Wednesday, 6 January 2016

New Dickensian Dramaturgy:Dean Johnson talks contemporary satirical parody


Legendary actor Nicholas Ball returns for a
very rare London appearance: for the first time over four decades he will tread the boards of a West End fringe theatre.

The former TV heart throb who created the iconic 70's detective Hazell, stars in the world premiere of New Dickensian, a dark social satire which features spoken word and song, to be staged at the award winning Jermyn Street Theatre in January 2016.

The term 'Dickensian' was coined to describe anything that reflects the dark, squalid times in which Charles Dickens lived and wrote about. 

He drew inspiration from his many visits to Liverpool, from where writer Dean Johnson hails. This contemporary parody of A Christmas Carol follows his success with Bullets and Daffodils (which was also debuted at Jermyn Street).

New Dickensian asks if we have returned to the bleak bedlam of Dickens' age. It tells the story of one Ethan Shrewd, a ruthless stockbroker, and his beleaguered junior partner, single parent Rob Cadgit, whose self-harming teenage daughter Emily he desperately strives to bring up alone.

The cast also includes Dean Johnson, Jane Hamlet, and introducing Leah Taaffe as Emily Cadgit.

Music, lyrics and book by Dean Johnson

Sunday 17th January 2016 – 8pm (duration 70 minutes)

The Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London, SW1Y 6ST

What was the inspiration for this performance?  
It comes straight from everyday life, the scenario is that we have returned to the same social environment of Charles Dicken's time: mass homelessness, extreme cases of poverty, people literally going cap in hand to charitable institutions for handouts, people boarding up their bedrooms to avoid paying the tax, former financial institutions (ie banks) ironically used now as food banks. 

The Dickensian metaphor seems perfect for the times we are living in now , using A Christmas Carol as a template gives endless scope dramatically as the original plot is so strong , and its pathos and sentiment remains true to contemporary themes  

How did you go about gathering the team for it? 
I have my own little company around me , they are kind enough to believe in what I do and are keen to take part in my productions for little financial reward.

Our star Nicholas Ball has been involved in my last 2 shows Bullets and Daffodils (the Wilfred Owen Story) and Ice Picks and Violets (The Mallory and Irvine Story ), Jane Hamlet has been working with me for the last year. But singer Leah Taaffe is brand new , she is a very cool and edgy youngster , and I feel I need a contemporary young voice for this show. After all, they will  inherit this situation that we find ourselves in. 

How did you become interested in making performance?
I have been a singer /songwriter for 30 years , I've recorded over 20 albums , when I turned 50 I just thought  the album /tour treadmill has become stale to me, I would like to embellish my writing to tell a bigger story and to have the words illustrated by actors and narrators instead of just my vocal. 

My shows are not strictly musical theatre, they are a mixture of lots of live performance mediums,coming from the rock world I didnt see any rules. So everything gets thrown in the pot, it tends to freak out the London theatre critics .

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance? 
No because I don't have a regular process , I just use the best techniques to tell the story , that's all that concerns me ...the words and the story and ultimately the message of the piece , did it get through . 

What do you hope that the audience will experience? 
Something that they have never seen before, and a level of honesty that they won't be used to within popular theatre. I'm not really interested in entertaining, more engaging, the audience.

If people want escapism ...they know which shows to go to for that. My ambition would be that the show makes them think , and maybe even recognise a little of themselves in the piece, the most powerful thing that you can offer on stage is a mirror cant make the audience look into it ...but its there if they want to .

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience? 

If it excites me and the performers and we get a buzz rehearsing then hopefully that will transcend out to the punters, this show is very dark and so the comic moments really stand out because they are seen as such a relief from the rest of the narrative.

At the end of the day I think its a great set of songs and they would work just on that level. But with lyrics and spoken word you can really hammer home a point . 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition? 
This show is based in the 'satire ' tradition of the writers and  maybe the art school bands of the 1960's   the Bonzos, Scaffold , the Mersey Poets , music and words with live action. 

Parody is a really strong tool to hit people over the head with. I think even Shakespeare was a satirist.

Are there any other questions that might help me to understand the meaning of dramaturgy for you in your work?  
The tradition of the great rock critics of the early 70's ( Lester Bangs, Nick Kent etc) they used to write articles that did not have a traditional structure ...they became known as 'Think pieces' the content could go all over the place and then veer back to the main point , I would like to think all my stuff is Think pieces.

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