Mr Different is a play with live music, which premiered in its original form at the Buxton Festival Fringe in 2017, where it was nominated for Best Small Music Ensemble. Over the last 5 years it has been further developed, with help from an Arts Council grant, in preparation for performance in 2023.
Set on an industrial estate in a northern town, on a cut-through from the suburbs to the town centre where all the evening entertainment takes place. Here, we find a quartet playing and hoping to pick up small change from the partygoers as they make their way home.
A large laundry bag centre stage contains the detritus of urban life and a disturbed character, nearly naked except for an A&E gown.
Apparitions appear around her with whom she engages in conversation. Some are merry makers, some are pursuing their own course through the night and some are officialdom.
It is clear that they are not all in the same place.
The original concept was to find a way to showcase songs, that didn't involve a verbal introduction followed by a song, followed by another introduction and another song. By writing a story with a theatrical option, Egriega hoped to attract a new audience.
Gradually, by adding songs that fitted the initial idea, the character of Mr Different took shape.
We came up with the idea of a laundry bag from which a character emerges, holding the possibility of some kind of stag party prank, and also referencing ‘Harvey’, the play and James Stewart film, about a man talking to an invisible rabbit.
Thereafter, the idea emerged of a chance to comment on modern society and the ultimate possibility that Mr Different might somehow exist in a limbo between life and death. However dark that might all sound, we wanted to retain a degree of humour. We thought of Samuel Beckett and men in dustbins or characters who were waiting for someone but didn't know who.
The final piece of the jigsaw in the first version of the show was the song 'I See You'. When originally conceived it was unconnected to the show but we sensed that a song about someone driving a car without thought for others would fit the script very well. A reviewer, Graham Jowett, pointed out that 'I See You' was also the acronym for ICU or intensive care unit. Suddenly the piece had a direction.
After its Buxton Fringe premiere, and with encouragement from several audience members, reviewers and most importantly, director Craig Sanders, it was decided that we'd seek additional funding from Arts Council England, so the piece could be further developed and expanded to perform at theatres.
In 2019, we were awarded a Research and Development grant by Arts Council England to work on the stage design and dramaturgy, and undertake several rehearsals and workshops to get audience reaction, working with a local university drama department.
Just before the pandemic we engaged a new director, Richard Ross. Obviously lock down created lots of challenges, but nonetheless we undertook rehearsals without a theatrical venue. Each time a possible venue was identified some new lockdown regulation or shift in the venue's programming, caused us to rethink.
As part of the submission to the Arts Council, we engaged the work of a professional script editor, Donna Metcalfe, who has worked with several TV dramas including Cold Feet. Following her suggestions, we undertook a major overhaul of the script in 2021.
We also recorded all the music professionally in a studio, with a view to the possibility of not using live musicians. We filmed them with green screen, so that we could incorporate our ideas for stage projections and release the piece as an online experience.
We filmed one run through with Pieter in the central role, and sought feedback from several sources.
Pieter never felt that it was a vehicle only for him, and with more projects that he wished to concentrate on, we started looking for a replacement lead actor and singer. After discussing the video, with the script editor, we decided to make a major change and reposition the script to include a female protaganist.
The script has been fully revamped by Richard Ross, retaining some of the ideas from the original versions, and most of the songs, but fundamentally re-centring the narrative on a female lead.
Pieter Egriega (Writer) is an experienced composer and musician with a long career on the periphery of the Manchester music scene. Recent works have received several nominations for music and new writing at Buxton Fringe and in 2016, 2019 & 2022 he won their award for excellence in music. In 2022, he won the Buxton Fringe award for solo music with his show "Adventures in Sound and Light" which featured projection mapping, inspired by some of the ideas that sprang from Mr Different's development.
In the 70s and early 80s Pieter, performing as Arthur Kadmon was considered one of the pioneers of New Wave Music forming the band Ludus and playing in The Distractions, Manicured Noise and for a nano-second in the Fall.
In 2013 he suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke leaving him with no movement in his right arm and leg. His recovery has been slow, but nonetheless he has continued to create.
For 2023, he is currently working on a new project. This is a solo show entitled "A Problem with Clowns" wherein dressed as an atypical clown, 'Tommy Skellytom performs mimes and sings songs.
The work with Richard has led them to discuss the idea of forming a theatrical company to produce more theatrical work, often with a music element. The Arts Council funded work on Mr Different, is giving them a chance to assess the artistic merit of their work and understand the marketing required to deliver original new work and determine how to identify and market productions to an audience.
Richard Ross (Director)
Richard began his professional directing career in 1998 with a touring production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. He has developed productions and tours for theatres in Manchester (Tameside Hippodrome, Green Room, Hope Mill Theatre) and across the North West - often reimagining established productions for non-theatrical venues. He has also run a theatrical school and delivered theatre-based projects for youth initiatives. His focus is on keeping theatre a creative space, which can take risks, rather than sticking to tried and expected tropes. Recent work includes The Last 5 Years at the King’s Arms in Salford and Into the Woods at Footlights House in Media City.
Philippa Shellard (Actor)
Philippa has been part of the Manchester arts scene since 2015, performing at various venues across Manchester. She has mostly been involved in musicals, playing an eclectic mix of roles such as Velma Kelly in Chicago, Maureen in RENT, Cinderella in Into the Woods and Ulla in The Producers. During lockdown she starred in her first play, playing Donna in a recorded performance of ‘Class’.
She is excited to be in Mr Different, and being able to be a part of an R&D piece.
Charlie Ormrod (Musical Director) is a pianist, arranger and music tutor, initially engaged as a performer for the original Mr Different Fringe show, and has subsequently worked on other shows with Pieter, including Frank Sinistra: Sex Drugs and PR and the Buxton Fringe award-winning '11 Reasons': a photo romance with live jazz trio. Charlie’s solo work explores music through abstract associations with harmony and tonality, and ideas from these were used extensively in creating the music for Mr Different.