In Haunt

An exploration of the life, loves and musical legacy of founder of The Rolling Stones Brian Jones, came to Salford Arts Theatre on 25 and 26 October in the form of ‘Out of Time’, written by local playwright Tim Keogh (read the full interview with him here). It is directed by Ben Rivers, playing also at Hebden Bridge Little Theatre on 1 and 2 November, followed by The Hope Street Theatre in Liverpool on 3 November

Out Of Time

This is a play that refreshingly seeks to consider the life and character of a historical figure, rather than resorting to stereotype or relying on the detail that Brian Jones died tragically young: a point people often mention in relation to the man, then little else. Writer Keogh was determined to address this (as highlighted in the aforementioned interview), and the play has a sense of engrossing urgency throughout: the story passionately and powerfully told. 

The stage is set quickly and with an interesting dynamic – as not only are the audience plunged straight into Soho - with Jones infamously auditioning Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for what would become one of the most iconic bands in the world, but all of the cast are present on the stage, seated on chairs. This is a technique that not only makes intelligent use of Salford Arts Theatre’s extensive space, but is a real test of acting ability: ramping up engagement and working the room from the onset. To the cast’s great credit, they maintain their characters throughout, right down to responsive facial expression, as they watch Brian’s life unfold… all adding to a mood of intensity indeed reflective of a figure ‘Out of Time’. The play previously showed at much-loved creative hub The Kings Arms in Salford earlier this year, and now Salford Arts Theatre seems like another well-suited venue: known for its celebration of innovative new writing, performance and community. This is a chance to catch creativity, often at its most fresh and exciting. 

Born in 1942 in Cheltenham, Brian Jones is a fascinating personality who displayed a musical flair and passion particularly early. In the play itself, starting in the ‘60s, the characters of Mick and Keith ask about his nickname ‘Elmo Lewis’  - a title once used by Jones, highlighting his love of Blues music. The play is well-punctuated with examples of Brian’s interests and passions, testament to sensitive writing and research, expressed through the actor of Jake Bush – who manages to merge the complex elements of the ambitious musician together with the vulnerable, almost boy-like individual.

This a play punchy in its emotional dynamics, thanks to Keogh’s empathetic yet fast-paced style, plus emphatic direction from Ben Rivers. The actors’ chemistry on stage is also notable, especially between the boisterous duo of Jagger and Richards; Pete Austen driving a compelling energy into his powerful presentation of a swaggering, swaying yet distinctly believable Jagger. This emphasis of the extrovert is well-matched with the somewhat (albeit surprisingly) more reserved figure of Richards – actor Sam Evans creatively suggesting a slyness of character. Built out of this chemistry is a fiery dynamic, driving the fissures between the band further open – as historically, Mick and Keith would go onto provide ‘the face’ of the band so to speak, leaving Brian feeling side-lined. He left The Rolling Stones in 1969.

Out Of Time

All of this emphasises a key point: people are intricately complex – and of course, there is a huge difference between internal life and public image. This is a central theme of the play, especially in terms of Brian Jones himself – a man often mauled by the media and deemed unable to cope with the excesses of fame, yet a man desperate for love; insecure and sensitive in many ways.

In turn, as the emotive underpinning on stage was so strong, I think the play definitely has potential to go on to develop on these dynamics further – to explore the feelings, the fizzing individuality and the personalities of these historical figures. For that is a typical challenge when writing about historical narratives and individuals: how much do we tell the story? versus – how much do we elaborate on the inner life? What Keogh captures, again highlighting a real empathy to his approach, is the complex aspects of character, the strange sticking points – and for the play to be expanded a little further to really see the actors get to grip with the grit of those individuals, would build on its brilliance. Although the punchy running time of just over hour indeed lends a sense of raw reality to an individual ‘Out of Time’, to add an interval and further space within the script– so that the characters don’t just tell a history, but their own stories -  is perhaps a possibility.

 For example, Jessica Porter gives a memorable and well-measured performance throughout as Brian’s young girlfriend (and mother to one of his children) Pat, her face a picture of frustration thickening into resent at Brian’s behaviour as the narrative develops. We later hear that she ends up in a hostel, a story asking to be further told. Sophie Koumides captures with compelling performative flair the iconic figure of another of Brian’s love interests, Anita Pallenberg – someone seen as a rather ‘modern woman’, even by the ‘60s standards – both actors amplifying a mood of tension central to the struggle of Brian Jones’: the craving for love pitted against artistic opportunity. Keogh’s writing therefore begins to unpack these fascinating dynamics, a point not only engaging for the audience, but indicative of ongoing potential for the script. As is seen in the play, Pallenberg later goes onto date Keith Richards, a high point of tension.

Of Of Time

A point also worth considering – is that selecting the historical figures to engage with in the play, and who to leave out, when elaborating on Brian Jones’ life story – must have been difficult. Yet Keogh demonstrates a playwright’s perceptivity, ensuring on a dynamic series of individuals… itself indicative of the overwhelming frequencies of change and overload Brian Jones was faced with.

 It is perhaps no wonder then that Brian chose to leave the hectic pressures of London life for Cotchford Farm in Sussex, the former home of Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne. It is here Brian encounters an occupant of part of the property – Mary, a significantly older woman – who he permits to stay. The character of Mary was conveyed in a stand-out performance from Hilly Barber, combining a brooding, protective demeanour with her own strong individuality; bolstered through evocative body language and real stage presence. She tells Brian that he has a ‘look of Christopher Robin’, an image that lingers in the mind long after, a real inference of a man almost haunted by his own lost childhood. We are given glimpses into why this is the case, but would have liked a little more. Then again, this drives the didactic quality of the play home: it makes the viewer want to go and find out more about Brian Jones for themselves.

Out Of Time The on-stage chemistry between Brian’s and Mary’s characters makes this latter part of the play particularly powerful, transporting the audience to the almost other-worldly landscape of Cotchford Farm without the stage needing to be set. Hence, the minimalism in design really does work. Jake Bush brings the angst encountered by Brian to new heights here, his body language, tone and demeanour deftly delving through traits as variant as the boy-like fascination with trains, to self-destructive alcohol-fuelled statements and terrified paranoia. This another test of the audience too, as they see the emotions overcoming Brian  – it is almost like they do not add up. Here is a man seemingly misogynistic, yet also craves comfort from Mary, a mothering quality. A man who is considerate and cares about others, regardless of background and ethnicity, yet can also be loud and dismissive.

But that is a key point of ‘Out of Time’, and a deeply human one – internal characters don’t always add up, things don’t always fit… individuals, in effect, fall ‘Out of Time’. Here Keogh has manged to convey character complexity with passion, respect and dignity, right down to the final mention of Brian’s tragic death, aged just 27. This is not overdone – instead, the physical life of a talented and troubled man coming to an end. The play is a powerful exploration of an often-hidden history, the celebration of a story, rather than dwelling on a death. The influence and inspiration of Brian Jones persists: a man who created genre-spanning intelligent music with a real capacity for connection with people across ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. This was further selected through an artful selection of excerpts of tracks heard within the play, highlighting Brian Jones' vibrant musical influence and talent. 

The old phrase goes that ‘history is written by the victors’. But engagement with it, the true artistry, is created by the empaths. This is what ‘Out of Time’ so brilliantly does. A play about the past, but with a real future ahead of it.

By Emily Oldfield 

All photography with thanks to Shay Rowan

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  1. SHaz
    Sorry I'm unable to see it...one of my favourite musicians...would lover to know if it is performed elsewhere

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