The QT

Monday 17 June 2024

Seconds out for Seconds Away! at Live Theatre

Newcastle audiences are getting the first chance to say ‘hallo’ to new production featuring music and lyrics by Jimmy Nail and a script by Ian La Frenais. Sam Wonfor nipped into rehearsals for a couple of rounds of questions with the cast.
  • Auf Wiedersehen, Pet star and writer come together for first stage collaboration
  • Tickets sold out within days for the Live Theatre run of staged readings
  • A live band, featuring Peter Tickell and Lindisfarne’s Ray Laidlaw will perform on stage
Jimmy Nail’s latest project is getting its first outing at Live Theatre this month

There’s excitement in the air at Live Theatre.

A chunky run of staged readings of Seconds Away! — a new play with songs, created by Jimmy Nail and Ian La Frenais — kicked off last night (Feb 6), offering sell-out crowds at the Newcastle theatre a first taste of a project, which has been five years in the making.

More than 40 years after first working together on the iconic 80 TV series, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (Ian as co-writer with lifelong writing partner Dick Clement and Jimmy as the unforgettable Geordie bricklayer, Oz) and three decades after they co-wrote BBC police drama, Spender, the pair have come together to add ‘stage show’ to their collaborative back catalogue.

Seconds Away! is scripted by Ian with music and lyrics from Jimmy, who plays the lead role of Frankie Tanner — a once celebrated heavyweight boxing champion who now, in his later years, finds himself grappling with the life he has lived, the consequences of his choices and the daily struggles of illness and grief.

As Ian says: “It’s a family drama, with some quite heavy stuff in it. Frankie is suffering with the after effects of his years as a boxer as well as dealing with past sins and past misdemeanours with his family.”

Jimmy Nail and Ian La Frenais outside Live Theatre where Seconds Away! gets its first stage readings

Jimmy is joined on the cast list by: Catherine Dryden, who plays Frankie’s daughter, Sam; Sally Ann Triplett as his ex-wife, Margarita; Trevor Dion Nicholas as his former trainer, Vinnie; and Mark Stobbart as his estranged and troubled son, Christopher.

Directed by Live’s artistic director, Jack McNamara, the staged readings bring Jimmy back together with Sally, who he performed with in Sting’s musical, The Last Ship on Broadway 10 years ago.

Meanwhile Mark is taking on the role of Jimmy’s character’s son for the second time, having played Oz’s son, Rod in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet during the second coming of the iconic series back in 2002.

“By then Rod was a Dusty Springfield impersonator,” Mark laughs, taking a break from rehearsals with Catherine, Sally and Trevor — and kindly allowing me to monopolise it.

Father-son reunion: Mark starred in the revival of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet as Oz’s son, Rod

 “So here I am playing his son again, although there’s no blonde wig this time.”

We’re chatting in the main house at Live, where five chairs are lined up front and centre on stage with a stellar live band providing the backdrop as well as the soundtrack.

Musical director Peter Tickell is joined by Lindisfarne’s Ray Laidlaw on drums and percussion, Micky Crystal (The Tygers of Pan Tang) on guitar and harpist Mary Macmaster.

“The band really are just incredible,” says Trevor, who lists George Washington in Hamilton and the Genie in Aladdin among his many West End credits — and is making his Tyneside stage debut.

“They are constantly adjusting and working and tweaking each time we get a pass through. It’s a remarkable experience to be on this stage full of gifted artists — all willing to share those gifts with each other.”

“It’s like a masterclass watching Jimmy work,” says Sally, whose theatre career has taken her to prestigious stages on both sides of the Atlantic. “He’s got perfect pitch and he’s got such a clear idea of what he wants it to sound like. That’s a beautiful challenge for us.”

Clockwise from top left: Mark Stobbart, Trevor Dion Nicholas, Catherine Dryden and Sally Ann Triplett

“And there’s so much storytelling throughout the songs,” adds Catherine, who grew up in Chester-le-Street listening to a cassette of Jimmy’s Crocodile Shoes album in the car with her mum.

“Working with Jimmy’s original compositions is such an honour and it’s a real privilege to be the first people who get to sing and share them.”

Little did Catherine know when she was buying tickets for Seconds Away! — before successfully auditioning — that she’d be able to pass hers on.

“We were lucky enough to get tickets and my family are coming to the first performance,” she says.

“And since I don’t need my ticket,  my partner is also able to come!”

As Sam Tanner, Catherine says she is the glue which tries to keep the family together.

“She’s very thoughtful and selfless. She’s looking after her dad looking after her brother, spending time with her mam. She’s just trying to help everyone find their own peace, really, while also trying to pursue what she’s wanting to do in her own life.”

The story flips back and forth in time, exploring the lives led by Frankie and his family and the choices which have shaped them.

“Frankie and Margarita meet when they are young and they fall in love,” says Sally. “And they really are properly in love. Then they have a family and Frankie’s life as a famous boxer takes over their family.

“For me, their relationship is a story of them loving each other, but not being able to live with each other.”

The dynamic between Frankie and his son, Christopher, is one of the play’s central plotlines.

“Christopher is a drug addict and full of self loathing and self pity,” says Mark. “He blames Frankie for the state of his life — using that anger as a crutch to justify why his life is a mess. Through the course of the play, we see him hopefully turning his life around, or at least trying to.”

And then there’s Vinnie.

“He tries to help guide the storm, if you will,” says Trevor. “That guidance kind of shifts into the present day from what would have been in the past. It’s very much that he’s trying to correct his own mistakes — a chance to get it right.”

Set firmly in the city and heart of Newcastle, the story was one which caught the imagination of the late Bill Kenwright whose production company are co-producing the play with Live Theatre.

“Bill apparently said to Jimmy that the play is ‘all about heart’, and I think he was right,” says Sally.

“It’s a grown up story with so many elements which will resonate with people.”

And then there’s the songs.

As Jimmy arrives back in the theatre to get rehearsals underway, a final question, asking the four actors to share their favourite song from the 34 which are in the script produces a flurry of titles and descriptions of emotional moments from the play.

Frankly, we haven’t got time to talk them all through.

“There are just so many beautiful songs,” smiles Catherine. “You could love them all for different reasons.”

Trevor agrees. “Let’s just say the album is going to kill.”

  • Staged readings of Seconds Away! at Live Theatre run to February 17. Tickets are sold out (Mark Stobbart can’t even get one) but there is a waiting list. Contact the box office on 0191 232 1232 for more information.


Barnard Castle’s Bowes Museum, resembling a French chateau, was commissioned by art collectors John and Josephine Bowes but neither lived to see it open in 1892

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