by Alan Bennett
Firebrand’s inaugural production in November 2010 featured two of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues; A Chip in the Sugar (with Jamie Chapman) and Her Big Chance (with Lesley Harcourt).
Placing great importance on collaboration with home-grown talent, of which there is an abundance in this area, we were excited to be able to do this from the outset with our Gala launch in November. The set for Talking Heads was designed by Borders-based Edward Lipscomb and built by Doug Tait and Scott Wight, based in Melrose and St Boswells respectively. Playing before the show, local musician Ron Shaw set the mood with some beautiful solo cello pieces.
Firebrand has […] played to the strengths of performing in the Wynd. This was an inspired start to a new company who will surely bring much enjoyment to Border audiences and give the Wynd a new lease of life.
Wilde MacGregor, The Southern Reporter
Talking About Opening Night for Firebrand…
THE new Melrose-based theatre company Firebrand has launched – with a helping hand from Alan Bennett.
Two monologues from Bennett’s award winning Talking Heads series were performed at the Wynd Theatre last weekend after Firebrand’s artistic directors Janet Coulson and Ellie Zeegen received special permission from the Yorkshire playwright. Janet said: “We wrote directly to Alan Bennett asking if we could use Talking Heads and he very kindly waived the rights, so we were delighted. It was nice because he was very supportive of the fact that we were investing in creating theatre and we very particularly wanted to use his material.”
Through director Richard Baron, Janet and Ellie managed to get Jamie Chapman, who starred alongside Ricky Gervais in Extras, and Lesley Harcourt, formerly in Taggart, to perform Bennett’s material. Both produced perfect performances to launch Firebrand and were glowing in their praise of Talking Heads, Bennett, Firebrand and the Wynd. Jamie said: “A monologue on TV such as Talking Heads is exactly that, a monologue. But in the theatre it is a conversation between the actor and the audience. Structurally it is brilliant – there is not a word you would get rid of…[The Wynd] is a lovely, intimate space and is ideal for Talking Heads.”
Asked if she and Jamie would return to the Wynd stage for a future Firebrand production, Lesley told us: “Absolutely definitely. We would love to – Melrose is a great little town. Alan Bennett is a wonderful writer and you find something new every time you perform it.”
Ellie and Janet hope to revive Talking Heads again next year, when they plan to stage four productions. Explaining how Firebrand began, Ellie said: “I run a company called Actors Temple in London and Janet trained there as well. Pretty much by complete coincidence, we both moved to the Scottish Borders and we live within 10 minutes of each other. We thought we would really love to do something together. We talked with Jo and Mark Clough of the Wynd and they said they wanted something to revive the theatre so we thought we were the women to do it. The idea is to surprise people with how we do the theatre, give them a very different experience and transport them into a different world. We also want to link up with something like the Borders Book festival.”
Both Ellie and Janet, actresses themselves, are sure there is a market for a new theatre company in the region. Janet said: “We have talked to people a lot of they say ‘We don’t want to have to travel to Edinburgh to see good theatre’.” Ellie adds: “I have had so many people say to me that the Borders is crying out for something like this. It has been so amazing how it has been greeted with so much enthusiasm. It is a completely different world from London – people really want to help you and that is amazing.”
Meanwhile, Wynd owners Mark and Jo Clough are hopeful that Firebrand can prove a success. Mark said: “We have been looking at ways of recreating the Wynd and we have been looking for something different. It will take some time to build the reputation but the word Melrose itself is a bit of a brand and we need to distinguish ourselves from other theatres. It would be nice to make Melrose an artistic place and make theatre one of the attractions for visitors.”
Southern Reporter, 2nd December 2010