"Cap, noose, pin, lever, drop"
December 1927, The Grand Theatre, Gravesend. It’s a full house. They’ve come in droves to see John Ellis, the notorious ‘Rochdale Hangman’, demonstrate the secrets of his craft. But there are secrets that Ellis is less willing to share. Backstage, the living and the dead are circling, waiting to claim the truth. Together, they force Ellis to confront his past – with devastating consequences.
Watch the trailer for Hangman:
Hangman is a new play by Maggie Clune. Based on evidence gleaned from the National Archives and from events in the tragic, bizarre life of John Ellis – famous for hanging Dr Crippen and 200 others; infamous for the botched hanging of the innocent Edith Thompson. Hangman blends fact, fiction, reality and fantasy to form a moving account of the last days of the Rochdale Hangman.
Edith Thompson's execution was arguably the most notorious miscarriage of justice of the era and the full details of the Thompson case remain covered by official secrecy until 2023.
The lives of both Edith Thompson and John Ellis are fascinating, moving, tragic and had a massive impact on society at the time - it is believed that over a million people signed the petition for Thompson's reprieve and her trial is considered to have left a "lasting stain on the British Justice System".
Eyewitness reports of Thompson's execution provide conflicting testimonials of what occurred - which led to rumours that something went dreadfully wrong as the trapdoor opened.
The ordeal of executing Edith Thompson forms the bedrock of the play - and it may well have been the tipping point that sent an already fragile Ellis, who had become a heavy drinker, over the edge. There were others who were affected: several of the prison officers present at Thompson's execution took early retirement, but John Ellis went further, attempting suicide a year later.
Following the humiliation of a court caution for trying and failing to take his own life, Ellis bizarrely decided to place himself in the spotlight again, investing money in a play in which he played another real-life public executioner, William Marwood.
These basic facts, set in a provincial theatre on the cusp of the new era of Hollywood talkies and mass entertainment, form the substance of our play.
Maggie Clune talks further about Hangman in an interview ith Chris Challis for The Argus newspaper http://www.theargus.co.uk/leisure/stage/9345038.Hangman__The_Open_House__Brighton/
About The Cast
Russell Floyd leads the 6 strong cast.
Russell Floyd plays John Ellis; The Rochdale Hangman.
RADA-trained Russell Floyd is a familiar face to TV drama fans, having been a leading cast member of EastEnders, The Bill and Doctors. Theatre credits include stints with John Godber’s Hull Truck Theatre, the RSC and The National. More recently he was seen in the RSC produced football drama Fit And Proper People by Georgia Fitch at the Soho Theatre, London, and and in Laura Poliakoff’s Clockwork at the HighTide New Writing Festival 2012.
Samantha Bolter plays Edith Thompson.
Sam's recent credits include: Kate in the feature film Darkest Day, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing for the Festival Shakespeare Company and Gemma in The Essence of Love, written and directed by Philip Ayckbourn. She can also currently be spotted in the government's 'Money Advice Service' advert campaign and will be playing Tanyowin in The Shadow of Israphel; the upcoming feature film from City17 Films (click to view trailer).
Peta Taylor plays Annie Ellis.
Peta is a stage actress with 30 years' professional experience. Favourite roles include Mrs Malaprop (The Rivals), Bolla Fogg (The Night Heron) and Aunt Dot (Last Tango in Littlehampton). She is a producer and designer for Brighton's Festival Shakespeare Company. Peta also works as a freelance lecturer and tour-guide at the National Portrait Gallery.
Duncan Henderson plays Gus Derbyshire.
Duncan trained at Webber Douglas in London. Working mainly in the theatre he began his career in Pitlochry and then gradually worked his way back down south. This journey has taken in several stints in Edinburgh, most recently in Hitler Sells Tickets, a few with Base Chorus in Liverpool in Golden Boy and The Man Who Stole a Winter Coat and a touch of Merlin at The Library Manchester. Most recently he has been performing as the librarian in Glen Berger's one-man show, Underneath the Lintel which he intends to continue..
Jolie Booth plays Maud Grey.
Jolie specialises in Shakespeare, Mumming and Fooling, having toured Richard II around Europe for four years with Jonathan Kay and Theatre of Now. She recently performed in the award winning Twelfth Night with the Festival Shakespeare Company as part of the Brighton Festival.
Tom Dussek plays Maurice Jameson.
An accomplished voice-over artist, Tom Dussek is the voice of The Blue Toad Murder Files, Joe Danger, All Zombies Must DIE!, and many other video games, as well as voicing feature films, radio and TV ads. On stage, Tom was the belly-polishing, bombmaking rapist Scanlon in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Brighton Fringe), Keith in My Second Life at the Greenwich Theatre, and Brett in Happy Ever After at Theatre 503.
The Performance Reading
We will be performing Hangman at The Tristan Bates Theatre on:
Monday 11th November at 1pm & 7pm and Tuesday 12th November at 1pm.
We have already had a lot of fantastic feedback and interest in the play after performing a sell-out trial run in Brighton and Henley. Please see some of the audience comments:
"If you miss seeing Hangman at the Henley Fringe Festival, you will be missing a most moving and powerful theatrical event. Every member of the cast is strong, professional and convincing in this thought provoking play. So glad to have seen it before it moves on to London. GO!"Anthony White
"Wow. Saw this last night and was just totally blown away. The acting was sublime, the story was riveting and the finale was just terrifying and sad in equal measure. It made me laugh, cry & think. Poor old John Ellis! - Hangman@Henley I Just ordered a copy of this* - I'm well into finding out more about John Ellis now!"Joe Wilson
"Big thank you to everyone involved in this incredible production. All the actors really brought the play alive with outstanding performance from all. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it, since I watched it. Amazing. Thank you again!"Sand Crab
"I saw it at the Open House. It was so good I went twice!"
We would love to now be able to take it to London to perform for an invited audience of producers, tour bookers, venues, theatre companies and artistic directors with a view to gaining a fully produced run.
Generally, in order to get a full scale production of a script, a writer will get a company of actors together to perform a 'rehearsed reading' -a script-in-hand reading of the play- for a variety of theatres and artistic directors to hear the play read aloud, making it much easier for a producer to digest and visualise.
Since we have already got the play on its feet for a run of try-out performances, we can go one better than a rehearsed reading. On the basis of this, we have decided to do an exclusive 'industry preview' performance reading (a rehearsed reading but with costume and sound - kind of like a dress rehearsal).
We have compiled a list of theatre companies, producers, bookers, and several high profile directors that have all expressed an interest in coming to see this 'Performance Reading' and decided it was time to start approaching London theatres.
We managed to negotiate and incredible offer with The Tristan Bates theatre and we have also managed to secure the wonderful team at BrightHelm Films to come in and film the reading (for free!) so we can also do a video link-up for our contacts overseas and in the North of England - Ellis came from Lancashire so we're keen to tell the story to audiences in the North.
The actors and director love the play so much that they're willing to give their time for free but we have to pay the going rates for the venue, travel and marketing - that's where you come in!
So, here we are with our game plan, our contact list, our set, our cast and our wonderful offers from the venue and film crew, but in need of the that last financial leg-up to get us over the final hurdle!
We all agreed that we had to find a way of getting this wonderful play out there (it really is a story that should be heard), and that's when we decided to explore Kickstarter... We've seen the wonderful things that have been achieved thanks to Kickstarter readers - can you help us with Hangman?
£700 to secure the well-known Tristan Bates Theatre in central London (round the corner from Leicester Square tube station) on Monday 11th and Tuesday 12th November 2013.
"An acclaimed, intimate studio theatre in central London, the Tristan Bates Theatre has a reputation for supporting and showcasing new writing, contemporary productions and work by regional and international companies. The venue offers an ideal destination for audiences in the heart of the West End and Covent Garden, alongside strong industry connections through the Actors Centre." http://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/
£250 to pay train fares for 6 cast members, 1 writer and 1 director to travel to London at roughly £30 each. We will be staying in London (crashing on friends' sofa's) for the few days of performances and then heading back after that which will mean we need Open Return tickets.
£250 on costume hire, marketing materials inc. flyers, copies of the script, mail outs (stamps, envelopes), DVD's of our promo, etc. We have negotiated a great deal from super costumiers GladRags of Brighton (a registered charity) http://www.gladragscostumes.org.uk/
Any additional donations are most welcome and will be used to fund a Performance Reading in the North of England for the 'Northern Circuit'.
At the moment we intend to reach our contacts in the north via a Video Link-Up of the filmed London Performances and we will also be sending hard copies of the script to our contacts at several prestigious theatre's (The Library, The Coliseum, etc.) If we can go up in person and actually perform for them, so much the better! Ideally we would like to take it to Manchester.
Additional Info and Links:
If you're interested to know more about the story of Edith Thompson then please view the links below.
Edith Thompson, unhappy with her marriage to her aggressive husband Percy Thompson, had an affair with Freddie Bywaters who eventually murdered her husband. She also stood accused of the murder but there wasn't enough evidence to substantiate it, apart from the love letters to Freddie in which she wished her husband was dead. The details of her trial and subsequent hanging remain a mystery as the Home Office marked her case notes with "Not to be opened before 100 years" and are not due for release until 2023.
Please also feel free to take a look at the BrightHelm Films website - they really are fab! www.brighthelmfilms.com
Risks and challenges
The venue is booked, the team is on board, the show will go on.
Once the project is funded there is minimal risk. We have understudies for the full company if a cast member is taken ill and we carry third party insurance. In the unlikely event that a disaster hits the theatre and forces it to close down then we will still provide the gifts and look to do a run in another venue instead.
- (28 days)