Play about the man who started the ‘monkey hanger myth ‘ to tour North East

A scene from Mr Corvan's Music Hall
A scene from Mr Corvan's Music Hall

A play about a North East musical star who started Hartlepool’s monkey legend is about to embark on a tour of the region.

Mr Corvan’s Music Hall, a play featuring the music of Ned Corvan, starts a three week tour of the region with its world premiere at the Gala Theatre, Durham, on Thursday May 26, ahead of dates at venues including Sunderland Minster, Westovian Theatre, South Shields and Hartlepool Town Hall.

The play, penned by South Shields playwright Ed Waugh, stars two North East actors Chris Connel and Jamie Brown and former member of folk band Bellowhead, violinist Rachael McShane.

Ed explained: “Ned’s life was exciting to say the least. Born in 1827 and dying of TB of the larynx in 1865, aged only 37, his story is funny and tragic, and inspirational. It makes for tremendous drama.

“Ned lived in Sunderland on two occasions. He was a tribune of the people and his songs were magnificent. He sang about day-to-day events and railed against injustices. That’s why he was loved not just on Tyneside but throughout the region.

“His comic song Fishermen Hung the Monkey, O! started the Hartlepool Monkey legend and he penned the beautiful Cullercoats Fish Lass. His protest songs included The Price of Small Coals and Toon Improvement Bill, both of which are totally relevant today.”

Corvan was a virtuoso violin player, a comedian, a singer and an artist. He also sang in a regional accent and played to audiences of 4,000 without amplification.

To capture the essence of Corvan’s life story Ed wrote the play from the viewpoint of a younger and older Ned.

After securing Chris and Jamie to play the two roles of Ned, Ed says the search began for a musician.

Ed said: “I couldn’t believe our luck when I was told Bellowhead violinist Rachael McShane lived on Tyneside, Within the first minute of meeting Rachael I knew she was perfect for the role as, effectively, Ned’s violin. She has a wonderful feel for the music and her contribution has been immense.”

Ed added: “We also brought in Pitman Poet Graham and folk legend Johnny Handle to help prepare Ned’s brilliant songs so they are tight and constantly take the story forward.”

The final piece of the jigsaw was signing up Gareth Tudor Price, a former Hull Truck director who boasts West End credits, to direct the show.

•For show dates and to buy tickets visit https://www.mrcorvansmusichall.co.uk