Cinema Pioneers inspire Dukes and Coliseum collaboration

Published: 10 April 2014
Reporter: Martin Thomasson

Gareth Cassidy and Christopher Wright Credit: Joel Fildes

No doubt many a Lancashire clothing store offers a bargain basement, but surely none can have a find to match that offered up by Ethel Austin in Blackburn, one day in 1994.

Workmen clearing out the basement found milk churns containing old acetate films dating to the beginning of the 20th century. Local film historian, Peter Worden recognised them as the work of cinematography pioneers, Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon.

Mitchell and Kenyon made ‘factory-gate’ short films, documenting ordinary people going to and from work, promenading at holiday resorts such as Morecambe, or enjoying the funfair where they could later pay to sit in a sideshow tent and see themselves on screen. Thanks largely to Worden’s efforts, the films now form part of important historical archives at the BFI and the University of Sheffield.

These remarkable early pieces form the source material for an exciting collaboration between Oldham Coliseum, Lancaster Dukes and film projection specialists, Imitating the Dog.

The Life and Times of Mitchell and Kenyon is a new play written by Daragh Carville. Carville’s story will follow two plot lines: one exploring the working relationship of Mitchell and Kenyon, the other tracking the rediscovery of the films.

Darwen-born director, Amy Leach took her initial idea for a play to the Dukes’s artistic director, Joe Sumsion who commissioned Carville to write it. The show features a cast of five: Gareth Cassidy, Liam Gerrard, Jo Mousley, David Westbrook and Christopher Wright.

The project has taken three years to bring to the stage, and will feature a mixture of live action, original music by John Biddle (Mitchell and Kenyon get to sing) and innovative film projection techniques using the specialist skills of Imitating the Dog.

ITD’s Simon Wainwright noted how Mitchell and Kenyon’s work created a sense of wonder among the working people (and their children) who saw themselves up on the silver screen. This show hopes to put modern audiences back in touch with the magic of those early cinema shows, housed in a circus or funfair tent.

The Life and Times of Mitchell and Kenyon will aim to provide audiences at the Dukes (19 April to to 10 May) and Oldham Coliseum (15 to 31 May) with all the fun of the fair.

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