Published: 21/09/2015 10:50 - Updated: 21/09/2015 11:00

Angie's full tilt performance inspires Joplin show

Angie Darcy as Janis Joplin.
Angie Darcy as Janis Joplin.

USUALLY when leading theatre director Cora Bissett works on a play, the script comes first, then comes the business of finding the cast.

For Janis Joplin: Full Tilt, Bissett had her star first.

It was seeing her friend Angie Darcy playing Joplin in another celebrating the rock icons of "the 27 club" — musicians who died at the aged of 27 and include not only Joplin, but Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison of The Doors and Amy Winehouse.

"I’d seen Angie perform many times, but I just thought she was incredible," Bissett said.

"I spoke to her after the show and said to her: ‘We’ve got to build a show around you because you have got to explore that further.’

"It never really got off the ground, so I decided to take matters into my hands and I recorded her singing a Janis Joplin song. I sent it to the late, very great, David MacLennan, who ran Oran Mor in Glasgow and he got back to me that afternoon and said: ‘Absolutely!’"

Then when Bissett and MacLennan met to discuss the show in the bar of the Traverse Theatre, they just happened to be overheard by playwright Peter Arnott, a massive fan of Joplin’s music who immediately volunteered to write the show.

"It was one of those very fortuitous, organic things that happened," Bissett said.

"Usually when I set out to make a show, I’ve got some big sociological or political issue that I’m trying to explore, but with this, I just wanted to celebrate Janis Joplin — and celebrate Angela Darcy."

It is a celebration that takes the form of a concert with Darcy performing 10 of Joplin’s best known hits, backed by a full live band.

In between, she tells the audience about her life, something the real Joplin had a habit of doing.

"We open with a recording of the real Janis Joplin in one of those monologues and close with it as well," Bissett revealed.

"It’s quite eerie because you can see how seamlessly it goes from Angie to her.

"It’s a really rocking show, but you also get these intimate windows into Janis Joplin’s story as well."

Bissett has been a fan ever since she borrowed her big sister’s Joplin albums as a teenager in Fife, but as a theatre director she was also very well aware of the dramatic potential in Joplin’s story.

"Despite being an incredibly heroic singer because she crossed so many boundaries and broke so many taboos, she was a quite damaged individual who never felt like she fitted in," Bissett said.

"That’s a fairly universal story. There is still an obsession with celebrity and how we want our celebrities to be, but they can be very vulnerable people. Janis definitely had her demons, but that probably helps us have even more compassion for her."

Bissett admitted she would love to take the show to music festival audiences as well as theatres.

"It feels like you are going out on the road with a rock band rather than doing a theatre show," she said.

And despite the tragic end to Joplin’s own life following a heroin overdose, like a good rock concert, the audience leave the theatre on a high rather than a low.

"At the end of the day, you have this very tragic figure, yet I look at the crowds on their feet and the smiles and the energy they come out with at the end of it," Bissett acknowledged.

"There is definitely tragedy there, but the over-riding emotion is just feeling that lift and being inspired by her sheer raw energy.

"You have this woman on stage saying that she didn’t have looks, she had a skin disease, she was verging on an alcoholic and her whole community ostracised her after speaking up for black people.

"She is the quintessential outsider heroine and it’s always very uplifting to see those characters fighting back against the world."

Janis Joplin: Full Tilt is just one of two shows directed by Bissett that can be seen in the north over the next few days.

Over at the Universal Hall in Findhorn on Tuesday, Vision Mechanics will present In Her Shadows, Bissett’s collaboration with aerial artists Debbie Robbins and Rachael Macintyre.

"They work in silks and trapeze and they have a lovely visual theatre aesthetic, but they wanted me to help them build the narrative," Bissett explained.

"It’s a story about a woman getting through depression, so there may be some similarity there in that what could potentially be a downbeat subject is something you find a beauty and a survivalism in. That’s been really enjoyable to work on."

And as with Full Tilt and music, it marries theatre to another artistic medium.

"That’s what I’ve been passionate about for many years, to find this link between different forms," she said,

"I hate being stuck in any one camp. I’m as passionate about theatre as I am about music or visual art. They all merge for me, so I’m always curious about how the forms can play with each other."

Janis Joplin: Full Tilt is at the OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, at 8pm from Tuesday 22nd to Thursday 24th September.

In Her Shadows by Vision Mechanics and directed by Cora Bissett is at the Universal Hall, Findhorn, at 7.30pm on Tuesday 22nd September.

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