Dramatic Edge, a theatre group for local youngsters, is bringing Arthur’s Experiment, a new play inspired by the mus-ical history of Eel Pie island, to the Live Room at Twickenham Stadium next month, writes Will Gore.
The Arthur of the play’s title is, of course, Arthur Chisnall, who ran the legendary Eel Pie Island Jazz Club from the mid-1950s to mid-1960s.
As well as staging gigs by top jazz and blues men, including Ken Colyer and Howlin’ Wolf, and up-and-coming rhythm and blues rockers, such as The Rolling Stones and The Who, Chisnall acted as a mentor to youngsters who came to the island.
Arthur’s Experiment was written by the project’s director, Claire McCormack, who says the production has brought members of different age groups from throughout the community together.
She explains: “We wanted to do an inter-generational project so, when I spotted the Eel Pie Island heritage plaque on Twickenham Riverside, I thought it would make the perfect subject for a show.
“We are focusing on Arthur Chisnall’s era – 1956-67 – and have been looking at the work he did for the youth of the area.
“His idea was to provide a safe atmosphere for young people and he would then surreptitiously talk to them about education to try and raise their aspriations.
“He had an open door policy – one of the first times that the phrase was used. There was the music and camaraderie, but also this hidden agenda of trying to help teenagers grow up.”
This commitment to youth is reflected in Dramatic Edge’s ethos. For this project, the group, that was set up by Richmond Council five years ago to try and raise drama standards for young people in the borough, also wanted to involve an older generation of adults, both to draw on their memories of Eel Pie Island and to gain ideas from adults with experience in the theatre world.
“There are a lot of adults in the borough with a lot of arts experience and there hasn’t been much chance for them to meet with young people and share that ,” adds McCormack.
“We’ve done work with an adult dance group and artsrichmond have provided mentors in every section of the production.”
The free performance, which will feature 30 people, aged from 10-80, with the youngsters drawn from local schools, colleges and St Mary’s University, features music and dance pieces and tells the story of a fictional character growing up around the Eel Pie scene in the 50s and 60s.
The show will end with an appropriate flourish – a performance from one of the original Eel Pie bands. The Downliners Sect.
Arthur’s Experiment, The Live Room, Twickenham Rugby Stadium, February 12, 7.30pm, free, to book tickets call 0208 783 4271 or email email@example.com The Eel Pie Club keeps the musical spirit of the island alive every fortnight at the Cabbage Patch pub in Twickenham and, on Wednesday, James Litherland’s 4th Estate will be topping the bill. Admission is £10 or £8 to members, with the gig starting at 9.15pm. Visit eelpieclub.com