Last week, Garyswordz had an opportunity to speak to Simon Quinn, Director of the forthcoming production of Quadrophenia plying at Tamworth Assembly Rooms on Friday 24th and Sat 25th May. This week I interview Staffordshire Poet Laureate Mal Dewhirst, about his involvement with the production:
Q. Mal, how did you come to be involved in writing additional material for Quadrophenia?
As part of my remit as Staffordshire Poet Laureate, I have to complete at least four poetry commissions, two of which I have to find for myself. So having taken part in the Wall last year, I spoke with Simon Quinn about the opportunities to write for the Quadrophenia production. Simon welcomed the input and created space in the script specifically for scenes to be delivered through poetry. Quadrophenia became my third commission.
Simon and I had also worked on my second Laureate commission which was the poetry play Colin Grazier Enigma, which was performed on the streets of Tamworth last October.
Q. How well do you think Quadrophenia has travelled over the last forty years?
I think it has travelled reasonably well, kept alive by the ardent fans of the Who and scooter enthusiasts. The album and the film both feature in my collections and therefore was very familiar to me. It has been really interesting to see the younger members of the cast picking it up and bringing it into their musical consciousness. They see it with fresh eyes and can relate to its themes as having relevance today as in the 1960’s when the piece is set and the 1970’s when it was written and first performed. I would say that is a testament to how well it has travelled.
Q. How daunting has it been to compliment the work of Pete Townshend?
Pete Townshend has given us permission to put together this production and was fully aware that we would be writing a new script and new poetry for our performance, that for me removed some of the fears that I might have had in creating new material.
I think when these opportunities arise you need to study the work and understand its themes and then use your skills as poet and writer to ensure that you do justice to the piece.
Pete is a great writer, musician and composer it is an honour to be able to work with Quadrophenia to explore its passions, torments and the reality of the rites of passage.
Q. What specific additional material have you written, is there anything that we should particularly look out for?
The poetry will be delivered as a mix of visual images and spoken words. Two scenes are delivered entirely through poems, these being the “Is it in my head?” scene and the scene under the pier.
My poems take the form of a mix of sequences in four parts such as Poem in Four Personalities – (The Geometry of Fear, Affilato Abito, Making Trifles and Building a Big Society) and When a mind fails (Blind Panic, Bloodrush Mania , Stable Mood, I am Fine.) to single poems such as The rise of the Ism, Local Boy, Substitute and the Epilogue.
I have drawn imagery from other art forms from the period, using the art of Bill Turnbull and the Geometry of Fear, Photographs of Philip Jones Griffiths. Films of the French Noir, Jean-Luc Goddard and Marcel Carne both are referenced (Breathless and Hotel Du Nord) .
References to drugs get mixed in with the ingredients of a trifle as well as mixing the recreational with the medical. I also explored themes relating to mental illness which provided me thoughts and terms to weave into the poems.
The poems under the pier are another sequence in several personalities, reflective pieces trying to reconcile Jimmy’s beliefs and motives, as if he is trying to convince him(self /selves), as well as informing the audience what is behind the Mod sub-culture.
I am pleased with all of them as pieces and wouldn’t want to pick out anything in particular to watch out for, watch out for it all.
Q. How do you see the roles of prose, poetry and lyrics in a theatrical production, and how has that influenced what you have written for Quadrophenia?
To avoid the risk of laying down something definitive, which people might hold me to later. I like to explore with writing and to experiment with ideas that I had previously rejected in favour of something else.
I think the roles of prose, poetry and lyrics in any production can be one or many roles. I think you have to consider the piece, its themes and how best to use the writing to make for the best delivery.
In our production Quadrophenia, I see the prose driving the story, creating the banter and making the reality of the situations as the character’s true motivations are teased or punched out their mouths to be heard, this is underpinned by the lyrics.
The poetry is more reflective and in some ways searching for the answers, as the characters think out their circumstances.
So I see the prose as what is said, the dialogue, the lyrics telling the story and the poetry as to what is thought, the consciousness.
But for another production it could be completely different.
Q. Does Mod poetry exist?
Firstly I would have to ask, what is mod poetry? How would you define it?
I wouldn’t say that what I have written is not Mod Poetry as such. I say this because if I were I to try and define the works of Mod Poets then I would look towards the song writers, such as Pete Townshend, Ray Davies, Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane.
Even early Mark Bolan, with Desdemona written when he was in the mod band John’s Children, a track later covered by The Jam.
Beyond Quadrophenia, Pete Townshend classics such as My Generation are wrapped in the Mod Culture, Ray Davies with Dedicated Follower of Fashion and Marriott and Lane’s Lazy Sunday.
Mods were once described by The Who’s manager Peter Meadon as “clean living under difficult circumstances.”
So to me, Mod Poetry would have the themes of urban teenage rites of passage, fashion, scooters, falling in love, drinking, drugs. It would be about adopting a hip, smart persona, rejecting the drab lives of their parents, Mod ethos seeking to understand the metropolis. It wasn’t necessarily about changing the world but finding your place within the existing one.
Q. Are any contemporary writers writing today reflecting a Mod ethos?
Again I would turn to the songwriters – Paul Weller comes to mind, but I also like some of the lyrics of some of the current Mod bands such as The Wicked Whispers.
Some of the Brit Pop bands were influenced by the Mods and the Mod Revival and I recently listened to Ocean Colour Scenes new album Painting, there are some great tracks with some great lyrics I particularly like We don’t look in the Mirror.
Q. What aspects of Quadropehenia are you particularly drawn to?
The music and the story are a given to draw me in so take them for granted and then looking beyond.
It would have to be………..Scooters. I never had one and I could never ride one but I always loved the look
For more information on The Pinch who are performing live for the show visit their website on:
For ticket information:
For more information on Mal Dewhirst check out his blog on: