WANTED urgently, the plea went out. Open-air venues to host Badapple Theatre Company’s new short play. Apply promptly, help Badapple hit their required target in their 21st anniversary year and Arts Council England would back it.
Sure enough, such is the fond support for Green Hammerton’s “Theatre on your Doorstep” exponents that a list of North and East Yorkshire private gardens, campsites and hall car parks was full as quick as a finger click.
ACE has provided a £14,998 grant that will cover not only the doorstep tour of Yorkshire actor and writer Danny Mellor’s Suffer Fools Gladly, but also the “creative filming” of artistic director Kate Bramley’s smash-hit play Eddie And The Gold Tops for a November to February itinerary of film performances at familiar Badapple indoor venues under Covid-secure, socially-distanced guidelines.
This “Hybrid-Live” season opens with Suffer Fools Gladly’s September 15 to 23 run. Such was the ticket demand that doorstep destination number two presented three sold-out performances in one day – in the pantomime tradition of bygone days – under an awning on the terracing of a Stockton-on-the-Forest garden.
In one side, out the other, hand sanitiser stations at the garden entry and exit, socially scattered garden chairs, this was theatre-going for the Covid age, and Arts Council England should be thanked for making it possible.
You may have rather different feelings towards the Government’s flowery response to the plight of an arts world still largely stymied since lockdown, but we are where we are, sitting in a Yorkshire country garden watching two actors, Mellor and Anastasia Benham, working for the first time since lockdown. Indeed for the first time since they performed Badapple’s winter warmer, The Snow Dancer.
Mellor has created Suffer Fools Gladly in that time: a quick-moving, quick-witted hour-long comedy that delights in testing and tracing the merits of always having to tell the truth: a compulsion from which our parliamentarians seem to be socially distanced, alas.
Mellor is playing Ozzy, a Brummie-voiced jester, exiled by Queen Avril from the magical kingdom of Marillion, where he is replaced by the lying Jagger. Ozzy, Marillion, Jagger…are you spotting all the rock references? Plenty more are on their way, punk henchmen Sid and Nancy making their day too.
Through portal travel, Ozzy and his truth-dispensing marotte (the French word for a fool’s bauble) end up on Earth, where he strikes up an unlikely – but very likely in this upbeat, daft play – friendship with Earth girl Stevie (Benham).
She is 17, wont to be sceptical, even cynical, and expected to make the grades to study science at Oxford, with no time for fun, she complains.
Her rock-obsessed Yorkshireman father, the “mad dad” who named her after Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks, has his mind on other things, forever reliving the 1980s. Queen to be precise, irresponsibly and misguidedly resolving to give up his job to be Freddie Mercury in a tribute band, although his singing voice is more lead than mercury. No wonder, her mum left him, says an exasperated Stevie.
Here we have two Queens in one show. The ubiquitous band and the autocratic ruler of Marillion (Benham’s second role), with a penchant for a bustle that “makes her bottom look big”, but Jagger won’t say that, whereas, stick in hand, Ozzy would.
Mellor and Benham have comedy-and-pathos chemistry aplenty from The Snow Dancer, and even with the requirement for two metres of separation at all times, they bond so well again as they move to and fro between multiple roles.
Under Mellor and Bramley’s brisk co-direction, they are a joy to watch, full of fun and invention, whether sending up teenage proclivities, regal divas or rock gods or spoofing Boris Johnson, so glad to be playing to an audience once more too.
From topical Covid references and a Cummings dig to Ozzy’s observation that butterflies are “just moths with make-up on”, Mellor’s script has lip and zip, quirky observation and home truths…and even a Sex Pistols lyric. “No future, no future, no future for you”? Wrong, Mellor definitely has a future as a writer as much as an actor with an ear for so many accents.
Whoever holds the marotte, truth will out in a fearless play where protagonists are caught between rock (music) and a hard place. Stick to the truth is the message here. Truth be bold, truth be told. Politicians, take note.
Suffer Fools Gladly’s September tour itinerary continues at:
19: Colton Farm, near Tadcaster, 2pm, sold out.
20: St. Alban’s Church, Hull, car park, 2pm, sold out.
20: Skipsea, 7pm, tickets available.
21: Private garden, Driffield, 2pm, sold out.
22: Private garden, Gilberdyke, Goole, 5pm, tickets available.
23: Moor Monkton, 5pm, tickets available.
For tickets, go to: badappletheatre.co.uk/show/suffer-fools-gladly/