18 February 2013

Roger Hall and Peter Skellern always hand them back

You Can Always Hand Them Back playwright Roger Hall talks about his collaboration with Peter Skellern on their new musical about grandparents.
Roger Hall

Peter Skellern

Peter Skellern and his wife Diana come out each summer to see their son and grandchildren who live in Devonport. Mutual friends suggested we meet, and so one day in Takapuna, after a phone call, I was able to approach a man wearing a large hat and say “Peter Skellern, I presume?”
We became almost instant friends, so much so that I asked him if he would be willing  to sing at the concert I put on at The Pump House for my 70th birthday.  (But I still wanted him there even if he didn't want to sing.) When he got up to perform he said "I've known Roger all of four hours now,"  (which was about right). But he was used to performing for the elderly: quite recently he had performed at an old lady's 80th birthday part and "You know it's really nice at Windsor Castle".
That's not the only royal performance he has done, having appeared at several Royal Command performances. He's also filled the London Palladium with a solo show; and packed them in with shows with Richard Stilgoe. 
Peter sang three songs at my party, and then he and I played golf together (he well, me badly) and one day he said he'd be interested in writing songs for the panto I was currently writing. I pointed out that I already had a team (Paul Jenden and Michael Nicholas Williams). We started looking through a back list of my plays to see if there was anything there that could be adapted to a musical, but nothing leapt out at us. Then I remembered a piece I had been working on (and off) for some years intended to add to two plays about Dickie Hart, one-man shows performed by Grant Tilly, C’Mon Black and You Gotta Be Joking.  I never told Grant I had this is mind in case I never delivered, which indeed proved to be the case -- despite several starts I was never able to finish it and, alas, Grant is no longer with us. It was to be called Say Goodbye to Grandpa, taken from a neighbour telling me that those were the words her husband enjoyed hearing most, especially if the grandchildren had stayed for a few days.
Peter agreed that grandparenting was a good theme (he having five of his own), that  of course we'd have to have a grandmother as well, and so I started all over again on the script and Peter wrote the songs. Some of the songs came from ideas or topics in the script, many from his own ideas. But we did do a lot of talking about what the songs should be about. Inevitably there were some casualties along the way with some songs disappearing (and some scenes, for that matter). Read any history of musical shows and there are songs dropped at the last moment, and new songs written overnight.  It’s a very difficult and often tense business. (It’s why I love the TV series “SMASH”.)
But before a song is launched onto the public, who’s to say whether it is going to work or not. After all, the producers of The Wizard of Oz hated “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and wanted it removed…

 You Can Always Hand Them Back opens on Saturday, 23 February and runs until Saturday, 30 March. Performances are already selling out! To book, please call the Circa Box Office on 801-7992 or visit www.circa.co.nz.

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