Doing the Locomotion 1995
Date. November 1995
Title Doing the Locomotion
Subtitle/descriptive labels A celebration of railways.
Category Devised music theatre review
Venue The National Railway Museum, York
Directors. Roger Marsh and David Kershaw
Special advisor Professor Colin Divall
In 1994 the University of York and the National Railway Museum appointed Colin Divall as Professor of Railway Studies, a new post held jointly between the University and the NRM.
To celebrate this innovative appointment Vice Chancellor Ron Cooke suggested to the department of Music that we host a concert of music inspired by railways (of which there is plenty). Realising that that this could become a large task and something of a burden if simply an add-on to the concert series, RM and DK proposed that we turn the idea into a Practical Project so that it became integrated into our teaching programme. Meeting with interested current students during the summer term of 1995, we began to compile a vast quantity of railway related material and encouraged students to come up with creative ways to present some of it. Nothing was off limits. In general DK took responsibility for sourcing and overseeing the musical side of the project, while RM concentrated on the theatrical presentation and the student devised scenes.
Description of Set
A large stage was built in front of a footbridge in the far corner of the main hall at the NRM. The footbridge thus served as a backdrop which also enabled action on and across it. Some engines and carriages had to be moved for us, to provide a seating area for about 200 people and space for a full lighting rig. Using the NRM as a venue presented enormous logistic problems for us. Most of the rehearsal and preparation took place in the music department as usual, but for the final week of rehearsal and performance we had to be at the museum. This meant negotiating opening hours, to create as little disturbance for the general public as possible. The fact that the museum is in a fairly isolated part of the city meant that, for safeguarding reasons, we had to organize transport for students to and from the venue for evening rehearsals. The experience of working there, however, was amazing for everyone, and especially for the curators of the set, costume and props, who were given access to collections not normally available to museum visitors. Many of the costumes and props were generously loaned to us by the museum, bringing an air of authenticity to the show.
Summary of show
The show brought together many disparate pieces of music and some film and theatre scenes connected to railways. The music ranged from 19th century orchestral gallops, through 20th century steam pieces, to Duke Ellington and the Beatles. There were some devised scenes and pieces. There were choreographed dances to The Steel Foundry (Mossolov) and Pacific 231 (Honegger); a recreation of a scene from the film Brief Encounter; an impersonation of risqué music-hall entertainer Max Miller, singing He missed his train again.The ‘Railway Children’ made an appearance, as did ‘the Fat Controller’, and there was a very good impersonation of the Beatles singing Ticket to Ride. Though mostly light-hearted in tone, the second half opened with a powerful scene from the Martin Sherman play Bent about deportation of Jews and homosexuals by train to the concentration camps. This had been a controversial addition to the show, with some feeling it was too upsetting for a family audience. However, after the opening night, Professor Duval thanked us for including it, saying that railways are more easily associated with ‘fun things’ and that their role in important historical events is often overlooked.