“Ruth Eastwood, who is the chief executive of the Grand Theatre said something interesting the other day – she said she often measures the atmosphere of a theatre by how it feels when it’s empty."
"I’d never thought of that before, but to sit in the empty auditorium you can still feel a certain sense of magic. It’s a really special building,”
Preston actor and director Ian McFarlane is enjoying his own sense of the magic as he sits in the auditorium of the historical Matcham building this week ahead of the opening of
Blackpool Grand Productions Ltd, first show Around the World in 80s Days, which he has written.
He says: “I’ve always wanted to do some work closer to home.
“Everything I’ve done has been in the south and I expected that I’d have a show tour to Lancashire at some stage but to get to actually create a piece here has been really special.
“It’s a really big deal for the theatre to produce in house for the first time, being asked to helm the first of their own shows is a real honour.
“Not to mention a huge responsibility.”
The adventure show based loosely around Jules Verne’s classic novel was commissioned in celebration of the 125th Anniversary Blackpool’s Grand Theatre.
Read the review on Around the World in 80s Days here: https://www.blackpoolgazette.co.uk/whats-on/entertainment/around-the-world-in-80s-days-premieres-at-blackpool-grand-theatre-and-enjoys-flyaway-success-1-9927362
Theatre bosses launched their own production company which has led to the creation of it’s first ever summer show.
Ian was recommended through theatre circles to come in and produce it.
He adds: "I was absolutely delighted.
“I used to come to this theatre as a child and it’s a really special place - it’s been a really brilliant collaboration.
“Music and comedy are part of Blackpool’s fabric.
“It’s one of the few places in the country that you could find at least one venue playing live music every night and another with a comic.
“We knew from the beginning that we wanted the show to use a catalogue of music the audience would be familiar and we knew we wanted to use a classic story.
“The powers that be and I settled on the story straight away but we actually explored it as a rock and roll first.
“It was Ruth Eastwood, the chief executives idea to use music from the 80s and to change the title. It’s a really brilliant idea so I’m slightly regretting telling you that and not taking credit for it.
“It’s two hours of joy.”
The classic adventure story follows Phileas Fogg, the most fabulous man on the London party scene.
He seems to have it all until he’s cut off from his family’s fortune and attempts to regain his wealth with a bet to travel around the world in just 80 days.
This version throws in a splash of 80s colour, music, fun, while the power of love might prove money never made him happy…
How did the team manage to pull together a two hour soundtrack from a whole decade’s worth of party tunes?
Ian says: “It’s quite a long process but it’s really fun.
“Firstly you have to listen to the music for days and then you catalogue it by mood or emotion, then you start working through the story and interpolating the songs.
“Obviously in that list you have certain songs you know you have to have.
“We can’t possibly do an 80s musical and not have ‘Eye of the Tiger’ or ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby?’ because you’ll leave people disappointed, there’s a responsibility to give the audience what they want but my job is to find ways of doing that which are surprising and unexpected - that takes it from being a tribute show into a properly fulfilling piece of storytelling.
“You can really get on board (pun intended) with these characters and their journey.
"We have a really brilliant musical director and arranger, Laurie Denman who has done some really clever orchestrations with the songs and the audience in previews have just been going mad for it.
“There are a couple of points when you don’t see a song coming and the audience just go wild when it starts, the response we’ve had so far has surpassed any of our expectations - it’s just the best feeling in the world to watch the audience loving the show.”
The production cast includes; Andrew Bentley (Hollyoaks, Emmerdale and the recent film Kindred Spirits) as Phileas Fogg, Oliver Mawdsley (Miss Nightingale, Astley’s Astounding Adventures) as Passepartout, Daniel Kane as Professor Gold, Justina Kehinde as the mysterious African-American archaeologist, who wins Fogg’s heart, plus Blackpool’s very own Christina Meehan (Fat Friends, Mama Mia and Little Shop of Horrors) and Laurie Denman.
“I was commissioned by the theatre in November and I wrote the piece at the beginning of this year, whilst we held auditions. It was a really fast turn around.
“We’ve been rehearsing for about a month. It’s been really full on for the cast.
“There are six cast members playing hundreds of different characters. It’s great fun for the audience to watch them reappear as different people but the reality of making it all appear easy, is that what you don’t see is the cast sprinting around backstage changing costumes and sweating buckets.
“It’s been so much fun.
“To put on a funny show, you need funny people and we’ve just laughed and laughed everyday. It’s felt like a really wonderful experience.
“It’s easy for that to sound like I’m being a bit overlay theatrical and affected but this job really does feel special.
The audiences we’ve had so far have gone for the show in an even bigger way than I thought possible.
“There’s an energy and a buzz in the auditorium that if I could bottle and sell to other theatre directors, I’d make a fortune. I of course can’t bottle it but I’m very glad that we are experiencing it with this show.”
Ian grew up in Penwortham, knowing from early years performing within a class ensemble, he’d found a calling.
The former Cardinal Newman student and member of Preston Players moved to London for theatre school and it was in his final year he started to fulfil a passion for writing as well as performing.
“I wanted to be in theatre as long as I can remember. I don’t think there was any point that it clicked for me, it was just always there-at least I remember it that way.
“I had a brilliant, brilliant teacher Deborah Carter at The Players Drama School.
“I went there from the age of 10 to 16 and then I taught there whilst I was at college. The school recently celebrated its 25th birthday.
“She was a huge inspiration and a brilliant mentor.”
Ian’s first love is comedy, he cites Mel Brooks and Mike Nichols as his ‘absolute heroes.’
“I grew up watching old films and my comedy bone was born of that for sure. Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin they are all masters.
Comedy and musicals have to be exact.
"There is a science to it. If you deliver a punchline in the wrong rhythm, you don’t get a laugh.
"If you move whilst you deliver a punchline, you don’t get a laugh.
"So the process is very precise but at the same time you have to allow people to bring their own personality to a role. They say dying is easy, comedy is hard for that reason - you have to be very precise but appear spontaneous, you always have two things at odds with each other.
"I think that’s what makes it so satisfying to do, work on comedy I mean because it’s so tricky it means getting it right is a huge reward.”
Around the World in 80s Days Blackpool Grand Theatre until August 31