28 February 2011

flect-Re-flect: An appreciation of the genius of Alan Brunton and Sally Rodwell

Just before opening her New Zealand Fringe Festival show in Circa Two, Michelle Scullion sits down to tell drama on the waterfront all about flect-Re-flect.

DOTW: Please tell us a bit about  flect-Re-flect. What can audiences expect?

MS: flect-Re-flect is a show full of vibrancy, wit and pathos based from the writings of the late Sally Rodwell and Alan Brunton of Red Mole Theatre Company. The show is being performed by an eclectic group of people from a wide range of artistic disciplines in a semi cabaret style.

flect-Re-flect is totally music driven from a wide range of styles – ethereal to country, blues to rock, elements of torch song, classical and funk, and features a five piece band, two singing dancers and three singing actors.

I have gathered many of Alan’s poems and scripts from a variety of their published books and have included monologues of characters created by Sally Rodwell. In a Dadaistic way, I have woven these works together, like a mosaic tapestry and found there were some recurring themes evolving throughout the work. At times it is very Goon Show-ish, with a blend of song, monologues, dance, and with fast moving silly dialogue sequences by a group called The Twits.

I have written music to Alan’s poems turning them into songs, and the band supports the monologues being presented by the actors. All throughout the work, two male dancers interpret visually the thoughts and feelings of the words, which are very powerful, political and at times just plain silly.

DOTW: I understand that a personal item of Bob Dylan’s features in this show; what is the story there?

MS: I met Bob Dylan’s guitar “wrangler” during one of their tours of New Zealand years ago. After the concert at Athletic Park, I was invited back stage and Charles said – “Here, have this!!” I could not believe it – he was giving me one of Bob Dylan’s blues harps – in the key of Bb. I have treasured it ever since, and felt it was totally appropriate for me to include this in the show. I only learnt recently that the Blues Harp or Harmonica was Alan’s favorite instrument, so it was totally appropriate for me to use it somewhere within the score to the show. It has its own moment along with a Jew’s Harp.

DOTW: What was your inspiration for the creation of this show?

MS: I had the pleasure and honour of working with both Sally Rodwell and Alan Brunton in their theatre company Red Mole, when they returned from New York in 1989.  The show we were working on was called Comrade Savage, based on the life of Michael J Savage. I had been a firm fan of their work, so it was fantastic when I answered the phone to hear, “Michelle, this is Sally Rodwell. We are performing a show – would you be interested in being the musician of our new work?” I met them pretty much straight away in the Newtown Community Centre, where they were preparing to present the show.

Over the next 15 years, I continued to work with them both on many of their projects, both in Red Mole, and on other individual projects they created.

Last year I was in a show at BATS Theatre, a devised show based on the characters Sally had created – Rhonda Gonne, Stella Strange and Charity Cartwright.  I wrote music to the show, and turned some of their writings into songs, and support music to the monologues.  Jenny Stevenson, producer of the show, and I had discussions about developing some of the material into a full opera.  I decided to make a start by developing the concept and using much more of their text into a 75 minutes show, and to pull together musicians, singers and dancers to help realise my vision.

DOTW: What can you tell us about the other musicians/artists performing in flect-Re-flect with you?

MS: I am very proud of the people who agreed to be in this show. Some I have worked with for years and others are brand new to me. 

Sally Barratt-Boyes has sung on my scores for theatre, dance and film for over 3 decades. I find her classically trained voice rich and inspiring.  It is wonderful to be working with her again.

Grant Sutherland is our bass player, who I met in one of the bands Alan put together for some of his shows, over fifteen years ago. We have been friends ever since, and worked together on several of Alan’s projects including recording an album we created around his voice and poems. He is also our Graphic Designer, and has designed our logo and vibrant poster and flyers.

Scott Simpson is a guitarist who I have known for years, but have never worked with before. I actually rang him up to be my keyboard player – and his answer was, “Michelle, there is one problem – I don’t play piano – I play guitar”. To which I replied “I wanted a guitar player – will you still be in my show?” We have not looked back.

Peter Pritchard is our keyboard player, who I used to play jazz with way back in the ‘70’s.  He self publishes his albums he records in his home-studio. It is wonderful to be working with him again. He also has interest in with the Classical Music genre.

Alé Acevedo and I met about 5 months ago on a band-stand I had been invited to join some musicians from Chile, and there he was, with his beautiful instrument – The Hang.  This is a new instrument invented and released to the world in 2000, from Switzerland. We made an instant connection and I knew I wanted him to be the percussionist of the show. He performs an interesting collection of ethnic percussion instruments.

Mathew Pike is a newcomer to me. Jenny saw Mathew in a production of Cabaret late last year and told me about him. I went and saw his performance and knew I wanted him as part of the show. We found him on Facebook, met, talked and Presto!!! Another member of the company was born.

Jacquie Fee, LéRoi Kippen and Sam McLeod were known entities to Jenny, as recent graduates from the Wellington Performing Arts Centre, but strangers to me.

Jacquie has a passion for music theatre.  We met one lunchtime, and she sang for me in the open foyer of the Old Telecom Building on Cable Street – I instantly loved her voice and she is now part of the show.

Léroi Kippen and Sam McLeod are both superb dancers and have captured the concept immediately. As a person who loves dance, it is a pleasure for me to have these two wonderful artists as part of the show.

DOTW: What do you hope that audiences will take away with them after seeing your show?

MS: A really good fun night out at the theatre, watching original work created especially for the Wellington Fringe Festival 2011, and the want to see it being developed into a contemporary opera, as an appreciation of the genius of Alan Brunton and Sally Rodwell.

flect-Re-clect opens in Circa Two Tuesday, 1 March and runs until 5 March as part of the NZ Fringe Festival. For tickets, please call the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz.

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