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Taking a dead uncle on holiday leads to musical mayhem in rarely staged show

PUBLISHED: 15:25 25 October 2018 | UPDATED: 15:25 25 October 2018

The cast of the Gallery Players production of Lucky Stiff, a rarely performed musical farce Photo: Jon Tavener

The cast of the Gallery Players production of Lucky Stiff, a rarely performed musical farce Photo: Jon Tavener

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The Gallery Players have long had a reputation for unearthing unusual or rarely performed shows. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to director Jon Tavener about their latest little gem

Zoe Jones as Annabel and Paul Stone as Harry with Darren Prentice as the Dead Body in the Gallery Players production of Lucky Stiff, a rarely performed musical farce Photo: Jon TavenerZoe Jones as Annabel and Paul Stone as Harry with Darren Prentice as the Dead Body in the Gallery Players production of Lucky Stiff, a rarely performed musical farce Photo: Jon Tavener

For Eastern Angles box office manager Jon Tavener 2018 has been somewhat hectic. He’s been dealing with the logistics of touring Polstead, the play about Maria Marten, which meant coping with intense heat, lightning storms and flash floods before directing and running workshops for the re-staging of his play Everything Must Go, which has been shaped by older people’s memories of shops and shopping.

Now, he’s about to give us a farcial musical Lucky Stiff which is inspired by the classic book The Man Who Broke The Bank at Monte Carlo by Michael Butterworth. Jon says: “To go from rehearsing actors in a two-hander during the day to directing a full-blown musical in the evenings, sometimes it’s been tricky to remember which show you’re working on.”

Lesley Rawlinson with Paul Stone in the Gallery Players production of Lucky Stiff, a rarely performed musical farce Photo: Jon TavenerLesley Rawlinson with Paul Stone in the Gallery Players production of Lucky Stiff, a rarely performed musical farce Photo: Jon Tavener

Lucky Stiff is not a well known show. Can you tell us something about it?

JT: “Lucky Stiff is a farce, a whodunnit, a romance, and a musical. Written in 1985 by the newly-founded partnership of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, Lucky Stiff tells the story of Harry Witherspoon, a bored sales assistant working a hum-drum job at a shoe shop in East Grinstead. Out of the blue, he receives a telegram informing him that his recently-deceased Uncle Tony in America has left him 6 million dollars in his will.

“The only catch is to get the money he has to fulfil his Uncle’s dying wish and take his dead body in a wheelchair on holiday to Monte Carlo.”

It’s not your average musical then?

JT: “Lucky Stiff is one of those rare breeds of musical theatre: a heady mix of musical, farce, romance, comedy, and whodunnit. It really is a genre-buster, and has long been one of my favourites, but as a Gallery Players production, it was born from a brief but recurrent conversation, starting nearly 20 years ago, with Pat Taplin, the late and much-missed founder of Gallery Players.

“I like to think that Pat is somewhere right now, smiling that most beautiful of smiles, and saying “I told you I’d get you to do that show for us one day!’

“It has long been my ambition to direct this show, and now that it’s finally happening, I count myself very lucky to have one not just one of the most talented and hard-working casts available this side of the country, but also an absolute genius of a Musical Director in Emma Haggar. And best of all, I get to direct it for the Gallery Players and in the Sir John Mills Theatre, the best little venue in all of Suffolk.”

It sounds as if this is a show with a little bit of everything in it?

JT: “Absolutely. If anyone’s seen the movie Weekend at Bernie’s they’ll know the comedic potential of a corpse in a wheelchair, but I think the show also owes a debt to the many caper movies that came out of America in the 60s and 70s, like Cannonball Run and It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Insane chases across Europe in search of a great prize.

“If things weren’t bad enough, he’s being pursued across Europe not just by his Uncle’s gun-toting mistress, but also a shy and retiring Annabel Glick, representing his Uncle’s Favourite Charity The Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. Everyone wants the money, and Harry is wishing he’d stayed in his safe little world back in East Grinstead.”

Lucky Stiff, by The Gallery Players, is at The Sir John Mills Theatre from Monday October 29 to Saturday November 3. With a matinee at 2.30pm on Saturday. Tickets can be booked at 01473 211498 or online at easternangles.co.uk

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