It’s almost showtime and Fountain cast are ready to go

In February 2008 the Londonderry Sentinel featured a review of Roy Arbuckle’s ‘Songs of the Fountain’ CD.

At that time the reviewer wrote: “It illustrates that long before the Troubles, this was a vibrant community, part of this city with it’s own culture and identity that has come through a lot, is still standing and will continue to do so.

“With ‘Songs of the Fountain’ however, Roy Arbuckle has chronicled his passage from childhood to manhood in his native Fountain and in doing so charts the physical erosion of the area to the present day.”

It’s from these songs - and more besides - that Roy has woven the fabric that is ‘The Fountain: a Musical Play,’ which opens in the Memorial Hall this coming Wednesday, November 25 and runs until Saturday, November 28.

‘The Fountain: a Musical Play’ is at its heart a romance between Robbie from the streets of the Fountain and Peggy, a shirt factory girl from the streets of Creggan.

It’s a musical ‘love across the barricades’ set in the late sixties. Roy has preferred though to focus less on what divides us and more on what brings us together. And theatre and song and dance can certainly bring us together.

Roy and Creggan woman Nadine Hegarty (choreographer) and Lurgan man Michael Nangle (director) have been busy rehearsing with a young cast since October 26 in the Memorial Hall up on Society Street.

Francis Harkin plays Sam in the musical. Says Francis: “I had never even been to the Memorial Hall before the auditions so rehearsing there has been an entirely new experience. All the cast have been made very welcome and we are all working more and more together as a team. When I’m getting a taxi now and I mention that I am in the cast of the musical, taxi men all seem to have a story of dancing in the Mem in the sixties. For this show its a lot more than simply learning my lines, its also about learning the moves! There’s a real challenge- getting the dancing right. But I am up for the challenge and , as Nadine says, dance is at the heart of this musical.”

Paul O’Doherty, you could say, is ‘an old hand’ having appeared in many local stage productions and more recently on film including acting in two films awaiting release ‘Property of the State’ and ‘The Pitchfork Murders’. For Paul. who plays the bandmaster, taking on this role is all about ‘respect’. “ Even though its just a small part I am very keen to understand my character, understand his values and do him justice and do the Fountain justice. ”

Katie Patton is a classically trained singer but has had little difficulty adjusting to the style of ‘The Fountain.’

“This is a new experience for me, a privilege and one I am relishing. Even though the storyline takes the audience back into the sixties in the first half of the musical, I believe Roy has something to say about now too and about hope, hope for a better day. And I think the musical reaches out through its storyline and its themes right across the community.”

Eden Guthrie acts, sings and dances in the musical. Her family on her mother’s side are all connected to the Fountain and one of her best friends and cast member Stephanie (Burton) is from the Fountain.

“So my friendship with Stephanie meant that I was always up the Fountain,” she said.

“It is great to be involved in a production that tells at least some of the story of my community and invites the ‘other community’ – if there is such a thing, maybe we are one community - to understand that story.”

Eden is nervous and excited about the first night.

“It’s going to be such a buzz and you just have to learn to control those nerves and get out there.”

Annie Carroll plays the central female role, Creggan woman, Peggie. For Annie one of the highlights of working on the musical was going up to Creggan, to Linsfort Drive to meet with Theresa Brown who for years worked in shirt factories around the town including Tillies and McCandless in Bishop Street.

“I was in awe of Theresa walking down and up to Creggan, twice a day, off in the morning before eight, back for dinner, down again, up again. “What spirit. I hope I can bring some of that spirit to the part of Peggy.”

Annie acts sings and dances her way through the Fountain musical but she was unwilling to spoil the show by revealing how her romance with Robbie pans out.

“You’ll just have to come along!”

Ryan ‘Junior’ Johnston, who plays Robbie, was similarly coy.

“I’m saying nothing. Roy would have my guts for garters.”

Dancing too has been a challenge for ‘Junior’ but what a fine singer he is.

For ‘Junior’ it has been a privilege to work on “Roy’s baby”.

“I have always admired his song writing from afar. Here we are working side by side.”

Other highly talented cast members are Sophie Doran from Inch Island. Sophie acts sings and dances in this production and is understudy for ‘Peggy.’

She is also understudy for ‘Mary Magdalene’ in the upcoming Jesus Christ Superstar production in the Grianan Theatre.

Argyro Tsampazi is a ballet dancer by training and is delighted to be part of this community production.

“This is new but it’s exciting,” says Argyro who has come to Londonderry to complete a PhD in dancing.

Hip hop champion Amber King and Fountain resident Stephanie Burton. bring their powerful vocal and dance talents to choral arrangements of the fifteen songs in the musical.

Ethan McKeegan completes the dance and vocal line up. Ethan has appeared in both Les Miserables and La Traviata at the Millennium. Says director Michael Nangle: “All the cast have really worked hard over the weeks of rehearsal and we are determined to make this show really come alive from opening night on the 25th to closing night 28th.”

Gilly Campbell, Arts Development Officer for Drama and Dance, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, one of the funders of this production,commented; “The Arts Council is delighted to support this new musical production from Roy Arbuckle Michael Nangle and Nadine Hegarty as well as Towards Understanding and Healing. The arts have a unique social value, a gift, for bringing our people and communities together and this wonderful production tells the tale of a much-loved and iconic part of Derry-Londonderry, the places and its people and I wish all involved every success - a must-see these dark nights.”