A rollicking comedy set in the 18th Century, written by a recently graduated student of mine. I had supervised his final year dissertation, for which he wrote Histrionics. He asked me to direct a showcase, then a production in Edinburgh. I saw Histrionics as a wry dig at selfish ambition and attention seeking. A fine piece of writing, with vivid characterisations and wit. The production was influenced by commedia and pantomime, the art of Hogarth and Rowlandson. The characterisations were large and lunatic but it was vital to preserve the core truths of where they were coming from as human beings. A lutenist accompanied the action.
One Act Play Festival, Tabard Theatre, 12 April, 2008
Underbelly's Baby Belly 1, 31 July - 24 August, 2008
Cast: Daniela Finley (Furtive), Sean Garvey (Vole), Paul L. Martin (Nimbus), Christopher Niederberger (Wolfio), Offue Okegbe (Ethereal Lute), David Shuker (Crimbo and Officer), Brendan Wyre (Rolf and Judge)
Directed by James Martin Charlton; designed by Mike Less; lighting by Howard Hudson
"…a well-written script... an entertaining show with comedy and good acting" - Edinburgh Evening News
" The play rattles along at speed… The courtroom scene at the end is the highlight of the play when the comedy, drama and quality of acting reach their highest levels." - One4review
"Plenty of slapstick bumbling and tomfoolery, a few ditties and even a ghostly dame… takes a quirky and mildly bizarre approach to exploring histrionic personality disorders, through a host of attention craving characters. There are laughs to be had, and, although I found it excessively silly, that might be your bag." - Three Weeks
"not totally lacking in charm… nice, witty observations” - The Scotsman
Michael Kingsbury at the White Bear invited me to direct this camp, rude, very nude American gay play with a La Ronde-type structure. It follows the adventures of a ring which once belonged to Leonardo Da Vinci. The Da Vinci Code with buns! I pushed the nudity as far as I could, interjecting copious Mannerist gestures. The critics hated it and we sold out for the entire run. Written by the co-author of Double Double and Jersey Boys.
White Bear Theatre, 15 April – 3 May, 2003
Cast: Robert Ashe, Stephen Chance, Ben Glanfield, Robert Sutton (all multiple roles)
Directed by James Martin Charlton; designed by Siobhan Pearson; lighting by Robin Snowdon
"...cops demanding blow jobs, Renaissance golden boys exchanging quips behind old Leonardo's back, Tchaikovsky and Prince Albert in a Russian bathhouse ... all this is more suggestive of a time-travelling porn movie than a serious play." - Time Out
"An experienced director, James Martin Charlton, attempts to impose order on undisciplined, review-style writing." – What’s On
“…James Martin Charlton’s direction fluid and intelligent…” – The Stage
Garrett came through the Warehouse workshop. His first play was a foul-mouthed, intense and very funny piece about a failed rock star wannabe. Drugs, male rape, and songs! I set it in a black hole at the end of a yellow brick road. The protagonist rails against modern culture. The vicious climax, in which he is abused by a drug dealer whilst his mother watches the TV, was followed by the EastEnders theme.
Firebird Theatre at White Bear Theatre, 4 February – 2 March, 2003
Cast: Sally Faulkner (Sylvia), Brett Goldstein (Darren Cross), Patrick Killian (Nigel Pinner), Peter Leafe (Steven Chick), Kit Smith (David Pennington)
Directed by James Martin Charlton; designed by James Martin Charlton & Nick Garrett
“… a window on the obsessive, delusional world of one David Pennington, who lives with his mum and her bruiser boyfriend Nigel, still refusing, at the age of 40, to get a job and face the fact that he is a rebel without a talent, and will never get a record deal.” – Time Out
“Peppered with dream sequences and musical numbers, it is an impressive piece of work, helped by astute casting and the near perfect physical dressing of the characters, which bolsters the already fleshy roles. James Martin Charlton directs with pace.” – The Stage
A one-off production without décor of a play by a new Italian writer. Very much in the Sarah Kane mould. Red-light cinemas and a killer murdering young men. Nicola Duffett and Richard Hawley, at the time playing a couple in the soap Family Affairs, spent much of the action fondling raw meat. I was the first to cast a brilliant young actor, Chris New. He went on to star as Joe Orton in the West End, and in the film Weekend. I used multi-media and ironic back-scoring, including Foreigner’s 'I Want To Know What Love Is'.
Writers in the Wings, Warehouse Theatre, 11 March, 2001
Cast: Nicola Duffett (Enrico's Mother), Richard Hawley (Enrico's Father), Chris New (Rimbaud), Martyn Scott-Thomas (Enrico 8)
Directed by James Martin Charlton; lighting by James Whiteside; films by Ron Scalpello
A beautifully subtle and moving play by my Warehouse Workshop colleague. Bumps tells of the long friendship and collaboration between gardener Gertrude Jekyll and architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. The showcase version gave me the opportunity to work with two highly experienced, well-known actors. This was something entirely different to my usual style. I strove to be as graceful and elegiac as the play. Alas, we never went on to a full production. Sheila recorded Bumps with showcase star Annette Badland and released it on CD.
Friendly Fire Productions at King’s Head Theatre, Islington, 23-24 September, 2001
Cast: Annette Badland (Gertrude Jekyll), Will Keen (Edwin Lutyens)
Directed by James Martin Charlton
Written by a frequent actor collaborator. Love, cross-dressing, gangsters and God. I’d directed a reading of this at the Warehouse. For Edinburgh, we cast It Ain't Half Hot, Mum star Melvyn Hayes. We somehow balanced scenes of neurosis and threat with scenes of high camp. It was my first Edinburgh show and, as with the Ed Fringe shows that followed, taught me how easy it is for a production to get lost in that melee.
Fireworks at Peppermint Lounge, Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh, 4-20 August, 2000
Cast: Caroline Burns Cooke (Margi), Melvyn Hayes (Maybelline), Tom Hayes (Barry), Paul Jenkins (Ron)
Directed by James Martin Charlton; assisted by Simon Green; costumes by Jo Tucker lighting by Douglas Kuhrt
“Melvin Hayes. You'll know him if you're a fan of the cult TV series "It Ain't Half Hot Mum". You know, that Beeb classic with the disparate bunch of khaki-clad military-types in. Only Melvin (aka Bombadier 'Gloria' Beaumont) tended to prefer a low-cut dress to the regular battledress. Well he's back, almost stealing the show again in a likeable little bit of Fringe theatre. In the highly appropriate setting of GB's Peppermint Lounge cellar bar, Melvin dons the drag and the false eyelashes once more, to play the character of Maybelline - owner of a tawdry London bar. It's there that we meet neurotic slapper Margi, her naive half-brother Barry, and Ron, the Lenin look-alike gangster with a secret or two up his sleeve. And, as we discover, it's not just the cocktails May serves up that possess the odd twist. As hinted at, this is by no means a one-man (or should that be one-tranny) show. Everyone in the cast is given the opportunity to shine chiefly through some delightful scriptwriting and subtle comedic touches. I guess Melvin's star billing, and the chance to see him revisit the old frock cupboard, will be the reason many folk head along to Saved By Sex. They won't be disappointed. And neither will those less blinkered, simply out for a bit of afternoon escapism. A warm welcome to the Fringe, Melvin!” – Scotgay
“Fast-paced and bizarre.” – Scotland on Sunday
“A roller coaster of emotion, misunderstanding and panic… A rewarding, bleak and subtly comic experience.” – The Comedy Star
“The show is tight and blessed with good acting.” – The Stage
“Well-timed comic performances… Charismatic.” – The List
“… worth seeing… consummate professionalism.” – Evening News
One of the many fine writers whose scripts I helped develop at the Warehouse workshop. Barney’s play was made up of interlinked monologues, a poetic, nostalgic and at times obscene glimpse at a world of early 1960s homophobia (without and within). I kept the characters in their own spaces, frozen and isolated in the fall-out of catastrophe. Zoe Gingell designed a brilliant set, reminiscent of Cornelia Parker’s exploding shed. Some of the press were rather appalled by what they felt was a depressing view of gay life. It seemed to me to be very honest, especially in that era. Barney went on to write some wonderful lyrics for albums by Erasure’s Andy Bell.
Rupert Drinks Vodka at Etcetera Theatre, 27 June – 16 July, 2000
Cast: Euan Macnaughton (Michael), Oliver Meek (Rowland), Hannah Young (Doreen), Michael Culkin (recording – Station Tannoy)
Directed by James Martin Charlton; designed by Zoe Gingell; lighting by James Whiteside
“Dorset, 1959. Michael, a signal man, and Rowland, a trainee porter fresh out of prep school, find their sexual liaison abruptly aborted when they are set upon by a knife-wielding, homophobic mob. Years later they separately look back on the brutal termination of their brief love affair and attempt to come to terms with its aftermath. We learn that Michael "married young through delusion" and that it was his revengeful wife who tipped off the "vigilantes". Forced to move away, Michael takes on a new existence dominated by despair and rampant promiscuity… Barney Ashton's short play Queer Dorset Bastard is essentially a series of monologues delivered by three actors. Situated between the two men is Doreen, Michael's teenage daughter struggling to understand her own sexuality… the relentless barrage of sexually explicit language… Humour comes unexpectedly in the form of a station Tannoy (the voice of Michael Culkin) an omnipotent presence that delivers an upbeat commentary throughout. The actors all give solid and believable performances: Hannah Young is superb as Doreen, Euan Macnaughton invests Michael with a certain bullish charm and Oliver Meek is suitably unworldly as Rowland.” – What’s On
“James Martin Charlton’s production [of this] fleet and modest piece effectively evokes something of the last hurrah of Great British primness and probity. Its characters think they’re forlorn in the ‘50s but , as the production’s closing strains of The Beatles predict, salvation may be only a few steps away.” – Brian Logan, Time Out
“… depressing confessions of homosexual self-hatred.” - The Stage
Cooke won a writing competition and showcased her monologue Suffer Little Children at the ICA. A self-justification by murderer Myra Hindley, haunting and evocative. Also on the bill was a Chris Savage King monologue, What? A woman gives her partner a piece of her mind in a restaurant. They developed companion playlets for Tom Hayes: So What? has the partner’s point of view; According to Mark has more excuses for murder from Lennon’s killer, Chapman. At a Camberwell showcase, I directed the Chapman piece. Then all of them in a full production. They required a light touch. Keep an eye on the performances. Use the poetry of the performer in space. According to Mark used back-scoring and sampled sound interjections, the jumble of the killer’s mind.
Showcase According to Mark in Lovers and Killers, St Giles Church, Camberwell, 23-25 June, 1998
Cast: Tom Murphy [Tom Hayes] (Mark Chapman); directed by James Martin Charlton; lighting and sound by Debbie McNally
What? So What?; Suffer Little Children; According to Mark as Lovers and Killers, Etcetera Theatre, Camden Town, 6-25 October, 1998
Cast: Caroline Burns Cooke (Myra), Chris Savage King (Woman), Tom Murphy [Hayes] (Man/Mark Chapman)
Directed by James Martin Charlton; lighting by Lisa Audouin
“A triple bill of what is essentially three one-handers, each play pushes the concept of monologue in different directions, examining the themes of love and death in different ways… Rarely does writing and performance combine so eventfully.” - The Stage
“Retreating into a pool of red light to exorcise her demons, [Myra] protests against her treatment by her father, Ian Brady, and the press… three fairly depressing and occasionally disquieting works.” – Time Out
A comedy aimed at the LGBT market, staged during the Brighton Festival. The travails of the son of the former star of a Blake’s Seven-type TV show. My first directing job outside of my own company. Took me to back to my early days on the fringe, staging gay farces. I made sure the relationships were authentic, added touches of Rabelaisian grittiness to the humour. The writer had a cult following on the East Sussex coast and the show was a sell-out. Fairs has penned many successful Dr Who audio dramas.
368 Theatre Company at Marlborough Theatre, Brighton, 5-17 May, 1998
Cast: Cast: Caroline Burns Cooke (Yvette), John Ainsworth Paul), Nigel Fairs (Danny), Max Day (Nigel), Jayne Massey (Mrs T), Nicholas Briggs (recording – Millwood), Gary Russell (recording – Announcer)
Directed by James Martin Charlton; set by Jamie Todd; lighting and sound by Paul Griffin & Justin Brentnall
“... this is not just another gay play... makes you laugh, wince and reflect... The characters avoid over-stereotyping because they are treated sympathetically and reasonably in depth and are sharply interpreted by the strong cast." - The Stage
“Played to a packed house on Friday night, with people queuing for returns... Strongly professional, with outstanding comic performances.” - Brighton Focus
Through the 90s and early 2000s, I directed many readings of new plays for the International Playwrighting Festival, Bernard Kops Writer’s Group, and my own companies. I’ve usually wanted to bring some movement and free the actors. I began using music stands, to free up the arms of the actors and not have them sitting. Many of the writers have gone on to full productions, and some to writing careers.
Amongst the play readings I have directed are Real Estate by Richard Vincent, Play With Me by Alison Horlock, Johnny Song and Gob by James Kenworth, Dark Horses, Still Waters by Angela Lord, Saved by Sex by Caroline Burns Cooke, my own play Divine Vision, The Irritant by Philip King, Queer Dorset Bastard by Barney Ashton, and many others.