All pictures by Avril Jones: www.avriljonesphotography.co.uk
We have been looking forward to this event for quite some time, Olympus Being one of our first ~IB~ Babies and dear to our hearts! For those not in the know, it was originally a piece of musical theatre written by Ian Rae & adapted to a musical by Ian and Chris Chambers who wrote the book. (For full history please check previous blogs.)
I am delighted to say that this musical has exceeded all expectations from the staging- including the medallion style overhead screen used throughout to inform and emphasis events- to the beautiful music, costumes and intricate choreography. The actual set was magnificent and allowed ample room for all 60 actors to grace the stage!
I was particularly impressed by the diverse nature of Ben/the God Zeus’ character, (played by Kevin Hayes,) changing from playful Ben at the rehearsal for the Olympic Games to the stern figure he portrayed as Zeus back in Ancient Greece. Everybody in the cast from Handmaidens to the Greek chorus and Helena’s pupils played their roles extremely well. There were several dual characters cast between modern day personalities and ancient Greeks, Gods or otherwise who were not in the least confusing! I think transition between time zones was extremely well done which helped.
In addition to the powerful Greek Gods we witnessed conflict between the Athenians and Spartans, being taken from one moral dilemma to the next all with the aim of helping the very selfish, ‘ See how I love myself,’ Dimitry Raphael, (Neil O’Gorman,) take stock of his life and gain an inkling of the compassion needed to appreciate his own people... and poor long-suffering wife... just in time for fatherhood it would seem!
The attention to detail was most impressive. The characters were clearly identifiable, Gods wearing illuminated crowns being an excellent touch. Young Homer had a very prominent role and was confidently played, I believe by Simon Perry on this occasion... we are already aware that Christopher Backway is extremely good in the role!
Kudo’s to all the main characters, particularly Jennie Fox and Glyn Williams, (Thetis and Peleus respectively,) who sang some gorgeous yet tricky duets. James Caldwell gave a memorable performance as Nestor and I was pleased to see Vicky Watkins playing the God Hera as it was Vicky who brought Olympus to our attention. There were many children taking part and they all did extremely well, finishing with huge smiles when the show came to an end. For a full list of characters check the Olympus website opposite.
Chris Chambers produced a very deep yet witty script that was both challenging and emotional, making Olympus a thought provoking, contemporary work of art. The cast were very professional and consisted predominantly of passionate amateurs; a reflection resulting from the clear direction of the production team and a great deal of dedication from all concerned.
ABOVE: The Cast of Olympus
On a personal note, I am sorry that this show is having a very limited run and when the flame was placed in public view to open the Olympics I felt like saying, ‘Long Live Olympus... A race against time!’
May 10th and The Olympic Flame is lit in Greece. We also light a flame on The Ashcroft Stage tonight. Click HERE
Here are some rehearsal photos from OLYMPUS, featuring the very talented children who play Aphrodite's handmaidens and Asclepios' pupils in the production - with choreographer Penny Parks.
Somewhere in Croydon a set is being built ready for The Ashcroft Theatre next week and the premiere of Olympus The Musical. Here are some pictures of Maggie and Alan Matthews and Wiggy 'Set Designer' Wilson as well as an appearance from a little helper, painting the flats.
£400 raised by cast at a Fund Raising Tea Party for Olympus. Maurice Reeves, who suffered in the Croydon riots last year was present and enthused by the positive vibe of the production and happy to see Croydon Students involved in the show.
So much going on - into the last week of rehearsal for OLYMPUS and preparing for tech next week. The cast really pulling together. What happens when you can't afford the materials to make an idea happen - all the little touches that give a production detail and panache. Well - with this cast - they pool together. One of the dancers in our show - a young lady (10?) called Fiadhnaid told me today she has brought a bag of rose petals for Aphrodite's handmaidens to use and Neil O'Gorman (not 10) turned up with 70 red noses! Come and see how these extra ingredients factor in our time hopping musical!
(Picture above shows Jennie Fox as Thetis and Glyn Williams as Peleus (c) Avril Jones Photography)
On Sunday 22 April 30 actors from the cast of Olympus - including 8 children arrived at The Questors Theatre in Ealing at 9.30am.
Two hours later we had run through an hour long version of the show, with the remarkable Ted Robinson holding it all together as a narrator, dressed as The Greek God Hermes. Only 14 years old, Ted had his 7 or 8 monologues - linking narratives - off pat. And he only had the script the week before. His first entrance through the trap door, we felt, would get the show off to a good start! (And it did...) Christopher Backway, too, excelled as the young Homer, taking the pressure in his stride.
At 12pm Maggie, the Stage manager called time on the tech rehearsal but we had got to the final number, so had broken the back of the show and acclimatised to the Questors Space and it's remarkable set design by Alex Marker.
Graham Mountain and Alister Morton sorted lights and sound and though Ian Rae was placed with his keyboard on the high walkway at the back - he still managed to follow everyone...just!
We did the show acoustically - no mikes - and the workshoppy feel of principals in costume and ensemble in blacks gave a real essence of the piece
Penny Parks drilled the movement that afternoon in a rehearsal room - then it was a cup of tea on the green opposite before performing OLYMPUS to around 100 people that afternoon.
Next step - hone the detail ready for The Ashcroft Theatre in two weeks time and a whole new set of technical requirements. The momentum is building now - it is a race against time! The show is aptly named!
Chris Chambers interviewed by Jaz Mackenzie on BRAAP. Click here. Or read transcript below:
Twenty years ago, composer Ian Rae wrote a sung through piece of musical theatre called OLYMPUS, drawing on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and retelling that story in the context of Ancient Greece. Weaving Athenians, Spartans, gods and myth through the piece, he created a work that was twice presented as a concert version.
In the years that followed the two concert performances, there were a few occasions when Ian and his wife, Morven (Producer of Good Company) considered resurrecting it, but time passed and nothing happened. However, in 2010 with The London Olympics on the horizon, they felt the time was right to develop the piece further.
Having seen my adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels (which was produced at The Minack Theatre in 2008 by The Mitre Players) Ian approached me about working on a book for Olympus.
I listened to the music and was overwhelmed with its beauty – particularly “You Are The Air I Breathe” and “How Many Dreams.” (Listen at www.olympusthemusical.co.uk)
Hearing these songs inspired me to take the project on, but I was a little wary, as it was clear to me from the start that reshaping the piece into something more contemporary was going to involve some big changes in structure and plot.
The transformation of the original concert piece has been a fascinating process – not always easy for Ian or myself, but has proved to me that there is no set formula for working on a musical. Ideally it would be easier, I think, to start with nothing and shape the plot, music and lyrics moment to moment. In the case of Olympus, existing material has had to be shuffled, switched, cut, pasted and totally rewritten. It may sound like a crossword, but actually it is quite a similar process to adapting a novel or existing story for the stage.
New songs have been composed for Olympus and new characters introduced. There is a comedy mystic by the name of Asclepios, and Homer himself, of Iliad fame, makes an appearance as a ridiculously talented twelve year old boy.
Instead of the action taking place in Ancient Greece alone, it now takes place in two time zones – 2012 AD and 780 BC. We have introduced a modern story and weaved it through the material that existed previously. Bizarrely, much of Ian’s music and lyrics have remained unchanged, as the original story has become the dream that our Olympic Athlete (Dimitry Raphael) experiences when he is struck by lightning and sent back in time.
The process is on-going and we are all looking forward to getting into the rehearsal room to bring the play off the page. Only then can you really see what works and what doesn’t. Someone said that musicals aren’t finished – they are abandoned – and I would go along with that! We must have been through twenty drafts in the last two years – each one an improvement. You just have to keep open to change.
And now we have cast over 60 people in the show and it has a fantastic community feel about it, drawing on talent from many local amateur societies, a number of professional actors and singers, local children and students from Croydon College.
Composer Ian Rae will MD and s et designer extra-ordinaire and self confessed “Minack bore” (how can she call herself that!) Jill “Wiggy” Wilson will be designing the show. She has recently been part of the team restoring and creating the artwork on the Minack stone after the reconstruction of the dressing rooms. Peggy Mayes will work on Costume, Niall Monaghan on creating atmospheric lighting and Penny Parks, who for 35 years has run a successful Dance Academy in Purley will choreograph the show. (It should be noted that her charity – The Penny Parks Charitable Trust - has agreed to donate a sum to help fund Croydon College students whilst in Cornwall, giving them the chance of a lifetime.)
We are indebted to Phil Jackson for thinking outside the box and giving OLYMPUS a slot to co-incide with the arrival of the real Olympic Flame at Land’s End on May 19th.
So all very exciting to get to this point and we are also very pleased to have had OLYMPUS approved by the RSC as part of their Open Stages Project. We have attended workshops given by the RSC and picked up some great tips for bringing a new musical to production - all part of developing the links between professional and amateur theatre and audiences.
To watch our progress follow Ian’s Blog at www.olympusthemusical.co.uk or mine at www.anotherwaytheatre.co.uk
So do book your tickets for this epic new piece of musical theatre. We can’t think of a better venue in England to produce Olympus. We might just as well be producing it at Cape Sounion or on the slopes of Olympus themselves.
Writer & Director