
A short video explaining more about The Wall project can be viewed on Tamworth Borough Council’s YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YPtPGKcxLU
The project is being funded and supported by Fired Up Theatre, Arts Connects, Staffordshire Community Wellbeing Fund, Tamworth Arts Grants Scheme, Tamworth Community Safety Partnership, Staffordshire Local Community Fund and Staffordshire County Council’s Arts Grants Scheme