King of Hearts – Interview with Jimmy Mac, a Simon Gordon creation

After acting in a successful Friday night performance of Invisible Chains as part of the first ever TheatreFest 15, a five-year project to promote original theatre in the Isle of Man, my inner thespian was re-awakened and I decided that I wouldn’t wait another two years to act again.

TheatreFest was incredible, not only for the originality of the three shows: Invisible Chains, a devised project revealing all aspects of slavery; For Tonight, a musical showcase about a Welsh boy and his Romani lover, and finally Jimmy Mac, a comedy musical written by Stuart Brayson about a nympho playboy whose fate is decided by the four women he’s wooed – or should I say, Mac-d.

Me and the Invisible Chains crew went to see it, and it was brill. Considering the cast only had six days to rehearse, made up of two Manxies, Michelle Jamieson (one woman show, as she was in all three!) and Kristine Sutcliffe, who was also stage manager, and two Scots – Erin Caldwell of Glasgow and Simon Gordon, aka Dundee’s Messiah (he auditioned for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar on ITV’s Superstar.)

Seeing as I’m trying to utilise my journalism degree and maybe, I hope, someone will read it and I’ll no longer have to pay myself with Tunnock’s Tea Cakes, I thought I’d ask Simon if he’d be willing to be interviewed. Being Scottish, a good trait to have, he said yes.

I managed to snag a conference room in the hotel, no bribery involved just a “is there somewhere quiet for an interview?” and it was sorted. Simon had some cheese sandwiches, which he said were “sublime” (Manx cheese is the best, of course). Friendly, very chilled with a soft Dundee accent, 25 year old Simon was cool as a cucumber and it was as if the kids party next door behind his head wasn’t audible, he was happy enough to chat to me on his first night off in a week.

H: How do you think tonight’s show went?

Simon: (mid-munch) It went really, really well. There’s a lot, if we did it again, that I would have done better, but that’s only natural with only having six days, to learn it and rehearse it. And I think what we actually achieved was pretty brilliant. It gave Stuart a chance to see his material on its feet and performed. So, yeah, I think it went really well.

H: How have you found your time here on the Island?

S: Amazing. After about three days, we all said that we would want to live here.

H: Why?!

S: Cause it doesn’t … feel like the UK. It feels like it could be, Paris, or – well, not Paris, France, or like, Spain.

H: But, it’s really cold!

S: Yeah, it is cold, but the first couple of days here, the weather was amazing. And that front out there, that monument that you’ve got, we were getting a bit of history from Michael. It’s beautiful, amazing.

H: Aw, thanks. So not everyone has just six days to rehearse an entire musical. What would you say this experience in Jimmy Mac has prepared you for in the future?

S: (pause) Wow. Well, funnily enough, today, I’ve been thinking how well Nigel has directed it. If I was the director, I just wouldn’t have known where to start. I would have had to have started somewhere, but I just would have no idea where that would be. From that point of view, it’s prepared me in that I’ve learnt a lot from working with Nigel. It’s definitely prepared me for getting thrown things at the last minute. The amount of material I had to learn was pretty incredible, it was a lot to learn, and I still don’t know if the rhyming couplet thing helped me learning it or hindered me learning it.

H: I think it sounded great!

S: Oh?

H: Honestly!

S: – Well, I loved doing it, but I don’t know if the fact that it rhymed helped it go into my memory, or if it would have been easier if it didn’t rhyme. Who knows? But it went in there somehow. Most of it, anyway!

H: What’s next for you? Is this show going to tour?

S: Stuart is very keen on it touring. I know that Tony is, too, the producer. I think what Stuart really wants to do is get it recorded. He said that Tim Rice wanted to hear the cast recording … see the book. So he’s really keen to work with Stuart again. It’d be great if it was this one. I think a tour would be awesome. I also think that it would go down really well at the Edinburgh Fringe. We’d only need six days to rehearse it, it’d be great! A really nice thought, actually.

H: What’s been your favourite part of the process?

S: My favourite part of the process was definitely just playing the role of Jimmy Mac. It’s kind of every little boy’s dream to play someone like him. Nigel just goes with whatever you do. You know, I would just throw stuff in and improvise, and there’s a lot of directors who would be really annoyed and some would say “Why are you doing that?” But Nigel feeds off of it, we bounced off each other. Nigel’s just amazing, if he can work it in then he’ll let you do it. The cast were just bouncing off of each other as well, we worked so well together.

H: You had a guitar at one point in the show, and you said that you would have actually played it if you’d had more time to rehearse. Are you a musician as well?

S: Yeah, I’m a guitarist, living in London, and I play gigs. Everyone has a guitar, don’t they? It’s kind of like an impromptu thing. If I’m at a pub, or an acoustic night and someone asks me to play a song, then I’ll usually get up and play.

H: So do you write your own stuff?

S: Yeah. No one’s ever heard it. (laughs) But, yeah, I write loads of stuff, funnily enough- I’m going to record an album with Tony. Stuart has bags and bags of material, and after the King Pit show in Newcastle, another of Stuart’s shows, we decided to record an album. We’re going through Stuart’s material and trying to decide what would suit my voice best, and try to bring something to it. Hopefully that’ll happen soon and I’ll definitely get a bit of guitar on that.

H: What kind of style do you go for, mainly acoustic or anything edgy?

S: It depends what I’m doing, cause in the show today, we were singing through some material during rehearsal in this room, and Stuart came over to me and said “Do that Michael Buble thing you can do with your voice!” So I did it and he said “Oh, that totally works for that song!” Other numbers were a bit more pop-y, and I loved it cause it’s so varied. I got to rock out as well, ‘This Time’ is such a great song.

H: I thought the song when you were wearing the star suit was really good, as it was a very quiet, unexpectedly stripped-back song and Jimmy’s always acting like the macho, playboy. So, that was great to see an unexpected side to him.

S: Aw, thanks.

H: Speaking of stars, you were in ‘Superstar’ …

S: Yep.

H: So since that time, as you’re only 25, how does it feel to be doing what you love at your age?

S: It’s incredible. I feel very lucky, I just have to hope it continues. I’ve worked for three years and I’ve worked with some amazingly talented friends who are unemployed now. It’s this industry, it’s not all about talent. If you have talent, then that’s gonna help you to get work, but there’s just so many things it comes down to. Talent is just a box on a massive list of boxes that you have to fill. And, actually, talent isn’t even a box you have to fill sometimes. Sometimes, it’s being on X Factor, having a good story. You might not have even had to have acted before in your life. I just feel so lucky to be able to be in a show like this, that’s brand new. That’s probably my favourite thing about the experience, having the chance to create something completely new – you can’t do that with a musical that’s already been performed. When I was Danny in Grease, I was taught the Walk, and everyone knows Danny. I loved playing him, but it’s a blessing to be able to interpret a character in your own way and no one can take it away from you. You are the original cast.

H: What’s it been like performing with all four girls?

S: Aw, if it went to tour, it’d be great cause I loved performing with every single one of them. I was really surprised. Krissy was doing everything, even stage management stuff. I don’t know how she did that. And Michelle, she is one to watch. She’s so professional.

H: So Jimmy Mac’s had a good experience in the Isle of Man?

S: Aw, yeah, definitely! I not only hope that I can do Jimmy Mac again, I hope that we can come back to the Isle of Man. I really want to. And the Gaiety is just one of the most beautiful theatres. You’re all very lucky to have that here.

H: Were any of your family or friends here tonight?

S: No, but it’s my gran’s 90th birthday and she said “For my birthday, I want tickets to come to the Isle of Man.” And I was like “No, gran, it’s your day, back home!” She’s having a big party tomorrow with about 60 guests!

H: Aw, we would have shown her a good time here!

S: Well, her party’s at 1 o’clock in the afternoon…having a little high tea I imagine. So, I’ll fly back tomorrow and go and see her and get my piece of cake cause, obviously, that’s really why I’m flying back.

H: The most important part! Anything you’d like to add Jimmy Mac?

S: I just couldn’t have asked for a better team and the audience were amazing. That’s so important as well especially with comedy. You have to test it out and they say that in comedy, the key is knowing your audience. I said to the cast, if we don’t get any laughs, it’s not the end of the world. We will get some, cause it’s a comedy, it’s just like a comedian testing his material. You just have to find out what works and what doesn’t.

H: It worked!

S: Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised. I had a lot of faith in Stuart’s material but he’s a very ballsy writer.

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Bathroom Theatrics – A Review of Siobhan O’Loughlin’s ‘Broken Bone Bathtub’

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I was invited to watch a performance of a play which was performed entirely in someone’s actual bathroom. Keen to re-live my days as a drama student, as bizarre as it was to consider actors making themselves throw-up as theatre, I was intrigued.

It was only about a fifteen minute walk away too, so I set off to find the address, which turned out to be a lovely house, and wasn’t sure whether to enter through the front door, or through the back garden, which was lit invitingly and indicated that was the right way to go.

After ringing the front door only to be told, through mime, to go round the back way, I joined the audience in the homely kitchen, snacks galore (YAY).

We were informed that Siobhan was “ready” for us after a half hour wait, so we entered the bathroom not knowing what to expect – will there be room for us all? Towels? And, the most obvious question, will we have to avert our eyes?

Turns out Siobhan had plenty of bubbles in the bath, so nothing was seen that would cause awkwardness, and the cast which had her broken hand was propped up on the side of the tub, with herself hunched over as if in thought – distress?

The play itself is about Siobhan’s real-life experience falling off a bike after a collision with another cyclist in New York City, where Siobhan used to live but is, for the time being, touring across the globe with this play, in different bathrooms.

She interacted with us, asking us questions which sprang up randomly, like a conversation: “When was the last time you held someone’s hand?” was aimed at me at one point, which, unfortunately, was not Justin Bieber, but was my grandmother.

I found I was quite willing, after the first section of the play unfolded, to tell Siobhan and entire strangers (bar my friend) about how at my graduation in July, my granny said she was very proud of me, and recognised that she had tears in her eyes when I said that I’m grateful she was there.

Without saying anything we both knew that we wished my granddad could have been there, and I automatically held her hand to show I knew what she wanted to say. After the reflection, Siobhan highlighted how holding a hand is a very intimate thing to do between humans – we express emotion through hands to show others help, sympathy, anger, and many other expressions.

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Siobhan would carry on her conversation with us about how she broke her hand, which had healed but she wore a cast to represent that she really missed her hand at that moment in time. The reason she was performing in a bath was because she had to ask people to help her out and wash her hair etc.

Towards the end of the piece, you could really sense that there was a change in the room – apart from the fact that the bath water was probably getting colder – as everyone had shared experiences and a bathroom, in my eyes, was somewhere to reflect and private to the individual.

The most poignant part of the play for me was when I was asked: “When was the last time you felt really alone?” I mentioned numerous times, most recently losing friends, relationships ending, family loss, but always reassured myself that the ones who were still sticking around and spending time with me, or family that were still living, I should appreciate them and they always brought me back round.

I would recommend going to watch Siobhan’s play simply because it evokes what most of us are afraid of revealing to others, what we are insecure about, wanting to ask for help when we really need it, or simply being able to admit that crap happens and that life is unfair – Siobhan has written about a time when she felt incapable of doing what she wanted to do in daily life, but as she eventually healed she not only wrote a cracking play, but made discoveries about herself as well.

To find out how to watch ‘Broken Bone Bathtub’, visit http://siobhanoloughlin.com/

Siobhan