Richard Stilgoe has written a new musical, Exit Allan, which will be performed by the Orpheus Centre and Guildford School of Acting at the International Festival of Musical Theatre in Cardiff, as he told Theatrenow recently.
What is the Orpheus Centre? "It's a residential Performing Arts Centre for young disabled people, where we have a tradition of writing new musicals — usually over the course of one week! — and then performing it in public."
Where do you perform? "All over the place! We've been, for example, to the Glastonbury Festival, to the Notting Hill Carnival and to the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House."
And do the performances tend to 'just' contain Orpheus members or are they mixed with other performers? "Mixed! I'm in favor of mixing because then the actors have a range of abilities, and the experience is of benefit to disabled and able bodied alike — rather like mixing an English with an American cast, both sets of people bring something to the performance, both sets try to raise their game, and you get a terrific dynamism onstage." This time you're combining with the Guildford School of Acting. What sort of age are the performers? "We've got seven actors from Guildford, which as a school has been hugely supportive of the whole project, and four from Orpheus. They're all aged between 20 and 22."
What's Exit Allan about? "It starts with a funeral — hence the title — at which no one turns up. Why? The ghosts of Allan's life, as it were, tell his story. He was a very successful photographer who created many of the most famous photographic images of the twentieth century but had one great, doomed love affair, which led him to take to drink, and disaster followed. He ends up dying, on the same day as Elvis Presley, at the foot of the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus!"
It sounds wonderful. And you came up with this in a week? "That's the way we work at Orpheus, and we start from scratch, with just an initial idea. I had a gritty prison drama lined up in my briefcase as a fall-back project, but the students threw that out and went for this show, which is very funny, romantic and uplifting — a sort of modern Ivor Novello musical — very appropriate for Cardiff."
Where can we see it? "At the Sherman Theatre studio, which is quite big as studios go — it has a feel of the Young Vic about it — from Tuesday 15th to Saturday 19th October. Tell your friends."
Any chance of it having a further life? "Well, it's only an hour long, and it would be fun to produce a double bill: Exit Allan is about a life but starting with a death. It would be great to present it with another one-hour musical that starts with a birth!"
—By Paul Webb Theatrenow