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Phoenix by Second Skin Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 14th Feb 2015 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin


A dead man taught him about how to play the guitar.

Five years ago, the American playwright Don Fried and British director Andy McQuade began working on an unusual project - a play inspired by the life of the iconic singer/songwriter Nick Drake. During his research, Don Fried found out that, 35 years after his death, Nick Drake had become a hero to millions, but little was known about him. Those who had actually known Nick Drake told vastly varying stories about the events they had witnessed. Fried decided that this should be the focus of the play. Second Skin Theatre now presents the European premiere of this transatlantic collaboration at the Phoenix Artist Club.

40 years after his mysterious death, Alan Phoenix has become a hero to millions. Chloë Baxter (Jo Shirley) a young journalist, is investigating Phoenix's life to find out what really happened but the people who knew Alan, including his older sister, refuse to talk to yet another journalist. But Chloë is not easily discouraged. She has a personal interest in Alan's story because it mirrors her own brother's fate. The performance begins with Patricia James (Louise Templeton), Alan's sister, visiting Chloë. The successful writer is appalled by Chloë's living conditions and ready to leave when she realises that her host is writing a book about Alan. Yet Chloë succeeds in changing Patricia's mind and Patricia opens doors to the journalist that heretofore had been closed.

The Phoenix Artist Club offers an intimate performance space with a rather noisy restaurant next door. The audience is seated at round tables and encouraged to bring in their drinks. One lady took it a bit far and brought in a whole meal but that didn't really disturb anyone because we were focused on the action on stage. An important part of this production is music, which was composed by Aurah (Judith Martin and Marc Dold) and strongly resembles the melancholy tunes by Nick Drake. As Chloë attempts to find out what really happened to Alan Phoenix she meets his former friends and colleagues whose memories are shown in flashbacks - a Headmaster who used to be in a band with Alan, a French lover, colleagues and his agent Will Pierce.

Director Andy McQuade and his remarkable cast tell a fascinating story about a mysterious man who cannot really be grasped. Jo Shirley is charming but stubborn as Chloë, Louise Templeton plays the celebrated writer Patricia James with self-confidence and authority and the French singer Thérèse Martineau with a seductive charm. Jack Sharman is a sensitive and vulnerable Alan Phoenix - a highly talented artist who lives for his music alone. He gets strong support from Richard Woolnough as headmaster David Somer, Chris Machari as Blues legend Robert Johnson, Mark Shaer -very good as singer/songwriter Shaydon Rigg, who had never been given the chance to be as great as Alan, and Patrick Doherty as Alan's cheerful, jovial agent Will Pierce.

 An intriguing play that should not be missed.

By Carolin Kopplin


Until 28th February 2015

Phoenix Artist Club, 1 Phoenix Street, London, London WC2H 8BU

More info on Second Skin Theatre:


1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 3 years ago
    Thanks for your review Carolin. Sounds like a remarkable play in need of a new venue.
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