MORAY actor Katie Williamson had to step in to ensure the new musical she co-wrote could open as planned at the Edinburgh Fringe.
‘Sincerely Mr Toad’ suffered a real drama when a cast member had to pull out of the first preview shows last week after a family bereavement.
Katie (25), who performs under the stage name Katie McIvor, was drafted in at the 11th hour for the shows at the Pleasance Dome.
The musical, written by David Hutchinson, saw Katie, from Elgin, collaborate on the lyrics in her first musical, which stars Keith Jack and charts the life of Kenneth Grahame, author of the ‘Wind in the Willows’ stories.
London-based Katie had not wanted to perform in the musical, instead preferring to stay at arm’s length as a writer.
However, Mr Hutchinson told ‘The Scot’ that she had no hesitation in donning the costume when it appeared as if the curtain might not go up on the show.
“Katie had to step in for the first preview performances because one of the cast members had a death in the family and had to go back down south,” he said. “She had written a lot of the lyrics and knew the show backwards, but had to jump in a costume and she did really well.”
She had had little active involvment in rehearsals, he added.
“She had watched them but hadn’t had the opportunity to do the moves. She literally had to go in bedrooms and on the Royal Mile, wherever people were available and learn the steps. She managed to see one show in Dumfries because we did get that much notice that the cast member was going to have to go the next day.
“Katie always said she wanted some distance between the show because she had helped write it, but she ended up being in it and she was great. It worked out and she is that sort of professional person who can do that and have no fears.
“She had to go back down to London but she is very proud of her work which I am glad because she has worked really hard.
“We worked in the capacity of director and actor in the tour of ‘1984’, which went around 32 venues in the spring, and we went to drama school together.
“This is the first time we have collaborated as co-writers and it was brilliant. She was extremely flexible in her thoughts and works very hard.”
The small venue at the Fringe required the cast and production crew to adapt from a large venue, which can seat 600 people, to an intimate theatre setting where the audience is just inches from the cast in some instances.
“It is very intimate. The actors had three preview performances to get used to the space and they pulled it off.”
The musical officially opened at the Fringe on Saturday, August 3 and is staged every day at the Pleasance Dome until the end of August, with only one day off on August 12.
It will then tour five venues in Scotland before heading to London for a week-long run at Sell A Door Theatre Company’s base in Greenwich.
“I am hoping people are going to come and see it in its smallest form at a Fringe venue; and maybe have some interest in giving it further life on a larger scale,” added Mr Hutchinson.
“It is one of those things you have to do it first and show people the material before they will invest, whether it be financially or in time and effort to bring it to the theatres. Fingers crossed people will like it and they will want to see a future life for it; otherwise it has just been a blast doing it and frankly I am quite proud of what we have put on stage.”
He started writing the musical a year ago but the process stepped up a gear six months ago.
“Things are slow to begin with but as it picks up momentum it gets faster and faster and for the last two months we were just doing it every single night until two in the morning.”
“There was also the process of cutting it down for the Fringe to bring it down to an hour and 15 minutes. It is normally 1hour 45minutes, with an interval so we had to bring it down.
“You just can’t pull out songs because that has a knock on effect, especially when you are dealing with someone’s life. You have to carefully calculate what information is more important. It was a bit of a struggle because you don’t want to cut anything but you have to.”
Katie, a former Elgin Academy pupil, studied drama at Telford College in Edinburgh before going on to study at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts which was co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney.
She has since been living and working in London in a bid to carve out an acting career, although her mum and grandparents still live in Elgin.
‘Sincerely Mr Toad’ is a moving tale of the life of Kenneth Grahame who went from frustrated bank official to renowned author with his stories of Toad, Mole and Ratty.
However, the musical also revealed his sad childhood and his hopes and aspirations for his own son Alastair, played by Keith Jack who shot to fame in the BBC talent search ‘Any Dream Will Do’.”
Grahame, played by the talented Adam Venus, suffered the agony of seeing Alastair commit suicide, aged just 20, unable to live up to the perceived expectations of his father.
The 11-strong cast worked extremely hard to bring the story to life while working within the limitations of a small Fringe stage.
It opened at the South Hill Arts Centre in Bracknell before moving to Dumfries ahead of its Fringe opening.
After its month-long run at the Fringe, it will play to five other Scottish venues in September before heading to London.
It is hoped to bring the musical to other venues in the future, possibly even Eden Court in Inverness.
Sincerely Mr Toad is at the Edinburgh Fringe until August 26 and is on daily at 3.30pm. More information is available online at www.edfringe.com