Okay – this is not earth-shattering news and it’s certainly not new news, but it is essential news … the components that have to come together to make a successful show are extensive and unformulated. For a show to have a successful lift off these constituents need to function at 100%. Once the show’s established then you can get away with total shit. Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers (not to be confused with Bloodbath The Musical) is a terrific piece of work, but when it started, I can’t imagine anyone saying this will still be around in over 35 years’ time. It closed in the West End in 2012, but has been touring ever since. It started as a school play, went to the Liverpool Everyman and then onto the West End. The stars were in line. Barbara Dickson, who is my daughter-in-law’s cousin, and who I originally saw doing the music in another Willy Russell piece John, Paul, George, Ringo … Bert, moved from being an original singer songwriter to actress. It could have backfired it didn’t. It was a genius move. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen the show, it’s definitely in the double figures and I’ve seen good shows and terrible shows. Shows where the cast, crew and musicians were fusing together, and other shows where they might as well not have turned up, because it felt they hadn’t. The components simply didn’t come together, but by that time the show had been running a good number of years and could survive a poor production.
One of the elements in this whole shebang is the Company Manager, who during a production works closely with all levels of cast and production staff. They also act as a link between the production and the production company. Before launching into the postscript about Bloodbath The Musical’s on-going saga, I just want to mention a terrific company manager – Antony Bishop. When I first met Antony, which was not that long ago, I knew immediately he was quality from the way he dressed to his cool, calm approach to any problem. This last Christmas we went to see the pantomime in Woking, where he was working and after having been looked after, like only Antony looked after his guests which always included wine, we left to go home. The next day we were told he’d had a vicious stroke and a few days later he died. Antony will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him, and greatly missed by a business that he loved and worked in all his life. If Antony was working on your show, you knew for certain that side of things would be running at 100%.
Back in Edinburgh ten years ago and Bloodbath The Musical opened. The first night audience was healthy, of course a great number of them were friends of both cast and crew, but we also had some press and quite a few paying customers. The cast performed brilliantly from the start, but that night I learned the value of doing previews. Technically we needed more time, it was no one’s fault, other than mine for diving in headfirst without thinking. We needed time to get the sound right, time to get the lights right, we needed to do previews so we could have allowed things to settle in and sort out the glitches.
So we got off to a shaky start and mixed reviews – rightly so. Then as the days went by, the technical side of course got better and better and the cast grew in confidence and at the same time we were winning over the press that hadn’t been at opening night.
“I usually hate the Edinburgh Festival … so it was a pleasant surprise to finally see something that was both innovative and funny and also rocked – Bloodbath The Musical!”
Donald MacLeod The Sun.
We were not only winning over the press, but also the audiences as we had a number of them returning to see the show multiple times and also a number came back dressed as cheerleaders or cops. It’s what we hoped would happen.
But none of this altered the fact the theatre was in the wrong position. Looking up and down the street there were times it made the Mary Celeste look crowded. Also what I hadn’t realised was how much shows in Edinburgh depended on self-promotion. I knew how important promotion was, everything needs promoting, but I thought we had that covered by hiring Target Live for what was an exorbitant sum. If they got one person to buy a ticket, I’ll be surprised. They failed totally to uphold their end of the bargain. What we needed to do was to get out there and physically drag people into the show, which to an extent we did, but how do you persuade people to come and see a show, if there’s no one there to persuade.
Three things though about Edinburgh, firstly – it was tough, secondly – I really enjoyed it and thirdly – I would never, never, never do it again.
Nevertheless, there were various approaches from a number of companies to take the show onto the next stage, some real but not viable, others viable but not real, then others were possibilities, but then the incredible happened. We were introduced to the CEO of a logistics company, I would name him, but when I checked on Wikipedia, there were a number of prominent individuals with the same name and very similar credentials and ‘honours’ and I would hate the wrong person to be attributed with this incomprehensible, unintelligible business approach. The deal that we were presented with was originally to launch Bloodbath The Musical on a national tour, but then the deal became about more … lots more. The would-be theatre producer wanted to do a deal that incorporated everything we produced as a company. At last the deal of deals had happened. We had a sugar daddy investor.
We were wined and dined at very expensive restaurants as we engaged in contractual discussions. We’d had meetings at his company’s premises, which were no small affair, heads of agreements were signed, and everything looked pukka. Then the wait began, during which time there were a number of meetings with the logistics company’s Financial Director to iron out some minor points. The weeks went by, then the months and there was still no mention of an end game. Perhaps someone with more business savvy than me would have been more Rottweilerish and interrogated the situation sooner and more thoroughly. Another lesson learnt – I’m no fucking businessman. In fact it became more than obvious that for me running a whelk stall would be a challenge. The long and the short of it was that when the FD was challenged, he had to admit that the money wasn’t available, and he had no idea if it ever would be. We’d been strung along for some reason, that still to this day I’ve never figured out why or what anybody hoped to achieve.
For us the worse thing was the train had left the station, the ship had sailed, we’d missed the boat … and any other cliché you can think of. Basically, we hadn’t cashed-in on the Edinburgh run, so once again Bloodbath The Musical went back on the back burner.
I probably didn’t look at the script for three or four years. I hadn’t given up on it, I just couldn’t see how to progress with it.
2015 came along and we were invited to see the musical version of the Stephen King’s classic horror Carrie at Southwark Playhouse. We’d already seen the original back in 1988 which was produced by the RSC at Stratford. For various reasons it was a disaster. For me the script was weak and the songs were a bit dull. The Southwark Playhouse production I thought was better, but it still it didn’t rock my world. Perhaps the problem is the film was so memorable and brilliantly executed, that a musical version was never going to have the same impact. It was driving home from Southwark that I put on the CD of Bloodbath that was recorded off the sound desk in Edinburgh. Not the best recording, but in mind there was no doubt that it had better numbers than Carrie and also an original plot.
The following day I brought the script up on my screen and started to look at it. What I realised was that the complete script had never been performed. The reading was approximately 60 minutes and the Edinburgh production was 75 minutes. Also I’d learnt so much from Edinburgh about what worked and what didn’t work. My editor in chief, Jan – my wife, pointed out to me that I’m not really a gag writer and there were definitely gags in the Edinburgh production. Okay some worked, but a lot didn’t and anyone it isn’t what I do. I don’t do gags. I do scripts where the humour comes out of the characters and the story. Having gone through the script I also realised I wanted to clarify the story, take out anything that jarred.
Then out of the blue we were offered the Hackney Empire to do another reading. I naturally enough thought – why not? For a brief time, because I was told one of the things that theatre managements had trouble with was the title, Bloodbath became Night of the Prom, and with the new title came a hasty re-write. The readings in Hackney were ill considered. Again – it was my fault. It was all too rushed and the re-write wasn’t that different from the version we did at Edinburgh, just longer.
Around the same time we were in discussions with Bradford Alhambra Theatre, with the idea they would become involved in launching the show in the North, which would have been brilliant, but circumstances at the theatre changed and once again the venture came to a sudden stop.
But I did go ahead with the re-write. And now five years later I have a script I’m proud of and is good enough shape that we can once again start looking for investors. It has five new songs, no cringy gags and hopefully a set of characters and a plot that will engage any audience. The only way I’ll know whether that’s the case or not is by putting it in front of an audience and seeing whether they like it or not.
Hence Bloodbath Reborn … twenty years on from when it first appeared in a TV show – here we go again!
P.S. The image attached to this Blog was the poster I wanted to use, but was advised not to. I wish I had. In fact what this 20 years has taught me is I should stick with my instincts.