New Wolsey asks whether punks can revisit their past
- Credit: Archant
The New Wolsey Theatre has a reputation for putting lots of great music in their shows. But, as Arts editor Andrew Clarke, discovers with Oxy and the Morons they are looking at whether the punk spirit can survive into middle age.
There’s musicals and there’s plays with music. It may appear to be merely a question of semantics but when you see the finished work on stage you can clearly see the difference.
For writer Paul Sirett, the man who has crafted shows like Reasons To Be Cheerful, which featured the music of Ian Dury of The Blockheads, Mods and Rox and earlier this year the latest version of The Who’s Tommy, he sees a clear distinction.
Musicals create a world of their own whereas the plays he writes harnesses music to provide a social and historical context to the story he’s trying to tell.
He says that music helps define an era. It instantly puts an audience in the right frame of mind and in the right time and place. “It’s almost as good as time travel.”
Paul Sirett is a man much in demand. No sooner had Tommy headed out on the road, than it was time to put the finishing touches to his new play Oxy and the Morons, written in conjunction with Steve Allen Jones and Mike Peters of The Alarm.
So what is it about music that creates such stirring nights at the theatre. “It’s a wonderful touchstone that takes us back to a particular place in time or allows us to explore a moment in our social history. Music taps into our social subconscious.
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“We found with Reasons To Be Cheerful, which has been so successful, that it isn’t just rose-tinted nostalgia, it takes you back to a time that is pretty raw. Oxy looks to tap into the whole idea of nostalgia and how as you get older you want to revisit your youth or your formative experiences.
“Mike Peters and Steve Allen Jones came to Pete Rowe (the New Wolsey artistic director) and said that they wanted to do a punk musical and he put them into contact with me.
“I was very keen that the play reflect Mike’s own story.
“Mike has been battling cancer for the last 20 years and he’s such an inspirational figure. He’s never stopped touring, he’s never stopped recording, he’s been working in America for most of this year then he’s back for a UK and European tour. He’s one of those people who says: ‘You’re not going to get me.’
“So we fashioned a play from his story with elements from Wilko Johnson from Dr Feelgood who had a similar experience. He said that when he got his cancer diagnosis it completely freed him.
“So we ended up coming up with this story about a guy who was in a band in the late ‘70s, a band that never quite made it, and after he gets a cancer diagnosis he decides he wants to put his band back to together again – and all the problems that entails.”
He says that they have this idea that they want to party again like it was still 1978 but have to first face the facts that the band, Oxy and the Morons, exploded in a riot of rivalry, jealousy and bitter betrayal.
Andy, the lead singer, is a man on a mission and if getting the band back together involves twisting arms then so be it. He quickly realises that it’s really about putting his family and friendships back together again. But, a thought nags away at the back of his mind: ‘Can that punk spirit of DIY defiance be rekindled more than 30 years later? Also, can you still pogo when your knees go?
Paul says that the play involves two casts: “We have a group of younger actors playing the band in their younger days and another group of actors playing them in their older incarnation.
“Also, the for us, we had the fun of inventing an original punk band and writing all their songs for them. So they are all original songs, created for the show, all except one and that’s Tom Jones’ It’s Not Unusual. It was the band’s original encore closer and it was the source of a lot of the original friction between the band members.
“One of the central questions surrounding the reunion is whether they will play their punk version of It’s Not Unusual once more?”
He said that one of the great joys of creating the show was writing the songs. “Writing them in the style of the time was hugely enjoyable. There won’t be songs that people recognise but there will be flavours and motifs that people will respond to.”
The cast includes Rob Jarvis (BBC’s Hustle and Call the Midwife) along with New Wolsey regulars Adam Langstaff and Sean Kingsley.
Oxy and the Morons is at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, until October 21.