SOMETHING INNOCENT THIS WAY COMES

Published: 5th February 2017

In 1998 I was working as a second spotlight operative at The Assembly Rooms during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival production of The Machine Gunners. Actually I was a press-ganged volunteer techie. As co-writer of the show (a musical) with Tom Kelly and John Miles directed by Ray Spencer and produced by South Tyneside College – I helped out where I could, including trying to keep 30 young actors well fed, safe and out of trouble. For the whole of August!

I was ‘promoted’ from front of house programme sales to perching on a gantry attached to the edge of the upper circle with an unwieldy spotlight because my friend and co-writer Tom Kelly discovered he had a form of vertigo after the first show!

Anyway I enjoyed the job working alongside student Gudrun Meling who was first follow spot.  Part of her job was to track the entrance of Rudi the German Airman, whose plane had crashed on Tyneside: he seeks refuge with a group of local youngsters who steal a machine gun from the plane and hide it in their ‘den’ overlooking the river.

The novel of the same name by Robert Westall is a prize winning classic rites of passage story: Tom and I were very lucky to be given permission to adapt it for the stage. It is a fantastic story with a lot of humour and well recommended as a ‘good read’.

So, at every performance I watched Rudi’s dramatic entrance.  Dale Meeks playing Rudi experimented with the entry method – gradually becoming more athletic and spectacular (scene stealing? Surely not…).  Dale is a big lad: unlike most actors, and looks like he would have made a useful tight head prop if he had taken up rugby rather than the stage.  At that point I began to think that my experiences in Rugby Union as a player and Club Chairman might provide useful material….

I loved every minute of being involved at The Fringe and was determined to return with another production but The Machine Gunners was subsidised by South Tyneside College and a play of my own would be difficult to fund.  I realised that I would have to come up with a project that was profit sharing by, say, no more than 3 actors, where we (my wife and I) would provide accommodation and food and the actors would share the box office.  Something to do with rugby?  Hopefully with Dale who is a terrific actor and perhaps with other young talent from the M.G,’s (as they were calling themselves) like Iain Cunningham and Wayne Miller who had both played a bit of rugby at school. Hmmmm. But what to write about?

During the last week of the run I read of a survey carried out by an American professor in the wake of the death of Florence Joyner Griffiths the Olympic and World Champion athlete, at 35 years of age.  The cause of death was the amount of drugs she had taken to achieve her success. In answer to the question: ‘If we could give you an undetectable performance enhancing drug that would get you into the U.S. Olympic squad but would kill you 10 years later – would you take it?’ 80% of the College student athletes said ‘Yes’.  It made me think of the pact Faust or Dr Faustus made with the devil in classic literature – Faust will be given worldly success and riches but must surrender his soul to Lucifer at the height of his fame.

I came up with the idea of a play about a young, naturally talented, rugby player who is influenced by a manipulative club ‘physio’ Lou Schiffer, who may or may not be the real devil incarnate, determined to groom John Foster the player and exert total control over him.  The third character would be an older player representing the true values of sport and comradeship who gradually recognises the unhealthy interest the ‘physio’ has in the young man-child Foster.

So, ‘Dangle In The Dust’, the play, was conceived!  The title comes from an old rugby ditty ‘The Lobster Song’ where the chorus warns: ‘Never let your bo***cks dangle in the dust’.  Or be aware and protect yourself from danger.

To cut a long story short (sorry for the cliché!) I formed Lobster Productions which performed the play at The Customs House South Shields in 2000 with Darren Palmer instead of Dale Meeks (he was too busy being a West End star) as Lou Schiffer with Iain and Wayne in the other two roles.  We went to Edinburgh in 2001 and then back to Customs House then two Arts Council England funded tours of 34 rugby clubs.  The latest performance was at Westoe Rugby Club in 2015 with Wayne still typecast as the obnoxious and profane but kind hearted older player! He was joined by Jamie Brown as Schiffer and Luke Maddison as Foster – you can see the first 10 minutes on You Tube by the link from this website or at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-AtEM7siQY&t=3s

As Canny Craic Theatre Co Ltd our aim now is to use the vehicle of the play, with tailor made updates and customisations, to raise awareness of safeguarding issues, grooming and child protection in sports and performing arts clubs and societies.

Lou Schiffer says of his next victim at the end of the play, “Look! Something innocent this way comes”. Let’s protect the innocent and naive from the evil Schiffers of this world.

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