Salomon Pavey in the Making

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" ... It is 1583 and the boys of the Chapel Royal and St. Paul's School are preparing to take part in the Queen's birthday celebrations, encouraged and funded by the Earl of Oxford. Salomon Pavey is the most celebrated child actor of the generation, noted for his portrayal of old men.

The forthcoming birthday revels place great demands on all concerned, but especially Salomon. His friend Will Sheppard, the Porter, watches with dismay as Salomon's health deteriorates, a fact that seems to escape his taskmasters. Supported by his friends Jack, Thomas and Kit, Salomon makes it through to the final rehearsal.

This play is by turns comic and serious and the cleverly arranged period music is an integral part of the storytelling. There are lots of laughs along the way but be warned: the moving final scenes may have you reaching for your handkerchief ..." (from Ipswich School, Suffolk UK pre-production notes)

The story was inspired by Ben Jonson's moving Epitaph to "S ... P..." (some sources suggest his name was "Salathiel" Pavey) published after Salomon's death in 1602.

It is not recorded how Salomon died; possibly from one of numerous "plagues" that struck at regular intervals but, in this the writers of "The Ballad of Salomon Pavey" conjectured, suggesting it was the result of "consumption". They also telescoped the events of some twenty five years into a period of two months, the aim being to recapture more the spirit than the letter of the age.

The original stage play was written during the Winter/Spring of 1975/76. Jeremy James Taylor was then an Associate Director at London's Young Vic Theatre and David Drew-Smythe was Head of English at Belmont School, Mill Hill, in North London. Gordon Roland-Adams was Head of Music whilst Brian Bennett, through a long association with the school and because of his professional expertise in the arrangement of percussion styles, completed the creative team.

The play grew out of several improvisation sessions with students from the school and through writer/director crafting over a period of three to four months. The first draft script was ready by March/April 1976.

The writers collaborated by taking responsibility for different scenes and then, after refining each scene together, it was woven into the fabric of an agreed and researched story. Much of the impetus for many of the scenes may be attributed to the students themselves. Their collective dynamism and individual talents breathed life into the characters, fleshing them out with a reality which, in the writing of the final script, made for a writer's dream!

The play uses songs and music of the period - by Dowland, Cornyshe and others, accompanied by period instruments - to punctuate a fast-moving and fascinating tale of the boy companies which dominated London's theatre scene at the end of the Elizabethan era. The careful grafting of new or adapted lyrics and the inspired choice of music was a later, challenging process which involved some re-working of the story sequences in order to accommodate the Ballad Opera style which gives "Pavey" so much of its appeal.

The world première took place on a specially constructed "Elizabethan" stage in a marquee on the lawns at Belmont School in July 1976. A consort of professional musicians accompanied the players. Many of the original cast and musicians were in Edinburgh a few weeks later that year where the piece was performed, again in a marquee, on lawns beneath the spires of St. Mary's. At that time, the actors were the youngest ever performers to stage a show in Edinburgh. The production won a coveted "Fringe First Award" and exceptional reviews reached the cast from as far away as Hobart to the south and Los Angeles in the west.

The book and libretto were first published by Oxford University Press (Music) in 1979. The stage play was adapted for television by Jeremy James Taylor and televised at Christmas in 1977 by ATV Network. (Director: Richard Brammall; Casting Director: Barry Ford).

Some members of the original cast made it through auditions for this programme and featured in leading roles. Subsequently, the work was re-published in 1989 by Josef Weinberger Ltd. (London). The number of productions by Youth Groups and Schools is increasing each year. Whilst, historically, The Children of The Chapel Royal were boys, the scope of the work makes it equally viable for a cast of male and/or female actors. The use of modern instrumentation is effective.

The story is a fiction based firmly on fact. Hunnis and Giles, the Earl of Oxford and Lyly did exist; so did a Porter at Blackfriars and Salomon did die at the age of thirteen, already famed for his playing of old men.

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Note 1 (July 2004)

Courtesy of Nigel Godfrey

Nigel Godfrey was a member of the cast for the 1977 Queen's Silver Jubilee production of The Ballad of Salomon Pavey at the Young Vic Theatre (London) and subsequently played the character of Edward Seeley in the 1977 ATV Television production, broadcast in Britain on December 28th 1977. He writes:

Working out at ATV's studios  in Borehamwood under Richard Brammall's direction was so exciting. I remember with great affection some of the friendships I made - Jasper Britton and Michael Petter to name only two. It was also a great honour to work with the adult actors, John Moffatt, Murray Melvin, Paul Luty and Jonathan Hyde. Jonathan was, of course, a young actor then and he was great fun to be around. Straight after Salomon Pavey, he appeared in The Professionals and achieved considerable TV success. Later, he was to feature as the owner of the Titanic in James Cameron's Titanic. I saw the film in NY and no one could understand my glee at seeing The Earl of Oxford in such a great role!

I went on to a career in the theatre and then TV and Film. I now spilt my time between directing TV and acting, mainly on TV and Film. Having said that, I'm about to play Alfred P Doolittle in My Fair Lady. I credit those who cast me to play in Salomon Pavey at the old butcher's shop in The Cut with setting me on the road which I decided to make my career, and I thank them very much.

With reference to the original master of the ATV production, Nigel writes:

In 2002 we tried to get a copy for my '25 years in the business' celebration, and although at the time a friend of mine was head of sales at Carlton we had no luck. It appears ATV's library became Central's then Carlton's and it is now controlled by Universal and there is no log to find where the master is. The head of the library thinks the master is now stored in a vault in LA.

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