New theatre group has the edge with debut musical at New Wolsey Studio
With A-level exams looming, planning his future and rehearsals for The Gallery Players' July 27-30 production of Spring Awakening you'd think Charlie Pittman had enough on his plate. Not so.
He and fellow Suffolk One friends Ashley Milne and Rhiannon Culley have written new musical Bridge Over Oblivion, which is being performed at the New Wolsey Studio next month as part of the theatre’s annual open season.
It explores themes of love, music and mental illness in 1960s New York City. Two young artists from contrasting backgrounds are thrown together but, under the pressures of their separate lives, struggle with the threat of being pulled apart. A story of survival, fame and ambition within the struggles of city life, it raises the question of whether carrying on in spite of adversity can always be an option, even when others are fighting to save you.
Pittman came up with the concept, story, characters and music with Milne and Culley writing the script.
“This is my first time writing music for something, directing and starring as well,” laughs Pittman. “We’re all of us in our second year of A-levels so our final exams are coming up; it’s quite hectic (but) a nice distraction. It’s been fantastic and we’ve had a lot of support.”
The 18-strong cast, aged 16 plus, have been rehearsing since January. Several performances have already sold out via word of mouth.
“It’s really is enouraging so we put the matinee up and it’s going really well.”
Pittman had the idea rolling around his head for a couple of years, born out of his passion for musicals - having seen them from a young age and being in a lot of shows with the Ipswich-based Children’s Theatre Company. It began to take shape when he, Milne and Culley joined forces for a A-level piece.
“They thought I was joking, but as soon as I told them about the concept they were really on board. We just got going and didn’t stop for about four months. We finalised the script at the end of last July, got a couple of people on board but it wasn’t until October that I finalised the cast.
“I knew I wanted to write a piece which was more contemporary, less old-style musical. Something that was going to have a rock/pop score which may contrast the era but we’ve tried to work in the orchestrations, some subtle things just to keep it 1960s - some saxophone for instance. It was intended to be very small, so maybe four or five characters. It was only when I figured I know quite a lot of talented people I should probably use them,” he laughs.
Ipswich theatre-goers will spot of a lot of familiar faces.
“It’s been really great just to get (people from) all the companies. I had a choice of who I want. The ctc’s lighting designer is on board and we’ve a few cast members from its production of Legally Blonde The Musical. I didn’t want to steal all of Bridie’s (Rowe, the ctc’s artistic director) cast members away,” he laughs. “She’s been really supportive. Niall Morris, Teen Angel in Grease, is choreographing...”
Nobody involved thought a new piece by a new company would debut as part of the New Wolsey’s open season.
“It the biggest prize we could think of. We were originally going to put it on at Suffolk One, we thought that would be the easiest first start; but because of various things we couldn’t. I saw the New Wolsey application and just thought ‘well, we’ll give it a go, see what happens’.
“I told them about the plot, a couple of songs and the theatre was like ‘yeah, brilliant’. I didn’t think it would actually happen,” says Pittman, who’s formed the Eastern Edge Theatre Company, aimed at engaging young people in all aspects of theatre.
Eastern Edge already has a couple of productions planned for 2017 at Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion, which has been very supportive of the venture. The company also hopes to take Bridge Over Oblivion to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next summer.
“Fingers crossed for Edinburgh. We’ve an event called Showtunes at the Spa which will just be a concert showcase just to show off the company and we’ve another production booked in for a week’s run which is not an original piece.”
Bridge Over Oblivion runs July 6-7 at the New Wolsey Studio, Ipswich. The July 6 and 7 evening performances are sold out but there are still tickets for July 7’s 2.30pm matinee. As always, it’s worth checking for returns.