THE KING’S TIGER RAG
written and directed by Roger Browne
Manchester Athenæum Dramatic Society
Once again it was our pleasure and privilege to be present at Athenaeum’s annual first production of the year which is always an evening with a difference. And what a difference it is each time, as you magically create entertainment which typifies and is within the wide parameters of Community Theatre at its best. It was a double first this year because it played for two night’s performances. Hitherto, they were for ‘one night only’ affairs, and when you witnessed all the production and provisions which go with it all, you have to multiply it by two to get a true idea of just what went into their 2019 production. On both nights it played to a packed audience and was coupled with the usual supper, with wine or tea and coffee, at half-time. So I can safely leave to your imagination the vast amount of energy, organisation, talent, skill and devotion involved throughout. Remember too, they aren’t playing in their own theatre but in a Church Hall, which is used by other organisations during the week, so there has to be a lot of organisation and good will all round.
The production told the story of 100 years of Jazz in Britain, beginning in 1919 with the arrival in Liverpool of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band from New Orleans on its way to London to play for King George V. The King’s subsequent love of jazz and the impact jazz had on the U.K. was illustrated by stories, speeches, quotes and sketches, with live music from the ODJB 1919 tour, played by the internationally renowned Mart Rodger Manchester Jazz. Mart Rodger was their leader on clarinet, Allen Dent on trumpet, Eric Brierley played trombone and also sang some vocals, Louis Lince was on banjo and guitar, and also helped the story along while talking about lawsuits, Chris Pendlebury was on drums, Alan Wilcox played double bass and was also “a right royal” King George V and, of course, Roger Browne was the Lord High Everything Else (with apologies to G & S) – pianist, writer, researcher, director, actor, from whom the idea of tonight’s quite incredible programme originally sprang. To everyone else involved on stage, including of course, Mart Rodger and his superb, expert Manchester Jazz, who all combined and collaborated to give a quite unforgettable evening. It is a long time since I was in an audience so involved throughout, - feet tapping, hands beating in rhythm with the music, applauding every solo and story–line, every actor, every joke or slice of humour, and generally “having a ball”. To say the audience were “with it” and spell-bound throughout the evening would be an understatement, and their overall reactions must have communicated to everyone on stage just what an enjoyable evening they were having.
Company players read or told us stories of what happened on the tour, illustrating problems faced, thrilling achievements, heights achieved, people met, history being made, or acted, individuals affected by , or present at, or just there, in some capacity or other, not necessarily named. Using their individual dramatic talents, they fleshed out the story for us, and helped to make the complete evening.
Sam Jones, amongst other contributions, played Nick La Rocca and the Prince of Wales (Edward V111 to be); Elizabeth Hudson was Rosario La Rocca, Lady Kathleen Stanhope and a critic; Rosemary Mark was Queen Mary, a critic and a friend; Sue Maher was Lady Airlie, the lady at Schillers, a critic and a friend; Arthur Hulse played Lord Stamfordham. George Robey, the famous comedian (known as the Prime Minister of Mirth), and a drunk; Roger Browne was the Marquis of Donegal, Larry Shields and Russell Robinson; Jane Parker was a critic and a friend; Elizabeth Lawrence was a very enthusiastic American fan. They made the story live for us and their feel for drama gave individuals their own characters, not just by speech, but by expression as well, like the critics and friends. They reflected, by facial expression, cleverly how they felt about the new music, despite the eulogies and OTT opinions they were listening to by some others.
“Tiger Rag”, “At the Jazz Band Ball”, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”, “The Darktown Strutters’ Ball”, “Margie”, “Twelfth Street Rag”, and “The Saints Go Marching In”, all went on jogging our memories and whetting our appetites for more. Congratulations and well done to everyone involved in any way, on or off the stage, behind scenes or in preparation. You put on a quite incredible evening working together under Rodger’s direction, and the members who looked after us all evening, and prepared our supper for us on both evenings, deserve their own gold medals. Shakespeare would have been gratified at the way you illustrated his premise that “All the world’s a stage.”