ON THE ISLAND OF AARS
After Quuup, Mark and I knew that we had to write another musical madness, but we didn't get down to it until 2008.
In Edinburgh in 2006, up there performing Songs My Granny Frowned At, I had wandered into a exhibition of photographs of St Kilda, (www.kilda.org.uk) the remote rock fifty miles off the West cost of Scotland which was finally abandoned by its exhausted inhabitants in 1930. It caught my imagination. Life on St Kilda had been ridiculously bleak and it got me thinking that an yet smaller, yet more remote and even bleaker island might be the basis for comedy. In the spring of 2008, Mark and I took ourselves off to the South of France (oh la!) for a week of writing a new show, and St Kilda was in my mind. We knew we wanted to work with Laura Main, and the part of Morag was written with her in mind. In that week we hit upon the basic synopsis; an island forgotten entirely by the outside world; a claustrophobically small population of three, and an outsider arriving to ruffle their dystopia. James Seabright agreed, on the basis of Quuup's success and the synopsis, to put his name and wallet to the project as a producer.
By early summer, the script was taking shape, enough for us to audition. Mike Wilson and Barbara Drennan were cast as the Ministers and Puupiline, respectively. We rehearsed for a frenzied two-and-a-half weeks at Dance Attic, Fulham, performed three panicky, under-rehearsed previews in various theatres and, in Edinburgh, worked like stink in the first week of the festival, knocking the show into shape. Reviews were good, audiences responded fantastically, and we were nominated in all five categories of the MTM musical awards; best Music, best script, best lyrics, best production and most promising thing. MTM gave Laura Main a special award for outstanding performance.
We had hoped to tour after Edinburgh, but James could not see it as a commercial viability, so Mark and I in the Spring of the following year (2009) rewrote and re-staged a fuller version without him, with the intention of whipping some interest up. Rehearsals were even more scrambled for this second outing. Barbara Drennan was not available, so Debden Clarke took over the role of Puupiline, which she had a scant two weeks to learn: a tall order. Further, my rewrites meant that a lot was new for all of us. Thanks must go out to Anthony Alderson at Pleasance, and for volunteer Plum Stubbins and her crew, without whom it wouldn't have been possible. Mark was not feeling his best: and it was the first signs of the late-diagnosed cancer which was tragically to take his life, six months later.