Stinkfoot is an original, unique, totally eccentric, and completely absorbing Comic Opera. If I don’t say so myself... who will? Not only that, it is three hours long.
It was based on a book I wrote for kids when I was twenty one years old. (“No mother in America would want her child identifying with your characters,” said the only publisher I approached with it.) But Vivian disagreed... at least insofar as it came to his own children. Vivian read it to Rupert when Rupert was a young lad; he read it to Silky. When the time came to put on our own show, it was the adventures ofStinkfoot, a New York City alleycat, that he wanted to stage. With Stanshallian twists, of course. Very little of any kind of a kid’s tale made it through his creative process (or apparently mine, come to think)... Stinkfoot became a cocky theatrical cat, back in Blighty from long years trodding the boards across the pond. (Translation: starring on the New York stage.) Persian Moll became the cat he left behind who had become a star on her own, but in English Music Hall. All the rest was new invention.
We created Soliquisto (based on Vivian in his Noel Cowardian mode and the performer he was in his Dog Days) as an aging artiste whose artistic creations: Stinkfoot and Moll, were his greatest pride. And then there was Screwy, Soliquisto’s sly and ironic dummy, his inner critic, who never let him get away with a thing, and Buster, his ambitious younger assistant, ever eager to learn the secret of Soliquisto’s artistry. In other words, the secret formula for anartist’s success.
Soliquisto and his Not So Dumb Friends appeared nightly in end of a career
End-of-The-Pier Music Hall,
while below the pier there existed another world, a world just as vital and just as bizarre. Down below, on the rubbishy hard-pebbled shore of England’s cold and oily sea lived Mrs. BagBag, a fishy bag lady
whose creatures of the deep were every bit as wonderful and as necessary to her as Soliquisto’s were to him. Isaiah the Flounder (‘one eye’s ‘igher than the other’) who ceaselessly pined for Pollyanna, a foundling budgerigar (‘parakeet’ to Americans), Black Pearl, a shameless elver, partly cooked shrimps and woeful sirens and drowned sailors and giant squid.
Somehow or other, these two stories become one... but in the main, what we were doing was concocting a series of colorful and tuneful vignettes to showcase Vivian’s songs. There was a story under it all (somewhere) but whether one caught the story or missed it entirely, the whole magical show was a door into Vivian’s extraordinary and labyrinthine mind, an invitation to spend an evening in the private rooms of a complex artist.
was written by Vivian and I, more like thrashed out in our captain’s cabin night after night after whatever had appeared on the stage that evening, whereupon Vivian would then fall asleep exhausted but I would type it all up into the early morning light... but every song was Vivian’s at the top of his form. Some of these were written directly for the show: You Can’t Confound A Flounder, Drowned Sailor’s Song, Follow Your Nose, What My Public Wants, Parakeet To Meet You,etc., some were kicking around and needed a home: No Time Like The Future and Made of Stone.
Stinkfoot was staged twice. The best and most glorious production was the first production. We wrote it for my ship, the Thekla, and for Thekla’s one-of-a-kind stage. It was tailored for my crew and for the pick of the local talent who had made an artistic home with us. After working non-stop for twenty seven months, supporting and cleaning up after over two hundred and fifty outside productions, after bands of every stripe from jazz to punk, after cabaret and art shows and lawsuits and poetry readings and snits and fits and ART ART ART, it was time for my people to get on the damn stage. Vivian and I wrote Stinkfoot for so many reasons, but one of the most compelling was to use a stage I had created and then supported until I was quite ill, with something we wanted, something for our people, to make something just for ourselves that would blow them all away. And you know, we bloody did - and it bloody did. Not only that but we made something that was without compromise. Never intending to survive the thing, with no backers and no restrictions, we wrote whatever we wanted, however we wanted. It was my ship. It was our show. It was Vivian’s songs and Vivian’s vision. We were beholden to no one. It was intoxicating. It was also a hell of a lot of hard bloody work.
Tired as I was of the ship by then, unknowingly about to spend the next five years very ill indeed from overwork and immense stress, I thought that if I charged a lot of money to see the show, and if I ran it throughout our most lucrative season - Christmas - we would go bust. The whole ship would go belly up and die financially - and then I could stop. I could just stop. Vivian and I could go do something else. I also used money meant for the Showboat bills to pay for the whole thing. It’s amazing how much a show can cost even when the cast and crew are working for the door. It’s also amazing what people will do for love... and Stinkfoot was dearly loved - and still is by all who sailed in her.
I also promised the band and the performers and the costume designers and the lighting crew and the set designer an equal share of every last cent that came across the door in ticket sales. Nothing went towards the running of a business. In this way, I was sure we would go out with a huge bang, in a veritable Christmas Cracker of a show, meaning in REAL STYLE - but out we would surely go. The Thekla would be forced to close her hatches.
So what happened?
People came to see Stinkfoot from all over Britain. People came from Europe. People came from the United States. Night after night people came, and when there were no seats left, they brought their own cushions, and huddled on the floor until there was no floor space left... and they all paid full price... and we made a lot of money...and the artists got their equal share of every penny of it. Nothing went back to the ship.
And still the ship did not die.
But that’s another story for another day.