Brief Encounter With ... Bruce James
Date: 16 March 2010
There are a number of touring productions around at the moment based on classic television or radio shows. Why Hi-De-Hi!?
With nostalgia being very much to the fore at the moment it was felt that Hi-De-Hi! not having been done on stage since 1984 was ideal for a revival. It was a particular favourite of mine in the 1980s and seems to be a sitcom that is remembered fondly by old and young alike. Indeed the youngsters we have introduced to it have all found it hysterical.
What are the main ways in which a stage adaptation using original scripts varies from the original? And this production from that of 1984?
This particular version has been specially written for the tour and contains much of the original 1984 West End show plus a new script adapted by Paul Carpenter and Ian Gower. The West End show contained lots of large production numbers as the characters were well known at that time and didn’t need any introduction in the Eighties. However in this new version there is far more of the original dialogue and sketches interspersed with numbers and some of the most well-known songs like the theme song "Holiday Rock" and "Goodnight Campers".
What do you think a 21st century audience will get from the show that perhaps the earlier ones did not?
The main thing is the script and characters are as funny and likeable as they were back in the 1980s. There are a lot of laughs, and we have found that the comedy is as fresh today as it was then. We have endeavoured to update the feel of the show in terms of appealing to a 21st century audience whilst maintaining the nostalgic atmosphere of a run-down holiday camp in 1959. It is going to be two hours of completely escapist entertainment as the audiences – young and old – will be transported back to a time when holidaying in holiday camps around the seaside resorts of the UK was the norm.
Your company mounts a number of touring productions each year. Which types of show work best, and where?
We find that comedies sell better than thrillers and dramas on our circuit. People want to have a good laugh and enjoy a night out and not have to think too much or concentrate. Having said that we do have a core audience who absolutely love the excitement of a good thriller and the drama of a good play and would rather come to that than a comedy. It is all a question of doing something for everyone. This is the same in most places we tour to, although Damian Williams’ appeal in our "usual" venues is tremendous. We have audience members who will come to every venue of a tour if he is in it.
You often cast actors best known for their television roles. Do you think that audiences bring a special expectation of these players?
Television names are good for publicity. The Press and the media in general are far more choosey in who they will publicise a production with. Television names tend to have more appeal in that are well-known to more people, especially in the provinces where West End play names are not as popular. Sometimes the audiences come to see the television names to be exactly as they are on screen in whatever soap or drams they have appeared in and are either pleasantly surprised that they can do something else or disappointed that are not the same.
How did you get into producing in the first place?
I went into partnership in 1986 with Alexander Bridge who ran the Palace Theatre on the Westcliff side of Southend in the 1960s. When he died suddenly in 1994 I was left with the company and changed its name to Bruce James Productions in 1995 to start afresh from everything that had gone before. I used to be an actor/comic but after a production of Scrooge in 2000 in which I played the title role I was horrified when I saw the video of the production and realised how much I had missed by acting in it as well. From then on I have stuck primarily to directing and producing.
How do you see the future of touring theatre in these recessionary times?
It is obviously far more difficult to attract an audience to everything we do and we are finding we cannot take so many gambles with new shows especially in the provinces. The onset and popularity of reality shows such as The X Factor, I’d Do Anything, Britain’s Got Talent and How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? have made being a performer "cool" and "hip" but it has led to even more actors, singers and dancers on the hunt for work. Our audiences are still of an age group which is mainly of the 40s and over, so we also have to keep this audience happy whilst attempting to attract the 20 and 30 year-olds to come along too so that theatre can survive throughout the 21st century. One of our most important productions every year is at Christmas where we hope to attract children to be bowled over by the magic of the theatre experience so they will return and eventually be the theatre audience of the future.
- by Anne Morley-Priestman
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