She is a rising star in the world of competitive tree climbing, he's a shy nonentity who has somehow grown up without noticing it himself.
They fall in love, but on the day he loses his father, she loses an eye.
He offers her one of his, but sadly things never look the same for either of them.
Then, at the 1999 eclipse, their lives change forever.
Could they rediscover in their hearts what was once thought extinct?
Do they have more trees to climb?
The coelacanth (pronounced see-la-kanth) is a prehistoric species of fish, once presumed to be extinct, but when rediscovered in the 1930s, unevolved for 300 million years, was almost fished to extinction by man's desperation to study and collect. There's a couple of great resources all about it here and here. The fish provides a lovely central metaphor for the show but anyone expecting a piece solely about it would have been disappointed.
I had the story of Coelacanth in my mind for about a year before I sat down to write the script. I had written an article for The Idler on the subject of tree climbers in the first half of the 20th Century which was intended for a supplement magazine about outdoor hobbies. Then in late 2004, I wrote a pilot programme for BBC Radio Light Entertainment called Branches. This was about a couple meeting up after many years they had sat in trees as children and told each other stories and the tale they told in the show was what became Coelacanth.
By early 2005 I knew it was going to be my first solo comedy since Poppy Day and began the preparation of booking a slot at the Pleasance and entering the Fringe Programme. The script went through a lot of changes: gags were taken out in some places and added in others, but it was only after getting very close to a story like this that as a writer I began to really understand what it was actually about. While it seems to be a romantic comedy, I think it's ultimately a story about the narrator's relationship with his father. It's a bit of misdirection, I'll admit, but I would hope it's rewarding in both ways.
And of course the old team were back again. Erica Whyman was working on about 16 different shows but found the time to pass her usual magic eye on the play. Her touch and sense of pace took the piece to a new level. Simon Oakes wrote and arranged a beautiful score in about half an hour and again his contribution was enormous. As was Malcolm Rippeth's, a lighting designer who could make a show in a loo look extraordinary; his eye for the eclipse sequence was terrific. Andy Lane took brilliant photos of me as he has done for about 20 years. The poster shot was taken on Wimbledon Common and done for real (ie I was actually jumping). Then Stephany Ungless applied her brilliant talents on the poster and flyer. Chris Hone operated the show every day skillfully and with sensitivity; by the end of the run he knew it so well he could have been my understudy. Pru Rowlandson was a fantastic publicist and a lot of the show's success is down to her brilliance.
There were some lovely reactions from audiences. The cast of U.S. Undressed came en masse and were just brilliant. A lot of people wore their "I have more trees to climb" badges (one of which you can see here) and the audience reviews at the Fringe website were very nice indeed. The press were also delightful and for the first time I actually won an award, the Herald Angel. I was also shortlisted for The Stage Best Actor Award which was just amazing for me.
I performed the show again in December at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden Town and it was great to return to it. Chris again operated and audiences were very good. And as a bonus, there was a nice review in the Evening Standard.
I performed the show twice at the Latitude Festival in Suffolk in July 2006. It went brilliantly and Simon and Mark from Suns of the Tundra played the score live. Excellent. We returned to Latitude in 2009 for what was my favourite ever performance - on a stage in the woods on a Saturday morning to a crowd that slowly built up over the course of the hour, attracted by the music and the story - sensational. Other festival performances include Port Eliot in 2009 and 2011, Green Man in 2010 and 2011, Wilderness in 2011 and 2012 and Green Belt in 2011.
Coelacanth was the BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play on 13th October 2006, produced by Sally Avens and using Simon's beautiful music. HERE is a photo of the recording in a wood.
Coelacanth was included in the book MORE TREES TO CLIMB
After publication I took the show to a series of book festivals in 2009-10: Edinburgh, Cheltenham and Wigtown.
In 2012 the excellent people at Show and Tell booked a fine tour of the country, including dates in Belfast, Bristol, Oxford and Harrogate. It was just great to take the piece on the road again.
I do hope I get to perform it more times in the future.
In the meantime, I have more trees to climb.
". . . SHE WAS A HUG JUST WAITING TO HAPPEN"
Read a script extract from Coelacanth
"THIS IS FRINGE THEATRE AT ITS BEST"
Read reviews of Coelacanth
Coelacanth is included in More Trees to Climb available at my webshop
PURCHASE KINDLE EDITION
Coelacanth is included in the eBook of More Trees to Climb available from amazon.co.uk
LISTEN TO MUSIC CLIP
Click to hear an mp3 of a track from Coelacanth
PURCHASE SOUNDTRACK CD
Almost the Right People (containing music from many of my shows) is available right now from my webshop