Despite a devastating fire destroying everything, the show must go on for one theatre company launching its tour in Portsmouth

Getting a show from script to stage is always a big task.

Thursday, 24th January 2019, 12:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 6:51 pm
London Classic Theatre present My Mother Said I Never Should. Picture by Sheila Burnett

But when you watch your hard work literally go up in flames a month before it’s due to open, it’s a tough blow to come back from.

This is what the London Classic Theatre company has been facing after a fire on New Year’s Eve destroyed a self-storage firm’s entire warehouse, along with all 1,200 clients’ belongings.

However, thanks to swift action from their associates, the troupe is looking forward to launching their UK tour of My Mother never Said I Should, as planned here in Portsmouth, early next month.

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The Guide found director Michael Cabot in surprisingly good humour about it all: ‘It’s a drama within a drama! 

‘We found out about it on New Year’s Day when we had an email from Shurgard, the company that manages the storage facility.

‘All our production assets, our costumes, our sets, our props – everything from the previous shows – was in secure storage and the whole facility, it was a huge building the size of half a football pitch, and it was wiped out by this catastrophic fire. It was horrible.

‘My wife Kathryn, who I run the company with, and I were just in absolute shock. You can’t quite get your head around the fact that everything’s gone.

‘Everything takes such a long time to put together. We start thinking about a show probably about 18 months in advance of it actually happening – preparing artwork, finalising things with the playwright, putting the proposal together, talking to venues. We’ve already lived with it for quite along time before we engage a designer and a prop-maker and costume supervisor, the whole thing comes together gradually.’

And he thanked everyone for their help.

‘When everybody found out about it, they had the same reaction, they were stunned, but they all pitched straight back on board to help in whatever way they can to resurrect the show.

‘There are technical drawings for the set and drawings for the costumes – references for everything, but it has been a case of starting from scratch again. We worked it out that there were over 200 pieces of this jigsaw that needed to be found, and they’re all very specific, be they a scarf, or a handbag, a metal piece of fencing or a child’s pram from the 1940s.

‘The first time around everyone was contracted to do this as a job in a specific lead up time for a specific date, this time around people are obviously been doing other things, but they’ve all been amazing – working late and overnight in some cases to get it all done.’

And he’s also full of praise for his insurance company.

‘We’ve been really lucky. We have a very specific insurance policy and it’s designed for theatre production companies, but we’d obviously never tested it before because we’d never claimed before!

‘One assumption is that they’re going to ask lots of questions, and possibly not be too quick to react, but my insurance company Aviva, has been superb. They sent a loss adjuster around within 48 hours, he sat down with us and went through everything. We didn’t just lose the things for the show - we lost lots of other equipment too.

‘He was very understanding, he got what we wanted to do, and he got the time factor. The most important thing to get sorted was the set. The last time around I think our first meeting with the set builder was four months in advance of the actual delivery, and this time it was four weeks.

‘The insurance company have been great, they gave the thumbs up to the set that first afternoon, and they’ve been incredibly helpful.

‘I feel very fortunate now. For two or three days we wondered how we were going to get it together again. But now a bit further down the line we’re in a much better place and things are happening on a daily basis – the set build is well underway, props are coming in on a daily basis…’

Aside from the drama off-stage, the show is a revival of Charlotte Keatley's award-winning 1985 play. Set in Manchester, Oldham and London, it is a poignant, bittersweet story about love, jealousy and the price of freedom.

It details the lives of four women through the immense social changes of the twentieth century. Using a kaleidoscopic time structure, the story focuses on four generations of one family as they confront the most significant moments of their lives.

In 1940, Doris, a former teacher, encourages her nine-year-old daughter, Margaret, to mind her manners and practise the piano. In 1969, Margaret’s relationship with her own daughter is strained, as art student Jackie experiments with her new found sexual freedom. When Jackie becomes pregnant at 18 and has baby Rosie, a decision is made that will affect all their lives irrevocably.

The play opens in the Wasteground.

‘At the starting point of the play, they meet and play together as children  – not always playing nicely, they’re basically children on their own, unsupervised by adults, it’s not quite Lord Of The Flies. but they can be mean and nasty and speak their minds. But it’s an odd thing because they’re still in the period costume of when they were children. So Doris, for example, is five in the child scenes, in 1905, Margaret is born in 1930, so this all happens in 1940 for her when she’s nine. It’s kind of this odd mixture. It’s very much physically represented in their costumes, and them seeming to know each other well and having this well-established dynamic between them, so we meet them in this weird world before the play begins proper, as their adult selves.

‘It’s a kind of magical realism, then we go into quite hardcore realism and we encounter them at some very gritty moments in their adult lives.’

It’s not the first time LCT has tackled the piece – they last put it on in 2000.

‘It was a play I’d stumbled across and liked. It’s a play for four women which is unusual and it’s a family drama – I’ve always liked family dramas, I think there’s something very interesting about families.

‘My mum talked to me from an early age about her quite difficult childhood and that’s made it interesting for me as a subject area and a reference point.

‘This play really delivers that in no small  measure. It’s family drama at its best.’

But with all of the drama surrounding this tour, Michael adds: ‘It’s a challenge we’ve done 30-odd times before – every show is built from scratch, and every cast comes in on the first day not necessarily knowing each other, relationships are forged and so on. It’s what we do.

‘But it’s extraordinary that everything’s gone and in two weeks time it all needs to be back on stage in the right place, and the show must go on.’

MY MOTHER SAID I NEVER SHOULD 

New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth

February 6-7