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Christmas audiences rescued from the winter blues by Julian Harries’ The Scarlet Pipstrelle

PUBLISHED: 17:51 12 December 2018

Julian Harries, Dougal Lee & Ben Waring in The Scarlet Pipstrelle, Common Ground's Christmas show Photo: Julian Harries

Julian Harries, Dougal Lee & Ben Waring in The Scarlet Pipstrelle, Common Ground's Christmas show Photo: Julian Harries

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Suffolk’s iconic Christmas show creators Pat Whymark and Julian Harries have come up with a batty tale about knitting circles and the French revolution. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to them about how they go about making people laugh

Pat Whymark & Julian Harries, architects of much Christmas joy over the years  Photo: Julian HarriesPat Whymark & Julian Harries, architects of much Christmas joy over the years Photo: Julian Harries

“They seek him here, they seek him there,

Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.

Is he in Heaven, or is he in Hell,

The cast of The Scarlet Pipstrelle, Common Ground's Christmas show, getting to grips with their tale of derring-do. Photo: Julian HarriesThe cast of The Scarlet Pipstrelle, Common Ground's Christmas show, getting to grips with their tale of derring-do. Photo: Julian Harries

Or at a meeting of the East Ipswich Ladies Crochet Society, who can tell?”

With The Fenland Screamers, the Eastern Angles Christmas Show, up and running, Julian Harries and Pat Whymark are now turning their attention to their own Christmas production, the intriguingly named The Scarlet Pipstrelle.

With their love of genre send-ups, it’s no surprise that Pat and Julian are raiding their love of classic cinema and period literature mixing it with a quirky look at the way we live.

The Scarlet Pipstrelle, Common Ground's Christmas show, which loves a dash of derring-do. Photo: Julian HarriesThe Scarlet Pipstrelle, Common Ground's Christmas show, which loves a dash of derring-do. Photo: Julian Harries

Co-writer and director Pat Whymark says that they love creating worlds where the audience feels included. They love creating a scenario where people can either recognise themselves or people they know and then extending the idea to absurd lengths.

“This year, the frame of the story is set against the backdrop of the East Ipswich Ladies Crochet Society’s weekly meeting. They have decided to do a Christmas entertainment to raise funds for the local bat conservation group – but revolution is in the air.

“Through the magic of crochet, they take us back to Paris, 1793 and the French Revolution. Heads are rolling, and no-one is safe from the roving finger of fate, the thumb of tyranny and the wrist of injustice. But help is at hand for the victims of The Terror, in the form of that dashing master of disguise and echo-location, The Scarlet Pipistrelle, a mysterious Englishman, who has already undertaken several rescues of condemned aristocrats. Who knows, perhaps this time, he might actually succeed.”

As with all Harries and Whymark shows, the script is just the starting point and much of the laughter is worked up in the rehearsal room where the actors not only get to know one another, they can play with the material in order to get the maximum fun out of any situation.

Co-writer and director Julian Harries is fizzing with excitement, enjoying the change of atmosphere having spent the last two months playing The Ancient Mariner.

“We’ve had a fabulous first week of rehearsals with our wonderful cast. Joining Julian Harries is Dougal Lee (recently played Frank in Educating Rita at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester and Tevye in Fiddler on The Roof at Frinton Summer Theatre), Estrid Barton (who last worked with Harries & Whymark in their Eastern Angles Xmas show, Sherlock Holmes & The Curse of The Mummy’s Tomb), and Emily Bennett, who joins the company for her third production (after last year’s Sherlock Holmes & The Hooded Lance and The Mariner.”

Pat adds that the beauty of working with actors who know one another is that they can work quickly and don’t have to spend time establishing a rapport. “You can hit the ground running, which is very important when you have two shows running in one season.”

But, she says that it is also important to have new blood amongst the cast as well and Emily Bennett has introduced them to a new actor Ben Waring who impressed them on audition. “Emily herself was a real find last year, especially musically, she is just so quick. She comes up with music on the spot and she is a great actress as well.”

After the success of last year’s near-sellout show, Sherlock Holmes & The Hooded Lance Pat and Julian’s company Common Ground have added several extra performances this year, playing Harkstead Village Hall (13 Dec), Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge (14-15 Dec), John Peel Centre, Stowmarket (17-19 Dec), Headgate Theatre, Colchester (20-22 Dec), St Mary’s Hall, Walton (27-29 Dec), Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh (1-4 Jan), Diss Corn Hall, (5 Jan) & The New Wolsey Studio (8-19 Jan). For more information and to book tickets, go to www.commongroundtc.co.uk, or call 07807 341364.

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