Superstars' mugshots spark unusual new play

Different Universes co-creator Phil Rigby
Different Universes co-creator Phil Rigby

Two Wigan musicians and writers will give arts fans a completely different look at two well-known showbiz names’ falls from grace with their new project.

Brendan O’Leary and Phil Rigby are staging musical play Different Universes about singer James Brown and Hollywood actor Nick Nolte at Cross Street Arts in December.

Nick Nolte

Nick Nolte

The unusual work was inspired by mugshots of the two artists which Brendan saw and thought showed an almost uncanny likeness.

The two famous faces had both been charged by police and pictured in a distinctly unflattering light: Nolte for driving while under the influence and Brown, known as the Godfather of Soul, for domestic violence.

These images have now been turned into a unique trip through a surreal and comic universe which explains how the pictures might have come to be so similar while ramping up the theatrical chaos and mayhem.

Different Universes is something of a departure for Brendan and Phil, who first met more than 20 years playing in the band Fleck and have rarely done anything in which music and drama are fused so closely together.

James Brown

James Brown

Phil, from Norley Hall, said: “Brendan and I used to send each other emails with daft stories about the mugshots and over the years it developed into this mythology about these pictures and where they came from. We’ve always talked about doing a play, more as a joke than anything else, but then earlier this year we just thought we’d have a crack at it.

“We’ve nicknamed it an ‘immorality play’ and we just subvert most of the things you would normally expect to find in a story about a hero’s journey.

“I’m very excited about it. It’s quite ambitious. The things we’ve done in the past are much more rooted in standard gigs with a band getting up and playing songs, but this is quite different, a real theatrical performance. We’ve basically tried to rob influences from everything that excites us and bring it all together.”

Two volunteer actors from a local drama school will take on the two lead roles, which largely involve physical performances while wearing masks influenced by Japanese kabuki theatre.

Phil and Platt Bridge native Brendan have also created a musical score with lyrics for the whole thing, while Brendan and a bandmate of Phil’s have recorded all the dialogue for the play, heightening the surreality by adopting strong accents nothing like the American sounds of the two characters.

Technology is also playing a huge role with ambitious projection mapping being used to allow moving footage to be the backdrops of each of the six musical movements rather than standard scenery.

Phil and Brendan hope the performances on December 29 and 30 will be the springboard to taking Different Universes further afield in 2018 and thanked the Standish arts hub for providing a venue and supporting them.

Space in the venue for the two shows is strictly limited so anyone wanting to go needs to book in advance. Entry is by donation. To find out more search for Different Universes on Facebook.