Go and put the kettle on and make yourself a drink….. Locksley’s been offline a few months and now, he’s turned up and written this long post!
How I got involved (aka- ‘Oh boy was I suckered’…..)
BA: Locksley, auditions are next Thursday at…….. School for our new, original community theatre musical ‘The Last Revolution’.
Me: Thanks guys, but I don’t sing so I’ll have to miss this one out. Thanks for letting me know though!
BA: Locksley, what can we say to convince you to join in? We’re running low on men, we’ll even give you a non singing role!
Me: ……. Ok, when is it being performed? I have another project in the Summer that is tbc.
BA: 23rd-25th June.
Me: …….. Ok, I’ll do it. Where’s the audition, again?
Me: (looking around in the audition) Hang on, there’s a lot of men here!…….
Was pretty much how the conversation went via text message with me and Big Adventures, the theatre company I worked with last year on their comedy version of Conan-Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles. The conversation took place in January and the production finished three weeks ago.
Acting, I do. Dancing is how I got into the Performing Arts in the first place. Singing? No. Just no. I still remember when in college, my mate, Dwarfer turned around to me during one singing session and said “Sorry, but I’m going to have to move away. You’re putting me off…..” Any confidence at giving singing a go was shattered after that. So I never did. There were the couple (only two come to mind) of times I went on drunken karaoke (is there any other way?), and the one time Pipes told me not to ruin Metallica’s version of ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ the one time I was actually trying…. Thanks guys, fuck you very much. So, I was content with absolutely no singing in my life. Ever. I even mumbled lyrics in the shower.
So imagine my terror when I discovered I had to sing in my audition! Luckily, it was part of a male ensemble, but then we had to sing individual verses……. I hadn’t been that scared for a long time: my heart beat was bursting from my chest, my stomach no longer existed and my legs wanted to collapse underneath me. Oh! And my mouth dried up. And then I started thinking about singing in tune….. How did it go again? What the hell does an ‘E’ sound like (I still can’t tell you)? What about pace and rhythm? And so it came to pass as the piano was played and my turn came up, my lyrics came out as: dhdydjfndiaa!?#+$%#!?@$%$ but hey, I made the acting audition!
We were called the week after and found out what parts we were given, and what did I do once I was given my script? I do what any performer does, skim the pages until I find my bits….. ‘Hang on! There’s lyrics here! And there are a few lyrics I have to deliver all by myself! Shiiiiiiiiiiit!’
Over the next few months we met every week for rehearsal, sometimes twice a week. And as time went on, I learned how to sing. Or hold a note, at least. The Director took care of, well- directing. Whether it was setting the scene, offering feedback or helping everyone with how to deliver lines or try scenes in a certain way (community theatre has a mix of people from different performing backgrounds, some of which had none. There were more than a few for whom this was their first show- everyone did wonderfully!) The musical director made everyone comfortable, often by joking with the cast or about himself. But he was good enough to know if you were struggling and help you get through it by being patient, persistant, firm but fair. They had both created ‘The Last Revolution’ and steered us with patience and enthusiasm.
I learned two things that really helped:
1, As someone new to the singing lark, I found you don’t actively think about keeping the pace, after doing it a few dozen times, it becomes automatic. You still need to keep an ear out for the tune, but it’s not something you can read about on how to do, you have to just do it and find it. So I stopped worrying. I found this easier to do live rather than listen to a recording and sing the lyrics to it.
2, I have a problem with thinking and listening and the same time. You can tell me your most painful secret, but if my concentration wanders, I won’t take a word in. More than a few times, I’d be over thinking a song or so busy acting something and getting involved in that thing (such as background chatter in character) that I’d miss my cues. I found this also applies to everyday life, too. To listen to you, I have to 100% stop what I’m doing and take in everything you say. Because I had to balance this and act as well as listen out for my singing cues, I learned how to do this! The trick is to appear busy and active, but actually am listening out…… Cats do it all the time.
What was the musical about?
The musical itself was based on the real historic event of The Pentrich Uprising of 1817. An event you won’t just find in your everyday history book. The uprising was the last act of rebellion against the Crown and His Majesty’s Government in England. Back then, the Napoleonic wars had just finished leaving the country financially drained. Poor harvests meant crops were lost (due to a volcano sending dust particles into the air and obscuring the sunlight!), the Industrial Age had created machines that replaced manpower and living conditions for the poor were squalid. In short, England was in a dissatisfied place indeed. Various uprisings around the country took place, but the Government got smart. They employed spies to go into places of known dissent, get the local communities fired up and snitch the rebels in. And this is exactly what happened to the revolutionaries of Pentrich. A government informer, under the alias of ‘William Oliver’ was sent into Derbyshire to find traces of rebellion, which he did. He also became involved with the local rebels and urged their leader, Jeremiah Brandreth to press on under the belief that various towns and cities were joining in and all ready to storm Westminster….. All they needed was the right man to start it all off. The men of Pentrich, Wingfield, all other surrounding areas (apologies to any readers from Derby, I’m not a local lad) came together on the very early hours of the 9th of June and began their course to Nottingham. It was at Nottingham they were told they would be met with other revolutionary groups from The North, they would receive ale, meat and money then march all the way down to London. It was raining heavily as they went from village, to village, pressing men into service along the way, taking weapons and dealing with deserters. One young man was murdered, being shot dead and before the men even reached Nottingham, a whole military force was waiting for them…… William Oliver had done his job well. In November that year, Jeremiah Brandreth and the other ringleaders, Isaac Ludlum- the Elder, William Turner and one other man, George Weightman, were hanged by the neck until dead and beheaded for treason against the Crown. It was this event that lead to the formation of workers unions that are in this country today.
What amazed me about the Uprising was the passion for it today from both the people of the areas involved and the descendants of those revolutionaries who were sentenced to Australia. There are societies in both countries taking great pride in their families involvement, as well as trying to piece together everything that happened. It turns out that the Government had kept this part of our history quiet, the only information released around the time were the newspapers, but the Uprising was brushed under to be forgotten. The families of those involved kept quiet so they could keep their homes and jobs, after all the excitement and failure what else could be done? Very soon, The Pentrich and South Wingfield Revolutionary Group will be granted access to the archives of the Duke of Devonshire. Perhaps more information of what happened will be revealed?
The Real William Turner
I had the pleasure of playing William Turner, a stone mason and ex-soldier. He was 46 years old when he was involved in the Uprising, ten years my senior! He was described as tall, but there are no other indications as to what he looked like. Neither were there any portraits. He was survived by his parents, siblings and his nieces and nephews, having no children of his own. The house he built for his parents still stands today! In the case files, he was described by witnesses as being keen for the march to proceed and knew of every weapon in his home village of Wingfield. He was one of the men who helped organise the Uprising and even led part of the force that made its way toward Nottingham (but never reached it due to the militia waiting for them). During his trial, Turner seemed to give in to the resignation of the fate that beheld him, he sobbed as he was charged ‘guilty’. In his last days, he was keen to show repentance before God and hoped to be spared….. That hope was dashed once he was sentenced to be hanged and beheaded for treason against the King. After days of despair, he put on a brave face for his family and prayed for forgiveness from God. Asking about the state of Jeremiah Brandreth, both he and Isaac Ludlum were distraught that Brandreth did not seek the repentance they wanted so much. Before his death, Turner cried out this was all the fault of the Government and William Oliver. Which, of course, they disapproved.
I played him as a frustrated individual who had come back from war to find there was no reward for those who returned, the countries money was tight, meaning the wages were considerably less than promised and once back home it was ‘Wham-bam-thank-you-very-much-now-off-you-pop‘. My version of William Turner was waiting for a chance to lash out at those who treated him and others as disposable, and was bitter until the end.
The real William Turner was, as mentioned, a former soldier. I can’t say why he wanted to revolt. Perhaps he saw something when he was at war? perhaps he was disgusted at the state of his country with the rich and poor divide? Perhaps he wanted to fight so his family could live without starving? Or maybe he just got caught up in the zealous energy of the idea of rebelling against the authorities. Whatever his reasons, Turner felt strong enough to make a stand to try and make the world better in some way. I was told by a cast member that one of his distant relations would be coming to see the show. I don’t know if they did or not, but I hope I portrayed their fated ancestor with the respect he deserved.
‘The Last Revolution’ is a proud moment in my life, I made some discoveries about myself and made many friends during the production. I did something I’d never thought I would and pushed myself out of the comfort zone. I also learned a piece of English history that seems to have been glossed over, when it was actually quite notable, even if it was ill-fated. The common people turning around and saying ‘No!’
It was an honour to be involved, an honour to perform and an honour to the memory of those who wanted “…. freedom and fairness for all!”