THREE CHAIRS & A HAT

 
Don’t get me wrong, I love West End glitz as much as anyone. My infatuation with musical theatre started in earnest at the age of 12, watching Fred & Ginger movies and Busby Berkeley extravaganzas on the TV. A good, old-fashioned, no-expense-spared show can still make my heart beat faster. But when it comes to staging my own work, my passion is for creating stories and situations using only the bare minimum of set, props and costumes, along with maximum imagination.
Just as well, too: my budget doesn’t stretch to anything more. So Three Chairs and a Hat seems a fitting way to describe the small-scale musicals I’ve written and staged, with the help of a massively talented group of performers and backstage magicians.
 
The Three Chairs and a Hat team have so far staged Verity, Daddy’s Girls, and my verse play built around the music of Kurt Weill, Smoke & Mirrors, and in 2019 we introduced MELODY, a one-act musical with a cast of two creating a world of characters. Melody Smart is a cheerful hotel receptionist who wins a singing lesson in the staff raffle—and finds her carefully constructed life unravelling to reveal secrets, passions, and more than a few buttered digestives. MELODY has played in Oxford, Abingdon and Ross-on-Wye.
Due to the theatre closures during the Covid-19 pandemic, our West End debut at the Phoenix Arts Club on is postponed to 2021. If you’ve already booked a ticket, please contact the agency here and they will advise you on their refund policy. The Edinburgh Fringe 2020 has been cancelled. BUT we will be there at the same time and place in 2021—the Space on the Mile (Space 3) from 8 to 12 August. 

And in the meantime … 

Online@theSpaceUK is hosting a virtual fringe festival of 80-plus video performances. including four contributions from Three Chairs and a Hat. You can see our videos on the following launch dates, or click the titles to see a quick trailer now!

8 August
HAUNTED—a dramatised version of my short story about isolation and obsession. Do you believe in ghosts? 

15 August
THE SINGING LESSON—Guy Brigg and Marilyn Moore as Evangeline Gibson and Melody Smart in an extract from Melody. Can one Zoom singing lesson help Melody rediscover her voice? Directed by Wayne T Brown.

15 August
LADY M—Susanne Hodgson is the life coach you ignore at your peril: a 21st-century Lady Macbeth, issuing online advice and confessions. Directed by Alice Evans.

22 August
PAMELA DRYSDALE’S LOCKDOWN—Three Chairs performer Jane Hainsworth demonstrates her writing talents for writing in this one-woman comedy of errors about the unintended consequences of Lockdown on a naughty weekend away.

PRESS AND AUDIENCE REACTIONS TO MELODY:

‘A really compelling piece of theatre’

‘Nia Williams is a gifted and imaginative storyteller’
‘Poignant, thought-provoking and utterly engrossing’
‘Amazing storytelling, clever lyrics and music’
‘Moving, funny, fascinating, absorbing’  
‘Well written, well directed, well acted—loved it’ . 
 

VERITY is a 90-minute musical about one woman’s ordinary disasters. After playing to full houses in Oxford in 2014 and again in 2018, Verity made her debut at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019, where audience feedback was wonderful and we were rewarded with a four-star review from The Mumble! 
Here are some quotes from that review:
‘…a  veritable modern masterpiece’ … ‘an extremely talented bunch’ … ‘Nia’s piano playing … pretty much perfect’ … ‘she rhymes like a rapper’… ‘A fabulous piece on so many levels’
And here are some audience reactions:
‘I loved it! Such great performances from everyone, and fab music.’
‘I really enjoyed the story, the fantastic singing and the slick presentation – very humorous, with some comical dance moves …’
‘A brilliant show—really enjoyed it’
‘It was absolutely bloody brilliant!’
Plans are simmering for more performances—watch this space!

For more details about Three Chairs and a Hat you can:
– our Facebook page and give us a Like
– follow us on Twitter and Instagram
– sign up for our occasional emails about current shows, forthcoming shows and shows that are as yet just a twinkle in the eye …

ONE, TWO, THREE, AND …

The year’s schedule usually involves playing keyboard/piano and musical direction for a number of shows, and it looked as if 2020 would be no exception. As well as continuing the role of MD/accompanist for Opera Anywhere’s touring shows, including a beautiful new production of Hansel & Gretel, I was working with students on a musical theatre cabaret, with classical singers on a recital of lieder and arias, and as AMD on Music Youth Company Oxford’s production of Chess. Then, as we all know, everything changed. Key workers, carers, families, victims of the virus have waged a traumatic and relentless daily battle. Businesses have struggled and, in some cases, failed to survive. Arts venues and livelihoods have faced a deeply uncertain future. Those who work in the arts know that they are not just about having a bit of fun (vital though that is). Music, dance, theatre, literature—these are all ways of expressing our humanity, learning to work together, enhancing physical and mental well-being, understanding life. And the amateur and professional arts worlds are meshed together: they cannot survive without each other. At the time of writing, there are finally signs of support for the theatre and music worlds. Certainly those in the industry have never stopped their creativity and optimism. Science and art together make life liveable. So I’m looking forward to all those paused projects, and plenty of new ones, springing back into life, and cannot wait to get back into rehearsal rooms, theatre spaces, or even the howling gales and downpours of the outdoor performance.
Altogether, now—ready, AND …!

PRIDE & PREJUDICE

As the ENB’s Dance for Parkinson’s workshops are on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Associate Artists who lead Oxford’s sessions have gone online as MuMo Creative to fill the gap. Roosa Leimu-Brown, Louisa Dalton and I have been on a steep learning curve, devising and recording video workshops based on Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, and it’s been wonderful to see and participate with our DfP friends every Monday. The ENB programme can be glimpsed along with our other hubs and the ENB’s company dancers in this short film, and Oxford’s class is featured in this film by one of our funding supporters, the National Postcode Lottery. A regular participant, screenwriter Paul Mayhew-Archer, is currently developing a fictional film inspired by our classes—watch this space!

It’s been a privilege to work with talented dance practitioner Danielle Teale, creator of the DfP programme, on a variety of projects: leading a weekend of DfP workshops in Glasgow for Scottish Ballet, and an introductory course for DfP teachers at the People Dancing conference in De Montfort University, Leicester; and, along with dancer Sarah Lewis and musician Amy Mallett, participating in devised opera The Catchpole Chronicles in Snape Maltings. The physical and psychological benefits of music, movement and imagination are increasingly recognised by the medical profession, and their effects on our participants in every session are an absolute joy to see.

BREAKAGE

 

My latest novel , published by Gurning Gnome, is the story of Nathan Hill, a man who collects fragile and beautiful works of art, and the chance encounter with a former lover which threatens to break everything apart. Available on Amazon and Kindle. If you enjoy it—and even if you don’t—please contribute to the Amazon reviews. Writing is a two-way process, and I’d love to hear your side of the conversation. Here’s some of the feedback received from readers so far:

‘An enjoyable and thought-provoking read.’

‘Loved it. Interesting how dangerous revisiting the past can be.’

‘Heartbreaking. Compelling. Acutely observed. Effortlessly and subtly witty. The writing as beautifully and skilfully crafted as Nathan’s glass collection.’

READ ALL ABOUT IT

I’ve written six novels and many short stories. The most recent novels—Birdcage, Hidden Gems and Breakage—are published by Gurning Gnome. Click here for the Facebook page, and here to see my Amazon page—or click on any of the book covers at the foot of the homepage. For more information, including reviews and news of the gnomefest video literary festival, go to the Words menu on my homepage, and select Fiction.

BECCA


Singer Rebecca Allison (Martin) has been my musical partner in a bewildering range and number of projects. As Mezzopiano we performed opera, musical theatre, recitals, concerts and shows, including my verse play Smoke & Mirrors, based on the music of one of our favourite composers, Kurt Weill. Becca’s portrayal of twin sisters across four decades—singing in several languages—was a tour de force. She was an inspiration and a very dear friend. Becca died suddenly on 21st March 2016 after contracting sepsis. I’m immensely grateful to have known and worked with this lovely woman, and to have many recorded memories of her beautiful voice.

IMG_7313

Here are two tracks of us performing together: Lost, from my new musical Melody; and No-one Is Alone, by Stephen Sondheim, a song with particular meaning for Becca and her family.

MURDER, MAYHEM AND MUSIC

Grimeborn

One of the best things about being a pianist is getting to play the role of ‘orchestra’ for smaller-scale productions and performances. As well as enjoying the rich and exciting operas of Mozart, Puccini and others in my regular work as MD and pianist for Opera Anywhere, I’ve had the opportunity to accompany some thrilling close-up opera at the Arcola Theatre in London, where Paula Chitty’s company Irrantional Theatre presented a dramatic double bill of ‘Gianni Schicchi’ and ‘Pagliacci’ as part of the annual Grimeborn opera festival. ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ is the best-known aria in Puccini’s witty tale, in which Gianni Schicchi uses his impersonating skills to take revenge on his snobbish family; and in Leoncavallo’s highly emotional melodrama, based on a real murder case, professional clown Pagliacci lets reality break into performance, with violent and terrible consequences. Two original and involving productions, and two nights of excellent and accessible opera.

Stuart Pendred’s inspiring Oxford Opera Company brings opera to new audiences, with a winning combination of superb professional singers and community and school choruses. It’s been a privilege to work for OOC as répétiteur and in the pit with the Oxford Chamber Orchestra, for a concert performance of Puccini’s ‘Tosca’, featuring international soprano Lee Bisset; and two fully staged productions at the Oxford Playhouse, both directed by Paul Carr: ‘Carmen’, with renowned mezzo Hannah Pedley in the lead role; and in 2020, a stunning version of ‘La Bohème’, with the latest stars of the opera scene Sam Furness and Marlena Devoe as Rodolfo and Mimi.

MAKING MUSICALS

The African savannah was re-created in Didcot’s Cornerstone arts centre, at the latest Musical In A Day children’s workshop. Joining me for a day exploring ‘The Lion King’ was dancer Rhonda Sparrey, and together we led fifteen 6- to 9-year-olds through the story, songs, dialogue and movement of the hit musical, even making good use of break-times to draw characters and events for our pop-up gallery. At the end of a busy and creative day our hard-working cast presented a potted version of the musical for their parents. This workshop followed several others in the same series: ‘Discover Annie’, ‘Discover Oliver!’, and ‘Discover Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’.

Pictured below are the children’s technicolour illustrations for ‘Joseph’ and some of the home-made masks we used to create the Lion Kingdom.

IMG_2043    FullSizeRender

I’ve also had great fun working with Creation Theatre on their holiday workshop weeks, most recently collaborating with drama leads Eloise Sheffield and Katie Blackwell to devise a piece of musical theatre with a group of 9- to 12-year-olds. At the end of the week they performed ‘Villains’ to an appreciative audience of family and friends, complete with original songs such as ‘Stay at home Wolf’ and the Stepmother Rap.

JOINING IN WITH OUTREACH

One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is involvement in projects that take music and movement to sectors of the community who might not otherwise have that access. As well as co-leading the ENB’s Dance for Parkinson’s programme, I work with dance artists Roosa Leimu-Brown and Louisa Dalton to deliver music and movement workshops as MuMo Creative. Drawing our respective backgrounds in biology,  history and dance, we build our sessions around story, science, and themes tailored specifically to clients’ needs—such as a series of workshops for older people, based on the Museum of Rural Life’s collection, and  a series of free homeschooling videos and gentle seated exercises during the Covid-19 pandemic. For more details, see our website.

I’ve joined forces with a number of dance artists to create live music sessions in hospitals and homes around the area, including a project at Witney Community Hospital, visiting the wards and day room to bring some song and dance into the daily routine. Dancer Rhonda Sparrey and I were among 12 practitioners funded by the FLOURISH programme to encourage the use of arts among people with dementia. We led a course of eight Dance for Dementia workshops at the Christchurch Centre in Henley, featuring themes such as A Night At The Theatre and A Day At The Seaside. Here’s a short film about our work, which gives some idea of the extraordinary power of music to revive and reconnect.

In August 2019 I  joined a chamber group of musicians at beautiful Snape Maltings in Suffolk (below), where we accompanied Amy Mallett’s opera The Catchpole Chronicles, devised by Co-Lab, a team of experienced outreach artists. The piece was created from workshops with people who have Parkinson’s Disease, and inspired by the story of 19th-century convict Margaret Catchpole. The musicians returned to the recital hall to record the music, and there are plans to bring The Catchpole Chronicles to the Royal Opera House in 2020—watch this space!