Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Coffee House: an Afterpiece

Mr Harpie, a Scrivener & Kitty
The Coffee House is an "Afterpiece" written by James Miller (1706-1744).  Miller was educated at Oxford, and was ordained soon after. He turned playwright when a satire published at university offended the bishop from whom he had expectations of advancement. The Coffee-House reflects his interest in satirising the fashionable delusions of society. 

All of life passes through the Widow's Coffee-House; hacks, politicians, fops, drunkards and of course, a dashing young officer courting the Widow's daughter Kitty. The play is a farce, revolving around young lovers attempting to elude the clutches of a scheming parent, mistaken identities, various deceptions and misunderstandings, all leading to a happy resolution.  

The Widow - owner of the Coffee-House
The pace is frenetic, the whole play lasting no more than 40 minutes - a perfect dramatic arc achieved in a third of the time of a full-length play. We performed the Coffee House in 2009 in the North East and at Fairfax House in York
Bays the Poet

Harpie and Gaywood

Puzzle the Politician & Bays the Poet

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Parson Yorick's END

Setting up for A Sentimental Journey at Shandy Hall in 1989

Having spent 9 months in 1988 writing and rehearsing an adaptaion of Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey, we were spared 20 years of embarrassment by Peter de Voogt, Editor of the Shandean. He had seen us perform the play in York and afterwards, though complimentary, quietly pointed out that we had probably not been using the most helpful edition of the novel as our source.  As part of our set, we used an easel with cards on which were written the various places on Yorick’s journey – London, Calais, Amiens etc – which replicated the chapter headings in the novel.  Our edition finished with Parson Yorick saying “When I stretched out my hand it caught hold of the Fille de Chambre’s -----  ; and then a card was revealed with THE END written on it. We thought the innuendo resided in Yorick’s sentence, accompanied by his hand stretching out towards the Fille de Chambre’s !@**# being interrupted by the end of the volume.  Peter suggested that if we used a more accurate source we would find that the author’s text (the “story”) and the typographical devices that framed it worked as one.   It’s a good joke – we dropped “THE” leaving “END” on its own & over the years we’ve got some good laughs from filthy minded audiences.  Of course it’s about comic  timing too – the line accompanied by the action; a freeze followed by  one and a half beats, a swift move to the easel by Mrs Slurp and a twirl of the card to change it from AUBERGE  to END.  If the timing is right the laugh will follow, that final little word giving voice to the thoughts of the audience.

One of my favourite editions of A Sentimental Journey (published in 1910 & beautifully illustrated with tissue paper over the colour plates) ends like this: “I caught hold of the fille de chambre’s ---- EPILOGUE - after which there follows an extract from Chapter 43, Volume 7 of Tristram Shandy, which, though very good in itself, is here deployed to take the heat out of the situation. It fails to do so of course...