KATHY KIRBY: ICON

Discovered and mentored by the great band leader Bert Ambrose, Kathy Kirby was groomed in the image of his ideal woman – a kind of late 1950s hybrid of Marilyn Monroe and Diana Dors, with crisply styled peroxide hair and startlingly glossy red lips. Ambrose’s concept was dated even by the time Kirby became a major television star on the strength of her early 1960s appearances inStars and Garters. But somehow – largely thanks to a winning and cheerful personality that knew instinctively how to reach a television audience beyond the camera and, crucially, a voice of spectacular power and emotional force, which commanded attention whatever she was singing – she transcended the stylistic straightjacket he imposed on her.

As so often in the annals of show business, Kathy Kirby’s life eventually came to mirror the more dramatic lyrics of some of her songs. This, combined with the unique qualities of her voice, dusted her with an almost mythical fascination, long after her active career had waned.

Ambrose had given Kirby her first break as a teenager, employing her on a short contract as a vocalist for his dance band after she had persuaded him to let her sing for him at the Palais de Danse in Ilford when she was just 16, in 1954. She spent the next few years paying her dues on the club circuit, singing with Ambrose on and off, and gaining valuable show-business experience. But it was not until he became her manager and took control of her recording and television career that things really took off, culminating in hit singles and albums for Decca, and some hugely popular television series. Their relationship soon developed privately and they would be together until his death in 1971, an arrangement that would have disastrous consequences for Kirby.

A new play, KATHY KIRBY: ICON, running at THE WHITE BEAR theatre, Kennington, sets the record straight about Kathy’s life,both in and out of the glare of publicity.

Listen to an interview by the actress who plays kathy on BBC Radio London. The interview is apprx 2hrs 13mins into the programme

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03412rf

28-09-2015 19;20;25

JOHNJO REVIEW

REVIEW OF MY PLAY ‘JOHNJO’, performed recently CENTRAL ARTS, JORDAN’S LANE WATERFORD

03-08-2015 14;05;03 

A View from the Green Room.

Pat McEvoy.

Arts Correspondent..WATERFORD NEWS & STAR

DISTURBING ‘JOHNJO’ AT CENTRAL ARTS.

Johnjo McGrath enters singing ballad of The Rocks of Bawn and you just know that there is a story to be told. It was a favourite of his father who barely knew the words, or the notes, if the truth be told. A small landholder of twenty acres on the Comeraghs of which only five were arable, he carried ancient grudges around like boulders. Clearing land that was full of furze, rock and limestone, he cursed his circumstances and drank a lot of whiskey to dull the pain.

He references Crotty the highwayman and understands the shared experience of disenfranchisement. He curses the Curraghmores and their acres of lawns that would have fed the bellies of half-fed cattle. Not that he had too many of those. It’s the sense of privilege and entitlement about the Curraghmores that gets to him. It eats away at him and he sees no shame in stealing the odd sheep of theirs and selling it on to slaughter. He feels dispossessed and evicted from his land and blames it on the greed of the Anglo-Irish who never had enough.

A selfish father with a grievance, he drank all he had and when he drowned himself, Johnjo had to sell the bullock to meet the funeral expenses.   With only £2-10 the mother mortgages the land and moves into the town. A knife-incident leaving a man badly wounded, forces him to flee and it’s the boat in wartime for Johnjo.

Grim times. Working on the lump, with an array of identities to avoid detection, it’s a grim and lonely existence. Kavanagh’s lines of the women who love only young men ring in the ear of the aging man who moves between damp and over-crowded doss-houses while building the motorways. The gangers are always the same. Elephant John is a tough task-master who can really dish it out. And it’s always Paddy. Never Johnjo. Still no matter when you’re on the lump. The names tumble our like tourist dishcloths…Tom Dooley…Roy Rogers…Gene Aughtry…Donald F****in’ Duck.

But a life without children. And a wife. Before he knows it, he’s fifty. It’s been an empty existence claims Johnjo but odd facts begin to pop out from the coiled spring of resentment. Sexual ambiguities surface. He prefers the company of men. Their smell. Their friendship. A band of building brothers. It’s a world of sexual compromise and secrets hidden from even himself.

He hates Bannagher, the jumped-up Irish boss who also owns the pub in Cricklewood where the wages are paid. He only pays by cheque and charges 5% on cashing cheques for subbies who he knows can never have a bank account. When a trench collapses killing Johnjo’s only friendKennedy because of poor scaffolding, Johnjo settles accounts with Bannagher in the old time-honoured way of blood-payment.

Eamon Culloty is excellent as the spiteful-regretful-sexually-ambivalent Johnjo. In what was once a best suit, he brings the whole range of despised Paddy to the stage. It’s a performance that’s always highly charged and directed with great sympathy by James Power. The emptiness of a wasted life is what remains with you after the performance. There’s nothing simple about a performance that seems to constantly search for answers and, perhaps, other ways to have gone about his business. His father’s son, he doesn’t get his sense of dispossession from the ground. He doesn’t blame the father and scoffs at Larkin’s line: they f**k you up, your mum and dad’. ‘No’ Johnjo declares ‘I f**ked them up’.

Tom O’Brien’s writing always seems to drive Johnjo on to a conclusion based on the navvies’ experience.  His wisdom is bought at a price that no one  should really have to pay. O’Brien lays Paddy’s experiences in post-war Britain bare…lodgings in damp rooms crammed with other Paddies trying to get by. Weekends trying to dull the pain of existence through drink and then looking for a sub on Monday to get through the week.

Great to see Waterford playwright Tom O’Brien’s work on a Waterford stage. Let’s see more of it.

KATHY KIRBY – ICON

BookCoverImage

now available as a paperback on Amazon

KATHY KIRBY ALWAYS WANTED STARDOM, AND FOUND IT AT THE AGE OF 16 UNDER THE GUIDANCE OF RENOWNED BANDLEADER BERT AMBROSE. BEFORE TOO LONG SHE WAS THE MAIN SINGER IN HIS BAND, AND NOT LONG AFTERWARDS HIS MISTRESS – DESPITE THE FORTY-YEAR AGE GAP.      SHE HAD EVERYTHING; A REMARKABLE VOICE, STUNNING LOOKS, AND WAS SOON A MAJOR TV AND RECORDING STAR. ‘BRITAIN’S ANSWER TO MARILYN MONROE’, THE NEWSPAPER SCREAMED CONSTANTLY.                       YET BY HER LATE THIRTIES SHE WAS A FALLEN STAR. SHE STOPPED PERFORMING COMPLETELY, BECAME A RECLUSE, AND EVENTUALLY DIED IN POVERTY. SO WHAT WENT WRONG FOR KATHY KIRBY? THIS PLAY ANSWERS THAT QUESTION.

Playing at the WHITE BEAR THEATRE  138 Kennington Park Rd, London SE11 4DJ, this coming October. Watch this space for further details.

MY FATHER – a poem by John Osborne

John Osborne poet

John Osborne  was an English playwright, screenwriter, actor and critic of the Establishment. The success of his 1956 play Look Back in Anger transformed English theatre.

In a productive life of more than 40 years, Osborne explored many themes and genres, writing for stage, film and TV. His personal life was extravagant and iconoclastic. He was notorious for the ornate violence of his language, not only on behalf of the political causes he supported but also against his own family, including his wives and children.

Osborne was one of the first writers to address Britain’s purpose in the post-imperial age. He was the first to question the point of the monarchy on a prominent public stage. During his peak (1956–1966), he helped make contempt an acceptable and now even cliched onstage emotion, argued for the cleansing wisdom of bad behaviour and bad taste, and combined unsparing truthfulness with devastating wit.

MY FATHER

My father lived a simple life
But he was a man apart
With gentle ways and humble mind
And an understanding heart

He loved and cared for people
Helping those in need.
He strove to make folk happy
For kindness was his creed.

He never aimed for dizzy heights
Of luxury or fame
But where he walked and where he talked
With love he carved his name.

He was like a rock to lean upon
Each problem he would share.
He found his strength in his belief
And in kneeling down in prayer.

He loved his home and lived his life
With fullness to the end
He taught me much I owe him much
A father and a friend.

Death was peace and joy to him
It was no fearful thing,
His faith was simple and sincere
And God alone his king.

GILMARTIN – a new play

My report on Sunday’s reading of Gilmartin at Pentameters:IMG_7398IMG_7395
The first thing to say is that there were quite a few surprises. The first was that we nearly had a full house for the occasion! It’s usually unheard of to get more than a handful to come to readings. The second was that the cast got a standing ovation at the end. The third was that a life-long friend of Gilmartin’s fetched up from Luton, and was so moved by the occasion that he almost broke down in tears at the q/a session afterwards. He did manage to issue an invitation to us to repeat the exercise in Luton, where he said we would have no problem getting a couple of hundred to come.  But the biggest surprise of all was that Tom’s  son and daughter turned up. They were very complimentary about the whole thing, particularly Tom Jr, who felt that we had got the essence of the story, and more importantly, the essence of his father. Phew…thank God for that!
As for the play itself, I thought it worked very well as a piece of theatre – much better than I expected. I wasn’t sure if the audience would get the story, being quite mixed, and story being so Irish, but they got it in spades! It seems to be a universal tale; corruption at high level, and contemptible treatment of the ordinary man/woman. The script still needs a little tweaking here and there, but not much, and I did get some useful insights to the man from Tom Jr – which I can add to the mix.
Where do we got from here? Not sure yet; we may go for a run at Pentameters later in the year or early next year, and we may well take up the invitation to do the gig in Luton, but there were also serious suggestions that we should do it in Dublin. The topic is still very hot in Ireland; and all the main protagonists are still walking around free as birds over there. They should be prosecuted but I don’t think the relevant authorities have any appetite for doing it. Apparently Bertie Ahern was on Irish radio yesterday being questioned about the bank scandal so none of it has gone away.
I think it could be a ‘big’ play if we could get the right backing, and my feeling is that a tour of Ireland, starting in Dublin, could be the way to go. It’s early days yet, so I think we will await developments for now.