The Karaoke Theatre CompanyThis article was published in the programme for the original production of The Karaoke Theatre Company at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 2016. The article - as with the programme - is written to suggest the company is real as opposed to a fictional company, which Alan had an inadvertent hand in starting. The conceit is carried throughout the programme with fake biographies for the characters (the actors are named only in subtle references within the biographies) and no credit for Alan Ayckbourn as director.
The Karaoke Company - a brief history by Alan Ayckbourn
I first saw Karen and Oliver back in 1998 midway through the run of their two handed tour of Now You See Us… at the tiny Corkscrew Theatre in Worcester. The show, presented by their own company, Frenzied Flywheel, was an intriguing mixture, part stage magic, part improvisation which had developed out of Oliver’s original solo magic act (The Miraculous Marvin … fills the stage with fish!) combined with his real life partner, Karen’s earlier career as a member of the now defunct, all woman, Leeds based, radical feminist improv. troupe, Femmes Fatales.
It was my first visit to Frenzied Flywheel and I was, to re-coin a hoary old cliché, literally bowled over by their originality and sheer onstage vitality. By coincidence, also in the audience that night was a mutual acquaintance of ours, actor Anna Raleigh who introduced me to both performers afterwards for purportedly a quick drink.
As tends to happen on such occasions, one quick drink inevitably led to another and, thanks to the pub’s obliging lock-in policy, buoyed up by the usual post show euphoria, the four of us got talking (as you do) about future plans and collaborative possibilities. Promising faithfully to keep in touch, the following morning we all went our separate ways, never in all honesty giving our previous night’s conversation a serious second thought. But, looking back, I think the seeds of the idea for The Karaoke Theatre Company were initially sown that night.
Jump forward almost five years to another chance meeting (alright, yes, in another pub in another town, I can’t remember which) this time to see, on this occasion, Anna strutting her stuff in the umpteenth revival of the zillionth adaptation of Jane Eyre. (The things one does for one’s friends!) Afterwards in the bar, that night she introduced me to her co-star, Rufus Jellicoe. After a while, the theatre being the small world that it is, somebody, it might even have been me, happened to mention that Karen and Oliver had finally disbanded Frenzied Flywheel and were looking for a new direction in which to go and suddenly there were potentially five of us. Then Rufus recalled working, a while back, with a very talented singer/dancer Kenneth Benbow who might be interested and suddenly, then and there, a dream was born.
A few days later, we met up with Kenneth to elaborate our plans and he got very excited and said, yes, provided none of us objected if we invited his amazingly talented current actor girlfriend, Alyssia Cook, to join too. And suddenly there we had it! The ready formed Karaoke Company.
K for Karen, A for Anna, R for Rufus, A for Alyssia, O for Oliver and K for Kenneth. Like it had all been meant
And then someone said, “hang on, isn’t there an E on the end of Karaoke?”
And somebody else said, “yes, well we’ll also need a stage manager, won’t we?”
And Anna suggested the one they had currently on Jane Eyre, Edie Hardy, whom she knew for certain had nothing currently to go on to once their tour was finished, would be simply brilliant.
And everyone said, “perfect!” And someone went over and asked Edie, who was drinking with the stage crew, and she said yes. And so we all had a drink together to celebrate the birth of the new company.
Then, all of a sudden, as we stood there the eight of us, I identified a snag. “Hang on we’ve got an extra A, haven’t we? We haven’t counted me. With me, the director we’ve got an extra A, surely? Well, extra two A’s really. So the name doesn’t really quite work after all, does it?”
And then the seven of them went into a huddle for a moment or two. And when they’d done they said, “sorry, we feel we don’t really need a director.”
And I said, “oh, I see. But I thought all this was partly my - ”
And they said, “yes, well thanks but we’ve decided we can do without one after all.”
And I said, “ah, well you’ll still need a writer, though, won’t you?”
And they all said, “Nar! It’s an improv. show, isn’t it? We make it up as we go along.”
And I said rather lamely, “yes, OK. I’ll be off, then. Cheerio!”
And they said, “no, you can’t go! Not yet, it’s your round, isn’t it?”
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.