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CALENDAR GIRLS
IN BERLIN

Calendar Girls in Sofia Bulgaria 2011

CALENDAR GIRLS
IN BULGARIA

Sign of the Times with Matthew Kelly & Gerard Kearns

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CALENDAR GIRLS
IN CANADA

Calendar Girls in Manitoba Canada
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CALENDAR GIRLS
IN RUSSIA

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Lady Cravenshire

Calendar Girls in Russia. Photo Credit: Sisley Paris Company
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CALENDAR GIRLS
IN DENMARK

Calendar Girls in Denmark

Calendar Girls in Denmark

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CALENDAR GIRLS
IN POLAND

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CALENDAR GIRLS
IN BERLIN

Berlin Calendar Girls

The Calendar Girls in Athens

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CALENDAR GIRLS IN
BUENOS AIRES,
ARGENTINA

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CALENDAR GIRLS IN
OSLO, NORWAY

Calendar Girls in Norway

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Calendar Girls in Norway

Calendar Girls in Norway

Calendar Girls in Norway

Neville's Island at Chorley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Tim Firth.com Interviews

TIM FIRTH.COM NEWSLETTER - APRIL 2007

PC: The recent releases of PRESTON FRONT have been received well by fans. It must have been very satisfying to know that fans were queuing up to watch the three series all over again.

TF: I was perhaps the happiest of anyone, as I no longer had the videos of the first series and was on the verge of having to ring up the BBC to make me some copies like JR Hartley asking for his copy of ‘Fly Fishing’. Each copy would have cost me about £100 so these DVD releases have saved me thousands.

PC: The addition of the bonus footage on series three was a nice touch – was that your idea?

TF: That was Henry Normal, he of Baby Cow Ltd. It was those guys who shot it. They’d done an extras feature on DVDs of my TV Film CRUISE OF THE GODS which marvellously managed to capture the location cruise ship crashing in Athens harbour. Then while we were filming some sequences of the PRESTON FRONT videos in Cheshire a car ran into another car in the back of shot. Makes you wonder.

PC: BORDER CAFÉ is one of my favourite Tim Firth series and we’re asked again and again about a possible DVD release. Is there something you can do to influence a BBC decision? Or does the final say rest with others?

TF: No-one has any idea what inspires the BBC to bring out shows on DVD. My honest opinion is that it never will come out as not enough people watched it in the first place! It just didn’t win enough hearts. The cast was great for that show in retrospect. It was weird seeing Tom Goodman-Hill, one of the two slack coppers – who I adored – go on to play a slack copper in the Johnny Vegas sitcom. And of course the other, Dean Lennox Kelly, went on to great things in Shameless.

PC: I bought a copy of the CD (BORDER CAFE) some time back and the series really does have some great music. Do you choose particular music when scripting a piece?

TF: Never specific tracks as it’s a terrible risk. You can’t just specify tracks as they may prove too expensive or simply unavailable come the final count, and if you’ve built a scene around a set track, it may then seem anaemic without it. I always indicate on scripts where I think orchestration music should leave and enter. For me, music is a character and its presence totally transfigures the way that an audience react to a scene.

PC: KINKY BOOTS is such a brilliant film, it was great to have it released on DVD this year. What do you think of one of the site guests talking about KINKY BOOTS becoming a stage show? Have you any plans to turn the screenplay into a musical – it seems a natural for a musical show?

TF: Here’s a thing – the rights to the stage show rest with Disney as is always the case with films they have funded. The originators have no automatic right to make the stage version. The writer of THE FULL MONTY had nothing to do with the stage version and earned nothing from it, even though the whole thing was his idea. I did hear that the rights to KINKY BOOTS have been picked up for stage but I don’t know if it’s true. It certainly doesn’t involve me. There are however rumours of CALENDAR GIRLS coming to the stage, though - a project in which I may well be involved.

PC: KINKY BOOTS also wowed the American audiences and won awards at various festivals. Did you go over to American for the awards, how did American audiences react to your brand of humour?

TF: I saw KINKY BOOTS in the snow at the Sundance Film Festival in the largely Mormon city of Salt Lake. Remarkably given the ultra-conservative tenets of their religion they didn’t seem too fazed by a heavy-drinking black transvestite. When American audiences get a film they really get it, and were much more vocal than English ones.

PC: We said last year (on the site) that OUR HOUSE was due to tour again. What is the latest news of this new production.

TF: Our House is still planned for next year so fingers crossed. It’s easier to set up a new nation state than it is to organise a musical.

PC: Guests are also keen to see OUR HOUSE available for Amateur productions.

TF: I am sure this will happen at some point. There are various publications being talked about, but I don’t want it to be rushed into publication too quickly.

PC: Its been a good year for your stage plays also with SAFARI PARTY touring with Christopher Timothy and then Mark Little?

TF: SAFARI PARTY is the reason I don’t want to rush into publishing OUR HOUSE. It was printed ready for its run at Hampstead, during which I then decided to make several changes and had personally to buy back large numbers of scripts so we could reprint the new version.

PC: ABSOLUTELY FRANK also premiered at Scarborough? What decided you to rework the original play?

TF: I’ve always wanted to expand the original one act piece ever since I wrote it, nearly twenty years ago. A one act play has a very limited life. Scarborough, its first home, offered a great opportunity to put the new version up on stage, put the new second half against the first to make sure it stood up. I’ve only worked in the round at Scarborough, but FRANK is a play which absolutely can’t be done in the round, so it all came together rather beautifully. Bizarrely the prop letters from the original production have been stored by the theatre for nearly twenty years and we used them to rehearse with.

PC: FLINT STREET NATIVITY has been a huge success for the Liverpool Playhouse and in fact took more at the box office than any previous Christmas theatre.

TF: They were a little worried initially as we didn’t have the cast until late, sales were slow and doing a brand new play in the crucial Christmas slot is a real risk. I’m so pleased it all worked out for them. It turned out to be the most successful play in the recent history of the theatre, and there are rumours they want to bring it straight back this Christmas.

PC: Now I know there are plans in the pipeline for several new tv/theatre/film projects for the coming year. What can we talk about?

TF: I’ll let you know as and when anything becomes definite. Which in this business is usually after it has gone out.

Tim Firth.com

It's child's play Philip Key discovers that all is not sweetness and light in Bethlehem

To an outsider, the school Nativity play is one of the sweeter aspects of Christmas, as angelic children act out the old story of the birth of Jesus.

For those who know about these things, the sweetness can be an illusion as the children squabble, fight for the best roles and generally bicker like real grown-ups.

Cheshire playwright Tim Firth is a man who does know about these things - his parents and grandparents were all teachers - and his television comedy, The Flint Street Nativity, struck a common chord with viewers when screened in 1999.

Now Firth has returned to the play and subject, expanded it into a full stage show, and written his own music alongside traditional carols. It opens at the Liverpool Playhouse next Thursday for a Christmas run.

I catch up with him during a rehearsal break at the theatre along with one of his ten-strong cast members, Liverpool actress Gillian Kearney. They seem to be having fun.

The twist in the play, as viewers may recall, is that all the children are played by adult actors. And they still are.

Gillian takes on the role of Mary, a part taken in the original television series by Josie Lawrence. It's quite a change of pace from her last Playhouse role earlier this year when she played the tragic Hedda Gabler in Ibsen's drama.

"I play a seven-year-old," she explains. Like the rest of the cast, she went to observe children of the same age in a Formby school, at lessons and in the playground.

"One of the things I noticed is that they don't keep still, they have so much energy. And there is no such thing as private space, they are in your face."

Firth, whose past writing triumphs have included the TV series All Quiet on the Preston Front and the film Calendar Girls, had his own children to observe, now aged 12, 10 and six "so they have been the right age when I wrote the TV play and now this stage version".

The opportunity to write a stage version came in a strange way. "Last year, a friend of mine in Llandudno asked if he could have a go at doing the TV play as a stage work for his amateur dramatic company. I told him to go away and have fun with it and they had a great time.

"Then, the week he sent me a DVD of them performing it, I had a telephone call from the Playhouse saying they had not realised I had written the TV show, which they had always known about, and would I be interested in considering it for the stage? Had that friend of mine not taken it and shown that it could work on stage, I would have thought harder."

As it was, he was delighted to return to an old work. "You are a little older and as a writer you always think you might now want to tell the story in a different way."

He thought it would not be as much of a rewrite as it became, he admits. "When you move anything from one medium to another, it is never as straightforward as it first appears."

By changing the shape of the play, he has been able to focus on the characters more and he has also introduced carols which were only heard in the background in the TV version.

He has, however, written some additional music for the carols, a descant which explains exactly what a child is thinking. "It has really become a play with music which justifies it taking place on stage."

Firth has been involved in school Nativities himself, along with his wife. In the absence of a staff member to play the piano, they have stepped in. And he was able to collect a host of stories from family and friends.

"I researched it for a long time collecting and harvesting these stories, some are great, some good but not usable. I would say that about 90% of the play is based on real stories."

For Gillian Kearney, she recalled that the smallest girl in her class always played Mary. She was the second smallest. "I just played the triangle so when the star appeared I went, ping."

In the Flint Street Nativity, her bete noir is the Angel Gabriel (played by fellow Liverpudlian Leanne Best) who would have liked to play Mary. They duet on Away in a Manger, retitled in Gabriel's words "Away to Kill Mary . . ."

Gillian explains: "Mary is someone who gets her own way by using her brain rather than her fists, one of those children who has an answer for everything. She knows all her words, does her homework and wants to be top of the class."

In the stage play, Firth has got rid of one wise man and one shepherd thanks to an outbreak of chickenpox at the school ("I had that in the TV play, but it is more virulent in the stage version") and there is no Joseph so the child playing Herod is forced to take on the Joseph role - and does not want to do so.

One of Firth's views is that children reflect their parents and home lives, a subject examined in the second act: "It is not really the history of the children but the history of their parents - children are refractions and sponges to what is going on around them.

"One important subject is that the membrane between the world of children and the world of adults is never thinner than at a Nativity play. Children are playing adults on stage while adults in the audience are often reduced to childish and infantile jealousies.

"Basically, it is the story of children's lives while The Greatest Story Ever Told is being told."

The production, directed by Matthew Lloyd, stars some fine actors, Liverpool's Andrew Schofield (as the Innkeeper), Natalie Casey (Donna from TV's Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps) as a shepherd, Rina Mahoney from Casualty as The Angel and Neil Caple (from the Liverpool Everyman's award-winning Unprotected) as Herod among them.

Firth is glad to be back working in the theatre, where he gets instant audience reaction. The Flint Street Nativity had the largest viewing figures for any TV play he had written, but once it had gone out came silence. "I didn't even know anyone at the Playhouse had seen it."

He says it is a family show (apart from a couple of "bloodys") and will certainly be taking his own children.

And he has learned one thing during the rehearsal period from that time at a Formby school. The teacher there kept order with a tambourine. He now uses one with his school choir, first a warning rattle and then a tap. It apparently works a treat.

Philip Key - Liverpool Daily Post

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Anyone can be a shepherd, but there's only one Mary

Playwright Tim Firth recalls the lessons he learnt while writing a comedy about a school nativity show.

Come Christmas, there are always those cynics who dismiss infant nativity plays as pointless charades. What lessons, they ask, are to be learnt in the modern age from watching kids trying to work out what a "virgin's womb" is and how not to "abhor" it? The answer is many, for all concerned - not in the tale itself, but in the telling.

For time-starved teachers at the end of term, the casting of a nativity is an object lesson in social engineering and appeasement. In the darkest vaults of each infant school is an unspoken template which can be slapped on any class register: Mary - give it to the girl whose parents are most trouble.

Joseph - the docile boy who is happy being led round like a Victorian orphan but would protest at being the donkey. Donkey - give it to the kid who doesn't mind being a donkey. (There is always one, and the chances are that they will achieve the greatest happiness in later life.) Gabriel - give it to the girl who could have been Mary but whose parents were less trouble.

Shepherds - any child who won't go on without their best friend. Wise Men - any child who won't go on without their best friend but can also be trusted to carry out a simple motor function when glared at. Star of Bethlehem - save this for the child who is odds-on to back out at the last minute. No one misses the star. Narrators - these are your Corinthian pillars. Choose wisely.

During my research for writing The Flint Street Nativity (a comedy, in which adults play schoolchildren putting on a Christmas show), teachers divulged more than one occasion of anxious mums asking staff to share out the Mary role, suggesting they alternated Marys between matinee and evening performance and in one case during the course of the show. Proof perhaps that the membrane separating the world of adults from that of children is never thinner than during a nativity: on stage, children act like adults, while in the audience adults seethe with infantile jealousies.

In a world where school football touchlines are peppered with proto-Mourinhos reprimanding refs for not helping their kids' side win, it's a refreshing slap in the face to know that there is, and will only ever be, one Mary. The children play adults, but it is the adults who are forced to grow up.

The stinging lesson learnt first-hand by the children prepares them for one of the toughest issues they will ever have to face in adulthood: the part you end up with in life may not be the part you feel you deserve. The dock leaf to the sting, however, is that very often what you thought to be the best part turns out not to be so.

When I was four, I was taken to the nativity at my future infant school. Could I tell you now one thing about Mary or Joseph? No chance. Do I still remember the donkey turning to one side halfway through and shouting from inside his head: "Bloody hell, Mrs Quirk, it's hot in here"? Deliver the killer line at the right time and you will steal the show/board meeting/political summit.

The following year, now an infant, I felt I was a shoo-in for the part of Joseph, following a very promising (ie loud) recitation about our sheepdog. Tragically, disaster loomed in the form of a student teacher on secondment. He took over the nativity and reset it among kids who were "in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem at the time".

Not only did this trendy angle totally nuke the part of Joseph, but it meant that I no longer stood a chance of holding the hand of Mary, a babe who fancied my best mate.

Consumed with injustice, during the holiday I wrote my first three-minute play for assembly. In short, I owe the whole idea of my ever becoming a playwright to the nativity, not out of any desire for self-expression but rather out of desire for a girl and her cardigan, sweet with Lenor. I cast myself as the handsome prince, Mary as the princess and my best mate as the arse end of the dragon.

Thirty-odd years later, repeatedly dragged earthwards by fear of failure, I look back to that nativity and the lesson it taught me of free-wheeling, ruthless, single-mindedness. I have never attained such singularity since. There are plenty of lessons to be learnt in an infant nativity, they're just not all on stage. And they're not all about love and peace.

Tim Firth - The Telegraph

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Frankly Firth
It was 15 years ago when Alan Ayckbourn spotted that Tim Firth had a talent to amuse. The playwright and TV dramatist returns to Scarborough with a comically Frank story.

Absolutely FrankTim Firth is the writer behind the film Calendar Girls, the Madness musical Our House and the television series All Quiet On The Preston Front.

His talent to amuse was spotted first by Alan Ayckbourn, who took a punt on him 15 years ago at the Stephen Joseph Theatre with his lunchtime divertissement, A Man Of Letters.

This summer, that bite-sized play is being expanded by Firth from a snack into the complete meal of Absolutely Frank for a run in Scarborough from Thursday.

"Alan's assistant director at that time, Conal Orton, had known me at university and he gave Alan a play of mine to read: a rather studenty play starring two humans and two yucca plants that spoke through speakers in their pots.

"It was about the breakdown of a couple's relationship, where the yucca plants only spoke to each other when the couple weren't in the room, and Alan very kindly said it had promise but was slightly whimsical. Nevertheless, he still commissioned a play from me."

Ayckbourn showed him where the play would be performed at the old Stephen Joseph Theatre. "It was the restaurant, and so I thought I better write a play where the characters would have to shout to be heard, but when I turned up, there were only people drinking soup, so it wasn't necessary after all."

Tim felt he had unfinished business with A Man Of Letters, hence his creation of the new play Absolutely Frank: the comic story of 57-year-old Frank Tollit, who puts giant letters on the sides of buildings but has always dreamed of working with slightly smaller letters in the form of spy novels. Stories of espionage, treachery, disasters, explosions and daring rescues all jump from fiction to fact one day at work and Frank must learn the greatest lesson in life: how to live happily ever after.

"I always wanted to make it into a full play, and the original didn't seem to have dated at all because it's a play about ambition and the pursuit of happiness and the gap between the two and that hasn't changed.

"For me, plays that have been written theme first have always failed; they have to be character driven first, and there's a point where you create a situation you like and you put the characters into the mix and the story then generates the scene," Tim says.

"The good thing with A Man Of Letters is that it ended with Frank being made redundant from a job of high status, and I wanted to come back with him now being an apprentice to a very ambitious young man. The play comes down on the line that ambition can ruin your life as much as make it. Happiness is something you may have already without realising it."

Charles Hutchinson - thisisyork.co.uk

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I'm a celebrity... get me trout of here!

Tim Firth wrote his comedy Neville's Island 13 years ago and it has toured the world without any adaptations.

But after it was scheduled to open in Birmingham he realised there was one thing he needed to change.

The story line centres around a group of middle managers sent on a team-building exercise to a deserted island - but once there their team is anything but built.

"No matter how many times it has toured I have never seen a need to update it - until now," says Tim.

"This time I got a call from the director Paul Raffield, who was actually in the first production of Neville's Island, and he said "we have a problem with the mobile phone".

"Over the last ten years or so mobile phones have shrunk so much that a scene in which one of the men kills a trout by hitting it over the head with a mobile phone would no longer work. Today's mobile phones are just too small to kill a trout!"

But apart from this tinkering at the edges, Tim believes Neville's Island, which comes to Birmingham Repertory Theatre with Les Dennis in the lead role tonight, remains as relevant today as ever- if not more so.

"The story first surfaced when there was a television series about one of these team building courses and it was terribly austere and dictatorial with people who wouldn't even swim being forced into freezing cold water," he explains.

"Around the same time a friend was telling me about this bonding weekend he had been on and it was so cushy. They basically did a brief walk and then went back to the hotel for dinner.

"It just occurred to me to write about what would happen if a group of people were sent away for a few days expecting the cushy option and instead got other type of course.

"It has remained relevant because these type of team building exercises still happen and in fact has now become really popular on television with programmes like I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here," says Tim.

"It is fascinating to see the dynamics when a group of people are thrown together like this. And these dynamics seem to apply anywhere - there is always a need for someone to come out on top and for bullies to take advantage."

He adds: "I think there is an added edge to this play now because there is so much competitiveness in the market place. These guys are all middle managers and we have seen a recent trend for those to be the people who are culled. This may look like a teambuilding exercise but it is really survival of the fittest."

Diane Parkes, Evening Mail

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GOING FOR A SONG

Tim Firth can remember everything about the first time he met Willy Russell. It was the day his life changed. The year was 1983, the summer was hot and he was 18 and about to go to Cambridge to read English. Back home in Cheshire, he’d spent months working on a musical version of Macbeth in the style of Marillion ("funnily enough, it never got anywhere"). But writing musicals was what he had set his heart on, so when he heard about a course which Russell was tutoring on entitled Writing for Performance, he put his name down straight away.

Earlier that year, Russell’s Blood Brothers had opened at the Liverpool Playhouse. Even though no-one could possibly guess it would still be making him millions 21 years later, for a would-be singer-songwriter like Firth, it seemed to have a compelling freshness. Here was a show written not by a classically trained musician, but a straight-from-the-heart Scouser who had learnt his craft in the city’s folk clubs. Maybe Russell - who was giving the course with the show’s director, Danny Hiller - could teach him how it was done.

Except Firth had got it all wrong. The course, run by the Arvon Foundation at Ted Hughes’s old farm high up the steep Pennine valley, overlooking Hebden Bridge, had nothing to do with music and everything to do with writing plays. "There was this terrible moment on the first night when Willy said, ‘Go away and write a couple of minutes’ of dialogue between two people. You’ve got an hour.’

"I was petrified. I’d never done anything like that in my life. So I went away and wrote the only thing I could think of - about a couple of kids my age trying to write a song.

"Willy read one of the parts and, within a couple of lines, Danny had started to laugh. If I can trace my interest in comedy to any one moment, that was it."

These days, Firth’s track record as a writer is almost as impressive as his first mentor’s. Last year, you could have wandered out of the London premiere of his film Calendar Girls and have the choice of either watching another, Blackball, about lawn-bowling and starring Johnny Vegas, or Our House, his Olivier award-winning West End musical based on Madness’s greatest hits. On television, All Quiet on the Preston Front, Once Upon a Time in the North, The Flint Street Nativity and Neville’s Island all dot the CV of the man who had once never thought of playwriting.

But talent needs luck to survive and grow, and Firth has had almost indecent quantities of it. At Cambridge, he spent three years mostly writing plays, every single one of them - including his 1984 Fringe debut, Hexen, about witchcraft in Cheshire - directed by his friend, Sam Mendes. Still at university, he was taken under the wing of Alan Ayckbourn, who, over the next decade, directed and commissioned much of his work for his theatre at Scarborough.

His latest project, though, circles right back to when he first met Russell. After his first snippet of playwriting had been so warmly received, Firth started messing about on the piano in the farmhouse lounge. Russell got out his guitar and an impromptu session, fuelled by more red wine than the teenage Firth was used to, lasted until 4am.

Over the years, as their respective careers blossomed - Russell’s with Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine, and his recent, hilarious novel, The Wrong Boy - the two writers kept in touch. Occasionally, they’d even give courses together at Lumb Bank, and whenever they did, they would still play music together, with Firth at the keyboards on that same old, upright, farmhouse piano around which their friendship had first began.

In the last year or so, though, their music-making has had an added sense of purpose. For each, it has led to a debut album - Russell’s Hoovering the Moon and Firth’s Harmless Flirting, which will be out later this year. And it has resulted in their Singing Playwrights show at the Pleasance Grand Theatre, where they will be performing songs with a seven-piece band and reading extracts from their writing.

"It’s difficult to describe," says Russell, "but essentially it’s a mélange of the spoken and the musical. We might begin with one of my songs, but within the first minute of it, while the track’s still running, we’re into a reading from Neville’s Island, then it’s another verse and a reading from Shirley Valentine. And that’s how it carries on, not just song followed by a reading, but mixing them up more.

"When Blood Brothers first came out, people found it hard to pigeonhole, and they’ll have the same problem here. We might be in mid-song and then suddenly we’ll take off into another melody, and then straight into a reflective section. Any audience expectations about what they’re going to get is going to be completely blown away."

The Singing Playwrights show is a condensed version of a production Russell and Firth have already taken on tour throughout England. That in turn had its roots in their collaboration over the last two years which Russell dubs "a musical WeightWatchers".

The Singing Playwrights - Edinburgh 2004

"Every six weeks or so, we’d meet up either in my house or Tim’s with the promise that we’d each have a couple of songs completed," he explains. "That deadline was like a WeightWatchers’ weigh-in - and gradually we found we were amassing quite a few good songs."

The initial idea was to make a record, but they soon agreed that their differing styles would work live but not on CD. I wonder about that. While Russell’s music has a harder edge, both writers’ lyrics have a depth, an eloquence and a sheer verbal dexterity. They tell stories - sometimes simply, like Russell’s hymn to fatherhood ("Any father would be glad to know/You went further than he’d dared to go/He would forgive you that you dared to dream/He’d gladly give you the world’s ice cream"); sometimes unravelling the complex minutiae of betrayal, as in Firth’s Harmless Flirting and Sometime in July.

Whether they swing out to vaudeville or back to quiet reflections on unfulfilled dreams, these are songs where words matter. They are distinctive, rooted, unashamedly thought-provoking rebellions against recyclable pop pap. Why a major label hasn’t signed them up - Russell produced Hoovering the Moon himself - is beyond me. But the playwright himself isn’t bothered. "At least this way we get to keep complete creative control."

Firth adds: "At least these are honest songs. Certainly they’re not trying to be American songs. Only recently I’ve been starting to notice that among the biggest influences in the core structures are the Methodist hymns I remember from going to Chapel with my mother as a kid. But as Willy says, that’s no surprise: most of them were just purloined old English folk songs. To Be a Pilgrim is a case in point. You get all these powerful, moving chords for the left hand to play that almost force out a really strong melody for the right."

After Edinburgh, the singing playwrights’ careers will take different tracks. Russell is to write a film version of his 1980s TV series One Summer for the Pleasance show’s producer, Ian Brady. Firth has turned producer to get a series of TV comedy dramas, which will be unveiled at the television festival, off the ground.

Right now, though, they’re tuning up for a show which may just be the first time any one British playwright - never mind two - has sung in front of a paying audience since Noel Coward entertained London café society.

And if you want to hear a masterclass in writing for performance, whether it’s the spoken or sung word, there’s probably no more enjoyable show around.

DAVID ROBINSON - Scotsman

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Interview

FRODSHAM Tim - singer/songwriterplaywright Tim Firth thought of calling his new show Indescribable. In the event, the show in which he and fellow writer Willy Russell appear has gone on tour under the title In Other Words.
 
Opening for a two-night run at the Liverpool Playhouse tonight, it features Firth and Russell singing their own songs, reading extracts from their own film and stage scripts and telling anecdotes.
 
"It's gone down really well with audiences but it is very hard to describe," Firth admits. "As soon as you get in the theatre the show is very obvious.
 
"But when you are trying to describe it to someone you get this feeling of people thinking, 'Okay, but why would we want to go and watch John Betjeman on a unicycle when we know him for one thing?'"
 
The simple truth, Firth explains, is that both be and Russell had been writing songs before they became playwrights.
 
Firth, one of Britain's most successful writers with television series like All Quiet on the Preston Front, stage comedies like Neville's Island and film scripts like Calendar Girls, first met Russell on a writing course where Russell was lecturing and Firth a student. They became firm friends.
 
A joint interest in songwriting led them to put this show together. They had a trial run last year at a restaurant in Oswestry but the new show is very much a theatrical event.
 
"There are more funny songs," says Firth. It is also more structured.
 
In Oswestry, Russell read an extract from his musical Blood Brothers over a Firth song. "That was the moment which inspired this show which is much more wrought, moving from one song to another, using bits of movies we have written and telling anecdotes."
 
Both Firth and Russell have recorded albums - titled HARMLESS FLIRTINGHarmless Flirting and Hoovering the Moon respectively - although in some ways their styles are very different. Russell composes on guitar, Firth on piano.
 
"But you can hear that they are songs written by playwrights: they have stories and characters and very often the 'I' who is singing the song is not me.
 
"I admire songwriters who take another voice. I love Randy Newman who can write a song from the point of view of a racist and sing it as 'I' which makes it more powerful."
Tim on stage with Willy Russell and the band.
The two writers originally planned to make a song album together. "But side by side we have very different voices. Willy's voice both narratively and in timbre is completely different. But that's what makes the show so interesting: there are two different voices often with songs dealing with the same areas."
 
The show is not the start of a career as a performer but Firth certainly plans to keep up the songwriting. "That's something I want to keep doing but you need an outlet for it otherwise I would spend all my days writing plays and never finishing songs."
 
He provided the book for one recent West End musical Our House using the music by the group Madness. It won an Olivier Award and there are now plans for a tour.
 
But he would like to write his own musical as Russell did with Blood Brothers. "I would love to write the book and lyrics but whether I would be brave enough to write the music as well is another matter. I would probably end up having a hand in it, though!"
 
But Firth is keeping pretty busy. He has just written his first period comedy film script set in 1600 after several months research. As yet untitled, it is now in the hands of the film company Working Title. "I have a deal with them that they get a first look at anything I write but it is early days yet."
 
Of more immediate interest is a series of one hour plays for ITV under the title Trapped, due to be broadcast later this year. "I have written one and so have Simon Nye and Jonathan Harvey. Richard Wilson is in mine and Martin Clunes and Caroline Quentin in the others."
 
At present, however, he is having great fun on the road with Russell and a seven-piece band, three of them from the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts. "This is seen as part of their course assessment so not only are they great but they are getting marked!"


PHILIP KEY - Liverpool Daily Post

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