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Subterranean Theatre: The Maurie, June 2 – June 13, The Cunard Building, Liverpool

‘Hi Mike, at the risk of repeating myself I just wanted to reiterate once more how much I enjoyed the play. It's concept, imagery and execution was breath taking; the venue inspired. How clever too to incorporate three Georges! It worked on every level. It was a privilege to have been there and will stay with me for a long time.  The whole experience deserves a wider audience which I hope, in the future, you will be able to secure. 
 
Please pass on my congratulations to all involved. It was SUPERB!!’
 
Kind regards
Suzanne Garrett
 
Audience reviews for the two-week run of ‘subterranean Theatre: The Maurie’, as demonstrated in the comments above from Suzanne Garrett, were nothing short of sensational. The twelve performances were sold out each night, with audiences revelling in the journey we took them on through Liverpool’s iconic Cunard Building; entering the opulent ground floor through the original doorways used by passengers in the 1920’s, and mixing with First-Class passengers and busy clerks, before stepping below decks into the dark and thunderous world of the engine room and the stokers to witness incredible performances by our motley crew of talented actors.
Jenny Higham ‏@jenkhi  Jun 12
Loved 'The Maurie' play in the Cunard Building last night- powerful & evocative story of the ship's stokers
 
Just two weeks earlier the city witnessed the magnificent spectacle of the three queens – Queen Mary 2, Victoria and Elizabeth gliding effortlessly across The Mersey; a hint of how busy the river would have been in the 1920’s, when The Mauretania was in its heyday and the liners the only way to travel. In the 1922, the year ‘The Maurie’ is set, it would take 5000 tons of coal to power the ship from Liverpool to New York, one way. These ships didn’t sail themselves, a crew of over three hundred were employed to keep the furnaces below burning twenty four hours a day, and the symbolism of having the play in the basement of The Cunard Building, added to the impact of the production.
Not a Spam Bot ‏@googlyeyecat  Jun 12
@jenkhi@pmhigham@garrettarchive@wowfest@movverit's brilliant isn't it.

We don’t know exactly when George Garrett wrote the short story, ‘The Maurie’. We know his friend, the writer Millie Toole, typed it up for him in the 1950’s, and that he himself worked on The Mauretania in 1918. We also know ‘The Maurie’ was never published in his lifetime. In the early 1980’s his friend, and Unity Theatre founder, Jerry Dawson, published a version of it under the title ‘Stokehold Story’. The full story was first published by Michael Murphy in ‘The Collected George Garrett’ in 1999.
 
Paul Higham ‏@pmhigham  Jun 13
@googlyeyecat@jenkhi@garrettarchive@wowfest@movverisn't it just, the staging is brilliant. Really felt like you were on the ship
 
I knew, when I read it, that I could adapt it for the stage. However, when I sat down to write it, I realised it needed more, an arc for the story, a journey for the audience, which the short story on its own didn’t provide. Having done nearly three years research on George’s life and work, inspiration wasn’t hard to find. And so the story running through the play is that of George’s life, with George himself represented in three characters mirroring different key stages of his life: Young George the stowaway; Ozzie, the Wobbly carrying his American dreams in his kit-bag; and Older George, the wiser, steadying hand, who has seen and done it all, but still retains the sparkle that recognises the fire burning within his younger selves. I wouldn’t say the writing ‘poured out of me’, but once I’d accepted the challenge of working with six characters within the confines of the engine room and on the bunk-beds in their ‘crack’, I always felt I knew where I was going. A couple of read-throughs and one or two very minor revisions later, the script was ready to go.  And then the magic happens.
 
‘Very well done. As good as any play I've seen - and that's a fair few!’
 
Barbara Coleman, audience.
 
Carl Cockram, an experienced actor and director, who directed my previous play, had long been enthusiastic about The Maurie. Carl likes a challenge, which is good, because this became one of the most challenging productions he’d been involved in. But more of that later. Carl pulled together an amazing cast of high quality Liverpool Actors, some of whom I’d worked with before with my previous play, Waiting for Brando – Paul Duckworth and Joe Shipman, and some who I knew, but had not worked with – Nick Birkenshaw, Graham Hicks, and two I had not met – Ben Worth and Bradley Thompson. He then, with the help of drama teacher and director, Paula Simms,  recruited an excellent student from Liverpool John Moores University, Dominic Deehan, who played the role of the thief, which appears towards the end of the play.
 
‘As for the performances---- they are second to none, without exception. Brilliant, passionate, sensitive, concentrated professional acting at its very best. Congratulations to all involved in this powerful event.’
 
Jo Street, audience, actor.
 
Over three weeks of rehearsal Carl and the team transformed the play into an amazing, living, breathing, simmering, dancing and singing piece of work. When I went to see them in rehearsals I was bowled over by just how much they had got what I was trying to achieve, and even more so by the way they had interpreted it. A brilliant suggestion by choreographer, Sarah Black, to use slow motion to represent the physicality and intensity of the work or the stokers, gave real weight to the scenes where they fill the furnaces and gave the illusion of time passing on the ship. Andy Frizzell’s musical contribution and direction was little short of brilliant. Andy broke down the sounds of the ships engine into chords, and mixed it with the structure of the songs ‘Hallelujah I’m a Bum’ and ‘The Old Fort’, which is the tune for George’s own song, ‘Marching On’, and forged a soundscape that resonated throughout each section of the play.
 
‘Congratulations, it was nothing short of brilliant. I just wanted to say a big Thank You! for you and all the good people associated with the production of The Maurie for a fantastic evocation of the stoker's lot and George's life at sea and below decks.’
 
Warren Garrett
 
 
I encountered a myriad of problems in producing this play – including two production managers, for various reasons, having to pull out, not getting the funding from Arts Council England I had expected, and, on the morning of the opening night, having virtually no set for the play as the person meant to deliver and assemble it had gone off sick; we had to build the set virtually from scratch on the day, with the actors only getting on to it at four o’clock in the afternoon! I can hardly begin to describe the pressure. However, when the going gets a little rocky you always need someone in your corner, and I was fortunate to have some incredible people supporting me, including Carl, the actors, the LIPA students, the extras, Writing on the Wall, the Cunard building managers and Culture Liverpool. I also had the building itself, which seemed almost to have been waiting for this play to be set there. Not only did we manage to open, in such a way that the audience commented upon the brilliant set, sound and lighting, but the performance drew a four star review from the Liverpool Echo, which, if they had attended two days later, as they should have done for a press night, I’m convinced it would have been five stars. We were also reviewed on Radio 4’s Front Row show, and Radio Merseyside.
 
‘It was absolutely fantastic to work with you and a great cast. The experience has been amazing gutted it’s actually over to be quite honest.’
 
Graham Hicks, actor who played the ‘leading Hand’.
 
The play opens in the opulent surroundings of the grand entrance hall on the ground floor of the Cunard Building. The ‘passengers’ entered together to be met by a setting representing the First Class experience of the ship, with projections of 1920’s Liverpool either side and extras dressed as high class gents and ladies of the day, with clerks and checkers scurrying around ensuring the ship was ready to sail.
 
‘Just got back from this evenings performance and we thought it was bloody brilliant! What a fantastic experience! Feel like I've just made it to New York - utterly exhausted!’
 
Rebecca Britten, audience.
 
It was quite moving to see one of the extras was George Garrett’s Grandson, Sean Garrett, and all credit to Sean for taking part – particularly when his daughters and the rest of the Garrett clan attended; he got a bit of ribbing, but still played his role well.
 
The audience, unsure of what was about to happen, made a bee-line for the far door, then, when they realised there was no ‘scene’ as such, they milled around, taking in the projections and mixing with the ‘first class’ passengers, until they gathered together before our First officer, actor Liam Tobin. He welcomed them to the ship and then led them downstairs to the basement. As they descended sounds of the engine rose to meet them, signalling a change of atmosphere,
As ‘Trimmers’, who rush the coal from bunker to furnace ran at full pelt along the room with shouts of ‘Straight Through!’ All was noise and confusion. And then there was older George, chopping food for the ‘Oodle’, the stew the seamen ate after their shifts. All was quiet until we heard a cough, from a large crate, and the drama began.
 
 
‘Thanks for a fantastic experience last night. It was not just a visual, emotional and intellectual experience but was so much more due to the soundscape (which in the boiler room sequence felt like a physical assault) and the apparent spontaneous singing. I was totally pulled in and felt as though I was a participant rather than an observer.’
 
Paul Darby, audience.
 
I won’t do a spoiler here, except to say that the drama transferred to the back room of the basement of the building, which we had turned into an engine room complete with furnaces, which later turned into the ‘crack’, or dormitory of the stokers, with their bunkbeds centre stage.
 
Angry, sometimes violent, with song and dance, sharp-paced dialogue and humour, interspersed with personal, often poignant discussions and stories, this cast delivered it so well that many people reported coming away from the play feeling as though they had actually been in the engine room and the crack. An agent who represents two of the cast, who has seen many, many plays, said she had to keep reminding herself that they were actors, and not real people, in front of here. I can’t imagine a better compliment on that. I must admit that I was engrossed in each performance I saw, and at times a little watery-eyed; something I didn’t expect having lived with the play for such a long time. I was proud, proud and proud again to see my work, and Garrett’s life and his short story, brought to life so well.
 
‘Now, plays with an all-male cast are not usually my thing but The Maurie by Mike Morris is an absolute revelation. Performed in the stunning basement of the Cunard building, the piece is a tender and poignant exploration of the lives of the men working below decks in the stokehold of the Mauretania. The characters are fully realized and their experiences are eerily relevant today. If you get a chance treat yourself to a stunning, funny and touching theatrical experience.’
 
Shirley Razbully, audience.
 
Each night I took a few moments to observe the audience, and found each night they were transfixed. ‘I didn’t want it to end’ said one, and not one person complained that they had been there for a total of two hours without a break; they barely noticed the time passing.
 
‘Just got back from this evenings performance and we thought it was bloody brilliant! What a fantastic experience! Feel like I've just made it to New York - utterly exhausted!’
 
Rebecca Britten, audience.
 
And so, against many odds, the production and the play was a triumph in every respect. It was so special to take over the building, participate in creating such an amazing piece of work, and receive such positive feedback from the audience. After each performance I was surrounded by people wanting to discuss it further and telling me stories of their family who had been seaman, and stokers, many of which confirmed the reality of the stories we told in the play.
 
Thanks and congratulations to all involved, and if you missed it, watch this space; we may be bringing it back for another run….
 
Mike Morris, Writer and Producer.

Last modified onWednesday, 08 July 2015 22:37
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