The Isle of Man has been hailed ‘the perfect place’ for the British Isles’ premiere of For Tonight by its composer Spencer T Williams.
Part of the TheatreFest15 programme and to be presented in concert version at the Gaiety Theatre on Friday October 9, For Tonight is a new musical based on California-based Spencer Williams’ great-great-great-grandfather set in 1840s Wales and Liverpool. Performed with an Isle of Man cast and featuring the Lon Dhoo Male Voice Choir, the new work is being produced by Stage Door Entertainment.
The cast includes Kristene Sutcliffe and Damian Kneale, Carlotta and Raoul in Taylorian Productions’ recent sell-out Phantom of the Opera. Kristene, who is a director of Stage Door Entertainment team along with fellow performers Lisa Kreisky and Alex Toohey, plays the role of Mrs Parry. She said: ‘For Tonight is a massively exciting production to be involved in and, as a new work, is exactly what TheatreFest is all about, promoting new material for the theatre.
‘It’s also a complex piece to bring all the strands together, with Spencer in California and us in the Isle of Man, along with our TheatreFest15 partners, the Isle of Man Arts Council and the National Operatic and Dramatic Association based in Peterborough.
‘It’s essentially a love story with strong themes of family ties, loyalty and community. It also has a great indie-rock/folk score and, while it has its sadder moments, is ultimately uplifting and the end of the show is very forward looking.’
The story centres on brothers Haydon, played by Damian Kneale, and Thomas Parry and their sister Nettie who, when their parents die of a mysterious illness in their small Welsh village, are forced to fend for themselves. Inspired by the gypsies who once shared their home, Haydon heads off to Liverpool, guitar in hand, to find what he's been missing. There he meets Romany girl Mirella, played by Georgia Maddocks, who, explained Spencer ‘speaks to his wandering soul’.
Earlier this year Spencer travelled from California to the Isle of Man and also spent time in Wales and Liverpool visiting some of the locations of For Tonight. In the musical Haydon’s journey takes him from his Welsh hometown of Newmarket, now called Trelawnyd, to Liverpool.
Spencer said: ‘I visited St Michael and All Angels, the church the Parry family built in the 1700s in Trelawnyd, and also nearby Rhuddlan Castle where several scenes are set. It was incredible to visit the sites of For Tonight and see the family connection in a very tangible way.
‘I’m so excited to bring this story to the Isle of Man because of the close connection the Manx people have to Wales and Liverpool. It's a perfect place for the British Isles’ premiere.’
As the middle child, Haydon Parry has a pivotal role. Damian explained: ‘Haydon meets this gypsy girl who, for this young man living in a close village community, is like a breath of fresh air and he breaks away.
‘After Phantom this is so different. With Phantom you know about the story and the music, long before you start rehearsals. With For Tonight, you’re starting from a point of nothing and that’s both exciting and bit daunting…especially when the first time you run through a couple of the sections you have the composer, Spencer, watching and listening to you. And some of the pieces are quite technically demanding, which adds to the challenge. As a showcase version, the For Tonight we’ll be performing is a distillation of the complete work and as such will be quite an intense experience for the cast…and for the audience. And how often, as a performer, do you get work with the composer?’
Kristene said: ‘Prior to coming to the Isle of Man Spencer had only ever heard For Tonight performed with American accents, so it was a revelation when he came to the Isle of Man. He was blown away and has changed some of the pieces to capitalise on the talent he found, so this really will be a bespoke version the Manx audience gets to see.
‘At its heart this is a story about love and family, so although it’s set in the 1800s, For Tonight is very relevant to today. We have a fantastic cast very well suited to their roles and while Damian may only be 22, he brings a real maturity to the part of Haydon.’
For Tonight will feature in the TheatreFest15 October programme along with Invisible Chainss, a new devised theatre piece directed by Merseyside-based Bev Clark.
‘These two productions are like snapshots of the aims of TheatreFest15,’ said Kristene. ‘It’s easier to put on something that’s well known - and there’s always going to be a place in theatre for that – but equally it’s important to take a risk and put on new work. And that’s what’s great about the Isle of Man; performers and audiences are always up for the challenge of the new and the unknown, as are the Arts Council and NODA. This appetite “to give it a go”, for the public to come and support new work, is very refreshing.’
The TheatreFest 15 weekend:
For Tonight and Invisible Chains - Friday October 9.
Jimmy Mac (a new musical by Stuart Brayson) - Saturday October 10.
Doors open 7pm for a 7.30pm start.
To book, visit villagaiety.com or call the ticket hotline 01624 600555.
Photo - For Tonight composer Spencer T Williams pictured inside St Michael and All Angels church, Trelawnyd, Wales.