NEWSLETTER - March 2004
This is the first in what I hope will be a series of occasional Newsletters from Willy Russell. This first one, which coincides with his and Tim Firth’s new tour IN OTHER WORDS, looks at some of the questions raised by visitors to the site through their Guestbook entries.
PC: The web-site has proved a big hit with fans of your work. Are you pleased with the feedback?
WR: Yes, I'm very pleased, especially if the site is proving to be informative and helpful. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when this official/unofficial site was proposed - but from the response it would seem that the site is actually providing some kind of a service and, apart from anything else, I've found it very useful when, for example, people have asked me specific questions and I have then been able to direct them to the site where the information they receive will be much more accurate than anything coming from me! (By which I mean that if, say, I'm asked when we're playing Birmingham with the 'In Other Words' tour, the site has immediate, up to date and accurate information - unlike me!).
PC: The visitors to the site obviously feel a real closeness with particular plays, dramas and musicals. Can we talk about some the questions they raise in the guestbook?
WR: By all means.
PC: It seems odd that OUR DAY OUT is not currently available on video/dvd, especially as the play is performed in almost every UK school each year. Are there plans to re-release it?
WR: Although I would love to see 'Our Day Out' on DVD/Video, I know of no plans to make it available and it's a question that really should be addressed to the BBC, who were responsible for making the original television film. I think that this is something I will have my agents look into but I'm guessing that a major stumbling block to releasing this title might be the fact that it was made under the old BBC Plays contract. Without going into too much mind-numbing contractual detail, in the 70s, when the film was made, the then contract meant that the BBC acquired only a limited number of showings for a limited time period - usually two transmissions within a two year period, after which there was no further agreement in existence (in those days nobody foresaw the possibility of such titles having a life beyond the immediate televisual world of that time). The result of this now is that, the BBC would have to re-negotiate with each and every one of those who contributed to the original film and, although I don't speak for the BBC, I suspect that it might be this daunting (and, presumably, costly) adminstrative exercise that stands in the way of a release. I will though check this out and let you know if anything further develops.
PC: Is it a similar situation with DANCIN’ THRU THE DARK? There seems a thriving market on ebay for this video. Are there plans to re-release this on video/dvd?
WR: I was recently in touch with Nick Powell, who was in charge of Palace Pictures, who co-produced and distributed this film but who, unfortunately, later went into receivership. It's possible that along with a number of other titles, "Dancin' Thru The Dark' has been languishing in some receivership black hole. Nick has kindly offered to investigate the situation and I'll let you know of any developments.
PC: There is a great site dedicated to ONE SUMMER. The tv series seems to left an indelible mark on those that watched it in the 80s, and those that have emailed the web-site are a little non-plussed by the glitch with its proposed release last year. I know you have long-term plans for ONE SUMMER – How are things progressing?
WR: I don't really want to go into any kind of detail at this stage. I do think the 'One Summer' site is excellent (even when it's slagging me off!) And I'm glad that the series was so meaningful for so many.
PC: You read extracts from WRONG BOY last year during live gigs and with the ONE NIGHT ONLY performance with Alan Bleasdale. This is such a funny book. How are the plans to adapt this to a television series developing?
WR: Just like God, television works in mysterious ways. But, unfortunately, it also seems to work a lot slower than God and, whilst I'd like to be able to tell you that shooting is about to begin, I don't realistically expect that this will be before early next year.
I can't say that this is something that concerns me too much. I'd certainly like to see The Wrong Boy translated to the small screen but it's not something that I need to see. What I absolutely needed to do was to write the book and so, regardless of whatever happens screen wise, my primary aim and ambition with this has been fulfilled. One of the things I most enjoy is bringing Raymond to an audience through giving readings from the book - something I'm about to do in May and June as part of the 'In Other Words' tour that I'm doing with Tim (Firth)
PC: Can we turn to BLOOD BROTHERS. This has such a following, even amongst those who don't like musicals! Starting its 15th consecutive year on the West End - The 4th Japanese production last year - and a Korean production later this year - and voted 31st in a television poll which featured mostly American film musicals. What do you think is the secret of its success?
WR: I can't really answer this type of question as I think this is one for critics and commentators. I am, of course, pleased and gratified that 'Blood Brothers' seems to connect with audiences in this way but as to why this is, must, for me, remain a mystery. And that, of course, is one of the things that makes theatre such an exciting experience - one just never knows what kind of life a play or musical will go on to have. Back in 1981, when the very first version of 'Blood Brothers' opened on a Thursday afternoon, in the school hall of Fazakerly Comprehensive, I certainly didn't think, for one second, that here I'd be, more than two decades later, responding to questions about it.
When writing a new work, the only thing one is concerned with is getting it right at the time - and that's how it should be. And it's probably because of this that I'm wary of speculating on what it is about a work that gives it its appeal.
PC: The web-site receives lots of questions about a BLOOD BROTHERS video/dvd release. Am I right to assume that whilst a UK production continues to draw the crowds it is unlikely a video/dvd would be released?
WR: I haven't yet been convinced of the wisdom of putting stage shows onto video/dvd. I am not casting aspersions on any of those shows that have chosen to do this but it remains for me an unsatisfactory hybrid, having neither the expansiveness of film nor the crucible-like intensity of live theatre.
If I was ready to think about 'Blood Brothers' on the screen, then I would want to go the whole way and realise it as a film. This though, would mean re-thinking the entire story as a film, using film and all its particular techniques in the way that, currently, the stage version unashamedly revels in its theatricality.
Although there have been many approaches from film companies over the years, I have, so far, resisted their overtures, although this does not mean to say that I have ruled out forever the possibility of a screen version of 'BB'. And although it may be a long wait, this is the only way it will make it to DVD. I just hope that people will carry on wanting to see the show in the medium for which it was first written and for which, I believe, it is most suited - theatre, where none of what is achieved can be achieved without the presence of an audience and the imagination that that audience brings to each performance.
PC: What about plans for a new CD recording with the current cast?
WR: I think that's a lovely idea but it's something that would have to be initiated by the producer.
PC: HOOVERING THE MOON has been extremely well received with radio stations playing several of the tracks and people like Mike Harding calling you "One of the Country's great songwriters". What are the plans for its major release later this year.
WR: I have been very encouraged by the initial reaction to the album which, as you know, has been available in a very limited capacity, at gigs and shows and via this site. I wasn't trying to keep it a secret but felt that it was probably best to hold back a wide release until such time as I could get out there to perform and promote the record. This I am now doing and so, to coincide with the 'In Other Words' tour, 'Hoovering The Moon' will be available in the shops from early May (the official release date is 17th May.) We're also releasing 'China' as a single. As well as touring, I'll also be doing what I can to promote the record via press, radio, tv etc.
PC: You obviously enjoyed the live gigs last year. This new tour sounds exciting. What is IN OTHER WORDS? Music, words… ?
WR: 'In Other Words' is a night of music, songs, verse, readings and anecdotes, all woven together and performed by Tim and myself appearing as soloists, as a duo or as part of a six piece band, led by musical director, Andy Roberts. There'll be items both from 'Hoovering The Moon' and from Tim's forthcoming album, 'Harmless Flirting' and there'll be readings and passages from 'The Wrong Boy', 'Shirley Valentine' etc., along with some passages from 'Blood Brothers' and some wickedly funny Tim Firth pieces. Think of a concert, fused with a poetry reading, doused with a dollop of theatre, sprinkled with stand-up and then all kneaded together in a bowl of linguistic pyrex!
PC: Thank you for your time Willy. Well, that’s it – our first Newsletter. I hope you enjoyed reading Willy’s words. The IN OTHER WORDS tour, really is a unique occasion, a rare chance to hear both playwrights reading their words and playing their music. Don’t miss it…!