Rob Ellis On ... Fetish KnightsDate: 4 January 2013
Hollyoaks and Eastenders writer Rob Ellis is bringing back his hit play Fetish Knights to the North West. Following success as part of Manchester's Pride Fringe in 2011, the play was staged at the Lowry's Studio space. It's back again later this month in the larger Quays Theatre space and stars Claire King, Dean Sullivan, Nikki Sanderson and Sue Devaney. We caught up with Rob to find out more.
Can you tell us a bit about Fetish Knights?
It's a sharp, fast-paced, comedy, blended with authentic, emotional drama. Its constructed to hopefully have audiences hooked from the start, engaged with the characters, laughing one minute and tearful the next. I'm aware that some may perceive it's title as provocative and, although the show has been described as shocking, its shocks and twists come from the characters and their unfolding stories - not from anything remotely fetish based. That said, it's set in a men-only bar, so the subject is raised, but the bar is merely the vessel that hosts the stories linking our characters.
Where did the idea for the show come from?
I find people-watching fascinating and love it when someone in a cafe, or in the supermarket catches my eyes, or ears. I suppose that just makes me nosey, but I often find myself obsessing over someone I've seen in public, who's far more interesting, rounded and intriguing than many of the characters we're presented with on TV. My mind wanders and I imagine what their home is like, what they eat for dinner and what incredible heartbreaking and heartening stories they could tell and, most excitingly; what secrets they hold. Fetish Knights is based on a collection of people, all of whom I know. I think the best drama comes from reality, ordinary people can deliver the most extraordinary drama, not to mention incredible humour!
You had some great reviews - are you pleased with how the show has turned out and what changes have you made for the Re-Bound version?
We were utterly delighted with the reception for the show. We received 5 star rewards across the board and some incredibly comprehensive and generous reviews, the first of which came from Whatsonstage.com. Everyone here was just bowled over and it made the blood, sweat and tears worth it. It's all very well if something tickles you in rehearsals, but when someone's gone to the trouble of buying a ticket, you hope you can honour them with value for money and the very best entertainment possible. Fetish Knights was devised as a television series and film firstly. For the stage version, I took stories from the series and condensed them into one very dramatic night in a very special bar. The luxury I've had this time around with our Lowry incarnation, is that I've been able to show more.
You have some former Soap stars on board. How willing are they to send up their on screen personas?
I'm in the rare and privileged position to have the actors whom I originally had in mind when writing the show - actually on board and playing the characters. I punched way above my weight and contacted each of them personally with the script, to my utter delight and surprise they all agreed, so the begging paid off. Dean Sullivan is transformed as Kenneth Cadbury-Love, an aloof Oncologist who's continually disappointed by the sorry state of the world around him - and forever writing letters to a TV network to complain about a certain soap... His performance is nothing short of spectacular and he steals every scene he's in. I'm not going to give too much away about Claire King's portrayal of Pamela Heart, unabashed snob and ferocious social climber. Aside from her effortless glamour, Pamela is far removed from Kim Tate, the Emmerdale character Claire played; still arguably the UK's unsurpassed super bitch. Pamela has a few dirty tricks up her sleeve too though. Nikki Sanderson is joyous as our reality TV star and soon-to-be celebrity bride. Her wedding has been sold to a magazine, and she'll do anything possible to ensure she's the centre of attention and on all the front pages. Sue Devaney is a hero of mine and her portrayal of Janice is nothing short of genius. Also a reality star, Janice is a grafting mother of three, who's never had a days luck in her life, until she fell down an open manhole outside a well known high street shop and woke up in A&E with an Indian accent.
Who is the show aimed at?
Everyone! Hopefully there is a character in the show that everyone can relate to. If you like The Royle Family, Dinnerladies or Desperate Housewives, then you'll like Fetish Knights! It's very northern humour, it's incredibly down to earth and completely observational. Each character has depth, heart, warmth, flaws, needs and wants - even the baddies. Our director Ian Townsend painstakingly brings the script to life and eeks out the drama sometimes in the tiniest glimpse of an eye or flick of the hair.
In this poor financial climate, how difficult was it to get the play onto the stage?
Les Pratt, our now producer, came to me and said he had a theatre space free for August last year. I immediately snapped up the chance to have the space and then set about writing the show from the original series plan. I funded the show myself and we called in favours from everywhere. From the beginning there was an overwhelming sense of good will behind the show and on more than one occasion we were very lucky that things fell into place. I tried not to allow myself the fearful thoughts of 'will anyone come?!' thankfully, they did.
What would you like to see happen to Fetish Knights after the run at the Lowry?
We'd like to tour the play, take it to a wider audience. It's themes are familiar enough to chime with most people. It would work really well across the UK and I think Australia and parts of the US would really enjoy it. As far as the TV version goes, we're working on it and are hopeful for that elusive commission and schedule slot.
Why should audiences come along to see the show?
I really think we offer a great night's entertainment. It's jam-packed with character and story, there's plenty of laughter and a series of shocking twists that people wont see coming as the play climaxes. Hopefully audiences will feel, like they did during its first run last year, that they've had a really rich evening of entertainment. So often plays have nice dialogue, but you come away feeling a little lacking. We're keen with Fetish Knights that people hit the ground running and engage and root for the characters they love, very quickly. There's warm humour as well as some near the knuckle, cutting satire. It's acerbic in places, but never nasty.
What have you seen on stage that impressed you recently and why?
I loved Wonderful Town. I'm a sucker for a big, old fashioned glamorous Hollywood-style musical. There just aren't enough of them these days. I suppose it's all about finances and encouraging audiences, but it's sad that some modern 'musicals' are just rehashes of already familiar songs, strung together with a less than robust plot.
What are your plans once the run at the Lowry has finished?
First and foremost, I'll be in the bar... Then, we'll reconvene and work out the next step. We have some exciting offers from other UK theatres for the stage play, so we'd like to investigate the possibilities. We're now in the early stages of pre-production for the film and TV versions of Fetish Knights, which, for the screen will be called Beautiful, Dangerous People
Rob Ellis was speaking to Glenn Meads
Fetish Knights is at The Lowry from 30 January - 2 February.