After a successful and extremely popular run in April, ‘Paint the Town Fred’, a new play about Beverley’s best-known artists, Fred and Mary Elwell, will return to the East Riding Theatre (ERT) in Beverley for an extended run in early June.
The play, written by Gordon Meredith, will be performed again from Thursday 9 to Saturday 11 June, 2022, at ERT, including a socially distanced matinee on the Thursday and a socially distanced talk by Wendy Loncaster, the leading authority on the Elwells. Other events are being planned, including artist workshops in ERT’s café bar, as well as Q&As with the cast, director and writer.
After seeing the play, Wendy Loncaster said:
“I was exceptionally honoured to have played that biographical part in this most successful drama and I pay tribute to Gordon Meredith and the whole production team for ‘Paint the Town Fred’. I enjoyed this spectacular performance so much that I saw it twice over, and have to say that I was always convinced, and loved every minute.
“The play has shone a glowing light upon the Elwells, as real people, bringing our artists, Fred and Mary, very much to the fore. At the same time, ‘Paint the Town Fred’ is drama at its best: it draws our attention. There is wit, dramatic contrast, surprise and aplomb, from the very start.”
Thanks to funding from the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, Gordon was commissioned to research, write and produce the play by the Museums and Archives team at the council and received funding from Arts Council England, and the Humber Museums Partnership.
“We have had some fantastic feedback and I have been really very encouraged by the warm words that people have had for the production”, said Gordon. “People have stopped me to say how much they enjoyed the performance and how much they learned, too. Some people have even said it is the best thing they have seen at ERT for years!”
It is particularly pleasing for Gordon to know that people are having fun and learning at the same time, as this is a key objective of his ‘Folk Theatre’. With a background in museum design and as an interpretive design consultant working throughout the UK and Europe, Gordon combines his love of history and theatre in this series of plays that tell real stories about real people in an entertaining and informative way. Audiences may have seen his previous plays of this genre, including ‘Swinging the Lamp’, ‘Broadside On’, ‘Fallen Leaves’ and ‘Stealing Seven Hens’, all performed at ERT in recent years.
Gordon added: “It’s great to be able to work with material about real-life events, and it was very inspiring to get behind the scenes at Beverley Art Gallery to see the Elwell paintings.”
In this play, he uncovers the real-life stories behind Fred and Mary Elwell’s creative partnership. They lived full and fascinating lives as they travelled and toured widely throughout East Yorkshire, London and Europe, and a little known fact is that Mary was a skilled artist in her own right, often exhibiting at the Royal Academy, as well as other galleries and exhibitions around Europe.
The project was originally developed through conversations with Helena Cox, the former curator of Beverley Art Gallery, which has an unrivalled collection of works by the Elwells. Gordon then worked closely with Wendy Loncaster, the leading authority on the Elwells, as well as Val Wise, who has also written a biography about Fred Elwell.
Gordon explained: “The story of the Elwells is a great local story for the East Riding. Many people know about Fred and his work, but not as many are aware of Mary, or that she was also a successful artist; this play looks at their colourful background and relationships, their adventures and their travels. We see the legacy of their professional relationship as we tell the story of the people behind their paintings.”
Returning to the stage in June will be Hannah Levy as Mary Elwell and Michael Kinsey as Fred Elwell, with Laura Peterson playing the Housekeeper, Elizabeth Chapman, and Gordon Meredith playing Mary’s first husband Alfred Holmes. The play is directed by Richard Avery.
Tickets for ‘Paint the Town Fred’ are available now from www.eastridingtheatre.co.uk