Hot on the heels of starring in Flowers For Mrs Harris at Chichester Festival Theatre, Gary Wilmot hot-foots it to Bognor Regis to direct the premiere of his thriller, Sweet Lorraine (Regis Centre, Wednesday, October 17-Saturday October 20).
“I had the idea for the ending and I started with that, and then 18 months ago I was in Dublin in a show playing a small role,” Gary recalls. “I thought I want to get this play written down by the end. I sat in my dressing room for hours, never missing a cue, just writing it, and when I finished it I showed it to some of the cast, and they were really encouraging.”
The next piece in the jigsaw was Hazel Latus who runs the Regis Centre in Bognor.
“I have known Hazel for 40 years. She was an agent in the agency office that represented me, and that’s how we met we each other, but it had been about 20 years since I had last seen Hazel. We had a little reunion, and I met Hazel there and it was fantastic. She explained to me that she had started being involved in her local theatre and she said to me that she wanted to embark on doing new writing. I said I had just finished writing the play.”
They got together, had a read-through and a workshop, and the journey towards October’s premiere was under way.
The piece, as Gary explains, is a tale of revenge.
Harry Burns (Harry Burton), a highly-respected jazz musician, is accepting of a life where the good times and fame are behind him. He now pays his bills by teaching music, and when Lorraine Travis, (Martha Dancy), sits at his piano for her first lesson, Harry’s life takes a thrilling turn – he is inspired, excited and adored again.
But Lorraine brings more than just talent and enthusiasm into his life. He finds himself faced with the truth of his past.
“It’s the story of a daughter wanting revenge for what she believes her father did to her mother. The play is Lorraine’s journey… It is quite a dark piece, and we have got a fantastic set.
“I have written stuff before, but it is tough getting it on. That’s the problem. It is a funny old business. If you were working as a plumber and then became an electrician, people would refer to you as an electrician, but it in not like that in this business.
“It has taken me a long time to lose the title of impressionist Gary Wilmot… even though I haven’t done impressions for 20 years.”
Gary could have been in the play but he is preferring to direct, a chance to watch it as a whole, observe it from the audience’s point of view.
“I just wanted to step back, but it has been great. Everybody has been really supportive and genuinely loving it.
“And it has been great (at Chichester in rehearsals for Flowers For Mrs Harris) to watch (director) Daniel (Evans), to watch how carefully he treats people, how well he treats people. He is one of the best.”
There is an element of try-out about the Bognor production: “But this is a new venture for them as well. We have not gone for famous people just wanting to put bums on seats. We have gone for people that will be right in the play. We have not purposely ignored famous people, but we want people to come away thinking ‘That was great! I must go back to the theatre!’ rather than thinking ‘Well, that was good but he was much better as Danny or whoever in EastEnders!’ I just want to see people considering going to the theatre in the way that they might perhaps consider going to the cinema.”