Pat Whymark and Julian Harries find Common Ground with new farce Sidecar Named Despair
PUBLISHED: 19:20 18 September 2019 | UPDATED: 12:20 19 September 2019
@ Mike Kwasniak Photography
Common Ground theatre company have over the last ten years developed a strong community following throughout Suffolk and north Essex. Their plays mix farcical comedy with some thought-provoking sub-text.
East Anglian writer/performers Pat Whymark and Julian Harries have a way with words. They can deliver a well-timed gag with consummate ease. More importantly they can dream up a good title when the fancy takes them. Their latest show for Common Ground theatre company, A Sidecar Named Despair, is a case in point and raises a smile immediately on reading it.
It also gives a very good indication of Common Ground's work - quirky, slightly surreal stories, with a real emotional heart.
This latest production is an informal sequel to their 2013 show Stuff in the Attic and once again features Dick Mainwaring playing opposite Julian Harries. The original show saw Dick and Julian coming to terms with their sibling rivalry while sorting through their father's belongings, following his funeral.
This latest show revisits themes of family tensions. Dick's quiet suburban life is shattered when his brother Julian returns suddenly from The States, for "health" reasons. But his shady American "associates" have unfinished business with him, putting both their health at risk. Their dad's old bike and sidecar, which Dick has been "doing up", might come in handy as their getaway vehicle.
The show is a quirky black comedy, with original music by Pat Whymark & Julian Harries. When asked to sum up what the new show is about, Pat smiles: "It's The Odd Couple versus the Mob."
As if to prove the point Julian emerges from the rehearsal room clutching a prop gun with a flag protruding from the barrel which is emblazoned with the word 'Bang!'. I think this says all you need to know about the show and reaffirms Common Ground's tongue-in-cheek approach to high drama.
Julian says that the genesis of the show came from a desire to revisit the characters he and Dick created for Stuff in the Attic.
"It's about people our age, getting older ourselves, while still having parents who are alive but are increasingly dependent on us. At the sametime you may have older children who are demanding your attention and then you are having to run errands for and look after elderly parents.
"There are lots of themes in the show but it's essentially about balancing your commitments to work, to children and to older family members. At times it can feel you are chasing from one to the other without a moment to stop and think.
"It's about what is like to be still looking after people when you are entering your 60s, maybe even your 70s. The NHS, I am reliably informed, call it The Grey Tsunami because we have a generation who are living well into their 90s and even 100s."
Pat adds: "We know people approaching their 70s with very elderly parents and they are running about as if they are still in their 40s and perhaps, for their own health, they should be slowing down, taking it easy, playing a bit of golf or whatever but they are constantly on-the-go because they are looking after family.
"It's difficult because we are now encountering a time where people are living longer and we have a sense of guilt that perhaps we are not good children, even in our 60s and 70s, because we may, at times, resent having to keep running errands and being at the beck and call of elderly parents. It's difficult conversation to have, to discuss those feeling of guilt and resentment and we hope we can address those issues in a fun and entertaining way."
Julian picks up on this theme stressing the fact that the play is once again a black comedy rather than a dark drama about family relations. "These issues are explored as part of a farcical plot. There is a comic-thriller going on which allows us to explore these issues in a fun and enjoyable way.
"One brother is a fantasist with wild theories and ideas and the other brother is very much the solid, reliable type who keeps his feet firmly on the ground but can't help getting caught up in all the madness his brother unleashes."
A Sidecar Named Despair, by Pat Whymark and Julian Harries, is currently on tour until October 26 visiting Headgate Theatre, Colchester, Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich, Halesworth Cut, John Peel Centre, Stowmarket and Aldeburgh Jubilee Hall among others. For booking information and full tour diary go online www.commongroundtc.co.uk