Image by Koos_Fernhout via Flickr
On Monday, August 11th a workshop performance of Rachel Fuller's ASH was at the Arcola Theatre in north London. It was a brilliant show and can't wait to see it tour! (P.S. since she got a bit bored while composing this masterpiece, she decided to write and record an entire album in one week flat - please see the Week in Kew link at the end of this entry).
Just got back to Nottingham after a fantastic trip. Had an extra ticket so brought an old friend, Hugh along to the show. He doesn't know Rachel's stuff but was well impressed.
I didn't have the foresight to make notes as James Casey did so this is all from memory (which may not be 100% accurate). It was my first Rachel event so I was a bit nervous about meeting the bloggers but was made very welome by James, Delbut, Mark T, Bob E and Suesjoy and the others.
Here's my reading of the tracks I heard (and can't wait to hear again)
"Enemy Lines" - opening number in an operating theatre. Three characters discussing why this woman, the Mother, needs plastic surgery (take it from me, she doesn't) The gist I got was that the surgery was an unnecessary attempt to hold back the years. acoustical problems with drums drowning out the weaker vocals (this also happens in the reprieve of this song entitled "God's Grace" when the mother is injured in hospital.
"Ev'ry Mirror Has Two Faces" - mother returns home from hospital and parades about her new body and face. we are introduced to the daughter, Sarah played by Kate Batter who has an amazingly beautiful voice. This song has a very strong melody - really lush. The two central characters play beautifully off each other with the shallow mother and the "old beyond her years" daughter. The Mother regails us with what becomes her catchphrase "Did you know 50 is the new 30?"
"Ash"/"Nothing Worthwhile" - title track and a duet. First time we are introduced to the characters in the crematorium. Shy Kevin really fancies Sarah and it seems like it may be reciprocal. Well acted and very powerful voices, esp Sarah. Unrequited love.
"Quick Fix" - set in a health spa where the mother competes with two other characters known as City Girl and Model Very nicely choreographed piece on the treadmills. Dance with humour, who'd've thunk it? This is also where the mother meets and starts flirting with Man. She picks him up with talk of living life to the fullest - Carpe diem -
"Ghost in the Machine" - this is where Sarah meets the character of Bill (the IT techie) who's come to fix the crematorium. Again, Kevin plays the love struck shy boy very well. Not sure Bill really adds anything to the story but is a good character.
"The Game" - no one I spoke to was quite sure why this piece was included. in it we are introduced to three young City banker/traders and the show they put on in public to impress women and each other. Characters added as a counterpoint to the maturity of the Mother ("50 is the new 30" and looking very sexy in a tight gown) and her new Man. He's a strange character. Very secretive, shallow type character. You get the feeling he is a spy or wanted criminal the way he warns her about asking questions. This is where the famous tango takes place in a song called "Dance of Death". Beautifully choreographed and sung by Vivian playing the Mother. This leads to the intermission.
"Garden of Angels" - after the initial hiccup described by James C where Sarah missed her cue, this is a touching number sung by Sarah and Charlie (a gardener) about the letting life pass you by. Sarah seems to have rebelled against her wild mother by becoming the boring adult in the family.
"Say The Wrong Thing" - performed by Ken the dottering but lovable neighbour who has a mad crush on the Mother and is always coming out with the wrong comments when he tries to impress her. Some very funny lyrics in this (when trying to console the Mother after her husband had been run over by a jet ski, he comments how "cut up" about it she must be) and a great melody. Ken sees Mother drive off with her new Man and, typically puts his foot in his mouth.
"I'm Free" - What follows is a great, driving song. The Mother (Vivian Parry) really shows off her vocal range. The Mother is a little wild by this point and is driving far too fast. There is a great piece of vocal "call and answer" with the Man and builds the excitement and carries this powerful song to it's conclusion which is a car crash. I'd like to see a bit more of the call and answer aspect developed (perhaps it was there and I missed it due to acoustics) but something along the lines of Meatloaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" where the counter play of the two singers really builds up the tension. I think this song would really benefit from highlighting that aspect of the composition.
"Ash" - Kevin and the rest of the crematorium staff try to console Sarah. At this point I had assumed that the Mother had been killed in the crash. Then there is some reference to nobody knowing who "he" was, so I thought it was the Man. Finally, we are informed that they believe there was a man in the car with the Mother but she has no recollection of him so the victim is a third party. This twist was totally unexpected and it is not till near the end of the scene that the true victim is revealed. What Sarah is so upset about is her feeling of guilt that her mother had killed (run down) a stranger by driving dangerously and her guilty relief that her mother is not dead. This is all compounded by a nagging doubt that, perhaps, she really wished her mother had been killed.
"God's Grace" - again with the Mother on the operating table, this song is a reprieve of the opening number, "Enemy Lines". Again, the drumming on this track drowned out a lot of the vocals but the gist I got was that she may not be perfect any more but she's lucky to be alive.
Jigsaw - great little high energy number with Sarah, Bill and Kevin waiting for the mother to be brought home from hospital. This song felt strangely familiar. It should, it was written by Pete and adapted by Rachel.
Ash Finale - the mother returns home but has amnesia - she doesn't remember anything from the plastic surgery to recovering from the accident (basically, the whole play). The mother seems to have mellowed a little and sends Sarah out to the pub with her friends. It seems that she may be warming to Ken a little. Rachel said she toyed with the idea of changing the mother's personality completely but decided against it - good call!
I agree with James Casey that some of the characters are superfluous (and a bit confusing since each actor usually plays 2 or 3 parts). I'd like to see a bit more of Bill and Kevin's attempts to woo Sarah. Personally, I'd prefer to see Kevin win but that's probably 'cos I'm shy and empathise with him. Plus it was nice to see the shy Ken character (possibly) win over the mother at the end.
I think the audio problems were caused by the venue and very hard to avoid - a very low ceiling, no soft furnishings to absorb the sound - and the sheer volume of the drums. Even the great Bob Pridden seemed to struggle with the mic levels at times. Even with being placed behind a glass baffle, the drums had a tendency to drown out everything. It's very hard to get radio mics to enough volume without feedback to carry the voices on top of pieces with energetic drumming. This was particularly noticed in the operating theatre with the "Enemy Lines"/"God's Grace" scenes. Again, in a larger venue I don't think this would be a problem but it may be that they need to add boom mics to these scenes. I was thinking a mic hanging over the operating table would have been unobtrusive and may have picked up some of the vocals. Now, I had had a couple of pints by then so the top end of my hearing was a bit restricted - I wouldn't place too much faith in what my ears were telling me.
At the end of the evening I got up the courage to introduce myself to Rachel and congratulate her on the show. I even got at autograph on the programme to "Dear Blogger James" and was so chuffed. She said she is going to take a nice long holiday now (I think she deserves it after Kew and this) and then see where ASH leads to next. Some I spoke to expressed reservations it would transfer well to the West End or Broadway - I suppose because the ensemble is small and not a cast of thousands like a Lloyd-Webber production. Personally, I think it would make a wonderful film musical along the lines of Rocky Horror or Little Shop. The numbers are very strong and catchy and I sincerely we get to hear them recorded soon. They deserve to be heard by a wider audience. An album would be very welcome - hint, hint!
Later I noticed Mark and Jill were the only ones talking to Pete. I had planned not to approach him since I thought he would be swamped and might want the spotlight to be on our Rach. I went over with the intention of just introducing myself, shaking his hand, saying thank you and leaving well pleased. I had decided ahead of time that I wouldn't ask for an autograph or photo on my first meeting with a hero - I was quite happy to "know" I had met him without proof and to have said hello at least. But Pete drew me into the conversation they were having and for 10-15 minutes I was chatting with one of my idols about VH1 - playing to a live audience versus an online one, the equipment from Oceanic being in storage, how the adrenaline of being onstage overrides the creaks and pains of aging, and other various topics. One of my favourite bits of the conversation was when he was talking about playing at The Orpheum Theatre in LA at a private party for the makers of Rock Band. He said he noticed photos of past great like Ella Fitzgerrald in the dressing room. And was told that Ella sat in that very chair over there. Pete said he was star struck. Here were the stars who were great when he was young and he was sharing a stage with them in spirit at least. He loved the venue and said the band were brilliant that night. He said he would love to try and stage another gig there. I mentioned to him that the few reviews I had seen were glowing but he hadn't seen any of them (so they are linked to below if anyone can forward this to him, please. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/music/la-et-rockband18-2008jul18,0,4059959.story?track=rss
I am still on cloud nine having met Rach and Pete. And our girl continues to impress me with her talents no end. I would love to see some incarnation of ASH on stage again. I think it could have a bright future. At the very least, the music deserves to be recorded - perhaps a radio play). The talent were brilliant in their roles. It's so hard to believe they only saw the scripts a few days ago. The band were ultra talented. In short, this has all the ingredients. Just needs a bit of seasoning and Rachel will have created a fantastic little dish. Now I am off to sleep still with this huge, silly grin on my face. Thanks Rachel, it was a hell of a night.