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Back-up plan means tribute to Joplin keeps singing the blues

In its second reincarnation, Janis Joplin:

at full tilt:  Angela Darcy stars as Janis Joplin in the Fringe show, which runs until August 24 and returns to Glasgow next month. Picture: Jamie Simpson
at full tilt: Angela Darcy stars as Janis Joplin in the Fringe show, which runs until August 24 and returns to Glasgow next month. Picture: Jamie Simpson

Full Tilt perhaps tempted fate with the gods of rock 'n' roll when leading lady Angela Darcy took ill during the Regular Music and National Theatre of Scotland show's first full week of the Fringe. Her "show must go on" ethos meant, however, only one performance had to be cancelled, while she recovered from a virus.

"Sadly, performers are not invincible; we tend to break sometimes," jokes Darcy. "Even though I bounced back quickly, my illness highlighted the need for a contingency plan, and we now have a wonderful girl learning Joplin's part to provide support - just in case we need it again."

Full Tilt was originally performed at Oran Mor, Glasgow, as a lunch-time A Play, A Pie and A Pint offering. While the critical reaction at the time meant an afterlife was likely, as it was directed by Cora Bissett and written by Peter Arnott, its theatrical pedigree probably helped too.

Darcy says Full Tilt came about in a very 1960s way. "I had appeared in a show called The 27 Club (written by John Kielty and directed by Toby Gough) two years ago, which Cora came to see. We had been talking for a while about putting some sort of show together, initially about another female artist, but after The 27 Club - which explored the music and demons of Joplin, Jim Morrison and more - Cora was keen to tell more of Janis's story."

To get the project off the ground, Bissett approached the late Dave MacLennan with the idea (he had also seen Darcy perform as Joplin in The 27 Club) and he was immediately enthusiastic. Darcy explains MaLennan said, "But who can we get to write it?" and Peter Arnott was just standing at the bar next to them both and said "Me!"

Arnott had the idea to frame the show between two very different opening and closing monologues, which then offered him the theatrical device of Joplin directly addressing the audience throughout the show. He is also a Joplin fan, which Darcy believes was crucially important.

"The play needed a writer who loved and respected Janis as an artist - and as a woman. Peter's interpretation is spot on: Janis was a real over-sharer with her audience, and would often deliver these wonderfully long and meandering monologues during a gig - usually about life, love and man hunting."

Bissett and Darcy have worked together on various television and theatre projects, but this is the first time Darcy has been directed by her colleague and close friend.

"We met at drama school - at the establishment formerly known as the RSAMD - and we were also in a band along with actor/musician Harry Ward, who is the musical director of Full Tilt. The three of us have been great friends for about 16 years, so it was grand to all come together again."

As far as the live band goes, Darcy and her fellow musicians have been playing together for a few years (they all worked together on The 27 Club which, post Edinburgh, went on a European tour). Ward is on lead guitar, while the other band members are Chris Freer on bass, James Grant on drums and Andy Barbour on keyboards.

"I'm a huge fan of Janis Joplin now," says Darcy, "but I didn't know much about her until John Kielty asked me to sing some of her songs for The 27 Club. Discovering her music, vocal power and artistry was just amazing for me; not just as an inspiration but as a way of expanding my vocal range too. I was on a road to finding a whole new part of my voice, one I didn't really know existed."

The cast has been overwhelmed with the Fringe reaction, not just from press and "industry" types but from their audiences too. The show attracts Joplin fans but has a wider appeal, as Darcy explains: "It is theatre at the heart, but with a real kick-ass band! Obviously it's the Fringe and we have only an hour, so we could not fit in all the songs we wanted, but we have a really good mix in the show."

Full Tilt is coming to the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, next month but Darcy is non-committal on plans for a London-based run.

"Who knows? I just try to concentrate on the present, and if anything happens in the future then it is always a bonus. As far as this show goes, we have tried to create an intimate experience, so I feel we should keep that vibe. I would like to keep playing smaller, more intimate, venues. It works, so why mess with it? I hope it has another life though, as it's just so fun to perform."

The rock 'n' roll gods may yet deliver.

Janis Joplin: Full Tilt, is at Assembly Checkpoint until August 24 (except tonight) and at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, September 11 to 13.

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